Back to index Thompson Peak Hike
Trip Date:  7/24/2020

: 8.5 Miles

Vertical Gain: 2200'

Group Size: 7

Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard    Strenuous
Thompson Peak Route
Download GPXGPX for this trip
Thompson Peak Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 38 47.799, W 119 58.451     End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   Take Highway 50 to Highway 89 or north from Pickett's Junction (Hwy 88.)  Follow Highway 89 to the entrace to the roadside parking area for the Grass Lake trailhead that accesses the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT.)  There is room for 7-8 cars on the north side of the highway and about the same number on the south side.

Hazards of Note:   Bears, bikes on the Tahoe Rim Trail section especially near the junction of the Saxon Creek trail, significant route-finding required.  A mile walk along Highway 89 back to the car as well as crossing the road to get to the safest location to walk back to the cars. Crowd Factor:   High to None.  The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a very popular trail and this section can see heavy mountain bike usage.  Once off-trail you will run into nobody.
General Notes:
From the parking area head you will see a Tahoe Rim Trailhead kiosk just uphill from the road.  Head up this trail and you will meet up with the Tahoe Rim Trail proper at a junction after 3/4 of a mile.  You will gain about 500' of elevation in this section alone, as it has to go uphill quickly to meet up with the TRT.  Turn right toward Armstrong Pass, and you will spend much of the next few miles in the forest with a few quick views toward the south and west on the way.  There is a junction with the Saxon Creek Trail a couple of miles up the trail, which is the start of the popular mountain bike run known as "Mr Toad's Wild Ride."  This is a very popular mountain bike trail and you will meet up with a number of bikers even on a weekday.  
After about three miles on the TRT you will come to the first of two gorgeous meadows, the second of which is Freel Meadows.  Not sure if the first one is part of the same meadow, but it is lovely and a good warm up for the much larger Freel Meadows further ahead.
Just past Freel Meadows you will need to leave the trail, and from a navigation standpoint your best bet is to look for Grass Lake Creek, head toward and across it in a pretty valley area that had frequent sightings of bear scat.  After crossing the creek you will need to start heading southwest up the ridge in front of you.  Much to our suprise and delight about halfway up there we discovered a set of rocky cairns which someone had set out, making for one of the best marked off-trail routes I've ever seen.  There were rock stacks all the way to the top of Thompson Peak  at most 50 feet from each other, so it was easy to follow that route even without a map or GPS.  Once at the peak you will be rewarded with remarkable views from a relatively unknown peak which stretch all the way from the east (Cary Peak, Markleeville, Thornburg Peak) to the south (Hope Valley, Carson Pass and the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness) to the west (Waterhouse Peak, Little Round Top) and then even the Crystal Range to the north.  It was pretty unexpected to have such amazing views in so many directions.
Although the route-finding from the TRT to the peak is a primary reason for rating this trail as "Hard," the next part, finding a safe route down the mountain is another reason.  There are known routes described online heading back along the ridge to the east and then dropping down to Forest Road 51, but we decided to head down the Northwest, angling alternately toward the Grass Lake Creek and Highway 89 at the same time.  This was a tricky descent, as we dropped 1700' in less than a mile.  We had to cross the creek before reaching Highway 89.
The last mile from here is a walk along Highway 89 back to the cars.  If you drop down to Road 51, you will have nearly 3 miles of road walking to get back to the starting point.

Our group getting ready to head up the trail from the parking area along Highway 89. Prepping
Right at the start is a ubiquitous blue Tahoe Rim Trail marker as well as a kiosk that you see at most of the popular trailheads to access the TRT. Up the trail 
Right from the trailhead you can actually get a quick glimpse of our eventual destination of Thompson Peak, less than 2 miles away. Our destination 
You will get to enjoy lots of elevation gain early on both on the connector trail as well as the actual TRT when you reach that section. Elevation gain
Although much of the early trail is forested, there are a couple of nice views which make themselves available to the south and to the west. Early long view 
Take a few moments to stop and enjoy a break about 3 miles in at a rocky section with a view toward Lake Tahoe. Snack Stop Snack Stop
Halfway along the TRT section is the junction for the Saxon Creek trail, a very popular mountain bike run that starts from here. Junction
Reaching the first meadow on your left as you head east is pretty amazing, and there is an even bigger one that awaits not too far further up the trail. Meadow
Luck was with us for photography on this day as the clouds in the sky were amazing with the meadow stretched out before us. Freel Meadow
Just past the second meadow we headed off the TRT to the south, down into a valley where the Grass Lake Creek starts.  There was lots of water here and some amazing open spots that would be perfect for camping away from the crowds. Grass Lake Creek valley
Along the ridgeline, not even at the peak as of yet we found some nice views southeast toward Markleeville and Hawkins Peak. Along the ridgeline
The view from the peak took all of us by surprise, because it was so open and expansive and in so many directions. At the peak
This view south of Hope Valley and beyond was beyond description. Hope Valley
Lunch was great and the group was just beyond excited about our visual discovery. Lunch
Our intrepid group of explorers just before heading down the side of the mountain. Group Shot
Although not really able to capture the true steepness of the way down by camera, the section of elevation profile for the next 3/4 of a mile does help. Down Down
While not the most exciting section of the trip, after the steep scaling down the mountain the footing was certainly much better on this last mile along highway 89. Highway walk
GPX track of our hike from the bottom left, and then circling around clockwise until we completed the loop. GPS track of hike