The Pole Creek trail follows Pole Creek Road/Forest Road 08, which typically remains closed to traffic and covered in snow during the winter season. The trail sits just north of the Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows ski areas, and in contrast to those polished resorts, it offers access to backcountry skiing and overnight stays in a backcountry hut for those willing to take on the grueling climb.
Beginning behind a closed gate where Pole Creek Road intersects with Highway 89, the climbing begins immediately. Those sticking to the length of the trail will eventually climb over 1,500 feet on its 5-mile course. Pole Creek itself only comes into view once at a point where the trail crosses from the south to the north side; the rest of the trek is through forested backcountry with occasional views of Silver Peak, which is popular for backcountry skiing, as well as the Big Chief rock formations and Northstar ski slopes in the eastern distance.
During snowy periods, the gate at the forest road entrance remains closed; however, in times with less snow, the gate is open and the auto traffic has a tendency to compact the snow into icy tracks. In icier periods, snowshoes may be more desireable than skis. A popular turnaround point tends to be the Pole Creek crossing at 2.5 miles in, though hikers willing to take on the next 2.5 miles and 1,000 feet in elevation gain will reach the Bradley Backcountry Hut, one of the Sierra Club's network of backcountry huts in the northern Sierra that is open for day use stops and overnight rentals.
The hut, along with the wide meadow and smaller ski bowls in its vicinity, makes for a great place to stop and then to retrace the hike back down. After 10 miles and just about 1,700 feet in total elevation gain, the parking area at the bottom of the hike will be a welcome site!
No amenities of any kind at the trailhead or along the trail. Be sure to park behind the snowmarkers and completely off of the road.
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.