My dog Stella can stretch her legs and greet many other happy pups with their people enjoying this portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.
It’s well worth the hour drive up Interstate 80 heading east to the Soda Springs exit. Stay right off the freeway up Donner Pass Road. Pass Sugar Bowl Road and a couple hundred yards past the Sugar Bowl parking area you will see a small cluster of buildings that was the Sugar Bowl Academy. Turn right in the parking area and travel to the right down the narrow road that leads to the trailhead and off road parking. At the trailhead a map with several local trails and landmarks will begin your day hike. In the bottom right of the map you will find the Mount Judah Loop Trail.
The start of the trail is decomposed granite and is nearly overwhelmed with lush green vegetation in a variety of rich greens, topped with red, orange, pink, purple, yellow, and white flowers. The climb begins quickly up switchbacks of granite steps and is exposed to the sun in many areas. The trail does level out in a forest of pines, aspen, and alder overlooking Lake Mary. I expected to see plenty of Mule Ear in bloom but I was thrilled to see so much more. Finding patches of snow was a great surprise.
A mile into the hike there is a sign marking the intersection of Donner Pass Trail and Mount Judah Loop Trail; follow the Mount Judah Loop Trail. Another sign still further in will send you to the right to continue the Loop to the peak.
You will know when you reach the peak. The wind comes from every direction, taking an easy 10 degrees off the valley temperatures depending on the time of day you go. After taking a seat on one of the rocks strewn about the top of Mount Judah, enjoying a snack, and taking several panoramic pictures, we made our descent.
This trail has become quite popular, and dogs are welcome on the trail, but we still had the peak to ourselves. The direct sun along the peak may require another application of sun block. A hat and sunglasses are also advisable. The loose granite also makes walking sticks helpful.
The hike makes its way down the mountain side and wanders through forest and lush greenery once again before you come to the end of the loop at the first intersection that returns you to the granite steps toward the trailhead.
Day hiking is like a great short story; you want to read it in one setting, but you never want it to end.
Photo credits: Mary West
Mary West is a retired radio personality and news reporter with a longtime love of the outdoors, sharing her favorite day hikes in Placer, Nevada, El Dorado and Yuba Counties. Learn more about local trails by following Mary on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.