Saturday, July 14, 2018

Tahoe Meadows to Herlan Peak

Granite cliff rocks on Herlan Peak with views toward the south of Lake Tahoe
About halfway between Tahoe Meadows and Spooner Summit, the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) traverses the forested east-side slopes of Herlan Peak. The Tahoe Meadows-Herlan Peak round trip distance is almost 25 miles (40 km). I hiked this trip in June of this month. Both the scenic Twin Lakes and the Sand Harbor Overlook with its unforgettable vistas of Lake Tahoe and the Sand Harbor Peninsula at the bottom of Herlan Peak are worth the trip.

Being at Tahoe Meadows and not sure about a 25-mile-long hike? You don't have to do that one. Exploring the beautiful Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Loop Trail with its hidden picnic bench or the Tahoe Meadows Loop Tail System may be a pleasant alternative: strolling alongside clear brooks and around wetlands surrounded by sandy hills and pine forest. 

Back on the TRT. This Carson Range TRT section is very popular with mountain bikers. The 9.5-mile-TRT-stretch between Tahoe Meadows and the TRT/Tunnel Creek Road intersection is open to bikes on EVEN days. This north-south section is a mostly gentle trail through pine and fir forests with openings offering views of Lake Tahoe on the west side and Washoe Lake on the east side.

Washoe Lake seen through an opening near Diamond Peak
You will pass the top of the Diamond Peak Ski lift after about five miles from the Tahoe Meadows trailhead. After continuing southward for another two miles, the trail makes a long, descending switchback through pinemat manzanita and chinquapin. Once you have reached the bottom of the downhill path, you will enjoy a relaxing section along the TRT to its intersection with Tunnel Creek Road.

The shallow grass-lined Twin Lakes are located 0.3 miles south of Tunnel Creek Road. Some years, they are dried up by the end of summer and all that is left are boulder-strewn pond beds. 

Upper Twin Lake
Past the eastern tip of Lower Twin Lake, the TRT switchbacks up onto Herlan Peak for “never-ending” 1.5 miles. I saw a lot of cyclists hoping off their bike and pushing. Once you get the sign saying “Sand Harbor Overlook Loop 0.6 Mile,” leave the TRT (and your bike) and make the final steps to the top of Herlan Peak.

Sand Harbor Overlook Loop trail is also known as Christopher's Loop spur view trail—or simply Christopher's Loop (see map below). This 1.2-mile loop trail leads you to the Herlan granite cliff with its spectacular views of Lake Tahoe—and also of Marlette Lake and Snow Valley Peak. If not yet tired, you may want to test your Pacific Crest knowledge by pointing out and naming the peaks and saddles lining the horizon across Lake Tahoe.

Sand Harbor Overlook trail on Herlan Peak

Marlette Lake with Snow Valley Peak seen from Herlan Peak

Looking down from Herlan Peak: tip of the Sand Harbor Peninsula with recreational boat traffic


Getting to the Tahoe Meadows TRT trailhead

To get to the TRT trailhead at Tahoe Meadows, find the parking and rest area half a mile southwest from the Mt. Rose Summit parking area along State Route 431 (Mt. Rose Highway). The TRT passes right through the parking lot. Start at the interpretive board, where trail-map hand-outs are frequently made available. For a short distance, the TRT almost merges with State Route 431, but then veers off to the left. Very soon you'll reach a bridge over Ophir Creek, where the Lower, Middle and Upper Loop Trails intersect. Once you have reached the saddle above Ophir Creek with the first view of Lake Tahoe, you should not have any problems in following the TRT—with occasional TRT marks fixed on the bark of a tree.

Map section with TRT (green) and Tunnel Creek Road (black) in the Twin Lakes-Herlan Peak area

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