Mt. Judah Loop Hiking Trail

Fancy a hike and a swim within a few minutes of each other?  The Mt. Judah Loop Trail near Truckee is a great 5ish mile hike with awesome views of Truckee and Donner, and within five minutes of getting off the trail you can take a swim in Donner Lake to cool off.

  • top trails tahoeTrailhead: Donner Summit Rd & Old Donner Pass Road, at summit of Donner Pass on old Highway 40 – Open in Google Maps.
  • Length: 4.6 miles round trip; 2 hours.
  • Difficulty: Moderate, just over 1,000′ gain in elevation, but it’s mostly exposed.
  • Usage: Hikers, dogs.  Free.
  • Best Time for Photography: Wildflowers are abundant in the spring and through summer.  Afternoons will provide the best lighting towards Donner Lake.
  • Are Drones Allowed: Yes.
  • Trail Info Current: Aug 8, 2016
  • Further Reading: Top Trails: Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone
  • Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map


Plots created using digital topographic map data, not actual GPS logs. Distance and elevation profiles are approximate.

castle peak

Mount Judah Loop Trail Narrative

This was my first “real” hike since the big surgery six weeks ago and it felt great.  I had attempted this hike last spring but some big thunderstorms started to move in and I had to head back to the car before making it to Mt. Judah.

For some reason I had a difficult time finding the trailhead both times.

  • From I-80 East, take exit 174 (Donner Pass Rd) and then south along Donner Pass Road towards Soda Springs and Sugar Bowl Resort.  At about 3.7 miles you’ll pass Sugar Bowl on the right, Donner Ski Ranch on the left, and immediately thereafter see a sign for the Pacific Crest Trail on the right with a dirt parking lot surrounded by some old buildings.  Park here.
  • From I-80 West, you can take exit 180 (Donner Lake Rd) south, and then turn right onto Donner Pass Road.  You’ll climb, cross over the Donner Summit Bridge, and right after the summit see a dirt parking lot on your left surrounded by some old buildings.  Park here.  If you hit Sugar Bowl and Donner Ski Ranch you’ve gone too far.

From the dirt parking lot, follow the paved road south until it takes a sharp turn to the right.  There will be a porta potty on the left with a sign for the Pacific Crest Trail to the left.  Follow this sign for the PCT as you’ll be on it for a while on your way to Mount Judah.

mt judah trailhead

A view of the trailhead parking lot from the trail.

railroad plaqueOne interesting thing to note in the dirt parking lot – on the west side you’ll see a concrete slab with a bronze plaque.  Take the time to read it.  If you’ve been watching AMC’s series Hell on Wheels, you know that portions of the final season take place inside the Sierra Nevada mountains near Truckee as Chinese workers blasted away the railroad tunnel.  Well, this is that very spot.  The Mt. Judah Loop Trail passes over the tunnel a couple of times and if you explore around the parking lot you can see where the tunnel exits the mountain.

Okay, back to the trail.  You’ll pass through some forest and over a small wooden bridge on your way up to some switchbacks.  The switchbacks are numerous and very rocky; watch your footing here.  After the switchbacks you’ll work your way up the path and into Sugar Bowl Resort.  The path alternates between dirt and rock, and offers some great views to the west through the trees.  That small lake you see off to your right with the little islands in it is Lake Mary.

lake mary

Lake Mary from the Mt Judah Loop trail.

Eventually you’ll get into a clearing and pass under some chairlifts.  You’ll see a signpost for Mt. Judah Loop off to your left; I prefer to hike this trail counter-clockwise so the climb is more gradual and I go straight here and continue on the PCT.  Pass over a dirt road but don’t stay on this road – the PCT/Mt. Judah Loop forks off to the left going up and into the trees from the access road.


From here you’ll enter some tree cover and into some massive pines covered in bright green lichen.  The climb here is mostly gradual to the south and right at the treeline, looking up the side of Mount Judah.  Just before exiting the trees, you’ll see a signpost marking the Mt. Judah Loop junction.  Turn left here, or, if you want to go to Mexico, keep walking straight along the PCT.

mountain views

From here the rest of the hike is mostly exposed.  You’ll climb around the south side of Mt. Judah with some spectacular views of the mountains to the south including Squaw Valley.  As you work your way back to the east, you’ll hike past some massive volcanic boulders and eventually make your way back north towards Mount Judah.  The summit itself is very exposed but has great views of Donner Lake and Truckee to the east.  Drink some water and take it all in.

donner lake

Donner Lake from Mount Judah

On you way off Mt. Judah summit, keep an eye out for a trail forking off to the right.  Take this, and it’s a short descent back to the PCT.  On your way back you will shortly come to another fork – keep left here, or go right if you want to visit Donner Peak.  Upon reaching the PCT again, turn right and retrace your footsteps back to the car.
windy dog

Tips for the Mt. Judah Loop Trail

  • Bring plenty of water and a hat if you’re going on a hot day – this trail is very exposed!
  • It’s easy to get lost and wander off on the wrong trail/road if you’re not paying attention.

Corrections, suggestions, or questions?  Please leave a comment below!

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