Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
475.00 ft (144.78 m)
Trail type
4.80 mi (7.72 km)
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Summit Lake is a tranquil lake near the Donner Summit area of the Sierra Nevada. Lying within eyeshot of Castle Peak, the quiet pine forests surrounding the lake make a great destination for a meandering hike into the beautiful alpine backcountry.

Beginning at the Pacific Crest Trail Highway 80 Trailhead, the early portions of the hike share trail with the PCT and while heading through a couple tunnels running beneath Interstate 80. And while the crowds here may make the area feel like a busy thoroughfare, once on the north side of the interstate, several trails that lead to a variety of destinations branch off, and the route to Summit Lake will get much quieter.

The trail weaves and winds through pine forest and along granite escarpments, eventually escaping the highway noise before climbing to plateaus that overlook the surrounding mountains. While there is only a 225 foot difference in elevation from point to point, the up-and-down track makes the total climbing more than double that. 

The trail traces portions of the Donner Rim Trail before eventually coming to the south bank of Summit Lake. A small path circles the lake, and it's easy to forget that just down the slope from here lies the highway as the air feels still and silent beside the water.

There are several intersections and forks along the trail, however as of 2020 each were well-signed. 

Owing to its high elevation, the trailhead and much of the route to the lake will likely be beneath snow throughout the winter and spring months. There is a separate snowshoe route to Summit Lake that can be undertaken during the snowy months.

A vault toilet is located at the trailhead. 

Parking is free from June 1st - October 31st each year, however the trailhead is a designated California Sno-Park and requires purchase of a Sno-Park Pass from November 1st - May 30th.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round


Open from

May 01 to November 30


Great views. No crowds at lake.


Highway noise for first part of hike.

Trailhead Elevation

7,220.00 ft (2,200.66 m)

Highest point

7,400.00 ft (2,255.52 m)


Vault toilet
Near lake or river
Horseback riding
Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Adventures

Lake Tahoe + Northern Sierra, California
Lake Tahoe + Northern Sierra, California

Nearby Lodging + Camping


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