Mary West: The Day Hiker visits Mt. Judah Loop Trail
The Mount Judah Loop Trail is why I am a day hiker. The five-mile moderate hike is everything I love about hiking.
The magnificent views, the profusion of wildflowers, not to mention the snow in August. The elevation climb starts at 7,050 feet and climbs up an additional 1,150 feet. From the top of the ridge you have magnificent views of Donner Lake into Truckee, Mount Lincoln, Anderson Ridge, Anderson Peak, Tinker Knob, and beyond. My dog Stella can stretch her legs and greet many other happy hikers with their own dogs enjoying this portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.
It is worth the hour drive up Interstate 80 heading east to the Soda Springs exit. Stay right off the freeway up Donner Pass Road. Pass Sugar Bowl Road and a couple hundred yards past the Sugar Bowl parking area you will see a small cluster of buildings that was the Sugar Bowl Academy. Turn right in the parking area and travel to the right down the narrow road that leads to the trailhead and off-road parking. At the trailhead a map with several local trails and landmarks will begin your day hike. In the bottom right of the map you will find the Mount Judah Loop Trail.
The start of the trail is decomposed granite and nearly overwhelmed by lush green vegetation in a variety of rich greens, topped with red, orange, pink, purple, yellow, and white flowers. The climb begins quickly up switchbacks of granite steps and is exposed to the sun in many areas. The trail levels out in a forest of pines, aspen, and alder overlooking Lake Mary. I expected to see plenty of Mule Ear in bloom but I was thrilled to see so much more. Finding patches of snow was a great surprise.
A mile into the hike there is a sign (if not under snow) that is the intersection of Donner Pass Trail and Mount Judah Loop Trail, follow the Mount Judah Loop Trail. Another sign still further in will send you to the right to continue the Loop to the peak.
You will know when you reach the peak. The wind comes from every direction. Taking an easy 10 degrees off the valley temperatures, depending on the time of day you go. After taking a seat on one of the rocks strewn about the top of Mount Judah, enjoying a snack, and taking several panoramic pictures, we made our descent.
This trail has become quite popular, and dogs are welcome on the trail, but we still had the peak to ourselves. The direct sun along the peak may require another application of sunblock, a hat and sunglasses are also advisable. The loose granite also make walking sticks helpful.
The hike makes its way down the mountain side and wanders through forest and lush greenery once again before you come to the end of the loop at the first intersection that returns you to the granite steps toward the trailhead.
Day hiking, like a great short story, you want to read in one setting, but you never want to end.
Mary West is 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 2018 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Newspaper Column by the Outdoor Writers Association of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram.
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