Sawtooth Ridge Trail

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This was a group hike on the Sawtooth Ridge Trail in the Tahoe National Forest just south of Truckee.  The trail is relatively new, about 10 years old, and is primarily known as a mountain biking trail.  The trail is located in a relatively flat area (for the Lake Tahoe region) and is laid out with many twists and turns that I imagine delight mountain bikers.  The full loop is about 11 miles, so it is also a nice length for hiking.

The configuration of the trail is a so-called balloon or semi-loop.  The balloon string is about 1.9 miles long and the loop proper is a little over 7 miles.

GPS track

GPS track

The first description I read of this trail, prior to my first time hiking it, stated that the same 100 feet are lost and gained several times, and this is a pretty accurate description.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Most of the trail winds through open forest.  Not far from the trail head there are some interesting-looking rocks.

picture of interesting rocks near the trail head

Interesting rocks near the trail head

About 1 mile from the trail head, still along the balloon string, there is a nice viewing location overlooking a fairly steep drop-off to CA-89 and the Truckee River.  Interestingly, although the trail elevation is about 6250 feet, only slightly higher than Lake Tahoe, the river has already descended a few hundred feet in the 11 or so miles since exiting the lake.

image looking south along CA-89 and the Truckee River

Looking south along CA-89 and the Truckee River

Looking out from the same location, one can see several nearby peaks.  I believe these are in the sequence between Tinker Knob and Mount Judah, which also includes Anderson Peak and Mount Lincoln.  One day I hope to be able to recognize each of these well-known landmarks!

picture of the view across the nearby Sierra peaks

View across the nearby Sierra peaks

About 2.5 miles farther along the trail, still heading south parallel to the Truckee River, there is a short spur trail and loop to a vista point, again overlooking the Truckee River valley.  It is well worth the short side trip for the view.  This is the view looking roughly northwest.

photo looking northwest from the vista point loop

Looking northwest from the vista point loop

About 5.2 miles from the trail head the trail reaches its southernmost point and crosses the same forest road on which the trailhead is located.  The trail continues to wind through the forest and, after another mile or so, begins the most significant climb – only 200 feet!  It really is a pleasant walk through the forest.

picture of Sawtooth Ridge Trail through open forest

Sawtooth Ridge Trail through open forest

Near the high point of the trail we paused to enjoy the view.  Form here we could see a bit farther away, I believe to the Donner Pass area.

picture of mountain view from the trail’s highest point

Mountain view from the trail’s highest point

The trail then descends gradually over the remaining 3-plus miles to the trail head.

It is worth noting that there are a few ways to shorten this hike, if this is desired, due to the configuration and the proximity to the forest road.  For example, if you park near the south end of the balloon string, you can just hike around the loop portion, which is a little over 7 miles.  If you start from the main trail head and hike the western side of the loop, returning via the forest road, the route is about 9 miles.  And if you hike just the balloon string out and back, it’s about 4 miles.

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