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Jill Sanford | 01.30.2017

Truckee is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream town in the winter. Located less than 20 miles north of Lake Tahoe, it draws visitors with it’s stunning vistas of granite and ponderosa pine covered peaks, significant high elevation snowfall, and world famous terrain.

There’s a wide range of backcountry adventures to be had here, from the mellowest snowshoe to expert level couloirs and chutes. Truckee is located in a maritime climate, meaning the snowfall is often denser, heavier, and wetter than in other parts of the country. When the conditions are right, there is no better place for winter snow play. It also has an amazing resource in the Sierra Avalanche Advisory Center, which evaluates safety conditions and other snow concerns daily. Even if you are familiar with the area, it’s great to get in the habit of checking this site before heading out into the backcountry to assess avalanche danger on any given day.

Truckee is fairly close to the Bay Area and hustle and bustle of San Francisco, making it a popular year-round adventure destination for weekend warriors. The popularity of the weekend destination grows more and more each year, so if you are craving the quiet and solitude of the backcountry, know that it’s likely you will run into to folks out on the trails if you visit during peak season. 

There are tons of accessible adventures within a short jaunt from the town’s center, but here are five experiences that rise to the top:

  • Donner Memorial State Park Cross-Country Ski: If you are craving a mellow cross-country ski or snowshoe, then there’s no better place than Donner Memorial State Park. Start at the state park and wind your way through the forested trail to check out the beach as well as a small outlet that flows from Donner Lake. The cross-country ski route follows the path of an access road used in the summer, so even if fresh snow recently fell it’s pretty easy to find your way along this 3-mile route. Be aware that there is no consistent grooming schedule at this park, however.
  • Donner Ridge Snowshoe via Glacier Way Trailhead: This low angle trek above the neighborhood of Tahoe Donner is the next step up from Donner Memorial State Park. It’s a little further out into the backcountry, but it is still suitable for beginners or casual adventurers. It’s also a fairly trafficked trail that sees a lot of use in the winter, but the views it offers of Donner Pass are fantastic. To the west you’ll see rolling peaks extending for miles over the summit, and if you look back toward town you’ll be rewarded with views of the ridge above Donner Lake, Northstar Resort, Mount Rose, and Martis Valley.
  • Donner Peak + Mount Judah: In the summer, this is a popular 4.5-mile loop that sees a lot of visitors. It’s important to note that it becomes and out and back trail in the winter because the snows make much of the trail hard to navigate even in snowshoes. You’ll follow the Pacific Crest Trail for a portion of this trek, hike parallel to Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, and then finally reach the crest and be rewarded with views to the east of Donner Lake and beyond. 
  • Andesite Peak: This intermediate snowshoe or backcountry ski starts from the same popular trailhead at Donner Summit that accesses Castle Peak and the Peter Grubb Hut. Early in your skin or snowshoe up, however, you will veer left and start ascending Andesite. Orange trail markers on the trees will guide you through the more densely forested section, then you will rise above the tree level and keep pushing to the top. Spectacular 360-degree views of Castle Peak and Carpenter Ridge to the northwest, Northstar Resort to the west, and Tinkers Knob and Sugar Bowl to the south greet you at the summit. If you are skiing down, you can head straight down from here and traverse back toward the trailhead before finally hitting the main route you started up, which is the option snowshoers will want to take. 
  • Castle Peak: This steeper terrain is what Truckee-Tahoe backcountry is all about. The hike is a little longer than Andesite, and it offers a diverse range of descent options. The routes down include intermediate bowls, advanced pitches, and expert-only couloirs and chutes that make this area well worth the trek. The southern descent options are usually the safest slopes, but be sure to be well read on avy conditions that day before venturing out to this area. If you are interested in a multi-day excursion in this area, the nearby backcountry Peter Grubb Hutt is well suited for an overnight.


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