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Castle Peak Trail
Hiking to the top of the tallest peak in the Truckee area will give you views all the way north to Mt. Lassen and south to Pyramid Peak and the rest of the Desolation Wilderness.
- Trailhead: Donner Summit Pacific Crest Trail Parking/Snopark, I-80 – Open in Google Maps.
- Length: 9.6 miles round trip; 3-4 hours.
- Difficulty: Difficult. It’s about a 2,000′ climb to the summit, most of it in the last mile.
- Usage: Hikers and dogs. Free.
- Best Time for Photography: Your trek through the forest will be best on an overcast day, but you want clear skies at the top. With 360-degree views there’s really no “best” time for photography other than the golden hours.
- Are Drones Allowed: Yes.
- Trail Info Current: June 5, 2015
- Further Reading: Top Trails: Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone
- Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map
Castle Peak Hike Narrative
This is a good hiking trail near Truckee for those looking for a short but challenging hike. To find the trailhead, take I-80W out of Truckee and then take the Boreal Ridge Rd/Castle Peak exit. Turn left, pass under the interstate, then take a left on Bunny Hill Rd. At the very end of the road is a parking area for the Pacific Crest Trail and Snopark. The trail starts on the east side of the parking lot; it is coincident with the Pacific Crest Trail for the first 3.3 miles.
Right after getting on the trail you’ll pass through Glacier Meadows and some interpretive signs telling you how the local terrain was formed. There’s a few small lakes (okay, large ponds) as well.
Following the signs for the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll come to some culverts going under the interstate and head north. Shortly after these culverts you’ll get to a four-way intersection with a map display of the local trails. Continue straight through, following the signs for Castle Pass.
The trail will then go back south, away from Castle Peak. Don’t panic, after hiking along the shoreline of a small lake near the interstate, you’ll go back north towards Castle Peak. You’ll be mostly on granite with a few stream crossings but the trail is well-marked.
You’ll then enter Castle Valley and follow the stream for a short while. The trees are covered in lichen, snow plants line the trail, and meadows of mule’s ears and other wildflowers will keep it colorful. The trail now starts a shallow climb through Castle Valley.
Just after two miles you’ll get to a junction with the Donner Rim Trail – stay straight on the PCT. The trail will veer left to the west and continue up the valley in a gentle climb. Soon you’ll get to a three-way intersection, and taking a sharp right will obviously take you up towards Castle Peak. You’ll emerge on a ridge with great views to both the north and south.
The mild climb of the ridge quickly turns steep. A series of switchbacks will take you straight up to the volcanic spires that make up Castle Peak. You’ll get some great views along the entire way, and especially up at the top of Castle Peak, where on a clear day you can see over a hundred miles in all directions.
Take a breather and enjoy the views, you’ve earned it!
Tips for the Castle Peak Trail
- Look at the forecast! If thunderstorms are due, they’ll usually form in this area first due to the intensity of convective currents in this terrain.
- Bring a map (suggested) or at least study the map at the trailhead. There are a lot of confusing forks in the trail. If you’re not sure, do as Yogi Berra says: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
- Trekking poles will really make the descent a lot easier.