Exploration hikes near Tahoe Donner

This post includes short write-ups of two exploration-type hikes near Tahoe Donner, in Truckee, CA.  I often refer to a first-time hike as an exploration if any of several issues occurred (e.g. I didn’t have time to complete my intended itinerary, I made a big detour off-trail, I had to bail because of weather, etc) and I plan to return later for a more complete hike.

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The first exploration was a semi-loop, or balloon, configuration hike starting from a trail head on Glacier Way in Tahoe Donner.  Although most of the loop is within Tahoe Donner, the trails are generally open to the public.  Property owners are lucky to have a very nice collection of trails within the development.  A trail map is available for download and is very useful for navigation.

The route I hiked is shown in my GPS track, and included an off-trail detour and an “incorrect” (i.e., unintended) trail choice for the western portion of the loop.

GPS track

GPS track

Because Glacier Way is pretty much the highest elevation street in Tahoe Donner, with the trailhead at 7350 feet elevation, there are very nice views to the southeast just a few hundred yards from the trailhead.

photo of view southeast near Glacier Way trailhead

View southeast near Glacier Way trailhead

The intended loop was mainly on Tahoe Donner trails on fire roads, signed as Donner Ridge Loop.  Within Tahoe Donner the signage is excellent at intersections, so if you have a trail map with you it’s straightforward to navigate your intended path.

image of example of signage within Tahoe Donner

Example of signage within Tahoe Donner

When you leave Tahoe Donner into the adjacent US Forest Service land (actually Tahoe National Forest) there is signage indicating that the trails are unmarked.  This is apt advice!  There is an area where there are several junctions, with the Donner Lake Rim Trail only partially signed.  The actual trail configuration may also differ slightly from the trail map.  In any case I ended up making a detour on the Donner Lake Rim Trail starting down the hillside into Negro Canyon (I think) before returning to the junction and then returning to the trailhead on the Donner Lake Rim Trail instead of the Donner Ridge Trail; if this is confusing to read you can understand why I was confused!   Since the two trails rejoin after about 1.1 miles, the only issue is whether the intended path was taken rather than the alternative – probably only a concern for purists or as an indication of trail-finding skills.

A minor weather front was approaching that afternoon, with low clouds approaching from the west and obscuring the view toward the Donner Pass area.

picture of low clouds indicating approaching weather

Low clouds indicating approaching weather

There are two or three side trails that approach the edge of a steeper drop-off to I-80.  On a clearer day there would have been great views of Donner Lake.  I will most likely return to this area for (at least) two other hikes: the Donner Ridge Loop as well as the Donner Lake Rim Trail.

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For awhile I’ve been interested to discover if it’s possible to hike to the top of Prosser Hill, which is adjacent to Tahoe Donner on the north side of Alder Creek Road.  There is an OHV staging area about 1.5 mile north on CA-89, as well as a trail crossing of the Emigrant Trail.  On this particular day I started out with just an exploration in mind, at least in part because I didn’t get out to the trailhead until mid-afternoon and my time was limited.  I didn’t fully appreciate until after I got home and studied my GPS track and map more carefully that the hill I almost got to the top of isn’t Prosser Hill, but a smaller unnamed hill about a mile east of Prosser Hill.  So I only experienced a fraction of this potential loop hike: this time as an out-and-back hike.  The entire loop is within the Tahoe National Forest.

I started at a small parking area just across CA-89 from a signed picnic area about 0.5 mile north of Alder Creek Road.  A dirt road leaves the trailhead, so I followed it with a short side exploration until I found the OHV (dirt bike) trail I was really looking for.  It was roughly comparable to a mountain bike single-track trail.  The portion I hiked was in reasonable condition for hiking: not too rocky, and banked at hairpin curves but not particularly rutted.

GPS track

GPS track

The trail climbs steadily, though with a fairly gentle grade.  About 0.8 mile from the trailhead (omitting my side explorations) there was a nice view of the skyline to the west.

photo of skyline to the west

Skyline to the west

About 1.5 mile from the trailhead and 200 feet higher there was a nice view across Martis Valley to the southeast.

image of view across Martis Valley

View across Martis Valley

The trail continued to climb, and although I seemed to be approaching the top of the hill, my altimeter only read 6500 feet.  Since I knew the top of Prosser Hill was supposed to be almost 7200 feet I figured I was not quite where I hoped I was.  Suddenly, though, I had a great view of Prosser Reservoir.

picture of Prosser Reservoir

Prosser Reservoir

At this point the trail started to descend, and I couldn’t see very far because it curved around the side of the hill.  So I decided I had gone far enough and turned around and returned to the trailhead.  At the junction with the dirt road I could see a way to follow a single-track trail the rest of the way to the trailhead.

After studying my GPS track and map in greater detail, I could see how to make a loop hike starting from the OHV staging area farther up CA-89.  It looks like the entire loop is about 8 miles, so it’s a reasonable hike to do on another day, with promise of interesting views potentially over a 360 degree panorama (though perhaps not all from a single location).

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One Response to Exploration hikes near Tahoe Donner

  1. Pingback: Donner Ridge Loop | trailhiker

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