Dramatic views await on Castle Rock

Lake Tahoe from Castle Rock | Mike White

A relatively easy snowshoe or cross-country ski trip leads to a stunningly beautiful view of Lake Tahoe from one of the basin’s lesser-known prominences in the Carson Range above the East Shore: 7,904-foot Castle Rock.

While the physical demands of this 2½-mile round trip are fairly minimal, a bit of navigation will be necessary in order to successfully negotiate the route.

While scads of tourists are bustling through the South Tahoe casino district and hordes of alpine skiers are careening down the slopes of Heavenly Mountain Resort nearby, oftentimes peace and serenity reign in the winter back country just north of 7,344-foot Daggett Pass. While the physical demands of this 2½-mile round trip are fairly minimal, requiring less than 500 feet of elevation gain, a bit of navigation will be necessary in order to successfully negotiate the route to the vista point and back through moderate forest cover of western white, lodgepole and Jeffrey pines.

Approaching Castle Rock | Mike White

Don’t be dismayed by the formidable wall of rock at the destination, which requires fourth-class climbing skills to scale. More accessible vantage points around the base provide equally stunning views of the lake’s surface dramatically reflecting the ring of snow-clad mountains above.

Find the start of the route by walking a short distance back down the plowed road from the parking area to where snow-covered Forest Service Road 13N80 on your right descends southwest through the drainage of Burke Creek, passing below a few homes of the Upper Kingsbury subdivision. The moderately graded descent soon leaves these signs of civilization behind, where a fresh blanket of snow will provide a welcome winter hush to the undeveloped surroundings. A half-mile into your journey the route transitions to a gently rising traverse around the base of a tree-covered hill on your right; the route curves to the north.

A snowy western juniper tree | Mike White

Still in the trees, you eventually bend to the west for a short distance to arrive at a broad saddle to the northeast of Castle Rock, 1 mile from the parking area. From this saddle, turn to the southwest and make a moderate ascent, passing by a rock knob along the way. Past the knob, the grade increases on the viewless approach to the east face of Castle Rock. Once beneath the outcrop, you must snowshoe around to the opposite side and safely make a short but steep scramble up snow ramps to the top of a slightly lower pinnacle to the south of the true summit (which does indeed require technical mountaineering skill to gain).

Here a grand view of Tahoe unfolds, including Marla Bay immediately right of Round Hill, the distant peaks of the Crystal Range above the far shore and a host of additional Tahoe landmarks spread across the basin. After a couple of hours in the forest, the expansive view of Lake Tahoe is a fine reward for the sweat and toil involved in getting here. After fully absorbing the beautiful scenery, retrace your tracks back to the parking area at Andria Drive.

A section of the historic Pony Express Trail along the old Kingsbury Grade Road east of Daggett Pass offers snowshoers another possible route in the area when snow conditions are favorable. A satisfying start to your trip to Castle Rock may be had not far from the trailhead at Red Hut Café on Kingsbury Grade, where you can enjoy some hearty breakfast fare.

How to get there
Follow State Route 207 (Kingsbury Grade) from U.S. Route 50 in Stateline, Nev., toward Daggett Pass about 3 miles to a left-hand turn onto North Benjamin Drive (0.3 mile westbound of the pass). Follow north on Benjamin Drive, which soon becomes Andria Drive and continue to the end of a plowed road near the Kingsbury North trailhead for the Tahoe Rim Trail. Park on the roadside as space allows; avoid parking in the snowplow turnaround.

The plowed parking area is also a launching point for snowmobilers following the Genoa Peak Road to the north. The route to Castle Rock is not marked; snowshoers must be able to navigate safely there and back. Avalanche danger is extremely minimal around Castle Rock but consult daily reports at sierraavalanchecenter.org.