One of my favorite hikes is the Mount Judah Loop on Donner Summit, which is also part of the Pacific Crest Trail. To gain access to the trailhead, drive up to Donner Summit via Old 40 and turn left at the Sugar Bowl Academy and follow Lake Mary Road, where you’ll see the trailhead on the left side. There is ample parking here, as well.
I hiked Mount Judah recently with my good friend Chris Clark. We undertook the loop around 10 a.m. The hike starts on the PCT with an obvious, maintained trail. Good hiking shoes and water are advised. The first mile of this hike the trail is rocky and narrow.
Mt. Judah Loop
5.5 miles round trip | Moderate | Also open to horseback riding
The trail offers sweeping views of Donner Summit, Lake Mary and the surrounding area as you ascend on the switch back. Best to stop to take in the scenery and then pay attention to your footing as you start to hike up the rocky terrain. In the spring through the summer, the wildflowers are breathtaking all along this hike.
Once you come off the rocky trail, you’ll find yourself walking through the forest for a bit. The trail pops out at Pacific Crest Trail junction; this is where you’ll leave the PCT and follow the sign leading you to the Mount Judah Loop and hike underneath Sugar Bowl’s chairlift.
There are two ways to circumambulate the summit. We chose the path to our left. The ground evens out here. The hike took us back into the woods again for a bit and then onto a fire road where the trail led up to the backside of Mount Judah where beautiful views of Donner Lake can be had. Continuing up the backside of the mountain, the trail switchbacks to the summit. Stop to check out the sign at Roller Pass, this was significant point on the Overland Emigrant Trail where the early settlers passed on their trek West.
Once on the summit, there are beautiful rock formations and exceptional views of Anderson Peak and Tinker’s Knob to the south, and Castle Peak and Sierra Buttes to the north. There is also typically a lot of wind on the summit, make sure to hold on to your hat. This is a great spot to take photos and stop for lunch.
It’s all downhill from here. We started our hike back down after offering to take some photos of tourists. Along the way we met, Jafar, who was resting on the path before he continued backpacking the PCT. We hung out for a bit, did some yoga and listened to the story of his journey.
We said our goodbyes and meandered down the trail for another few miles back through the woods and eventually reconnecting back to the PCT and down the rocky switchback we began on.
The moderate hike is about 5.5 miles round trip and takes about 2 to 3 hours.