Located just few miles west of Truckee and the Donner peak area, the snowshoe trail to Loch Leven Lakes is easily overlooked. While the route receives quite a lot of summer attention, it is very common to spend half a day on the trail without even seeing a single soul in winter. Most likely there will be trail from previous snowshoer. If you happen to be the first person, however, a little navigation is required, especially in the first mile of the trail. Be sure to come prepared with a map and compass or a GPS unit.
The trail steepens toward the first hill overlooking Cisco Grove, Soda Springs, and the Donner Peak area. Enjoy the views before quickly going downhill as the trail follows the South Yuba River; use caution along this stretch to make sure you don't fall or step into the creek. There's a little wooden bridge that indicates you are going in the right direction.
After crossing the bridge, the trail starts going uphill again toward the railroad. It is quite an amazing view to see the train pass through the snowy forest up above you. Be very careful while crossing the railroad, however, as trains can move deceptively fast, especially when they are headed downhill. The trial continues uphill just to the northeast of the metal ladder over the railroad.
Back in the forest, just head toward the ridge and you will see the frozen lake from above. The snow on top of the hill can be quite heavy and can obscure the edge of the cliff, so tread carefully. There are plenty of spots to enjoy lunch with a great view. You can also head down toward the peaceful lake and have lunch there.
Note that you'll want to start early to guarantee a spot in the small parking lot right across from the trailhead. Parking gets pretty busy with families looking to enjoy some sledding on the nearby hill. If the parking lot is full, there is a parking lot near Rainbow Lodge and another near the entrance back to the highway. This is a great winter trip that can be done in a day when you are coming from Bay Area, and traffic can be easily avoided because it is located just outside of Truckee.
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.