Each summer I look forward to spending time hiking in the mountains with Dylan. As the snow begins to melt, I start itching to explore some of our familiar trails and discover some new ones. The Sierra Nevada mountains offer so much variety, from short afternoon hikes to weekend backpacking trips. We have endless possibilities with the long summer days. Often we decide to go at that last minute so we haven’t always coordinated the hikes as a group event. This summer, I wanted to open up these hikes to friends that might be interested in joining us on one or more occasions. Our pace is relaxed and we stop for pictures and take time to appreciate the views. These are not races and are open to all abilities. I’ve listed tentative dates below. These may change but we’ll try to keep them close to what’s shown below. If people are interested, I’ll work on confirming the dates as they get closer and keeping you updated. We’ll start with some of the shorter distances first and work our way up to some longer ones. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll keep you posted.
|June 16th or 17th||Castle Peak – Distance 6-7 miles|
|July 1st||Sugar Bowl to Tinkers Knob to Squaw Valley – Distance 15 Miles|
|July 21st to 22nd||Penner Lake Overnight Backpacking – Distance 7-8 Miles|
|Early August||Flume Trail Bike Ride – Distance 14 Miles|
|Late August||Desolation Wilderness – Distance 20 Miles|
Castle Peak – Distance 6-7 miles (June 16 or 17th Father’s Day Weekend)
This is located just off Highway 80 across from Boreal Ski Resort. It’s about a 6 mile hike, 3 miles there and 3 miles back.
The trail meanders through a meadow at the start and connects with the Pacific Crest Trail. The early section is shady in late spring and in the beginning of summer will have a few streams. There should also be lots of flowers blooming. If we are lucky, we may cross paths with a backpacker attempting to cover the entire 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. If we are really lucky, we may spot a bear. After a couple miles, the trail begins to climb and the last section is steep but manageable.
This last section is short and can be slow going. We’ll take our time as the top is just ahead of us. There may be some snow patches left over from winter so look out for the kids throwing snow balls. As we hike this section, we can turn around and look behind us to see just how high we have climbed. At the top, we can take time to enjoy the views and our lunch.
We can also extend the hike by another mile by following the ridge over to Basin Peak and returning along the Pacific Crest Trail. This section is a spectacular spot as we follow the ridge from one peak to the other.
This is an enjoyable hike and we’ll cross paths with other hikers of all ages. Just make sure to bring water, snacks, camera and a positive attitude and we’ll have a memorable experience.
Total distance is between 6-7 miles. Best to start early in the day to avoid any late afternoon thunderstorms. The ridges are exposed and we don’t want to be at or near the top during any lightning strikes.
PCT – Sugar Bowl to Tinkers Knob to Squaw Valley – Distance 15 Miles (July 1st)
This is one of my favorite trails. There are two options with this one. We can either turn around at Tinkers Knob (about the halfway point) and do an out-and-back, or continue the rest of the way to Squaw Valley. If we want to go all the way to Squaw Valley, it just means we need a way to get back to the original trailhead. So either a car is left at Squaw Valley or someone performs shuttle duty and meets us at the finish. Either way, the hike offers amazing views pretty much the entire route. And if we decide to go to Squaw, we can jump on the Squaw Tram at High Camp and ride it down (no charge).
The hike begins right next to Sugar Bowl as the Pacific Crest Trail crosses on Donner Pass Road. The first 1/2 mile is a rocky climb along some switchbacks above Lake Mary but then it levels out to a gradual incline as we cut across some of the Sugar Bowl ski runs. Pretty soon we’ll reach the summit near Mt. Lincoln at Sugar Bowl as we follow the ridge with Donner Lake down below on the left and Northstar and Tinkers Knob ahead in the distance.
If you love mountains and high altitude, you’ll love this section. It will be like this for the next few miles as we’ll dip off the ridges and then the trail will traverse one mountaintop to the next. This is one of the best hikes and it’s right in our backyard. We’ll pass some impressive rock formations and cliffs. There’s nothing technical about the route but a lot of it is exposed to sun and wind.
After about 7 1/2 miles, we’ll reach Tinkers Knob. This is a good spot to pick out a boulder, take a seat and have a bite to eat. The views are unmatched as you can see Lake Tahoe and all the surrounding areas. This is the halfway point where you can turn around or push on ahead towards Squaw Valley. Either way, the distance is about the same.
The next part on the way to Squaw Valley has some variety with some valleys and dense bushes and some views of the Sierras some never get to see. You won’t be disappointed with the scenery.
From Tinkers Knob to Squaw, there may be some small streams running but don’t count on any water sources. In fact don’t count on any water sources the entire route. Carry plenty of water and calories. The trail is easy to follow and will eventually lead into Granite Chief Wilderness as we start to pass some of the ski lifts at Squaw Valley. Eventually, we’ll spot High Camp and the tram where we can follow a gravel road to the High Camp resort. There we can take a break, give ourselves a pat on the back, make sure we aren’t missing anybody, then jump on the tram and take it down to the parking lot.
Total distance is between 14-15 miles. Best to start early in the day to avoid any late afternoon thunderstorms. The ridges are exposed and we do not want to be at or near the top during any lightning strikes. There are no options to hitch a ride back to the parking area during the hike so we’ll give ourselves plenty of time (7 hours or more). It’s an incredible hike and well worth the effort.
Penner Lake Overnight Backpacking – 8 miles (Late July)
We discovered this last year and promised we would be back. Behind Spaulding Lake, there’s a chain of alpine lakes (Carr Lake, Feely Lake, Island Lake, Crooked Lake, Penner Lake, and more). Island Lake is a popular camping spot and more crowded. But there’s a gem of a lake called Penner Lake. Penner Lake is deeper in the forest and has fewer campers. It’s a perfect destination for an overnight backpacking trip as it’s only about 3 1/2 miles from the parking lot.
Probably the hardest part is finding the trailhead. It’s about a 30 minute drive down a rough dirt logging road behind Spaulding Lake. The trail begins under some shade as we’ll hike along Carr Lake then Feely Lake. This section is a relatively flat with a couple short climbs to each lake.
Pretty soon we’ll arrive at picturesque Island Lake with its granite rocks surrounding the lake and mountains rising as a backdrop. You might be tempted to pitch your tent here but we’ll keep going as this is a much more crowded lake.
We’ll continue on along the Crooked Lake trail and take in the views along the way. In many ways, this area reminds me of Desolation Wilderness.
After 3 1/2 miles, we’ll arrive a Penner Lake and find a spot to pitch the tents. You can fish and swim, explore or just relax by the water.
Total distance is about 8 miles. It’s a fairly easy hike and a good chance to camp under the stars and do a little backpacking and use some of that REI gear. We can start in the early afternoon on the first day and be home in the afternoon on the next day.
Flume Trail Bike Ride – 14 Miles (Early August)
If you have never been on the Flume Trail, then this is a must do. Even if you can’t do it in August, try to do it sometime this summer. I promise you will treasure every step/pedal along the way.
We did this last year; Dylan rode and I ran. We may do something similar or we may both ride. If someone wants to run it, let me know. This one also takes some logistics as it’s a point-to-point: Spooner Lake to Incline Village. We can park at Incline Village and take a shuttle with our bikes. I think the shuttle has a small fee or is free if you rent a MTB bike from them. Here’s more info: https://flumetrailtahoe.com
The shuttle drops us off at Spooner Lake and we take the trail up to Marlette Lake. This is by far the least favorite part as it’s a climb and the last 1-2 miles to Marlette Lake is a grind and can turn into a slow march in the heat. You may be tempted to turn around and call it a day. But don’t! At Marlette Lake, we’ll find a good spot to take our shoes off and jump in the lake to cool off.
We’ll follow the trail on the west side of the lake for a mile or so before connecting with the Flume Trail just on the other side of a little the dam.
This is where the trail earns its reputation as one of the best trails in Tahoe. We’ll traverse the edge of the mountain along a trail a few feet wide at about 1,000′ above Lake Tahoe. We’ll follow the trail as it floats above the lake for the next few miles. It’s nothing short of an amazing experience as we’ll want to keep looking out at the vistas but need to keep our eyes on where we’re going.
There are plenty of spots to stop and sit on a boulder and just take in the views. There’s no reason to rush this section. Eventually, the trail will head inland again and connect with a fire road and all we’ll have to do is coast into Incline Village for the last couple of miles.
We’ll finish where we picked up the shuttle and you’ll be talking about this one for a while.
Total distance is about 14 miles.
Desolation Wilderness – 20 Miles (Late August)
I hope to cap the summer off with a 1 or 2 night backpacking trip through Desolation Wilderness. Starting off at Echo Lake and taking the Pacific Crest Trail to Lake Aloha which is about 7 miles.
That might be a good place to stop or we can continue on up over Dicks Peak and camp at Half Moon Lake or Dicks Lake.
The next day we can continue towards Eagle Lake and eventually drop into the Emerald Bay area. Desolation Wilderness has lots of options as there are numerous lakes along the way.
I did this hike in 6th grade and I’ve been back on my own but not with Dylan. So I’m very excited to introduce him to this part of the Tahoe area.
Total distance is about 20 miles with climbing to Lake Aloha and then again up and over Dicks Peak. Should be challenging but very rewarding. Desolation Wilderness does require a permit just to enter the area for hiking/camping so we’ll have to plan accordingly. And if we make it a point-to-point from Echo Lake to Emerald Bay, we need to drop a car or two off at Emerald Bay or arrange a shuttle.