5 trails to hike in Truckee this summer

At long last, a very well-deserved summer has arrived. It was touch and go there, even the last few weeks, with rogue snow flurries on the heels of a historic winter. But as the snow quickly disappears, trails start reappearing. And I for one couldn’t be more excited, especially since Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains are among my favorite places to hike in the world. As such, I’m coming to you with five trails to hike in Truckee this summer. 

Pacific Crest Trail

That’s Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), as in the 2,650-mile trail that lines the West Coast from Canada to Mexico, and the setting for Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. While I’m not saying you should hike the entire trail, I am recommending that you hike the Truckee section, which meanders along Donner Summit, and is what I consider one of the most beautiful portions of the trail. The trail is pretty well marked, just above Rainbow Bridge at the Donner Summit on Donner Pass Road. You can take the PCT north, toward I-80 and Castle Peak, or south toward Mt. Judah. Either hike you’re going to be greeted with amazing views. You can typically find parking near the summit just off Donner Pass Road.

Donner Pass Abandoned Railway Tunnels

Mere yards from the Pacific Crest Trailhead are the abandoned railway tunnels dotting the hills around Donner Summit. While this is less of a hike and more of a walk, it’s one of the most interesting scenic walks you’ll ever take, passing through historic abandoned tunnels filled with graffiti that open up to beautiful views of Donner Lake. Similar to the Pacific Crest Trail hike, you should be able to find parking to the side of the road near the summit. It’s then a short walk to the tunnels. However, be careful, especially if you have kids with you, as the tunnels can be dark and slippery during certain times of the day. 

Donner Lake

If you’re traveling with kids, or are simply in the mood for an easy, flat trail, look no further than Donner Memorial State Park, featuring trails that weave beneath the cover of trees, hugging the Donner Lake shoreline. During summer, you can also camp just off the trails in one of a couple campgrounds. Additionally, the state park is home to the Emigrant Trail Museum, which commemorates the infamous Donner Party. Note that there is a nominal fee to park inside the state park. Nearby is the marina, where you can rent boats, kayaks, paddleboards and other equipment. 

Northstar California and Martis Valley

While I recently wrote about Northstar’s bike park during the summer, the mountain also features a number of hiking trails. Popular among families is the Sawmill Lake hike, a 2.3-mile round-trip that begins and ends at mid-mountain. Or, for a longer, more strenuous scenic hike, there’s the 6-mile Watson Lake Loop. Beginning at the Tahoe Zephyr lift, the hike features 1,000 feet of elevation gain, with highlights that include following along a portion of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail before you reach Watson Lake.

Castle Peak

If you’ve spent any time in and around Truckee, then you’ve probably noticed Castle Peak, even if you didn’t know what it was. One of Truckee’s most famous peaks, Castle Peak stands perched on the horizon above Truckee, with an ancient castle peak look to its summit (Castle Peak is a volcanic rock after all). The hike itself is a nice moderate half-day hike, 6 miles round-trip from the trailhead with approximately 1,000 feet in elevation gain. The trailhead is just off I-80, north of the Boreal/Castle Peak on and off-ramps.

Southern born and bred, Spencer was bitten by the travel bug at a young age, flying on a plane for the first time at age five and by himself for the first time at seven. While he continues to travel around the world in search for the best whiskey, Spencer now calls Reno home, where his search is for the best cocktail (and first tracks, naturally). He has written about travel, food, and drinks for a number of publications that have included the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, and Travel + Leisure, just to name a few. See a more candid version of Spencer on his website, whiskeytangoglobetrot.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.