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North Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails: Castle Peak Trail

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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.

  • top trails tahoeTrailhead: 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

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

castle peak

Charlie the Lab taking a break in the wildflowers before ascending Castle Peak, looming a half mile away.

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.

castle peak lake

One of the small lakes at the start of the Castle Peak Trail (coincident with the Pacific Crest Trail).

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.

castle peak flowers

Mule’s Ears and Snow Plants emerge in late spring/early summer in Castle Valley.

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.

castle valley

One of the stream crossings in Castle Valley.

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.

castle valley

Mule’s Ears line much of the trail 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.

castle peak views

Castle Peak is volcanic in origin and is surrounded by interesting volcanic features. This is looking sout towards Sugar Bowl, Olympic Valley, and Desolation Wilderness in the distance.

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.

castle peak

On the east side of Castle Pass, before ascending Castle Peak. You can see the trail zigzagging up to the top, on the north side of the peak.

Take a breather and enjoy the views, you’ve earned it!

castle peak

Looking north from Castle Peak. The ridgeline from Castle Peak goes north to Basin Peak. Sierra Buttes are visible left of Basin Peak, and Mt Lassen is further in the distance between Basin Peak and Sierra Buttes. Round Valley is in the foreground.

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.
castle peak wildflowers

Wildflowers on the ridgeline looking at Castle Peak.

castle peak views

Looking west from Castle Peak. The view is bounded by Carpenter Ridge to the left, Donner Ridge to the right, and Boca Reservoir in the distance.


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

Michael Derose

Tuesday 13th of October 2015

Can you camp near the summit ?

John Peltier

Tuesday 13th of October 2015

The closer you get to the summit, the less camp-friendly it is. I can't recall 100% but as soon as you leave the PCT you really don't have many options, as you're on a ridge and I don't think there's any flat spots big enough for a tent on either side of the ridge (at least, none that aren't totally exposed to the wind). But that's all in the last mile, so there is good camping as close as a mile to the summit.