Castle Peak’s majestic 360-degree views

Part of the trail includes a dense forest. | Kathryn Reed

Looking up I tried to find the castle. Someone with a better imagination must have named this rock outcropping. While others saw turrets, I saw volcanic rock.

I have driven by Castle Peak countless times while zooming along Interstate 80 before I finally decided to climb to the top. On a clear day, you can catch glimpses of Mount Diablo, the mountain I grew up by in the San Francisco Bay Area, or Mount Lassen, the southern-most peak in the Cascade Range. The views are why you want to climb this mountain.

It was 360 degrees of beauty — with rugged mountains, a beautiful meadow and peaks whose names I didn’t know, nor could I find them all on a map.

While the tippy top is actually 9,103 feet, we made it to 8,998 feet. My fear of heights kept me away from the turrets.

A couple enjoys the view from Castle Peak. | Kathryn Reed

To the north was the distinctive Sierra Buttes. Turning to the east was Stampede Reservoir. The nearest iconic fixture were the slopes of Boreal ski resort. It was 360 degrees of beauty — with rugged mountains, a beautiful meadow and peaks whose names I didn’t know nor could I find them all on a map. Plenty of people were enjoying the scenery and having a bite to eat before heading back; it was a respectful group — no loud chatter, no obnoxious cell phone calling which has been my experience at other times in the Sierra.

The Trail
6.43 miles RT | Moderate | Elevation gain | 1,737 feet
Dogs OK; carry water | Poles recommended

We started our adventure at the gate just off the interstate, though it would be possible to drive the better part of the way to the top. The reason to drive would be to access other trails without having to hike as far. We ended up doing a loop instead of an out and back. The loop was a bit shorter because the route we took back was more direct. We clocked 6.43 miles total.

Castle Peak is a popular hike near Truckee. | Kathryn Reed

From the gate where you park there is a choice to go left or right. Go right. This would also be the dirt road (Castle Valley Road) you could drive on; four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended. Not too far up there will be a fork in the road with a sign signaling right for Donner Lake Rim Trail. Follow this for the more scenic route. Straight ahead is the route we came down and the one you would want to drive in order to park as close as possible. You will hit another juncture, Castle Pass, where you will go right.

Once on the singletrack and off the dirt road the terrain changes dramatically. Trees are closer together with patches of mule’s ears moving in the gentle breeze. At certain points the view to the west opened up.

Part of the route is along the Pacific Crest Trail (note: mountain bikers are not allowed on the PCT). All but about the last mile is relatively easy or moderate as far as Tahoe area hikes go. It’s the steepness at the end that will have you slow your pace. Coming down it was the scree on the path that made me so thankful to have poles.

Directions | From Truckee, go west on Interstate 80. Take the Castle Peak/Boreal exit and go right. Park before the gate but do not block it.

Kathryn Reed is the author of “The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes” and “Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks.” |