Day Hike the Mount Judah Loop Trail - Donner Pass

Mount Judah is a super popular day hike in the Truckee, CA area. It offers amazing views of Donner Lake, and even shares part of its route with the Pacific Crest Trail. If you are looking for a nice hike that will definitely get your blood pumping, look no further!  

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STATS

  • Date: 8.19.17
  • Miles: 5 mi
  • Elevation Profile: +/- 1,400 ft
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Cost: Free
  • Considerations: Dogs are allowed in Tahoe National Forest, off-leash is OK as long as dog is under voice control.
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TRAILHEAD

I'll admit, I was slightly confused where the trailhead for this trail actually starts! In order to save anyone else from confusion, I'll clear some things up here.

  1. Route to Donner Peak Trailhead on Google Maps.
  2. Avoid parking on Donner Pass Road, if you can (you may have to if parking is full).
  3. Drive into the gravel parking lot right off of Donner Pass Road and park there, then walk down the paved pathway (Old Donner Summit Road) that begins in the back-right area of the gravel parking lot.
  4. OR, drive through the gravel parking lot and onto Old Donner Summit Road - there's parking down there too.
  5. Once you're walking the paved road, the trailhead is on your left, there will be signs.

You can also walk through the gravel parking area and look confused for many minutes trying to find the social trail that leads to the actual trailhead (hint: this was me). If you choose to do that, walk down to the lowest area, but then keep to your right, and go through a bushy/ overgrown area and you'll get to the trailhead!

THE HIKE

Once you reach the trailhead, you'll begin your hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail almost immediately begins climbing up the mountain on very rocky, exposed switchbacks. Take care of yourself here, as a misstep could easily sprain an ankle. If you bring your dog on this hike, I highly recommend trail booties: this trail will hurt paw pads.

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As you continue on, you'll get nice views of Lake Mary and enter into the woods, but the climbing will still continue! Once you break out of the woods, you'll come to the first signed trail junction. Continue straight to stay on the PCT and take the next trail junction to Mount Judah, or hang a left at this junction for a climb that doesn't involve many switchbacks. I recommend taking the first trail junction.

You'll continue climbing a broad trail in a sparse forest until the next trail junction. Here, you have the option to climb to the top of Donner Peak, to the left, or continue on to Mount Judah, to your right. I decided to continue on to Mount Judah since I knew the views would be similar.

 Donner Peak, to the left

Donner Peak, to the left

You'll continue to climb in the forest for a bit until you break the tree line on the final ascent to Mount Judah. There are two trail options here: a lower trail and an upper trail. You'll find this unsigned "junction" after a few rocky switchbacks. The main, noticeable trail is the lower one, though if you do end up climbing up, you can walk the ridge all the way to Mount Judah. I stayed on the lower trail since I didn't realize the upper trail could reach Mount Judah until I got to the top of the mountain.

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Once the plants start to disappear, you'll know you're getting close! Follow the poles up to the top of the mountain!

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The views at the top are absolutely gorgeous! Unfortunately, a mid-afternoon thunderstorm was moving in right when we got to the top, so we couldn't linger for long! 

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Once you're done at the top, you'll switchback down Mount Judah until you reach the Pacific Crest Trail junction. Make sure you turn right at the junction or else you may end up in Mexico! ;)

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On the PCT, you'll cross paths with a wider access road right around the area you pass under a ski lift. Continue straight to stay on the trail instead of turning left/right on the access path. After that, you'll basically be retracing your steps back down to your car! 

I really enjoyed this trail, even though the day I hiked it I was feeling pretty sluggish. The landscape is classic Lake Tahoe: a transition zone between the Sierra Nevada mountains and the big Northern California peaks.