One of the great things about the Truckee Donner Region is when it gets hot, we can escape the heat by heading to higher elevations – Royal Gorge, the Donner Lake Rim Trail, the Mt. Lola Trail above Perazzo Meadows, and the Sierra Crest. This month’s hike is a true classic, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Donner Summit to Olympic Valley. Sixteen miles in length, it’s a favorite for those seeking a long day out in nature, and many of its iconic views were protected by the Truckee Donner Land Trust over the years.
This hike is a point-to-point journey, beginning, at the Donner Summit trailhead of the PCT just behind the Summit Haus. This trailhead is receiving major upgrades from our friends at the Donner Summit Association, including signage, bathrooms and picnic tables. The trail starts by climbing up beautiful-hand-built steps up the slopes of Donner Peak, Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and Mt. Judah. Ground-hugging flowers last late into the summer here. As the trail gets higher and the Judah loop splits to the left, hikers will enjoy a mountain hemlock forest. Hemlocks seem more suited to a children’s book with their twisted trunks and tops that often bow over to the ground.
Views of Van Norden Meadow open to the west, with Razorback ridge and Rowton Peak (last month’s hike of the month) looming in the distance. This landscape was protected by the Land trust in 2012.
As the trail gains the Sierra Crest, the view to the west is of Schallenberger Ridge above Donner Lake and Coldstream Canyon tucked in just behind it – two areas where the Land Trust got its start in buying open space three decades ago. For most of the remainder of the route, the trail never strays far from the Sierra Crest. Elevations above 8,000 feet, combined with cooling breezes, provide a great escape from the valley heat. The route passes the distinctive round top of Anderson Peak and the 8900-foot Tinker’s knob, both familiar landmarks from Town.
Dramatic views of the Granite Chief Wilderness and Royal Gorge of the American River – some 5,000 feet below, fill the south and western skylines. The hike leaves the Pacific Crest Trail with a left turn near diminutive Mountain Meadows Lake, before descending the Granite Chief Trail near the top of the Shirley Canyon as it heads into Olympic Valley below.
We recommend Hiking Project for maps and directions.