Day Hikes around Donner Summit

Tahoe National Forest

Donner Summit

Pacific Crest Trail Day Hikes

Tahoe National Forest Map

Tahoe's Top Trails

Day Hikes around Donner Summit

hikers in the Tahoe National Forest, CA

Everywhere you turn around Donner Summit you find a trailhead that marks the beginning of a great day hike. Trails leading out north or south from the top of the pass have spectacular views down the slopes to east and west. In the off-the-beaten-path Grouse Ridge area, a network of moderate trails winds among lakes. More hikes are found off Highway 20 and Interstate 80, some easy walks, others steep climbs.

Donner Summit Area Day Hikes

Castle Peak

Distance: 3.5 miles one way
Elevation changes: +1,850 feet (7,250' - 9,100')
Trailhead: Donner Summit

Castle Peak at Donner Summit, CA

The popular trek to the top of Castle Peak is a great day hike. Panoramic views of the surrounding mountain terrain make cameras an essential part of your supplies. By mid-summer carry plenty of water. Start at Donner Summit either at the Castle Peak turnoff or the Pacific Crest Trail parking area. Head up the Pacific Crest Trail to Castle Pass (2.5 miles). Then turn up the obvious ridge to the summit of Castle Peak. Several alternate trailheads and routes can also lead you to the top.


Mount Lincoln

Distance: 3.5 miles one way
Elevation changes: +1,200 feet (7,100' - 8,300')
Trailhead: Pacific Crest Trail at Donner Pass (Highway 40)

Mount Lincoln at Sugar Bowl, CA

The hike south on the Pacific Crest Trail offers wonderful views of the western slope of Donner Pass and the surrounding peaks at Sugar Bowl Ski Area.

Limited parking is found along Old Donner Summit Road near the Pacific Crest Trail. The hike begins with steep switch backs but soon settles into an easier climb as it traverses Mount Judah. After 3 miles turn right up the ridge to the summit of Mount Lincoln. On your return you can detour over the summit of Mount Judah, reconnecting with the PCT after less than two miles.


Grouse Ridge Day Hikes

Round Lake

Photo of Round Lake, Tahoe National Forest, CA

Distance: 2 miles one way
Elevation changes: +300 feet (6,700' - 7,000')
Trailhead: Carr Lake

From the Carr Lake trailhead it is an easy hike to secluded Round Lake. The trail leads past Feely Lake and then climbs a short hill before leveling off again as it passes the turnoff to Island Lake. Continue as if headed for Glacier Lake, watching for the turnoff to Round Lake on your right soon after seeing Long Lake on your left. A few hundred yard long trail takes you to Round Lake.


Milk Lake

Distance: 1 mile one way
Elevation changes: -500 feet (7,500' - 7,000')
Trailhead: Grouse Ridge Lookout

Milk Lake at Grouse Ridge, CA

From Grouse Ridge Lookout, descend along the ridge toward Milk Lake, turning left at the trail junctions at 0.5 miles. Resist temptations to strike out cross country to Milk Lake too soon, thus avoiding thick brush. The trail to Milk Lake leads into the west end of the lake. You'll find great shore fishing there.

An alternate hike to Downey Lake can be made by taking the trail off the Milk Lake trail at mile 0.5 and following the Downey Lake trail downhill for another half mile.


Easy Interpretive Trails

Sierra Discovery Trail

Sierra Discovery Trail, CA

Distance: 1 mile loop
Elevation: 4,600' - virtually level
Trailhead: Sierra Discovery Trail parking lot off Bowman Lake Road

Drive 0.5 miles on Bowman Lake Road off Highway 20 to the trailhead. There you will find restrooms, information kiosks, water, and a small picnic area. The well maintained trail makes a loop through the meadow and forest and along easy-flowing Bear River. Along the trail you will pass 12-foot high Bear River Falls. It is an easy hike for children.


Rock Creek Nature Trail

Rock Creek Nature Trail, Highway 20, CA

Distance: 1 mile loop
Elevation: -100, +100 feet (3,400 - 3,300')
Trailhead: Rock Creek Nature Trail 2 miles east of Five Mile House on Highway 20

To reach the trailhead for this short nature trail, turn onto the Washington Ridge Conservation Camp Road near the Five Mile House on Highway 20. After 1 mile watch for a sign: Nature Trail. Turn left there and descend 1 mile to parking. A picnic table and pit toilet are found there but no water. The easy, shaded hike follows along Rock Creek. Brochures are available at the trailhead and native plants and trees are labeled.


Loney Meadow Interpretive Trail

Distance: 1 mile loop
Elevation: +100 feet (6,000' - 6,100')
Trailhead: Loney Meadow on Forest Road 18-20, off Bowman Lake Road, off Highway 20

To reach the trailhead drive 10.5 miles out Bowman Lake Road off Highway 20. Turn right and travel approximately 10.5 miles until just after the pavement ends. Turn right where a sign marks the rough, cattle road 0.7 miles away. You will travel through a logged area and veer to the left to the Loney Meadow Parking lot. High clearance vehicles are advised.

This short hike is popular for its wildflowers, birds, and wildlife. The trail passes through an old homestead and a short distance up the side of Bowman Mountain. Other trails connect to nearby lakes such as Bullpen Lake (1 mile each way additional), which make an even more enjoyable hike.

Loney Meadow Interpretive Trail, Tahoe National Forest, CA


Glacier Meadow Loop Interpretive Trail

Distance: 0.5 mile loop
Elevation: virtually level (7,200')
Trailhead: Pacific Crest Trail parking area near Boreal Ski Area

Exit Interstate 80 at the Boreal Ski Area, drive to the south side of the freeway and turn left toward the Pacific Crest Trail parking area. Enjoy the small loop trail around West Lakes. For more adventure head out on the PCT in either direction.


Boca Townsite Interpretive Trail

Distance: 0.5 mile loop
Elevation: slight uphill grade (5,600')
Trailhead: Hirschdale exit off Interstate 80 east of Truckee

The Boca Townsite Trail located east of Truckee recreates images of the historic town of Boca first built as a construction camp for the Central Pacific Railroad and later provided ice and timber for the Boca Mill and Ice Company.
Boca Townsite Trail


Omega Diggings Overlook Trail

Distance: 0.3 mile loop
Elevation: 5,150 feet - paved trail virtually level
Trailhead: Omega Rest Area, 18 miles east of Nevada City on Highway 20

Omega Diggings Overlook, Highway 20, CA

This short, paved trail winds along the ridge to an overlook with an interpretive sign providing the names of all the major peaks and other features visible from the panoramic view point. Visible below in the valley are the scars of early mining in the area. The trail is suitable for children, but steep cliffs are nearby.

Along the trail are a number of interpretive signs. Nearby at the rest stop are restrooms. The rest stop is also situated on the Pioneer Trail, providing opportunities for longer hikes in the area.


Donner Lake Area Trails

Lakeshore Interpretive Trail

Distance: 2.5 miles round trip
Elevation: 5,900 feet, level trail
Trailhead: Donner Memorial State Park, Donner Lake

Eighteen trailside exhibits illustrate the history of the Emigrant Trail and tell of the area?s geology and ecology, Washoe culture, and the local recreational possibilities. The path leads to, and along, Donner Lake. At trail?s end at the lake are picnic tables.


Donner Memorial State Park Nature Trail

Distance: 0.5 miles round trip
Elevation: 5,900 feet, level trail
Trailhead: Donner Memorial State Park Museum, Donner Lake

The trail meanders by a pine and fir forest to Donner Creek. An interpretive booklet, available at the museum, explains the flora and fauna in the area.


Donner Camp trail, CA

Donner Camp Interpretive Trail

Distance: 0.3 miles loop
Elevation: 5,786 feet, level trail, accessible
Trailhead: Donner Camp, 3 miles north of Truckee on Highway 89

The trail makes a simple loop through the meadow. Interpretive signs tell about the Donner family's camp there. Restrooms and picnic tables available. In the spring the meadow is alive with wildflowers.


Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail

Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail, Tahoe National Forest, CA

Distance: 13 miles one way
Elevation: +1,000 feet and -1,000 feet (6,200' - 5,750' - 6,100' - 5,800' - 6,000')
Starting Point: Alder Creek Road west of Prosser Creek Reservoir or Dog Valley Road at Stampede Reservoir

Starting at Alder Creek Road the trail heads downhill, paralleling the road for 2½ miles before crossing and angling northeast to the Donner Camp. A picnic area with restrooms and water are found there. Then the trail circles the northwest end of Prosser Creek Reservoir before aiming north toward Stampede Reservoir, ending on Dog Valley Road.

map of the Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail, Tahoe National Forest, CA


Other Passes - Other Hiking Trails

Echo Summit

At the south end of Lake Tahoe, Echo Summit (Highway 50) is the gateway to the Desolation Wilderness. Enjoyable hikes lead out from Echo Lakes, Horsetail Falls, and all around the Crystal Basin.
For the best hiking ideas around Echo Summit, see Discover Echo Summit.

Carson Pass

Drive south on Highway 89 out of Meyers and arrive at the Hope Valley on Carson Pass (Highway 88). Or take the Mormon Emigrant Trail Road south from Sly Park. Discover the great hiking trails around Carson Pass, Caples Lake, Silver Lake, and Blue Lakes. For information on Carson Pass, see Up and Over Carson Pass.

Ebbetts Pass

A little farther south you find dramatic Ebbetts Pass (Highway 4) with hiking trails around beautiful Lake Alpine and out at Spicer Meadow Reservoir. Down near Arnold you can hike on the new Arnold Rim Trail. To learn about all the great hiking on Ebbetts Pass, see Ebbetts Pass Adventures.

Sonora Pass

Sonora Pass (Highway 108) is the gateway to the Emigrant Wilderness. A number of enjoyable day hikes lead out of places like Kennedy Meadows, Leavitt Meadow, and Pinecrest. Learn all about them on Sonora Pass Vacations.