PCT Donner Pass to Squaw Valley

Soda Springs, California

PCT: Donner Pass to Squaw Valley Professional Review and Guide

"This section of the Pacific Crest Trail lives up to its name, offering some of the finest views in the Tahoe area from a several-mile stretch of trail that stays on or near the actual crest of the range.

This hike is very challenging for the average hiker, especially when considering the plunge into and the climb out of the North Fork American River’s canyon, but experienced hikers in good condition will find the well-maintained PCT a rewarding challenge. Backpackers can break the trip into two days by camping along tributaries of North Fork, or by making arrangements to stay in the Sierra Club’s Benson Hut."

PCT: Donner Pass to Squaw Valley Reviews

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This is an excellent hike. Views are great and it is not overly taxing. The trails are marked adequately. If you do the loop clockwise you will pass a large granite rock formation on your left about 30-40 minutes out. Do not pass it. It is the highlight of the hike. It is Donner Overlook. Climb to the top of the formation (not difficult, about 75 yards and climbs about 10-15 yards). Explore the top some. There are some natural rock steps to the right as you view Donner Lake through a notch which take you closer to the top and a much better view. On up the trail 20 minutes you will wonder if you've missed a turn because it looks like you are on the PCT which follows the crest southward in this area. You aren't. About 150 yards up the barren path ahead is a relatively bald dome with a very small sign stuck in some rocks telling you it is Mount Judah. The views are excellent in all directions. The lava rocks strewn about are interesting and make good seats. Continuing on down the south side of Mt. Judah you will come upon a natural rock garden. The vegetation and rocks couldn't be done as well by a landscaper. Further down you will find the PCT. It isn't marked but is fairly obvious. Turn right to head back to the trailhead on the PCT. The PCT soon crosses a ski slope maintenance road diagonally and continues on the other side, though you may have to search a bit for it. The return portion of the hike on the PCT is dusty and not very scenic. I would turn around and go back on the Mt. Judah loop portion if I were to do the loop again.

PCT: Donner Pass to Squaw Valley Photos

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Trail Information

Soda Springs
Nearby City
3,000 feet
Elevation Gain
Trail Type
Skill Level
8 to 10 hours
Best mid-July through mid-October
Tahoe National Forest at 530-587-3558, www.fs.usda.gov/tahoe
Local Contacts
USGS 7.5-minute Norden, Granite Chief, and Tahoe City
Local Maps