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Questions-Comments-Experiences: Locate the South Upper Truckee Trailhead, Meyers | High Sierra Backpacker

Questions-Comments-Experiences: Locate the South Upper Truckee Trailhead, Meyers

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 12 March 2011

Questions-Comments-Experiences: Locate the South Upper Truckee Trailhead in Meyers. This page is the feedback page for the South Upper Truckee Trailhead page on the trail guide.

Looking up the drainage of the South Upper Truckee River from Echo Summit

Above: Looking up the drainage of the South Upper Truckee River from Echo Summit

What do you know, or need to know, about this trailhead?

Spring snow conditions pack at South Upper Truckee Trailhead.

Above: Ready to hit the trail to Round Lake from the South Upper Truckee Road Trailhead for a late-Spring trip. Snow shoes, ski sticks, and a little extra insulation weigh the pack down. The snowline was at 7500 on North flanks, and 8200 on the South sides of the mountains.

The South Upper Truckee Trailhead is one of three trailheads I selected at  Lake Tahoe to offer a wide range of experiences to begin our Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney backpacking trip.

The Northern Trailhead is the Classic start point for the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail out of Meek Bay.

The second is the Echo Summit Trailhead located just to the South of, and out of the busy busy conditions of Desolation Wilderness.

The South Upper Truckee Trailhead is our Southernmost trailhead and closest to the our exit from the Tahoe Basin through the Carson Gap.

These trailheads can also lead us into a wide range of short and medium distance backpacking trip opportunities in their respective wilderness and roadless areas.

 We explore these short and medium distance backpacking options as we hike past them following both the TYT and PCT down the trail to Tuolumne Meadows.


The Cultural Character of the South Upper Truckee Trailhead

The distinguishing trail culture characteristic of the South Upper Truckee Trailhead is its position as a local's favorite. Many residents of Christmas Valley walk from their houses to the trailhead and back, and locals from Meyers and the South Lake Tahoe area day hike, bike, and walk their dogs along the lower segments of the trail.
But it's not crowded, nor full of dog shit. Bikes can ride from the trailhead up to the Junction with the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails at Meiss Meadow. Bikes are prohibited past that poin as they are excluded from both of these trails.
Bikers can turn East at the Big Meadow trail junction. This leads to the Big Meadow trailhead on Highway 89.

The South Upper Truckee trailhead is also a local's favorite for Winter travel. If I get to the trailhead too many days after a Winter storm, it's almost certain that a local will have broken a trail up to Round Lake.
After an extended snowless period during Winter, good snow paths will connect the South Upper Truckee trailhead with Meiss Meadow and Showers Lake, and on around to Carson Pass too.

I've met lots of locals at the trailhead during the Summer, and I have found traces of their adventures in the backcountry during Wintertime. And the South Upper Truckee is still a very quiet trailhead, despite its local popularity.

The Physical Character of the South Upper Truckee Trailhead

The South Upper Truckee makes the hardest physical start of all three trailheads, in my opinion. It begins a stiff climb shortly past the 6550 foot elevation trailhead, continuing a hard climb for four steep miles up to Round Lake's 8080 feet. The steepness and rapid gain of altitude on the first hiking day make this trailhead a hard start.

I call it a Hard-3 trail.

The dense forests along the lower sections of the South Upper Truckee River are wetter, denser, and  quieter than either of the other two trailheads. This is a function of the shealtered position of the valley, and its wrinkled terrain. The composition of the terrain is also distinctly different than that accessed by the other two trailheads.

Meeks Bay's lakeside trailhead brings us up gentle rising ridge arms, gradually, into Desolation's grand granite overviews and impressive spans of wide open glacial cut granite spaces. Each mile we hike deeper into the Wilderness is a treat. But Desolation is usually as busy as it is beautiful.

Echo Summit's position on the Tahoe Rim is deceptive. Though we do not have to climb up from Lake Level, the trail South into the Meiss Country Roadless Area runs us hard on an ascending roller coaster ride through dense forests packed between impressive granite ridgelines.
These forest-draped granite ridges punch out of the dense forests around and above us as we hike between and within mountain shoulders up the North flank of Peak 8905 rising above the South end of the Tahoe Rim.
 There are no extensive expanses of granite to the South of Echo Summit, as we experienced crossing Desolation Wilderness. Off the South side of Peak 8905 a descending, but still rolling terrain, finally exits the dense forests under the Tahoe Rim into an expanding line of broken meadows and broad views. This line quickly widens out as it gently rises into the expansive verdant greens of Meiss Meadow.

The South Upper Truckee trail route also enters Meiss Meadow, but from the North, rather than the West, as does the trail from Echo Summit.
 Our trail up from the South Upper Truckee Trailhead follows an obscure Eastern tributary of the South Upper Truckee River up to Round Lake. The rest of the South Upper Truckee River's branches spread out to empty the whole drainage around the Southern bend of the Lake Tahoe Basin, and all of the numerous lakes and meadows within the Meiss Country Roadless Area.

The Meiss Country Roadless Area is the drainage of the South Upper Truckee River.

The South Upper Truckee River is decptive. It appears small and tranquil, yet it has an extensive drainage area reaching up into the Southwest end of the Tahoe Basin. The South Upper Truckee drains the whole Southern arc of the Tahoe Basin from Echo Summit around to Luther Pass. Though all these tributaries join up to pass through a narrow neck in Christmas Valley, from here at the trailhead it looks like the South Upper Truckee Watershed branches out up into the South Tahoe Basin like the roots of a tree.

The South Upper Truckee drainage spans from Grass Lake at Luther Pass and Big Meadow to our East, through Dardanelles, Meiss, and Showers Lakes to our South, and even around to the West, where Benwood Meadow and Frog Pond sit on a thin shelf of the Tahoe drainage overlooking our South Upper Truckee Trailhead.  

And then there is Meiss Meadow. Meiss Meadow sits above, and feeds the series of Lakes that are fanned out below its shelf-like position under the Southern End of the Tahoe Rim.
 During early Spring when the thaw is at full throttle the melt water is not just filling the river, the creeks, the trails, and the gopher holes as it moves down-mountanin. It also fills Meiss Meadow beyond its saturation point.
In the terrain below Meiss Meadow the melt water is moving directly through the saturated soils, as well as flowing across the surface.

The Unique South Upper Truckee

The most amazing feature of our trail from the South Upper Truckee trail head to Round Lake is that it sits astride an amazing interface between volcanic and granitic terrain that splits Christmas Valley and much of the South Upper Truckee drainage.

As we climb we are winding through broken granite terrain long ago submerged first in great volcanic flows since eroded down and then covered with deep forest.
Take a walk South through these trail guide pages and notice how the granite poking through the forest is also poking through or from the edge of volcanic debris. This whole area was submerged under the remnants of massive flows of volcanic materials. Much of this has been eroded away, the remnants of which are now rapidly breaking down and turning into rich soil under the dense forests.

We can see elements of this interface more clearly from above, looking down at it from the Tahoe Rim South of Echo Summit.

As we proceed South from the South Upper Truckee trailhead, and higher up past the Big Meadow trail junction, we enter a fascinating zone of composite boulders.

mileage differences between the trailheads described by this trail guide

This trail guide describes long distance backpacking South along the Sierra Crest routes between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney starting from three distinctly different Lake Tahoe trail heads. We can easily craft awesome short trips or loops from any of these trailheads.

The Meeks Bay trailhead is the Northernmost of the three trailheads described by this trail guide. Starting our backpacking trips from Meeks Bay makes the longest hiking trips to all points South.

The next trailhead to the South I describe is the Echo Summit trailhead on Highway 50, sitting between the Desolation Wilderness to the North, and the Meiss Roadless Area to the South.

Meeks Bay is 30.71 miles to the North of Echo Summit on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route. Carson Pass is 12 miles South.

The South Upper Truckee trailhead is situated the furthest to the South, offering the shortest distance to all points South, of the three. But not by much.

The South Upper Truckee trailhead is only 3.58 miles less distance to all points South than the Echo Summit trailhead.

Let's try to get a good understanding of the differences between the different trailhead mileages by comparing their respective mileages for a trip down the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. 

Meeks Bay to Tuolumne Meadows: 179.61

Echo Summit To Tuolumne Meadows: 150.29 miles.

South Upper Truckee to Tuolumne Meadows: 146.71 miles.
  The mileage difference between the trailheads works out that any Southbound backpacking trip started from the South Upper Truckee is 3.58 miles less than a trip started from Echo Summit to the same destination, and 33 miles less than trips started South out of Meeks Bay.

The Trailheads

You should not think I'm a snob about these particular trailheads. I'm not. These trailheads were chosen because of their different social and physical characteristics, their different distances to points South, and different difficulties of access.

If you don't have a car, public transportation can take you from San Francisco International Airport right to the South Upper Truckee Trailhead. Echo Summit  and Meeks Bay are increasingly difficult to access without a car. But you can if you try. 

You can begin your Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trip from the trail head of your choice. My goal is to lay out a range of good options that I hope will offer something for everyone.


more information

South Upper Truckee Trailhead

Mileages and Elevations


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