This was a relatively short hike, due in part to time constraints, on a familiar trail that has wonderful views overlooking Negro Canyon, Donner Lake, the Pacific Crest, Carson Range, and Martis Valley. The trail is in Tahoe Donner, beginning at the Glacier Way trailhead. I had hiked the same route as part of a longer hike almost exactly 6 months ago, but this time it was a snow hike. Although the snow accumulation is only a fraction of normal this year, at the almost 7500-foot elevation of the trail there was snow cover on most of my route, as well as on nearby and distant high country.
When I started out, I was planning to hike just out to the picnic table at the Negro Canyon Overlook about 1 mile from the trailhead. On my way back I decided to take a couple of detours for additional views of Donner Lake. One of the viewpoints is where I often go to watch Truckee’s Fourth of July fireworks display at Donner Lake, several hundred feet below: a different and interesting perspective.
The trail starts at Glacier Way, at the top of Skislope Way in Tahoe Donner, near Donner Ridge. The portion that I hiked has relatively little elevation change, and it’s a nice hike/walk when time is limited. From the trail to the Donner Lake overlooks is all downhill, though, so I descended to both places I went to view the lake.
The day was mostly cloudy with a few patches of blue sky. About ¾ mile from the trailhead I had an interesting view looking up at Donner Ridge below a jet contrail and a few openings in the clouds.
From the picnic table at the overlook there is a great view of Castle Peak across Negro Canyon. This must be an iconic view, at least for me, since my picture is framed and zoomed almost exactly the same as the picture from my earlier hike. This time the snow makes the view a winter wonderland.
Checking out Donner Lake, only the west end is in view from the overlook, nestled in a basin below the Pacific Crest.
Looking to the southwest, I could see white-capped peaks in South Tahoe, some 35 miles away. The ski runs at Heavenly Valley are visible at the left, and the highest peaks are Job’s Peak, Job’s Sister, and Freel Peak. I had a memorable hike among those peaks in 2012.
There are a few places along the trail where secondary trails branch off toward Donner Lake overlooks. The first (on the return trip) is only about 0.2 miles from the picnic table. Besides being able to see a bit more of Donner Lake, there was a nice view up Billy Mack Canyon, through which I-80 climbs from Truckee to Donner Pass. In this picture Mt Judah (left) and Mt Lincoln (right) are prominent on the skyline, with tree-topped Donner Peak just in front of Mt Lincoln. The dark line across the middle of the picture is part a series of tunnels and sheds that protect the railroad tracks from winter snow. Last spring I hiked in a section of unused sheds, and it’s an interesting highlight to hiking in the area.
My next side trip started about 0.3 miles from the first side trip, or about 0.5 mile from the trailhead. There is a flat area next to the trail that looks like a small parking lot, though no motorized vehicles use the trail other than official Tahoe Donner Association vehicles. I think it is junction 20A on the trail maps. I followed the obvious trail, just as I had on my previous hike, and ended up at a large rock marking a panoramic view of Donner Lake. This time I decided to see if I could scramble up the rock. It’s not more than 10 feet or so up from the high-side base, where the snow remnants are, but I kept in mind that I shouldn’t go up anything I couldn’t safely get back down. I did make it to the top! – to sit, not to stand. Northstar’s ski runs are prominent on Mt Pluto behind the lake.
Besides a wonderful panoramic view of Donner Lake, to the east there is a nice view of the Carson Range. I-80 curves around the edge of, and up the hillside from, Donner Lake, heading toward downtown Truckee and then on toward Reno. The tan area at the right is Martis Valley.
After enjoying the view I carefully climbed down the rock, back up the hill to the original trail, and back to the trailhead. I enjoy visiting locations with good views at different times of the year and in different weather and lighting conditions. Every experience is a little different!