This video and article were produced in partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
Towering over Donner Pass, the aptly named Castle Peak is comprised of three massive towers of rock that jut above the treeline. This 9,103-foot mountain is actually the throat of an extinct volcano, and one of the most recognizable mountains to anyone who regularly makes the trip up I-80 from Sacramento or the Bay Area.
While Castle Peak offers an exciting 1,780 vertical feet of great backcountry snowboarding that ends practically at your car door, the skin track to the summit can be attempted by anyone with proper gear, skills, and experience to safely navigate the backcountry. Those who do are rewarded with 360-degree views of the northern Sierra Nevada mountains, in all their winter glory.
- Just west of Truckee, CA along Highway I-80 take exit 176 Castle Peak; Boreal Ridge Rd.
- Follow the signs towards Boreal Mountain Resort until you get come to the T in the road.
- Go left and drive past the Boreal Hotel, until you see "SnoPark Permit Parking" signs.
- A parking pass is required, which cost $25 and must be purchased ahead of time.
Winter backcountry travel requires experience and preparation, and the Castle Peak hike will take you out of cell service. Even if you plan to return via the skin track and not the more exposed descents, it's important to do this hike with a partner and to leave word with family or friends before you begin, and check in with them upon your return. Leave early to allow for plenty of daylight.
- Head under the freeway and toward the I-80 westbound on ramp. The trailhead is located just beyond the ramp.
- Hike until you come to a Y in the trail. You will see a map on a wood sign and an avalanche beacon checker. Go under the beacon checker and wait until you see the green light to confirm your beacon and your partner's beacon are working before moving on. Take the trail to the right for non motorized users.
- From time to time you might see a skin track that leads off the main trail. Avoid these and stay on the main path.
- After a few miles of mellow skinning, the first real incline takes you toward a junction with a sign for the Peter Grub Hut/Castle Peak. Go right.
- From here, it is a steep punch up the ridge to the peak.
- The summit itself is strewn with boulders, which provide multiple spots for a snack and a beer, while taking in the spectacular view. To the south is Donner Pass and Lake Tahoe. To the east is Carpenter Valley. To the north is Basin Peak, and to the west is Signal Peak.
What to Bring
Expect to be out for three-to-five hours and pack for a variety of weather scenarios. Temperatures can fluctuate between high teens and low 40s — sometimes on the same day — and fast-moving storms are common.
- Avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe, plus the knowledge to use all three when necessary.
- A wind and waterproof outer layer, insulating inner layer, and extra layer for your pack.
- Heavy-duty sunscreen.
- First aid kit.
- A pair of Sierra Nevada Pale Ales for you and your hiking partner .
- On a clear day you can see Mt Lassen just under 100 miles the north. Bring binoculars to get a better glimpse.