Hike Blackwood Canyon to Ward Canyon

By Tim Hauserman

An early September morning found me on the Tahoe Rim Trail between Barker Pass and Ward Creek. This has always been one of my favorite sections of the TRT. The trail traverses across a fascinating volcanic slope, passing a number of small streams and seeps flush with greenery and a few remaining flowers. It also provides expansive views of both Blackwood and Ward Canyon, and Lake Tahoe in the distance. But my favorite part of this trail are the trees. At 8000 feet on the west shore of Lake Tahoe there is a lot of snow, and the trees that thrive on the deep powder: Red fir, western white pine and hemlock grow tall and strong along the trail. In fact, in a particularly lush grove at the headwaters of Blackwood Creek is said to be the biggest hemlock in the Tahoe region.

The combined TRT and Pacific Crest Trail begins at the top of Barker Pass. Catch the road, across Highway 89 from Kaspian Park about 4 miles south of Tahoe City. Climb seven miles up the canyon to the end of pavement, then follow the wide dirt road an additional half mile to the PCT trailhead on the right.

The TRT begins climbing through a lush forest of red fir, then passes through wide fields of Mule Ears with views to the south of Desolation Wilderness. At about a mile, you reach awesome views across Blackwood Canyon to Lake Tahoe. Now, the route traverses along the edge of the canyon soon reaching two large volcanic knobs.

From here, the trail drops down into the bowl which contains those humongous hemlocks.The walk is now sublime with views of Tahoe, seep springs, ancient trees and craggy volcanic rock formations. After a gentle descent, an extended climb begins on a series of long switchbacks to the top of the ridge. Here at the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness, 360 degree views are found as well as giant western white pines, battered by the winds.

Next, the PCT and TRT part, as the TRT heads to the east over the shoulder of Twin Peaks, and down into Ward Canyon. It’s a long descent through alternating thick forest and fields of Mules Ears with views of Twin Peaks and the Pacific Crest. You pass little McCloud Falls just off trail then cross on a bridge over Ward Creek, before a last few miles of gentle descent to the road.