Ten toughest hikes within a 75-mile radius of Grass Valley March 1997
Everyone has a different definition of what a “tough” hike is. For some, walking the quarter-mile to your mailbox or in from the outskirts of Kmart’s lot is tough. For others, a 10-mile hike with 3,000 feet of gain is more in the ballpark
The following list of the 10 toughest dayhikes in a 75-mile radius of Grass Valley-Nevada City is based on three criteria: distance, elevation gain or a combination of both. You’ll need maps of both the Tahoe and El Dorado national forests. Lace your boots up tight, take plenty of water, and get ready to sweat. The hikes are not listed in order of difficulty; all distances are round-trip:
Eagle Falls to Dick’s Peak via the Velma Lakes, Desolation Wilderness: Most folks backpack into one of the three Velma lakes and do Dick’s – at 9,974 feet – as a dayhike. However, a determined hiker could accomplish the entire round-trip distance – 16 miles and 3,600 feet of gain – in a long day. The trailhead is at Eagle Falls, just beyond the Vikingsholm turnoff on Highway 89 at Emerald Bay. Go up the steeply ascending trail to Middle Velma Lake then southwest past Dick’s Lake to Dick’s Pass. Take the magnificent, steep-sided ridge up to the cairn on top.
Pacific Crest Trail from Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley: This legendary hike is approximately 15 miles one-way and requires a car shuttle or a halfway-point vehicle key exchange. The trailhead is the first right after Sugar Bowl ski resort at the PCT trailhead to Mount Judah. Follow the Judah loop trail signs to Roller Pass (between mounts Judah and Lincoln) then beyond it to Anderson Peak and Tinkers Knob, finally descending into Squaw.
Euchre Bar: This hike is only 4 miles long but has big-time elevation loss into the American River Canyon. Take Highway 80 to the Alta exit then head east on the frontage road, Casa Loma, for about 1 1/2 miles. Casa Loma branches to the right; don’t go under the train trestle. The road snakes out to the canyon lip for about 2 1/2 miles and ends in a parking lot with a prominent outhouse. After about one third of a mile, you’ll see a large orange sign on the right, “Euchre Bar.” It is rumored this trail has 20 switchbacks in its scant couple of miles – but who’s masochistic enough to count?
Castle Peak via Round Valley: Castle Peak is pretty strenuous with 1,000 feet of gain in its final mile or so. But for some more serious action, make it a 12-mile loop through Round Valley. The trailhead is at the Castle Peak/Boreal exit of Highway 80. Go back under the freeway head and east up the trail, which becomes the PCT in places. Wind up through Castle Valley to the ridge at 7,800 feet. Scale the peak (the center “castle” is the highest at 9,200 feet; take it for a fun, Class 2, hand-over-hand climb) then head cross-country northwest along a ridge and traverse down into Round Valley. Check out Peter Grubb Hut then head back up to the ridge between Round and Castle valleys. Be careful not to head off onto Andesite Ridge to the west.
Meeks Bay to Phipps Peak: Normally an overnighter, this makes for a not-too-shabby, 17-mile day, including bagging 9,234-foot high Phipps Peak. The trek starts at the Desolation Wilderness trailhead opposite the Meek’s Bay campground on Tahoe’s Highway 89. The trail winds up past Genevieve, Crag, Stony Ridge and upper and lower Grouse lakes to Phipps Pass. Then it’s a short cross-country jaunt to the west ridge of the peak.
South Yuba River, Missouri Bar to Poorman’s Creek: This is a mostly flat, pleasant hike along the river – unless you’re enough of a mad dog to do its full 21 miles as a dayhike. Take North Bloomfield Road over the Yuba at Edwards Crossing to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park. Just before the park HQ, turn left on Relief Hill Road about 1/4 mile to the clearly marked trailhead. The trail switchbacks steeply down (a joy on the way back up after you’ve already logged in 19 miles) for 1 1/2 miles to the river, where the Humbug meets the Missouri Bar trail. The trail winds up and down, moving away from the water nearer the end. It comes out just beyond the town of Washington.
Mount Tallac: This is the second-highest peak in the Tahoe area at a respectable 9,735 feet, with 2,200 feet of gain in less than 6 miles. There are three approaches, but this is the prettiest: Take Highway 89 to the Fallen Leaf Lake exit. Go to the back of the lake, park past the Stanford Alumni Camp, and head out the Glen Alpine Trail. The trail winds up creeks and an abandoned resort to a PCT sign. Turn right and go past Grass and Susie lakes northward to Gilmore Lake. From the southeast shore the trail ascends steeply. Head up the 9,000-foot saddle, sometimes cross-country on talus, and meet up with the Mount Tallac Trail from Cascade Lake. Trot up to the summit for killer views of the entire Tahoe region.
Mount Rose: This a bit far afield – the Nevada side of Tahoe – but perfectly doable as a day trip. At 10,778 feet, it’s the highest you can get in the northern Sierra, with almost 4,00 feet of gain in about 12 miles. Take Highway 267 to Kings Beach. Turn left onto Highway 28 to Incline Village then take Highway 431, the Mount Rose Highway, for 8 miles to a parking lot on the left. Hike 2 1/2 miles to a trailhead sign across from a pond and turn right. The clearly delineated trail crosses several creeks on its way to the summit. Tahoe views don’t get any better than this.
Mount Lola: This is the highest point in Nevada County at 9,143 feet, with some healthy gain in its 10 miles. Take Highway 89 north to the Jackson Meadows turnoff. After 5 1/2 miles turn left on to TNF Road 19N07 then head downhill for 3/4 mile and turn left onto a dirt road. After 2/1/2 miles you’ll see a large trailhead sign. The trail winds through Perrazzo Meadows then up the east side of Coldstream Creek. It crosses a logging road at 2 miles and a bridge then bear left as it gradually ascends. A stone hut marks its twin-peaks ridge.
Sierra Buttes: There are two trails up the Buttes. The longer one via Tamarack Lake has almost 2,400 feet of gain straight up in just 3 1/2 miles. Take Highway 49 past Sierra City to Bassett’s Station and head north on Gold Lake Road. After 1 1/2 miles, cross the bridge over Salmon Creek and turn left. Continue 3/10 of a mile to a right onto Packer Lake Road. Go 2 1/2 miles to a left on TNF Road 93 (Packer Saddle). On the left is a sign “Lower and Upper Tamarack Lakes and Sierra Buttes,” parking, and a trailhead. Follow the trail for 1/4 mile then take its right fork. After 1/2 mile you see a “Sardine Lakes and Sand Pond Via Trail ” sign. Keep to the right and look for the “Sierra Buttes L.O.” sign . The trail follows this ridge to the lookout. Check out the super views of mounts Lassen, Shasta and Rose from the summit.
This article was originally published on 2/10/2000.
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