Castle Pass Snowshoe.mp4

Winter Castle

Snowshoe Hike to Castle Pass in Tahoe National Forest

Woman snowshoeing at Castle Pass overlooking mountains in Tahoe

So you want the keys to the castle? Well, this castle is open to all! All you need is a clear day and a pair of sturdy snowshoes (rent from a local sport outfitter). Then make the 2.25-mile (one-way) hike up to Castle Pass near Donner Summit in Tahoe National Forest. The views from the pass are royally good: You can see the North Lake Tahoe landscape, with distant skiers at Boreal and Sugar Bowl.

This is a straightforward hike that mostly follows a snow-covered fire road. You’ll gently ascend 750 feet over 2 miles to the pass. You’ll also be following the Pacific Crest Trail. As you snowshoe through the forest, breaks in the trees give way to views of Castle Peak.

Woman snowshoe hiking up a trail to Castle Pass in Tahoe

After a final steep but brief late push, you’ve ascended to Castle Pass, and a greeting of glorious views. It’s truly a ta-dah moment. From here, snowshoe the ridgeline as far as you’d like and feel comfortable (being mindful of time). On clear days with good conditions you can comfortably get as far as the final rocky and jutting outcroppings beneath the crowning turrets of Castle Peak.

Getting up to the peak is more strenuous and should only be attempted by those who are comfortable with high-angle slopes. The views from the pass just below the peak are nearly as good. This is a popular hike, so you’re likely to see at least a few other folks. Bring something to sit on so you can take a break and enjoy the scenery.

With Castle Peak looming just above, you can spy the ski areas of Northstar, Boreal Ridge, and Sugar Bowl, and spin around to check out the Round Valley vistas too. Return the way you came.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: In the episode "Wide Open 2021" Weekend Sherpa co-founders Brad and Holly recorded part of their podcast from the top of Castle Pass! Listen to their discussion about the snowshoe adventure as well as other wide open spaces to explore in Northern California.

This is doable as a day-trip from the Bay Area. From Donner Pass on I-80, take the Castle Peak exit and follow signs to the Sno-Park ($5 day fee; map). You’ll have to walk back under the freeway to the north side of the westbound off-ramp to reach the road that climbs up to the trailhead (do not try parking your car on this road, it can easily get stuck in the snowbanks here). Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Hiker on the SCA trail in Marin Headlands with view of the Golden Gate Bridge

    Headlands Over Heels

    People come from all over the world to get a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Get a dramatic and novel view of the bridge without all the people on this moderate 6-mile hike in the Marin Headlands.

    View
  2. Hiker at Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve hiking amid lupine wildflowers

    Hidden Wilds of Healdsburg

    When you arrive at Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve, you may wonder what could possibly be tucked behind a subdivision. But within minutes of hiking in this 155-acre preserve, the beauty reveals itself: majestic oak trees, wetland, spring wildflowers, and wowing views of the Mayacama Mountains and Russian River.

    View
  3. Hiker on a trail with beautiful green hills and wildflowers on the grasses at Carr Ranch in Contra Costa County

    Carr Ranch

    Can’t decide between an epic hike or a relaxing nature walk? The 8.3-mile Carr Ranch Trail loop in the East Bay’s Contra Costa County is the perfect hike for rugged adventurers with a soft side.

    View
  4. Two women at the entrance of the Lavender Labyrinth at Bees N Blooms in Santa Rosa

    Lavender Labyrinth

    Labyrinths are meditative meanders. Add fragrant organic lavender and you're at Bees N Blooms at the foot of Taylor Mountain near Santa Rosa, experiencing their “ancient pathway of peace” and more.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Urban Hike to the Shakespeare Bridge in LA

    Shakespeare Bridge + Secret Garden

    Romeo, Romeo, we all know how this goes, but do you know how to go to the Shakespeare Bridge and secret gardens? We’ve got the online do-it-yourself hiking route for you.

    View
  2. Hiker overlooking Bear Gulch Reservoir at Pinnacles National Park near Monterey

    Pinnacles of Spring

    Why hike at Pinnacles National Park? Spring's a beautiful time of year here. And you might spy the magnificent California condor soaring while you gain soaring views from the High Peaks Trail.

    View
  3. Hike Mount Tamalpais into Muir Woods

    Muir Woods Through the Backdoor

    A backdoor entrance into Muir Woods? Hike a tranquil trail that starts in Mount Tamalpais State Park and quietly leads into Muir Woods, letting you avoid the busyness of the main parking area.

    View
  4. Hikers by the reservoir at Triunfo Creek Park near Thousand Oaks

    Triumphant in Triunfo

    Go on a hike with a peaceful reservoir, charming meadows, and beautiful spring blooms at Triunfo Creek Park near Thousand Oaks.

    View