Winter Castle

Snowshoe Hike to Castle Pass in Tahoe National Forest

Woman snowshoeing at Castle Pass overlooking mountains in Tahoe

So you want the keys to the castle? Well, this castle is open to all! All you need is a clear day and a pair of sturdy snowshoes (rent from a local sport outfitter). Then make the 2.25-mile (one-way) hike up to Castle Pass near Donner Summit in Tahoe National Forest. The views from the pass are royally good: You can see the North Lake Tahoe landscape, with distant skiers at Boreal and Sugar Bowl.

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This is a straightforward hike that mostly follows a snow-covered fire road. You’ll gently ascend 750 feet over 2 miles to the pass. You’ll also be following the Pacific Crest Trail. As you snowshoe through the forest, breaks in the trees give way to views of Castle Peak.

Woman snowshoe hiking up a trail to Castle Pass in Tahoe

After a final steep but brief late push, you’ve ascended to Castle Pass, and a greeting of glorious views. It’s truly a ta-dah moment. From here, snowshoe the ridgeline as far as you’d like and feel comfortable (being mindful of time). On clear days with good conditions you can comfortably get as far as the final rocky and jutting outcroppings beneath the crowning turrets of Castle Peak.

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Getting up to the peak is more strenuous and should only be attempted by those who are comfortable with high-angle slopes. The views from the pass just below the peak are nearly as good. This is a popular hike, so you’re likely to see at least a few other folks. Bring something to sit on so you can take a break and enjoy the scenery.

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With Castle Peak looming just above, you can spy the ski areas of Northstar, Boreal Ridge, and Sugar Bowl, and spin around to check out the Round Valley vistas too. Return the way you came.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: In the episode “Wide Open 2021” Weekend Sherpa co-founders Brad and Holly recorded part of their podcast from the top of Castle Pass! Listen to their discussion about the snowshoe adventure as well as other wide open spaces to explore in Northern California.

This is doable as a day-trip from the Bay Area. From Donner Pass on I-80, take the Castle Peak exit and follow signs to the Sno-Park ($5 day fee; map). You’ll have to walk back under the freeway to the north side of the westbound off-ramp to reach the road that climbs up to the trailhead (do not try parking your car on this road, it can easily get stuck in the snowbanks here). Dog-friendly!

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