Back to index TRT - Segment 5b - Armstrong Pass to Big Meadow
Trip Date:  07/14/2015

: 10.4 Miles

Vertical Gain: 1300'

Group Size: 1

Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate   Hard    Strenuous
TRT Segment 5b Trip
Download GPX GPX for this trip
TRT Segment 5b Trail Profile

Start Coordinates:   N 38 49.823, W 119 54.042     End Coordinates:   N 38 47.367, W 120 00.017

Car Shuttle Req'd:   Yes Parking Directions:   For parking at Armstrong Pass, make sure that you have a 4WD or high clearance 2WD vehicle for Forest Road 51.  Take Luther Pass Road (Highway 89) to the turnoff onto Forest Road 51 exactly 1.8 miles north of the junction of Highway 88 and Highway 89.  Follow this dirt road approximately 3.5 miles into the parking area at Armstrong Pass.
For parking at Big Meadow at the end,
take Highway 89 south from Meyers (Hwy 50) or north from Pickett's Junction (Hwy 88) to the parking area for the Big Meadow trailhead on South Upper Truckee Road on the north side of the highway.  Park in the paved parking area.
Hazards of Note:   Bike riders moving very quickly.  A good climb the first mile and a half of over 1000' of elevation. Crowd Factor:   Moderate.  This is a mixed used trail popular mountain biking area so keep an eye out for quickly approaching bicyclists.  
General Notes:
From the parking area on Forest Road 51, head southwest and find the bridge that you didn't just cross with your vehicle to get to the actual trailhead for this point.  You will climb a significant bit over the first part of this hike, and after one mile you will come to a signed junction where you will actually meet up with the Tahoe Rim Trail.  Follow the sign that points southwest to Big Meadow 9 miles away, and continue to climb through the forested trail as it continues gradually but steadily up.
About 2 1/2 miles into the hike is where the views begin to open up, including both great views of Hope Valley and the Central Sierra range to the south, and at one point a glimpse through the trees of Lake Tahoe a number of miles away from you at this point.
This section of trail tops out at about 9500' in elevation, and passes near enough to the top of the ridge for the views that were hinted at earlier really open up for unobstructed views both to the north and the south.  There are even nice views of Freel, Job's Sister and Job's Peaks back from near the trailhead.   Near the halfway point the trail bends a little to the left, and there is a rocky outcropping just about 100 feet off the trail to the right that is worth paying a visit to.  It provides a wonderful view of Lake Tahoe along this segment, the best unobstructed view you will have the entire time.
A little bit past this point you will pass by three pretty amazing meadows, the first one a popular camping area for TRT thru hikers on the left and then two additional ones further up on the right.  After you pass the last meadow and climb a little bit into open area, be sure to look back and enjoy the views of the alpine trail with the Carson Range of mountains far to the south.
As you continue along the trail and it begins to slowly start winding down to the elevation of Big Meadow parking area at 7300' feet, you will meet up with the Saxon Creek Trail which heads down to your right, but you will stay on the trail heading west.  There is one more trail junction about a mile and a half from the end to meet up with Highway 89 at Grass Lake, but you will just continue straight until you reach a bridge and cross over to find yourself at the Big Meadow parking area and the end of this section.
Hope Valley Panorama
Hope Valley and Carson Pass area panorama from halfway along this segment of the TRT

Due to the fact that this is actually just about half of an 'official' TRT segment of nearly 25 miles, there is no standard TRT trailhead kiosk in this area.  However, the trail is easy to find, and almost immediately starts a long journey upwards. Near the start
If you turn around during the first half mile of the trail it is easy to see that you are gaining a significant amount of elevation right away.  Down in the trees below is the parking area just off Forest Road 51 where this segment of the TRT begins.
Looking back 
After picking up the TRT officially about a mile in, there was this specific switchback where the sandy mountains that make of Freel and the more typical brownish dirt for the South Tahoe Area literally changed from one step to the next. Changes 
A little over two miles into the trail the distinctive Hawkins Peak made it's first of many appearances over the duration of this segment. Hawkins
Lake Tahoe also made a quick appearance by the third mile, but I wasn't sure if the trail would offer any other views as it continued along the ridge.  Fortunately, it did! Glimpse of Tahoe 
Pretty soon the rocky Pickett Peak made an appearance, as did Raymond Peak in the distance with its neighboring jagged (and nameless) peak just to the west. Pickett Peak
Soon a nice view of Hope Valley showed itself, and the only way this could possibly be any better might be in the fall when the colors in the area explode into all different hues from yellow to orange to red. Hope Valley
Given the torrential downpour and thunderstorm on the previous segment of hike a week earlier, it was refreshing to look up and see little but blue sky and wispy clouds. Blue skies
This helicopter circled Round Top mountain to the south briefly before turning back north and heading to Lake Tahoe airport. Helicopter 
Try as I might, I am pretty much completely unable to look upon vistas like this and not flash back to scenes from The Sound of Music.  Awesome! Expansive view
Just about halfway through this section the trail hit the top of the ridge, and Freel Peak and Job's sister made an appearance, looking far more inviting on a day like this than on a day with thunder, lightning and hail. Freel area
Early on during this trip Lake Tahoe had made a brief appearance through the trees, but around mile five there was a small rock cairn to the north of the trail which led to this view all the way to the north end of the lake.  Well worth the short detour to get to this spot. Tahoe vista Tahoe again
Continuing on from the viewpoint, the trail returned to the trees, but then soon opened up into a set of very impressive meadows. Surprises ahead
The first meadow on the left side of the trail still had water in the middle of it, and there were a few TRT thru-hikers who were just breaking camp along the north edge as I passed on by. Camping Meadow Camping Meadow
A second and third meadow appeared soon after on the other (right) side of the trail, and the wildflowers were in full display along this spot. Second meadow Third Meadow
One noteable point about this section of trail is that it was very rarely marked with any type of signage.  All of the other sections have been very regularly reminding you of where you are at, but other than the first Big Meadow 9 miles away sign, this was the only sign anywhere between that and about a mile and a half from the end.  This marker indicates the junction with the Saxon Creek trail, a very popular mountain biking diversion. Saxon Creek jct
A little further on the view opened up directly to the west, and to the smooth peak of Little Round Top on the other side of the cleverly named Lake Valley.  The next section of the TRT will actually travel from left to right just below the peak, right were the gray granite ends and the brown peak begins. Little Round Top
Just about a mile and a half from the end is the junction with the Grass Lake trailhead to the TRT, which will cut off a little bit of the trail.  Not exactly certain of the benefit of this spur, as it just dumps out along Highway 89 with no parking (just a turnout.) Another sign Another sign
10 miles from the start there is a nicely maintained bridge which escorts travellers into the Big Meadow parking area.  Hard to imagine doing the entire 25 miles at one time, as it is a lot of miles through pretty scenic country. Bridge to the end
Just about a mile from the end we met up with Liz and her dog Lucy, hikers from North Lake Tahoe who were in the middle of a 5 day trip from Kingsbury to Echo Summit. Hiking partners for a mile
No segment hike would be completely without a visit to the ubiquitous kiosk, with details on the particular segment and even some free maps for those without. TRT kiosk
From right to left this gives you an idea of the terrain and elevation for this particular segment of the TRT.  GPS Track of the hike