Mary West: Hiking to Castle Peak
Several mountain peaks are visible from Interstate 80 heading east in the Sierra Nevada mountains. One of those is Castle Peak. So named for the volcanic rock formations etched by wind, rain and snow at its peak standing like castle turrets more than nine-thousand feet above sea level.
This difficult trail is only 5.8-miles round trip. Pack your day pack with a layer or two. A windbreaker might come in handy. I have hiked this in July with snow blanketing much of the trail. Flowers were blooming and many others were just preparing to unfurl. Trudging through snow made the trek a bit more arduous. Trekking poles are strongly suggested as are good boots with lots of grip. The trail is uphill 1300-feet on a moderately traveled trail that, without snow, is well marked.
At the very top is a magnificent 360-degree view. To the south you see Boreal ski resort, to the north is the trail leading to Basin Peak. To the east is Reno and to the west you see Signal Peak. All the way up I question whether this hike is worth it. Then I reach the top. The view is always better from the top. And yes, worth it.
At the peak I took in the view and lunch. I enjoyed the added bonus of being visited by a curious chipmunk looking for a snack.
Make sure you take twice as much water as you think you need. Sunblock is advisable as well as sunglasses and a hat. Once out of the trees much of the trail is exposed to direct sunlight. And a strong wind at the top is where you may wish you had that windbreaker.
Take your time coming down. The trail is steep and the loose rock is like walking on marbles. This is where the trekking poles, or a hiking partner who can lend a supportive hand, come in handy.
To get there from Auburn, take Interstate 80 east to the Boreal/Castle Peak exit. Go left under the freeway a quarter mile to the trail head. Once on foot head straight up the hill and stay on the trail to the top.
Mary West is the author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guide. The books are a collection of Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, and favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond (Available on Amazon). West was the recipient of the CRAFT Award in 2017 and 2019 for Best Outdoor Newspaper Column by the Outdoor Writers Association of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram.
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