The section of the Tahoe Rim Trail between Kingsbury Grade and Spooner Summit is one of my favorites: it’s pretty, the trail is well-graded and not too rocky, and the panoramic views of Lake Tahoe from The Bench are breath-taking. This segment of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is entirely within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
This was a group hike, in which we split into two groups starting at opposite ends of the trail segment, intending to exchange car keys midway. The weather complicated this part of the plan, but the hike was pleasant overall in spite of the weather.
There is a new section of the TRT in the Kingsbury Grade area, and my group and I were looking forward to hiking part of the new trail section. We started hiking near a new trailhead just 0.2 miles or so up North Benjamin Drive from Kingsbury Grade Rd, NV-207. Currently a “Put America to Work” sign marks the trail head, but I don’t know how long the sign will be in place since the trail construction is apparently complete north of NV-207. With the new section of trail, both ends of the segment are now at comparable elevations (~7200 ft), with about 600 feet of elevation difference between the new and old trail heads at Kingsbury.
The new section of trail provides a bypass around the housing area along North Benjamin. South of NV-207 the bypass also continues around the housing and meets up with the original TRT. The entire new section between the original North and South Kingsbury trail heads is 6½ miles; we hiked about 2.6 miles of it.
The new section of trail is very nice indeed. After hiking between 2 houses at the trail head, the trail is quickly in the forest and takes on the atmosphere of a more remote trail. The first ¼ mile is technically a connector trail to the Tahoe Rim Trail. If you turn left (south) instead of right (north), you arrive at the NV-207 crossing in less than ½ mile. Hiking north, within 0.5 miles of the turn onto the TRT there is a first view of Lake Tahoe – a moment that I always look forward to on a TRT hike. Soon there was another lake view, with an unobstructed view overlooking Stateline and South Lake Tahoe, with the Desolation Wilderness providing a spectacular backdrop.
Perhaps in anticipation of the approaching rain, we noticed that there was a wet, woodsy smell as we hiked. It was actually rather pleasant, though at the time we didn’t quite realize what was in store for us. (The weather forecast included increased wind by mid-afternoon and scattered showers for the Lake Tahoe area, also likely picking up after mid-afternoon. We were hoping to be finished hiking by 3pm or so.)
The new section of trail meets up with the original Tahoe Rim Trail about 0.5 mile from the original Kingsbury North trail head and after about 2.6 miles of the new trail. The old TRT from the trail head is now designated as a connector trail. The junction is very well signed. Here is the sign for the new section we hiked, indicating that the trail is complete through to the Kingsbury South trail head.
From this junction it is about 6.2 miles to The Bench. It was during this section of the hike that the weather created a bit of a challenge. My group experienced intermittent light rain, then a bit heavier rain which fortunately didn’t last more than about a half hour. However, the group that started hiking at Spooner Summit had started well ahead of us, since we had caravanned down from Incline Village. When the rain became more intense, they were already nearly at the top of their climb where the terrain is more exposed and it is almost always windy. Fortunately we had cell phone contact with the other group and were able to exchange information both about the weather and about what we were going to do. In the end, the Spooner group decided to turn back after calling for backup transportation, and my group backtracked by car at the end of the hike to retrieve the lone car at Kingsbury. This made the logistics more complicated but was the right decision in terms of weather and gear (none of us were really well prepared for the rain, but the Spooner group was more affected). By the time my group reached the higher elevation section below South Camp Peak the rain had stopped, but it was quite windy on top and for once we didn’t linger for long at The Bench.
Just before we left The Bench, a young couple approached hiking south, with backpacks, ponchos, and a dog apparently carrying some of its own gear in two small panniers. It turns out that they were on Day 3 of a through hike of the entire TRT. They almost hiked right by The Bench without stopping, so we called them over to enjoy the view from the famous landmark. They hadn’t realized from their hiking directions that there is an actual “built” bench, and they seemed to appreciate making that discovery. We wished them well on their hike and continued our way north.
During the descent it was interesting to notice some after-effects of the rain. For example, there were raindrops still present on the leaves of some of the ground cover.
Some of the fallen trees were covered with lichen, still a spring-like brilliant green.
I was struck by a growth pattern on some of the evergreen trees; unfortunately I’m not very proficient at tree identification though these are certainly a common type of tree in the area. The annual new needle growth is a much lighter color than the older needles, giving the boughs a look of having been dipped in a pot of lighter green paint.
The remainder of our descent to Spooner Summit was very pleasant, if uneventful. The backtrack to Kingsbury to retrieve the last car added to the day’s driving, but didn’t detract from the hike itself.