PCT – Donner Pass to Summit Lake

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Although much of the Pacific Crest Trail is in remote areas, there is a relatively short section between Donner Pass Road at historic Donner Pass and I-80 at Donner Summit, both just a few miles west of Truckee.  And although one guidebook describes this section of the PCT as “not the most stupendous stretch of the famous trail,” it was a really nice day for a hike and I found several interesting landmarks along the way.

GPS track

GPS track

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I started at the south end of the segment at Donner Summit.  Though the trail descends slightly the road really seems to fall away, and shortly there are several viewpoints across Donner Lake about 800 feet below and Truckee another 600 feet lower.  This morning there was still a bit of residual morning fog over Truckee.

picture of Donner Lake and the bridge on Donner Pass Road, with Truckee in the background

Donner Lake and the bridge on Donner Pass Road, with Truckee in the background

Less than a mile from the trailhead the trail zigzags up a hillside.   From the top of this section there is an interesting birds-eye view of the trail.

picture looking back down the trail

Looking back down the trail

Perhaps the main distraction in this section of the PCT is the traffic noise from I-80 and, to a lesser extent, Donner Pass Road.  It seemed that there was only about a half hour of truly quiet hiking time after leaving Donner Pass Road behind and being aware of I-80 across the valley.  This must be especially startling for PCT through-hikers, who would not have encountered so much traffic in many days of hiking.

picture of traffic on I-80

Traffic on I-80

It’s now officially Fall, and I was particularly on alert for color in the foliage.  Most trees in the area are evergreen (firs, etc) but I did find a few areas with pretty color.

picture of a splash of Fall color

A splash of Fall color

The trail has some open areas, especially like the hillside mentioned above, as well as bare granite, but the majority is forested.  Some of the trees are quite tall.

picture of some trees are quite tall

Some trees are quite tall

I was aware that the PCT would eventually cross I-80 and I was curious how this would be accomplished.  After all, I’ve driven on I-80 across Donner Summit dozens of times and there’s no pedestrian bridge or crossing!  So it must be that the trail crosses under the interstate.  Sure enough, as I approached I could see the undercrossing (there are actually 2 sections, since the two directions are slightly separated in this area).

picture of I-80 undercrossing from the outside

I-80 undercrossing from the outside

The undercrossing tunnels were kind of interesting from the inside, also.

picture of I-80 undercrossing from the inside

I-80 undercrossing from the inside

A short distance after crossing I-80, the PCT continues northwest and another trail goes roughly north past Warren Lake.  There are actually quite a number of hiking and mountain biking trails in the Donner Summit area.  A portion of the trail I hiked is also part of the Donner Lake Rim Trail, which is a project of the Truckee Donner Land Trust.  I followed the trail toward Warren Lake for about ¾ mile and then followed the Donner Lake Rim Trail another ½ mile or so to Summit Lake, which was my turnaround point goal.

picture of reflection in Summit Lake

Reflection in Summit Lake

Summit Lake is a small but pretty lake and was a pleasant place to take a short break before retracing my route back to Donner Pass.

This entry was posted in Donner Lake Rim Trail, North Tahoe, Pacific Crest Trail, Tahoe National Forest and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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