Truckee, California, offers a hiking paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With an abundance of trails, each offering unique vistas and challenges, hikers can immerse themselves in the breathtaking beauty of the region. In this article, we will explore nine of the best hikes in Truckee, each providing an unforgettable experience and panoramic views of Donner Lake and the surrounding mountains. Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to discover the wonders of the High Sierra with these exceptional hikes in Truckee.
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Donner Lake Rim Trail
The Donner Lake Rim Trail is a popular 7-mile loop that circles Donner Lake and provides stunning views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. The well-marked trail can be accessed from the Donner Lake boat launch parking area on Donner Pass Road, west of downtown Truckee.
To reach the trailhead, take I-80 to the Donner Pass Road exit. Head south on Donner Pass Road for about 2 miles until you see the parking area on the left. There is a day-use fee for the parking lot. Give yourself 3-4 hours to complete the loop which has gradual elevation gain.
Be sure to bring sun protection, a picnic lunch, layers, and plenty of water.
The Donner Lake Rim Trail winds through forested areas and exposed granite stones as it circumnavigates the lake. It provides excellent views of Donner Lake and passes historic sites like the Donner Memorial Picnic Area. Wildflowers bloom along the trail in summer. The west side has the most dramatic vistas. This is one of the best places for a stunning hike in Truckee.
The Donner Lake Rim Trail is very popular and exposed, so hiking it in the early morning is best to beat both the crowds and the heat. Well-behaved leashed dogs are permitted. With its varied terrain, excellent scenery, Donner party museum, and easy access from Truckee, the Donner Lake Rim Trail is considered a must-do hike for those visiting the area and is a great option for the whole family.
Martis Creek Trail
The Martis Creek Trail, nestled near Truckee, California, beckons outdoor enthusiasts with its serene beauty and recreational allure. Situated within the Martis Creek Lake Recreation Area, approximately 10 miles south of Truckee, this trail extends for about 4.3 miles along a loop, making it an accessible adventure for a diverse range of visitors. With its gentle to moderate terrain, it’s an ideal choice for families and individuals seeking an enjoyable outing.
The trail unfolds through an enchanting landscape, guiding you through open meadows, pine forests, and the picturesque edges of Martis Creek Lake, where stunning mountain vistas await. Suited for hiking, walking, trail running, and mountain biking, the Martis Creek Trail provides an opportunity to experience a moderate Truckee hike.
You’ll find parking available at the Martis Creek Lake Recreation Area, though do check for any potential day-use fees. The trail is typically open from spring through fall.
Proceed east onto Brockway Rd from Donner Pass Road. At the junction with SR 267, turn right. After the airport, watch for “Wildlife viewing area” sign and turn right into the parking area.
Mount Judah Loop
The Mount Judah Loop is an 11-mile challenging hiking loop that summits Mount Judah at 8,243 feet. Located just outside Truckee, the trail provides stunning views of Donner Lake, the Pacific Crest Trail, and surrounding mountains. The loop starts from the Pacific Crest Trail parking lot off Donner Pass Road west of downtown Truckee.
To access the trailhead, take I-80 to the Donner Pass Road exit and head south. Drive about 1.5 miles on Donner Pass Road until you see the parking lot and trailhead on your left.
Be sure to start early to complete the 11-mile loop which takes around 6-8 hours. Bring plenty of water, snacks, sun protection, and wear sturdy hiking shoes.
The Mount Judah Loop first climbs up switchbacks through shady forests before reaching open meadows full of wildflowers in spring and summer. As you gain elevation, the views open up to show surrounding peaks and Donner Lake below. The trail summits Mount Judah at about the halfway point. The second half descends back to the trailhead, completing the strenuous loop.
The Mount Judah Loop hike is best done June through October when there is less snow. Get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms common in summer.
With its challenging mileage, high elevation, and epic views, the Mount Judah Loop is one of the top summit hikes near Truckee for experienced hikers.
Burton Creek Loop Trail
The Burton Creek Loop Trail is a scenic 4-mile hiking loop located just outside downtown Truckee, California. The trail circles the Burton Creek Marsh Natural Preserve, providing great views of Peaks Lake and the surrounding meadows filled with wildflowers during spring and summer. The trailhead can be accessed from a parking area off Brockway Road.
To reach the trailhead, take CA-267 North from Truckee toward Northstar California Resort. Drive about 2 miles and turn left onto Brockway Road. Follow Brockway Road for 1 mile until you see the parking area and trailhead on your right.
The trail is very well-marked with signs throughout the loop. Be sure to bring good walking shoes, water, and sun protection for the hike.
The gentle terrain and well-maintained paths make it an enjoyable hike for families and nature enthusiasts.
Bring your binoculars and camera to capture the vibrant bird species that call this marsh home.
The Burton Creek Trail is relatively flat and rated as easy, making it a good option for hikers of all levels. The path meanders through pine forests and open meadows, providing great opportunities to spot birds and wildlife. Interpretive signs along the way describe the ecology of the wetlands ecosystem. There are several benches scattered around for resting and enjoying the scenic views.
Due to its proximity to downtown Truckee, the Burton Creek Loop Trail can get crowded on summer weekends. Try to hike during the week or early morning for more solitude. The open exposure means the trail can get hot by midday.
Hole in the Ground Trail
The Hole in the Ground hike is an easy 1.2 mile loop that brings you to a unique geological formation called the Hole in the Ground. This volcanic rock structure looks like a crater or hole and provides beautiful panoramic views. The hike is located about 5 miles south of downtown Truckee off Highway 89.
To access the hike, take CA-89 south from Truckee for about 5 miles until you see the signed parking area on your right. The parking lot is just past the intersection with Spring Creek Road.
There is a kiosk with trail information and the maintained dirt trail begins across the road. Be sure to dress in layers and bring water for this short hike.
The well-marked trail first winds through open fields and pine forest, gradually gaining elevation. After about 0.6 miles you’ll reach the Hole in the Ground, a massive rock formation that drops 25 feet into the ground. Enjoy panoramic views here before completing the loop back to the parking lot. The relatively flat terrain and ease of navigation make this a popular family-friendly hike.
The Hole in the Ground trailhead can fill up on weekends and holidays. Try to visit midweek or early in the day for a less crowded experience. The lack of shade on the trail can make it hot during summer.
With its unique geological formations and sweeping views, the short hike to Hole in the Ground is one of the most scenic and accessible hikes in the Truckee area.
Truckee River Legacy Trail
The Truckee River Legacy Trail is a paved, accessible trail that follows along the Truckee River through downtown Truckee. The trail stretches around 5 miles one-way, providing a perfect flat pathway for walking, running, biking, and rollerblading. There are numerous access points, but the trail can be picked up at the western end next to the Amtrak station.
To reach the Legacy Trail, take CA-267 North to downtown Truckee. The trail begins at the end of Jibboom Street next to the train station. Free 3-hour public parking is available in the lots near the station. The trail passes pedestrian bridges, parks, and river access points as it winds through town.
Bring comfortable walking shoes, water, and sun protection like sunscreen and a good hat.
The paved trail meanders along the riverbank and over some restored railway bridges, passing charming historic districts and downtown restaurants and shops. Interpretive plaques describe Truckee’s railroad and logging history. The views of the Sierra Mountains and river are spectacular. There are grassy picnic areas perfect for taking a break.
The Legacy Trail can be crowded on summer weekends. Try to walk during quieter times or continue farther along the trail to avoid crowds. Note that the trail ends abruptly about 5 miles west of downtown Truckee. With its scenic natural beauty and downtown amenities, the Truckee River Legacy Trail is a relaxing way to explore the historic heart of Truckee.
Loch Leven Lakes Trail
The Loch Leven Lakes trail is a moderate 5.6-mile out-and-back hike that leads to three alpine lakes situated in the beautiful High Sierra mountains. The trailhead is located about 13 miles south of Truckee off Highway 89 near Sugar Pine Point State Park. A valid recreation pass is required to park at the trailhead.
To access the trailhead from Truckee, take CA-89 South for approximately 13 miles until you reach the signed parking area on the right. Be sure to arrive early as the lot fills up. The well-marked trail begins across the highway.
Bring plenty of water and sun protection like sunscreen for the 11-mile round-trip hike which takes about 4-6 hours.
The trail climbs gradually through the forest before opening up to views of the surrounding peaks. At 2.8 miles you’ll reach Lower Loch Leven Lake, a great spot to take a break. Continue on another 0.8 miles to Upper Loch Leven Lake, set beneath impressive granite cliffs. Follow the trail along the shore to the inlet connecting to beautiful High Loch Leven Lake.
The Loch Leven Lakes offer cool blue waters for swimming in summer and epic autumn colors in fall. With its high alpine views, diverse terrain, and three lake basins, this hike is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of the High Sierra without venturing too far from Truckee.
Castle Peak Trail
The Castle Peak Trail is a challenging 16-mile out-and-back hike that brings you to the summit of Castle Peak at 9,103 feet. Offering unmatched panoramic views, this is one of the most iconic hikes in the Truckee area, but requires experience and physical endurance. The trailhead is accessed from Castle Peak Road off I-80.
To reach the trailhead, take Exit 174 off I-80 just west of Truckee. Follow Castle Peak Road for 5.5 miles until you see parking areas on both sides of the road. Be prepared with camping gear if doing the hike over 2 days. Bring plenty of water and fuel as there are no services on the trail. Get an early start to allow ample time to complete the strenuous hike.
The steep trail climbs over 4,500 feet through wildflower meadows and rocky switchbacks before reaching breathtaking views near the summit. The views of Donner Lake and the Sierra Buttes are really phenomenal. Consider continuing to the true peak 0.3 miles past the main summit for unobstructed 360-degree views. Exercise extreme caution near the narrow ridgeline.
Due to its length, high elevation gain, and exposed terrain, the Castle Peak hike is best done in summer and fall by experienced and physically fit hikers only. Proper acclimatization to the altitude is essential.
The summit views make all the effort worthwhile, but come prepared for this demanding yet immensely rewarding Truckee area hike.
Ellis Peak Trail
The Ellis Peak Trail is a moderate 6.8-mile out-and-back hike that summits Ellis Peak at 9,543 feet, providing incredible 360-degree views of the Lake Tahoe area. The well-marked trail is located 10 miles south of Truckee off Highway 89 near Barker Pass. The trailhead is at the end of Forest Service Road 10, a winding gravel road.
To access the trailhead, take CA-89 south from Truckee for about 10 miles. Turn right onto Forest Service Road 10 and follow it for 3 miles to the parking area at the end. Be aware this access road is steep and uneven. Give yourself 4-6 hours for the hike and bring plenty of water and snacks. Arrive early as parking is limited.
The trail gains over 2,000 feet as it switchbacks through the forest and skirts the edge of Ellis Lake. Epic views open up near the summit of the rocky Ellis Peak revealing Martis Valley, Donner Lake, and the Sierra Mountains. Visibility is best in early summer before the haze sets in. Look for wildflowers blooming in July.
Due to exposure, it’s best to tackle Ellis Peak from July through September. Lightning is a hazard so start early and watch the weather. While a challenging aerobic workout, the panoramic payoff views make the Ellis Peak hike one of the most popular in the Truckee area.
Coldstream Canyon Trail
The Coldstream Canyon Trail is an out-and-back hike of around 8 miles roundtrip that follows Coldstream Creek through a rugged canyon. Located 5 miles south of downtown Truckee, the trail can be accessed from a small parking area off Highway 89 near Prosser Creek Reservoir.
To get to the trailhead, take CA-89 south from Truckee for about 5 miles until you see the parking pullout on the right. There is space for around 10 cars here.
Be sure to pack light as you’ll have to cross Coldstream Creek at the start of the trail. Wear good hiking shoes for this rocky and uneven trail.
The Coldstream Canyon Trail climbs gradually along the creek through pine forest interspersed with granite outcroppings. It passes several small waterfalls and cascades, especially in early summer. The trail eventually leads to views overlooking Prosser Creek Reservoir and the surrounding mountains before dead-ending at private property.
The Coldstream Canyon hike is best done as a summer or fall hike when the creek is lower. The amount of flowing water varies greatly depending on the snowmelt. With its scenic combination of creekside terrain, high mountain vistas, and lack of crowds, Coldstream Canyon is a delightful trail to explore near Truckee.
Rules and Regulations for Hikes in Truckee
- Please observe the rules posted on the kiosks at the access trailheads
- No open fires
- Pack out your pet’s waste
- Pack out all trash
- Do not harass wildlife or allow your pet to harass wildlife
- Bicyclists should yield to equestrians and hikers. Hikers should yield to equestrians
- Please be courteous to all the users of the various Truckee hikes.