The trail to Martis Peak is around 4 miles of steady climbing through dense snow-covered forest, but for those who stick it out, the old Martis Fire Lookout just below the 8,749-foot peak provides a break from the outdoor elements and provides a panoramic view over the Lake Tahoe Basin, the western Sierra peaks, and northern valleys and summits.
Beginning at the parking area and trailhead just about 0.5 miles north of Brockway Summit, the trail to the peak covers the slow incline of Martis Peak Road, a seasonal logging road that has the potential to get busy with snowmobile traffic (each logging road beyond the gate is named Martis Peak Road; this route covers the most direct route to the peak.)
Thick pine forest lines each side of the road, and you'll see minor logging spurs and trails that fork into the dense canopy. Though much of the land is national forest, many boundaries are marked by signs denoting logging company ownership and varying degrees of legal accessibility, so use your discretion before exploring the backcountry around here.
To reach the summit, follow the main road as it climbs, levels out into rolling terrain for a short while, and then climbs some more. The only confusing intersection comes about 1.9 miles in at a large clearing where you continue in a northeast direction, picking up the blue diamond trail blazes nailed into the trees.
Much of this road skirts the Tahoe Rim Trail, allowing the intrepid to create a loop route. At the point just before Martis Peak Road meets a gate and ends at the Tahoe Rim Trail, the path to the lookout takes a left turn to the north and ascends 0.6 miles. You'll then emerge from the trees to see the lookout and a small area with picnic tables and a vault toilet.
Martis Fire Lookout (8,667 feet), built in 1914, fell into disuse in the 1970s and was subsequently damaged by vandals. Laminated stories posted on the interior walls describe the lookout's restoration. It now welcomes everyone inside, and it can be a nice spot to warm up and eat some food following the 1,700-foot climb. The view stretches from Verdi Peak about 300 degrees to Freel and Jobs Peak and the slopes of Heavenly; only Martis Peak interrupts the view to the east.
The path that ascends the final 100 feet to the summit of Martis Peak lies clearly to the east.
From here, turn around and enjoy the mostly downhill trek back to the gate. With a little pre-planning it is possible to connect with the Tahoe Rim Trail or one of the other branches of Martis Peak Road for a different path back to the trailhead.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.