Ultimate Guide to Trail Runs in Lake Tahoe

I can’t believe how many of the best trail races in California are within 25 miles of my hometown of Truckee!  I feel pretty lucky to live here and explore these trails as often as possible.  If you don’t live here signing up for one ore more of these runs is a great way to stay safe and have support while exploring the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains of Lake Tahoe and Truckee. I also recommend checking out local running clubs like the Donner Party Mountain Runners and becoming a member if you want to do training runs and get more familiar with the area.  With the high snow pack trail runs in July and August are going to be perfect this year for trail conditions and wild flower viewing! 

Best trail runs and races in Lake Tahoe and Truckee for 2017.  Signup and start training! 


Sierra Crest Ultra Run
When: August 5, 2017
Where: Tahoe Donner to Donner Summit
Distance: 50k, 30k, or 15k
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Sierra Crest 30K and 50K is an exciting point to point trail run that takes advantage of some of the Truckee and Donner Summit area’s best single track trails.  The courses offer scenic views of some of the Northern Sierra’s most stunning terrain, including the Euer Valley, Frog Lake Cliffs, Summit Lake, Castle Peak, and other incredible peaks of the Sierra Crest.  The 30K and 50K courses take advantage of Tahoe Donner’s extensive trail system, the Auburn Ski Club (ASC) trails, as well as the Donner Lake Rim Trail as they literally cross the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The event is unique, and so are the courses – there are no repeated trail segments in any of the courses! Starting at Tahoe Donner’s new Alder Creek Adventure Center, and finishing at Auburn Ski Club Training Center, at the western terminus of the Boreal Mountain Resort’s parking area, the point-to-point 30K and 50K runs offer a challenging, but manageable route across the crest.  Shuttles ($15 per person) from ASC to Tahoe Donner keep the logistics easy and allow racers to focus on their running.  Last year was the first year for this race and this year’s event looks to build on last year’s strengths with minor improvements to the course, improved depth of field, and even a new distance!

New this year, the 15K course starts, and finishes at The Alder Creek Adventure Center in Tahoe Donner.  The course follows the first stage of the Sierra Crest 50K Ultra Run down to and around the beautiful Euer Valley and back.  The 15K race will begin at 8:10 am, right after the 30K race begins.

Click here for all of the race information including maps, pre race information and more.  

Tahoe Rim Trail above Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe.  Photo by Rachel Mccullough.

Marlette 50k and 10 Miler
When: August 13, 2017
Where: Spooner Lake, Nevada
Distance: 50k and 10 Miler
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Marlette 50K is a truly adventurous romp through some of planet earth’s most scenic and challenging trails.  Based at Spooner Lake in Lake Tahoe Nevada’s State Park the run features 30 miles of epic trails and views.  Think prime Sierra single track and add in 360 degree panorama views of Lake Tahoe, the Carson Valley and Carson Range.  Marlette Lake lies in the middle of the course and if you’re heating up during the run feel free to take a plunge. The Marlette 10 Miler starts at Spooner Lake and heads north on the North Canyon Trail. Then heads along the south shore of Marlette Lake featuring views of the canyon and Snow Valley Peak.  

The 50K course boasts 5353’ of elevation gain and 5389’ of loss so this race is guaranteed to be a challenge.  If you didn’t sign up for one of the Tahoe Rim Trail runs this might be a good alternative. Click here for more information. 

Castle Peak 100 Photo by Scott Rokis, official race photographer https://www.scottrokis.com/

Castle Peak 100
When: August 26, 2017
Where: Prosser Hill OHV to Donner Memorial State Park
Distance: 100k
Registration: Ultra Signup

Experience dramatic scenery, demanding trails and genuine support on this point-to-point mountain course.  The Castle Peak 100k trail race starts near the historic Donner Camp in Truckee, California, where runners will climb and descend some 14,000 feet at an average elevation of 7,100 feet.  The course tours the Tahoe National Forest, Tahoe Donner, Donner Lake Rim Trail, Basin and Castle Peaks, Royal Gorge and Sugar Bowl before descending Cold Stream Canyon to finish at Donner Memorial State Park.  Please be advised that the course includes a 1.25-mile section (the Palisades) of very technical, risky and exposed scrambling and may not be appropriate for those with a fear of heights.  Click here to view all of the details on the Castle Peak 100k website. 

Castle Peak 100k is produced by the Donner Party Mountain Runners, an all-volunteer non-profit organization. Their mission is to inform and inspire mountain runners in Truckee-Tahoe. Check them out and become a member today.

If you register now for this run you will be able to do a FREE three-day course preview/training run on July 21-23, 2017!   

Here’s a race report to get you inspired!

2017 Castle Peak 100k finishers earn 4 points towards 2018 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Qualification.

Tahoe 200 Endurance Ultra
When: September 8, 2017
Where: Tahoe City, California
Distance: 205.5 miles and up to 100 hours
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Tahoe 200 is the first and only 200 mile single loop mountain trail race in the United States! The event has 35,117 feet of climbing and a total of 70,234 feet of elevation change.  This incredible route circumnavigates the sparkling, clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail.  The race occasionally detours off the TRT to explore aspen meadows, rock gardens of giants, small and impossibly blue lakes, thick canopied forests, and long ridge lines with stunning views of Lake Tahoe.  The course is nothing less than magical.  

There are 200 spots for the race and it’s full for 2017.  Registration for the 2018 event will open sometime in November so signup to get a reminder if this race is on your bucket list because it sold out pretty quickly last year.  For all race information click here.

Emerald Bay Trail Run
When: September 17, 2017
Where: D.L. Bliss State Park, California
Distance: 7 Miler
Registration: Ultra Signup

Called “One of America’s Most Scenic Trail Runs” by Competitor Magazine, this trail run is defined by both the incredible beauty of Lake Tahoe and the towering peaks of the High Sierra.  The Emerald Bay Trail Run starts at Eagle Point and takes runners around Emerald Bay and up the Rubicon Trail to D.L. Bliss State Park to finish at Lester Beach.  The course is 7 miles  / 11k point-to-point and features mostly single track with moderate climbs and descents.  The trail is somewhat technical with natural granite steps. It is hard not to look at the stellar views of Lake Tahoe while running!

Plan on bringing the family and spending the day for this race.  Emerald Bay State Park is considered one of the most beautiful areas in the United States.  Carved by ancient glaciers, Emerald Bay offers unequaled scenic hiking and trail running.  There’s also a post event party with music, food and beverages, raffle, awards and swag from race sponsors. 

Tahoe Flume Trail Fall Classic Photo by Scott Rokis, official event photographer.

Tahoe Flume Trail Fall Classic
When: October 7, 2017
Where: Spooner Lake to Tunnel Creek, Nevada
Distance: 13.1 Miler
Registration: Ultra Signup

This run goes along some of the most iconic trails in Lake Tahoe with views that will not disappoint.  Runners start with one mile of climbing on a jeep road into the backcountry and are rewarded with a beautiful single track trail called Marlette Lake Trail.  Before getting to the lake runners will climb another 1500 over 3 miles through conifers and aspen groves passing an old loggers cabin on their way to Marlette Saddle, the highest point on the course at 8,200 feet.  After cresting the hill, the trail then descends a half mile to Marlette Lake at 7,823 feet and follows a flat jeep road for a while along the shore.  

After Marlette Dam and an Aid Station break, runners drop onto the Flume Trail for 4.5 miles of running on flat, narrow (sometimes very narrow) single track trail with some of the most spectacular views you will ever experience.  Finally comes the long downhill down Tunnel Creek Road (another jeep road).  You’ll finish at Tunnel Creek Cafe ready for some refreshments and nourishment.

For more information on this great run check out Ascent Runs

Great Trail Race
When: October 8, 2017
Where: Truckee to Tahoe City Cross Country
Distance: 30k
Registration: www.imathlete.com

The Great Trail Race is a fundraiser for Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue with runners and mountain bikers racing between Truckee and Tahoe City, California.  Check out the event website for more details.  


Carson Canyons Half Marathons 
When: Saturday, April 1, 2017
Where: Long Ranch Park, Carson City, Nevada
Distance: 13.2 Miler or 6.7 Miler
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Carson Canyons Half Marathon is the first of 3 races in a Half Marathon Series put on by Ascent Runs. This trail run starts and ends at Long Ranch Park in Carson City making it great for the whole family to come hang out.  Runners use some paved roads then mostly dirt singletrack trails rolling through the lower foothills of the Sierra below Lake Tahoe. The course provides spectacular views of the mountains and Carson City.  There are two distances runners can choose from- a full half marathon of 13.2 miles or a half half marathon which is 6.7 miles.  Runners of both distances and all abilities will enjoy the mixed terrain of this course.  After record snowfall over the winter the trails are sure to be in excellent condition, with flowing rivers and early spring flowers. This is a great race to kick off your season!

For more information, to register and for other race information – check out Ascent Runs. Their mission is to create and host challenging, fun and memorable trail running experiences that promote the natural environment of the Tahoe Basin and contribute to the success of local businesses and communities.  I’m all for that!

Silver State 50/50
When: May 20, 2017
Where: Rancho San Rafael Park, Reno, Nevada
Distance: 50 Miler, 50k or Half Marathon
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Silver State 50 Miler and 50k are celebrating 32 years of Endurance Runs this year and eight years for the Trail Half Marathon.  The 50/50 has a long and rich history as one of the most challenging trail runs on the West Coast.  The 50/50 offers a wide variety of terrain for all types of runners, with plenty of climbing and descending. The course has enough dirt, rock, pine trees, excellent single track, altitude and exquisite views of the Sierra Nevada and the Truckee Meadows to satisfy the demands of runners who yearn for a fun, challenging day.  Both the 50-mile and 50-kilometer races are considered excellent trainers for the Western States 100-miler and the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler.  The trail half-marathon provides 13.1 miles of single track, with climbing and descending through some of the most memorable country in the West.  No matter what event you choose, you will find a well-marked course, friendly volunteers, lots of nourishment as well as salty and sweet goodies at the aid stations.  There is also great post-race fun, food and drink at the finish at Rancho San Rafael Park.

There are seven aid stations for the 50k and 12 for the 50-miler.  The course is run 100 percent on dirt trails and dirt roads.  50-miler runners will climb and descend 9,500 feet, 50k runners will climb and descend 6,100 feet.  The highest elevation on the course is 8,266 feet and the lowest point is 4,700.  In addition to online registration they will also have in-person, day-before and morning of registration but I don’t recommend waiting.  Click here for more details about this challenging race.

Tahoe Rim Trail Training Runs 
When: June 11, 2017
Where: Parking Lot at Hwy 50 and Hwy 28
Distance: 55k full loop or 26 miler option
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Runs holds a training run to showcase different sections of the TRT Endurance Run course. This is a great event for newcomers so they can become familiar with the trail and the conditions you might encounter on race day.  The run will be the entire 55K course including Red House Loop with a turnaround option at 26 miles at the top of Tunnel Creek.  Limited to 150 runners. The run begins and ends at the dirt parking lot at the intersection of Hwy 50 and Hwy 28. The training day will include 2 aid stations, one at Tunnel Creek and one at Hobart, with bare essentials. Each runner is advised to bring at least two water bottles or a bladder system that carries a minimum of 70 ounces. Come ready to have fun in the Tahoe sun and enjoy end of run refreshments and barbecue.

Registration opens Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 12:00 AM at Ultra Signup and fills up quickly so mark your calendars and set you reminders, this is one you don’t want to miss! For more information on other local runs check out the Tahoe Mountain Milers Running Club.

Broken Arrow Skyrace
When: June 16-17, 2017
Where: Squaw Valley USA
Distance: Vertical K, 26k, 52k
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Broken Arrow Skyrace, presented by Salomon, is a two day event held at Squaw Valley.  The race features off-trail scrambling on steep terrain with huge vertical gains and losses at altitude in three different distances: 52K, 26K and Vertical K.  Runners will enjoy spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley’s high-alpine terrain.  This race traverses famous Squaw Valley Ski Resort.  After the race participants can enjoy food, beer, music, films and fun activities. This race is part of the US Skyrunning Series.  Check conditions and make sure you have the right gear for this race.  After all of the snow this past winter and Squaw Valley staying open until July this will be a snowy race!  Make sure you have snow traction devices, we recommend Microspikes.  Check out the race facebook page for updates on trail conditions, they did mention the race might be rescheduled for September 15-16.

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
When: June 24, 2017
Where: Squaw Valley USA to Auburn California
Distance: 100 miler
Registration: Click here to apply for 2018 Race Lottery

The Western States 100 Mile Endurance run is the world’s oldest 100 mile trail race.  It starts in Squaw Valley, California, and ends 100.2 miles away in Auburn, California.  Western States, in the decades since its inception in 1974, has come to represent one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world.

Following the historic Western States Trail, runners climb more than 18,000 feet and descend nearly 23,000 feet before they reach the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn.  In the miles between Squaw Valley and Auburn, runners experience the majestic high country beauty of Emigrant Pass and the Granite Chief Wilderness, the crucible of the canyons of the California gold country, a memorable crossing of the ice-cold waters of the main stem of the Middle Fork of the American River, and during the latter stages, the historic reddish brown colored trails that led gold seeking prospectors and homesteading pilgrims alike to the welcoming arms of Auburn.

For more than four decades, Western States has been home to some of trail running’s most stirring and legendary competitions, and has spurred the capacity of the spirit of all runners, of all abilities and from all walks of life, from all over the globe.

Western States is the pinnacle of 100 ultra runs. You need to enter a lottery in advance to get a spot in this race and demand is high.  Last year there were 4248 applicants for the 2017 Western States Lottery which was held on December 3, 2016 at Placer High School in Auburn for 250 spots. There are a total of 369 runners allowed per the permit from the U.S. Forest Service.  The lottery for the 2018 race will be held on December 2, 2017, from 8:30-11:30 AM.  For more information about the lottery and to sign up click here

Burton Creek Trail Run
When: June 18, 2017
Where: Highlands Community Center, Tahoe City
Distance: Half Marathon, 6k, 12k
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Burton Creek Trail Run takes place on a beautiful, fun and challenging trail system within Burton Creek State Park near Tahoe City, CA.  The course features miles of single track through pine forests and high sierra meadows.

Burton Creek is sure to be raging this year after the record snowfall this past winter.  Runners see and hear the creek often as the trail rolls through the alpine forest.  This year also holds the potential to have spectacular wildflowers, if the snow melts in time.  Check out this challenging and fun course.

The Burton Creek Half Marathon is one of the best Lake Tahoe Half Marathons and fun for the whole family. They have age appropriate distance kids races for those 4 and older so everyone can have fun running.  Check here for all the details including schedules, course preview, pre-runs for the course.  After the race enjoy great swag and awards that include a free digital race photo, post event festivities, music, beverages, recovery food like fruit and bagels, and medical staff on hand.

Creek2Peak Trail Run
When: July 8, 2017
Where: Davis Creek Regional Campground, Washoe Valley
Distance: 21 Miler
Registration: Ultra Signup

This run starts at Davis Creek Regional Park Campground in Washoe Valley and climbs 5000’ in 10.5 miles to the top of Slide Mountain.  The course begins with a gradual rise that traverses the lower contour of the mountain.  This introduction doesn’t last long before the climbing gets steeper and more technical especially after crossing Ophir Creek just a couple of miles into the trail.  After crossing the creek, runners will continue uphill past intersections for Rock Lake and Upper Price Lake staying on the Ophir Creek Trail.  Once above Upper Price Lake, the climbing starts to become more moderate and eventually easing just before connecting with the Tahoe Rim Trail.  The TRT takes runners across Tahoe Meadows up the TRT trailhead parking area along Mt. Rose highway.  The course then continues across the parking area onto the Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail leading everyone to Mt. Rose Campground.  There is a brief section of pavement through the campground before accessing a dirt road that climbs steeply up the backside of Mt Rose Ski Area to the top of Slide Mountain at 9698’.  Here at the top, the views will take your breathe away if the elevation already hasn’t!  Runners then retrace their steps back to the finish at Davis Creek Campground.  This is a challenging trail with some very steep and technical sections that make it difficult to run, even downhill.

This run is part of the Ascent Peaks Tahoe Dirt & Vert Series of uphill runs.  The series is designed to tour some of the best dirt and vert around Tahoe with lots of fun and prizes! The two other runs in the series are: Genoa Peak Madathon on June 10, 2017 and Capital Climb on August 5, 2017.  Complete all three events for an ADVENTURE UP prize. Check out all the details here!

Photos by Vicky Vaughn Shea of Sara Holm running the 50 Miler in 2016

Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run
When: July 15-16, 2017
Where: Spooner Lake, Nevada
Distance: 100 Miler, 50 Miler, 55k
Registration: Ultra Signup

The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run is one of the absolute best Ultra runs in the country!  This race will be run on single track trails and dirt roads within Spooner State Park and on the Tahoe Rim Trail located within the state park and on National Forest land all at or above 8,000 feet of elevation.  The 100 mile race will simply be the 50 mile course run twice.  But make no mistake, there is nothing simple about the 100 mile course.  Please refer to the event website for a course description, elevation profile, and finishing times to get a better perception of the difficulty of this course.  All runners must be sufficiently prepared for all trail and environmental conditions.  Running any 100 mile race is a true challenge physically, mentally and emotionally.  Don’t expect to run a PR here. DO expect to find the finest aid stations in ultra running, epic scenery, and world famous volunteers.

The lottery for this race opens December 4, 2016.  Due to high demand for this incredible race, the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs (all three distances) has gone to a lottery registration. Lottery winners were chosen January 1, 2017.  If you sign up after that date you will be put on a waiting list.

For more information about this race check out the Tahoe Mountain Milers Running Club.

Squaw Mountain Run
When: July 29, 2017
Where: Squaw Valley USA
Distance: 3.6 Miles up 2000 Vertical Feet
Registration: Tahoe Mountain Sports starting June 19 or online Active.com

Every year on the first Saturday of August hundreds of runners and hikers have made the annual pilgrimage to the top of Squaw Valley to enjoy an awesome workout and take in the stunning views of Lake Tahoe and the High Sierra. Starting at the base of Squaw Valley USA at 6200’ elevation, the course climbs 2000 feet in 3.6 miles to High Camp at 8200’.  There you are rewarded with music, refreshments, beer if over 21, a raffle and awards.

Participants can to run or take a more leisurely pace and hike, hiking poles are encouraged.  For those who want to experience the wild flowers and alpine terrain without running or hiking up 2000’ there’s an option to take the cable car up and have a guided wild flower walk through alpine meadows.  This year promises to be spectacular after the epic winter and snowfall.  Lots of flowers will be blooming.

This run is a benefit for Tahoe Forest Health System Foundation and helps fund program and services for cancer patients at Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center.  For many the event has become a way to celebrate life following personal struggles with cancer or in memory of a loved one who had cancer.  In the past six years since Auburn Ski Club took over the event they have raised over $20,000 to donate to the Foundation.

Do you have what it takes? Join Tahoe Mountain Sports and the Auburn Ski Club Training Center – Nordic and run for a cause. This is definitely a family friendly race with many options for everyone to have fun.  You can register online or in person starting June 19, 2017 at Tahoe Mountain Sports in Truckee.




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