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Indy Environment: Traveling from Tahoe to Carson City in a day — by foot

The new Capital to Tahoe Trail takes users 20-something miles from the state’s capital to Lake Tahoe, and beyond.
Amy Alonzo
Amy Alonzo
Environment
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Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter. I'm Amy Alonzo, the environment reporter for The Indy.

As we celebrate our nation’s independence today, we are switching gears at The Indy for this week’s newsletter. Spend a few minutes vicariously traveling along the new Capital to Tahoe Trail with me and let it inspire you to hike or bike it yourself — or burrow deeper into your hammock or beach blanket as you kick up your feet — and enjoy the long weekend. 

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email tips to me at amy@thenvindy.com. 

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here.


I paused my stride on the sandy slope. Without the monotonous thumping of my boots on the trail, it was spectacularly quiet. There was no babbling stream, airplane rumbling overhead or distant voices of other hikers. For a few moments, not even a bird chirped.

The silence was notable.

I was midway through a hike on the new Capital to Tahoe Trail.

As the crow flies, I was only several miles outside Carson City but I was  miles from the closest trailhead. If I hadn’t studied the map so thoroughly before leaving the car, I wouldn’t have known how close I was to Nevada’s political wheelhouse.

Spanning 9.8 miles between the Tahoe Rim Trail and Carson City’s popular Ash to Kings Trail, the Capital to Tahoe Trail was completed in 2023. It is the only nonmotorized, single-track trail that connects Carson City and Lake Tahoe and, according to the Tahoe Fund, provides access to Tahoe trails without adding to the number of people and vehicles at busy Tahoe trailheads.

Because it starts and finishes on other trails, users must travel more than its 9.8 miles to access the new single-track, making it a larger time and logistical commitment for those wanting to experience the entire trail.  

But for long-distance hikers, it offers the chance to hike from the state capital around the entirety of Lake Tahoe — about 170 miles on the Tahoe Rim Trail — or all the way to the Mexican or Canadian border on the Pacific Crest Trail — more than 1,000 miles in either direction.  

I was settling for a (much) shorter hike — Spooner Summit on U.S. Highway 50 to Kings Canyon, west of Carson City — clocking in at about 22 to 25 miles.

I left Reno at 6:30 in the morning, convoying down in two vehicles with a friend who took the day off from work to join me. Having company was good, as was a second vehicle. With just one car, I would have been relegated to hiking the trail out and back, something I didn’t think would provide the true Capital to Tahoe experience.

Our chosen path would take us down to Spooner Lake, then gently uphill to Marlette Lake, a man-made reservoir that serves as a source of drinking water for Carson and Virginia cities. Continuing past Marlette, we’d hit a junction with the Tahoe Rim Trail and the new Capital to Tahoe Trail.

We stashed my friend’s truck at a small parking area at the base of the Kings Canyon Trail — our ending point — then carpooled up to Spooner Summit. At an elevation of more than 7,100 feet, the air was brisk as we stepped out of the car. The weather was unseasonably cool with temperatures only in the 40s, and I was glad for a last-minute decision to wear wool tights beneath my shorts. By 8:30 a.m., we were off.

We dropped gently downhill through groves of aspen trees, paralleling the highway before turning to snake around the east shore of Spooner Lake.

Along the way, we passed dozens of the 58 snow plants we would spot that day. Perennial wildflowers found only in the mountain peaks of California, Nevada and Oregon, snow plants are harbingers of summer. Standing several inches tall and bright red, they pop up like a mushroom after the snow melts, deriving their nutrients from fungi in the soil.

Their Latin name, Sarcodes sanguinea, loosely translates to “bloody, fleshlike plant.”

After passing Spooner Lake, the trail to Marlette was peaceful, and after roughly a half dozen miles, we still hadn’t seen another person.

When we popped out at Marlette Lake, our solitude was interrupted — a crew from the Nevada Department of Wildlife had erected a tent over a creek feeding into the reservoir for a fish spawning operation. We stopped to learn more about their work and the crew humored me and let me net some of the fish they were moving between temporary pools. I approached my task with a bit too much gusto, however, launching my phone into a pool of trout and suckerfish. I frantically dug my phone out of the water and laid it out to dry in the sun.

While waiting for it to dry, we pumped water from a stream flowing into the reservoir before hiking steeply uphill, passing an old cabin and one of just two mountain bikers we would see that day. At the top of the hill, we were above 8,000 feet, and another hiker, the first we’d seen, stumbled out of the woods. I flagged him down and he told me his name was Kenny Krygier and he was competing in the Tahoe 200, a multiday endurance run.

I looked Krygier up later and the Delaware native completed the race. His 200 miles put our 20-something into perspective, as does a promotion by a Carson City tourism group that is paying two hikers $5,000 apiece to hike the Capital to Tahoe Trail in summer 2025 — and then continue to Canada, about 1,600 miles.

As Krygier shuffled along the Tahoe Rim Trail, a couple other runners came up behind him — although, with tired legs and nearly done with the race, none of the competitors were actually “running.” My partner and I turned in the opposite direction and were finally on the Capital to Tahoe Trail.

Once we left the junction with the Tahoe Rim Trail, we saw fresh mountain bike tire tracks but didn’t see another soul for 10 miles. We traversed beneath patches of snow feeding streams, hillsides of wildflowers and stunning views of Washoe Lake and Carson City. We passed through what was arguably the largest stand of lupine I have ever seen — and then the Capital to Tahoe Trail unceremoniously ended at a fairly dry and open hillside.

Shadows from the trees were turning long as we turned onto the Ash to King Trail, with several miles to go until we reached the truck. As we neared Carson City, the sun dipped behind the hills, mountain bikers and hikers passing us in the opposite direction as they started after-work hikes and rides. Our legs were heavy and I was anxious to reach the truck — I had accidentally left my lunch in it, and had spent the day nibbling on bars, dried fruit and a pouch of squeezable peanut butter.

We rounded a corner and suddenly the adventure was over. We weren’t at the capitol building but we were at cans of cold fizzy water and slices of leftover pizza tucked safely in a cooler. We checked an app we’d used to track our mileage — slightly more than 23.

Nevada Trail Finder had earmarked the hike as 25 miles, and my hiking partner and I were a little disappointed to know we’d come up short. Not disappointed enough, though, to keep trekking the additional 4.4 miles down the Lincoln Bypass Trail to King Street and the capitol.   

Instead, we hopped in the truck, drove down King Street and parked. We walked the last few feet up to the capitol building. 

Other Lake Tahoe trail projects to watch

Hiking 23 miles in a day isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there are plenty of other Tahoe-area trails to explore as well as some projects to keep an eye on, including:

On Mount Rose Highway, a series of steep, wooden steps are being reconfigured to increase accessibility to the Tahoe Meadows, where a flat, half-mile long wooden boardwalk runs through a lush alpine meadow filled with streams and wildflowers.

Construction on the project is set to begin in the fall.

Plans are underway to extend the paved, 3-mile-long Tahoe East Shore Trail an additional 8 miles from Sand Harbor to Spooner Summit. A new allocation of $24 million in federal funding will help build the next section from Sand Harbor to Thunderbird Cove. The first step in the expansion is construction of new and expanded parking along state Route 28.

Construction is due to be completed this season on the 2.3-mile Tunnel Creek Singletrack Trail above Incline Village. The new trail will reduce conflicts between hikers and bikers on the busy Tunnel Creek Road, a popular route to and from Monkey Rock, Marlette Flume Trail, Incline Flume Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail.

And, missing, faded and outdated interpretive panels will be replaced along the 1.7-mile round-trip Stateline Fire Lookout Trail in Crystal Bay. The 11 interpretive panels and kiosk tell the history of the lake along a paved trail with benches.


Here’s what else I’m reading (and listening to) this week: 

A disturbing but worthwhile read examining the lack of mental health care for firefighters, from Cal Matters

A mosquito explosion in the Las Vegas area is leaving Southern Nevadans itching for relief, per the Nevada Current.

Inside Climate News looks at why protections for greater sage-grouse continue to stall. 

The Los Angeles Times looks at a rescue plan for Joshua Trees, one of the Southwest’s most iconic plants. 

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