This in-between time of year, when snowfall in the mountains is still light or nonexistent, is a great time for one last hike in the high country with your four-legged friends. Check conditions before you go, come prepared for changing weather, wear waterproof boots, keep an eye to the sky, bring water for yourself and your dog, pack snowshoes just in case—and enjoy. Here are five favorite rambles not far off of Interstate 80.
• Castle Peak: If there’s snow on the ground, you’ll need snowshoes or cross-country skis and a SnoPark permit for this web of options as short, long, easy or challenging as you want them to be. Take the Castle Peak/Boreal exit off I-80 and park at the lot on the north side of the freeway, then proceed about 1.5 miles along a dirt road to access a web of hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails at the base of Castle Pass. From here, you can ascend to the 9,103-foot Castle Peak summit or follow the Pacific Crest Trail into Round Valley, where you can visit the historic Peter Grubb hut.
• Mount Judah Loop: This moderate, 4.6-mile loop starts on the Pacific Crest Trail just outside the Judah entrance at Sugar Bowl ski resort and meanders up about 1,200 feet to the Sierra Nevada crest with stunning views of Donner Lake and beyond. If the path is snowed out before you can get there, bring snowshoes or put it on your bucket list for next summer. Dogs don’t have to be leashed, but you don’t want them running off, either.
• Coldstream Valley: Donner Memorial State Park near Truckee is a “must-visit” attraction on Interstate 80, especially since its new interpretive museum and visitor center opened last spring. Dogs aren’t allowed inside, but make time to visit nonetheless, whether you have to swap off dog-walking with a human companion or leave Daisy in the car for a spell. Outside, there’s an irresistible photo op at the Donner Party monument and some strolls to be had along the road leading down to and alongside the lake (watch signage to be sure you don’t stray into areas where dogs aren’t allowed). Hop in your vehicle and travel 2.5 miles to the far end of the park to reach the trailhead for Coldstream Valley, where a 6-mile loop trail leads up to stunning views.
• Truckee River Legacy Trail: The tweener month of November is generally a good one for hiking this 2.5-mile trail starting at Truckee River Regional Park, just a skip and jump from the heart of this busy ski town. The paved, multi-use path with adjacent dirt single-track is being expanded in phases and eventually will travel from Donner Memorial State Park to Glenshire.
• Martis Creek Wildlife Area Trail: Just off Interstate 80, along the Highway 267 spur leading to Northstar California and Tahoe City, is where you’ll find the trailhead for this 4.1-mile hiking and biking loop that travels around the Martis Valley, hugging the banks of Martis Creek and meandering through conifer forests and open meadows. Snow covers the path in winter, when cross-country skiers move in.
Photo Credit: theilr (CC)