Geological wonders on Glacier Meadows Loop

Anikin Allen scaling some of the many boulders along the trail. | Katherine E. Hill

Glacier Meadow Loop Trail on Donner Summit is a walk through the geologic past. Eight miles from Truckee, this 1.2-mile trail is full of evidence of the geologic forces that formed the current landscape. The interesting natural features and easy level of difficulty make this a great kid-friendly hike.

The trail is in Tahoe National Forest land on the south side of Interstate 80 at the Castle Peak/Boreal Ridge Road exit. The loop begins at 7,200 feet at the trailhead for the Donner Summit access to the Pacific Crest Trail. There are many trail connections from this point, but Glacier Meadow is easily accessed from the parking area and is well suited for little hikers, rock lovers or weary road travelers looking to stretch their legs.

The interesting natural features and easy level of difficulty make this a great kid-friendly hike.

I recently took my son Anikin knowing he loves to talk about and climb on rocks. He is somewhat of a reluctant hiker but can usually be persuaded. This time he says he didn’t care about rocks but as soon as we are on the trail he is climbing on and asking questions about rocks.

Glacier Meadow Loop  1.2 miles roundtrip | Easy

The trail is relatively flat with just 108 feet in elevation gain. It follows the perimeter of a formerly glaciated area mostly consisting of large granite slabs jutting up through the ground, covered by smaller, yet rather sizeable, boulders. As the ice in the glacier melted and refroze over and over, it moved across the ground, shifting and reshaping the landscape. Eventually these glaciers melted, leaving behind an unconsolidated collection of rocks, dirt and other glacial debris.

On one large rock slab there is a spattering of boulders precariously situated on the steep slope. Some of these rocks appear as if they could fall and tumble down the hill at any moment. They appear to be suspended in the middle of a roll, frozen in time. My sister Kat and I explain to Anikin that those boulders were most likely tossed around in a moving mass of ice, rock and dirt and when the glacier melted, the earth stopped moving and the boulders were deposited where they are now.

Views of Castle Peak from the trail. | Katherine E. Hill

Anikin scales rocks as we travel farther along the loop. We stop to admire the abundance of late summer wildflowers. Until recently this area was covered in snow, but has melted from the hot summer days allowing the wildflowers to bloom later than normal. What a bonus.

Part of the loop trail skirts the Interstate 80 West rest stop on Donner Summit where there is also access to this trail. Although the noise of the highway can be heard, it does not take away from the beauty of this area. Here the past meets the present; it’s a reminder to appreciate the grandeur of life whether enjoying modern conveniences or the awesome power of nature.

Anikin Allen along the trail. | Katherine E. Hill

From Truckee, take Interstate 80 West 8 miles to the Castle Peak/Boreal Ridge Road exit. Turn left at the end of the off-ramp, then turn left on Boreal Ridge Road. Drive 0.4 mile to the parking lot for the trailhead the Pacific Crest Trail. There are restrooms at the trailhead. |