One of the easiest ways to gain the Sierra Crest in the Tahoe area is to pick up the Pacific Crest Trail near Donner Pass and head south. The Mount Judah Loop takes advantage of the access, offering a short but scenic stint along the crest in a 5-mile loop.
It is best to begin this hike from the parking lot where the Sugar Bowl Academy building is located at the top of Donner Pass Road (i.e. Donner Pass); this is where the PCT crosses Donner Pass. Head south from the lot along the PCT/Old Donner Pass Road a hundred yards to where the PCT heads left and splits from the road. Follow the PCT up along the edge of Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, eventually crossing into the ski area. There are great wildflowers along this lower section of trail. At the first junction, head left and climb toward the saddle between Donner Peak and Mount Judah.
From the saddle you can opt for a side trip and ascend Donner Peak, or you can continue the loop and head south to gain Mount Judah. A second signed junction at the saddle points the way toward the Mount Judah Loop.
After contouring around and up the east aspect of Mount Judah, you’ll emerge on the Sierra Crest and the ridge that connects Mount Judah and Mount Lincoln. The views along the crest make the hike well worth the effort. The vista stretching south encompasses Anderson Ridge, Anderson Peak, Tinker Knob, and the greater Granite Chief Wilderness, while the view north looks across Donner Pass to the turret-shaped summit of Castle Peak. You’ll also be able to look down into much of Sugar Bowl’s terrain and further west toward Van Norden Lake and Soda Springs. To the east you'll overlook Donner Lake and Donner Memorial State Park.
After traversing the crest for a bit, the trail drops down off the ridge between Mount Lincoln and Mount Judah and bends around into Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. The trail rejoins with the PCT on the Sugar Bowl side of the ridge and heads through a fir forest toward the first junction, where you’ll pick up the first mile of the trail back to the car.
The Mount Judah Loop can be walked in either direction, but the clockwise route is recommended in order to maximize the southward views.
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