Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

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December 12, 2012

Donner's Castle Pass via PCT Snowshoeing

Difficulty: Strenuous.  Difficult to follow trail.  Undermelt hazards.  Numerous creek crossings of varying difficulty.  Could be more fun as an overnighter.  Fires are allowed during winter.
Length:  Ours was a 9.3 mile loop.
Directions and details:  Take I-80 to the Boreal exit west of Donner and east of Kingvale.  South of the exit make a left.  Stop at the hotel for a parking permit.  Your regular state park pass does not apply. The hotel has some vending machines with snacks. It is snowplowed in the event of snowy weather and has a nice restroom with vault toilets.  The kids can build snowmen and tabogan there.  Great places for snowball fights, too!  During the regular hiking season, there is an interpretive loop trail.

Taken by Peachy from Castle Pass looking south.
This was my second time out snowshoeing in my new MSRs made for virtually every condition.   You may remember that we each broke one of our trekking poles on our last trip so I had one of each set this time.  I ordered the new ones but they hadn't arrived so "Make do" as grandma used to say.  This time the sun was on our side rather than stormy weather, and I had mapped out a plan for a longer trail.  It seemed like a reasonable day's hike at 1 mile an hour average, expecting about 7+ miles and time for a meal. We used the sno park paid parking last week so we knew the ropes and were able to waste less time and get out on the trail.  (Pay at the hotel as you enter the parking area.  There are vending machines there, too.) Near the trailhead that is down the road in the loop is a vault toilet. Use the trailhead at the billboard sign turning north instead of south at the junction.  I was excited because our last trip was so much fun despite bad bad weather; this day promised to be stellar!
Our first creek crossing was wide and frozen.  We detoured a bit for a safer route. 
(Funny note!  Those are my mismatched poles!)  Those marks in the tree are trail markers.
The snow was sparkling, the weather was crisp but not bone chilling.  The snow was icy but I thought with sun it would soften up through the day.  (Guess again).

This widow maker is about to fall and is right on the trailside.

These photos are for fun and to show you to see what the trail was like:

Unlike the perfect dry powder we had last time, more effort was required to walk on this crunchy  snow and I found myself tempted to take the snowshoes off and just hike in my snow boots.  There were bootprints to follow and not much sinking, and I've done it before!  From the trailhead we made our way easily to the tunnel snown above that goes north under I-80 for the PCT.

You can see the trail to the left.

Once we crossed the highway it took some effort to stay on the trail because no one had been on it this far back  The sports store said lots of people were here yesterday so we expected broken trail all the way. 

There are few markers along the way and the GPS was a frequent help.
We wound through the woods and conquered one undocumented creek crossing after another.
I like those, but in the deep, crusty, unbroken snow there may or may not be a faint look of a trail buried. At the creeks we faced steep banks of one to three feet, the water (sometimes a foot deep) and the other bank would be as much or more of a drop off. 

The water running under the snow made the possibility of the bank breaking
into the creek, taking the hikers with it, an unpleasant thought. 
Here we went downstream to cross.

Troopers that we are, we kept going and with umpteen detours
for "safer" passage, we would leave and refind the trail. 

One of the few PCT markers, and imagine, no bicycles!
After several miles of detouring, it seemed like the GPS predicted the same distance to our destination which was confusing because it continued showing our tracks as progressing right along. 

In so much shade we had to stop and get me some layers, but we were dry and still happily challenged.  No conversation was possible unless we stopped because the crunching of the snow under our snowshoes was so loud we couldn't hear each other!  No kidding!

Finally we reached an intersection of trail junctions and had to choose that all go northerly, just more east to more west.  None was the obviously correct route and GPS wasn't a help at this time. Upward to the most northeastern direction was our choice. My quads, calves and even the tops of my feet were so achy, my usual penchant for going uphill had vanished.  I just wanted to stop and heat water and eat. 

We were finally heading up out of the woods and getting some distant views.

Peachy Hiker taking a rest!

At the top we were on a wide open ridge with breathtaking views all the way around!  We were buffeted by extreme winds that actually took me and another hiker completely off of our feet, in snowshoes, and threw us to the ground - me twice!  First time in my life!

The ski runs to the southeast.

Castle Pass to Castle Peak, and by our shadows you can see the sun is falling in the west.
The GPS showed us on another ridge to the north!  It wouldn't move either so clearly it had lost function.  Now getting later in the day, and being tired, we knew we faced a headlamp snowshoe back to the parking in possibly more unbroken and invisible trail. 

Achy and sore, but invigorated by the fantastic views, we headed downhill to the west southwest.  It was like a freeway.  Snowshoers, a snowmobile, cross country skiers, and hikers had made it so much easier by packing the snow and making the trail clear, plus it was all downhill.  How often do you hear me being glad about going downhill, but I was rapturous! 

Our whole hike totaled 9+ miles (we expected 7) and we did end up using headlamps, but only at the end and not a concern. 

The PCT wound through the woods and if you are experienced at finding your way in snow without anything but a map and compass, this route was untouched and had everything the backcountry offers. 

We had fun crossing creeks and identifying animal prints in the snow. If it were powder I would have been more thrilled!  At the end of the day I had sore muscles and an enormous sense of accomplishment.  Honestly I am not as sore from this hike as the last snow trek.  Our photos are prettier without the stormy grey images we got last time, too.  The views made it tempting to stay on Castle Pass for sunset and if I were familiar with the trail back, I would have.  The GPS failed twice on the trip so I posted our tracks but suggest searching for additional tracks to Castle Pass, PCT, and Peter Grubb Hut. Our map is shown below.  I drew in the places the GPS didn't record.  A handful of people have GPS tracks posted of hikes in this area, but be aware that in the snow, the trail is virtually undetectable in many places.

HAPPY TRAILS and as usual, remember to take plenty of water, snacks and food, layers for warmth and a first aid / safety kit.  I always say take a light source and way to start a fire.

Trails by Locations
Peachyhiker's GPS Tracks
Articles by Titles

If you appreciate our state parks (and sno parks), consider this letter I received and join in!  With membership you get a parking pass and other amenities, plus help keep our parks all open.
Dear Reader,Double Your Donation
Throughout 2012, our parks faced budget cuts, development threats and more. And next year's budget battle will be challenging.
The good news is you can double your impact with your tax-deductible gift today, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar!
That means your contribution of $75 or even $150 to California State Parks Foundation will go twice as far. But time is quickly running out – as this match only lasts until midnight on December 31st!
Your support has never been more important! We nearly lost 70 of our state parks this year. But it would have been a lot worse without supporters like you.
Stand with us and stand for parks today by making your tax-deductible, year-end contribution to the California State Parks Foundation.
Don’t lose any time! There are just a few weeks left for your support to do twice as much for our state parks! So please, double your gift – and your impact – before the clock runs out at midnight on December 31st.
Thank you again for your continued support this year and in the year to come.

Elizabeth Goldstein
CSPF President and fellow supporter
Updated 12-14-12

December 02, 2012

Donner PCT TH to Flora Lake ~ Snowshoeing

See Donner from the Flora Lake bowl. Visit snow covered, iced over ponds and lakes. This is a memorable snowshoe experience!

The sno park is a great family fun place! Tabogan, build snowmen, make snow angels, and have a snowball toss (with close parking and restrooms)! 

And it is right off I-80 at the Boreal exit!

Snowing so hard over I-80 we couldn't even see tail lights.

Quite a few of my photos are not showing any longer.  Not sure why so I am editing those out today (Aug 28, 2015).  I will go for replacements this winter assuming we get snow!  For now and ease in updating, I am leaving the captions.  Sorry for the difficulty!  This link still has all of the photos:  GPS tracks 

Along your way are creeks to cross, views to take in,
and photographs waiting to be taken.  Great backpacking destination!
  • Distance:  Posted is out and back totaling about 3.5 miles
  • Difficulty:  Easy+ at this time.  Nothing steep.  Conditions can change quickly so check forestry sources if you are concerned. 

Now let's get you going!

*** Find GPS links and a map at the end of this article!

(Missing image)   In the snow, Everything had a mystical aura.

This creek offers a bridge, but there are creek crossings ahead!
Gaiters helped me stay dry.

 It appears that there is a seasonal Interpretive Loop.

(Missing image)   The first large icy pond beside the trail.

 Looking back at our snowshoeing path!
 The photos, despite all looking quite grey, are really in color!
 Haha...We headed toward PCT and Donner.  Sometimes I got ahead of myself and
landed on my knees by clipping the back of one snowshoe with the other. 
Take your time...

(Missing image) 
If you stay on the PCT you will see markers on trees. This route breaks off of 
the PCT to get to the lakes, so this is the only one you should see on this trek.

 (Missing image) Azalea Lake, a frozen beauty queen!

By now my gloves had been taken off in the wet weather too many times and water dripped
up my sleeves.  Eventually my sweater arms were soaked and so from the inside out,
my gloves and jacket sleeves also got soaked.  Good insulation kept me warm, but I did
have to change layers on our way back. 
I carried my usual safety supplies and first aid kit but was so engrossed in the trip and
achieving our goals, I forgot I had a rain poncho.  I'm not sure if it would have helped with
the wet sleeves problem, but it could have been used over my daypack in the heavy moisture!
It is water resistant but we were in a storm.

(Missing image) Flora Lake, inviting and picturesque.

(Missing image) We could see Donner Lake from here but it feels like a "Where's Waldo?" view!
(It is near the center in the "v" between the dark hill and the snowy one.)

We each had our poles broken on this  My new set is ordered, but what a
strange problem.  From reading, the aluminum poles are stronger (slightly heavier) but
what good is it to carry out the weight of broken carbon poles and do without any benefit?  My
new set has my coveted cork material handgrips, soft wrist straps and a locking mechanism. 
I'll review them for you on the next hike.

(Missing image)  The storm wasn't taking breaks at high elevation.

 This creek usually has water, but creeklets were pouring under the snow.  It took some
searching to find places to cross.  Use caution.

(Missing image)  Donner Lake is in the "V" behind the tallest sparse tree.

 Approaching one of the unnamed lakes and ponds that are all iced over.
Iced over pond.  I wouldn't recommend
 stepping on any of it.

(Missing image)  Bridge to civilization and a weather break.
 Almost back to the car!  Photographed from the bridge.  The blur is snow.
I highly recommend this trail for snowshoeing!!!

The trail in red is what I posted for GPS tracks from this snowshoeing trip. Our side trips
are edited out. GPS tracks supplied are accurate regarding areas where we had to detour
due to trail conditions, and may diverge from what a forestry map shows, or maybe from
conditions when you arrive.
The pink trail is one I hike from the Old Donner highway (the brown line) during dry seasons, but is included for your frame of reference. (Posted on Wikiloc)  I would still like to snowshoe
all of that from Old Donner Highway to I-80.
On January 5th, my daughter in law, Kristin, and I went up and below is our map of tracks.  We followed snowshoers tracks mostly, but blazed our own tracks east and just beyond Flora Lake to our Donner view lunch spot, perfect for a great view on a sunny day!


  • Carry food, and plenty of layers. Be prepared for all weather. We encountered rain, snow
          and sleet. It got windy and colder late in the afternoon.

Reviews of other trails in Northern California: Trails By Locations
Or: By Titles
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updated 12-14-2012
updated 8-28-2015

November 28, 2012

Miners Ravine Reserve in Rocklin, CA

Miners Ravine Reserve in Rocklin, CA offers two short historical loops. 

     One trail is interpretive and is .5 miles long; both have benches along the way to pause for moments of reflection.  An overgrown brooklet runs through the area shaded by oaks, but where blackberry briars impede hikers from wandering off the designated trails.  The poison oak appears to have been removed, although I would watch for it.  This is also a natural habitat for rattlesnakes.  There is an information board in the parking area that gives the historical significance of the area previously known as Allentown. A map of the trail is shown.

 The trail heading south of the parking is posted.  It is wide and well maintained.

 A real oak leaf, not poison oak.  (I didn't see any poison oak,
but it loves this area, so do watch for it.)
 Signs like this are part of the interpretive loop.

 From the north side of the parking lot is a short loop that is well shaded and 
offers recognition in the form of a plaque and a bench.
 I was surprised to see this bloom so late and with so much "weather" lately. 
They are quite beautiful and colorful!

 This section is typical of what to expect.  The benches may be damp or wet this time of year (autumn) but are serene places to sit and enjoy the fresh air and wild outdoor setting.

 This is the memorial bench.

There are some blooms and lots of autumn color amidst the thick blanket of berry briars.  Along the creek cattails are tall but few.  You can take your dogs for walks on these trails.

     Large parking is available which is located on the west side of Auburn Folsom Road, north of Douglas Blvd. in Rocklin, CA.

Happy Trails!

November 27, 2012

Poison Oak ~ Information, Treatment, and Photos

This page is dedicated to my family, friends, and readers who may be allergic to poison oak and need help identifying it in all of its various stages and forms. Included after the photographs are pointers to help prevent adverse reactions.


Here in northern California there is poison oak 

flourishing along otherwise great hiking trails. 

You're unlikely to find poison oak over 4,000 feet elevation,

but keep in mind a trail's elevation changes.


Taken on the One Eye Creek Trail near Georgetown, CA.

To get to an amazing 100 foot wide curtain waterfall at the other end of this trail, it's wise to dress for poison oak.  Here the poison oak "ground cover" is surrounded by forest, but has an open area of sun.  All of the low growing green plants in the photo are poison oak!  And the trail winds through it.  For hikes like this one, long pants, boots, maybe long sleeves, hat, and gloves would be appropriate. I take a small tarp to sit on.  

 NOT poison oak!
NOT poison oak!
True oaks grow leaves singly rather than in groups like poison oak.

I took this photo of poison oak along Cardiac Hill Trail in Auburn, CA this March 2013! 
 It is everywhere, tall, bushy, vines, hidden, and looming like grand shade providers! for more photos.

Taken on the trail to Fairy Falls, also known by other names, in the Spenceville Preserve near Camp Far West.  That IS poison oak.

This shows you poison oak in bloom. 
And pay particular attention to the three leaf structure.  The top leaf extends more than the others which grow like arms out to the sides.

Here is what is left of this dormant poison oak plant.

SERIOUSLY! Look how invasive the poison oak can be!  It is under the bark of this tree.

Taken at the Harvego Bear River Preserve by Steve Vilter.  Used with permission.
It often is a low growing shrub as shown above, but it can create vines that hang on to trees, although in California, that is still poison oak, not poison ivy. They may also be red or reddish in spring.  They can use aerial roots to cling to trees, neighboring plants, and mossy rocks to climb for sunnier spaces.  The woody stems contain the oil many are allergic to.  Avoid touching any part of this plant including the roots, leaves either alive or dead, flowers or berries.

On the Olmstead Loop in Cool, CA.

Above is another form these plants can take.  The tall branches in the foreground of the pine tree (8-10 feet tall) are poison oak that is dormant for the winter.  Touching it can cause the dreaded rash.  

A close up of the same tall poison oak above
when it was dormant.  It may have an orange or reddish tinge, maybe burgundy,
from the oils, but smoother texture than other bark or branches nearby.

Notice the difference in the large tree trunk and the "branch" growing up in front of it.  The texture is smooth, unbarklike, and sort of rubbery or polished lookingIt is poison oak.  If you look at the base of this oak tree below, you will see a number of shoots heading up from the ground that have that smoother texture and are a different color. When wood is dark, it is the oils that can wreak havok for the allergic. Avoid contact.

The small darker stem growing up the tree is poison oak sending up shoots to climb the tree.

This is a typical poison oak habitat.  It likes shrubs and trees to climb and imitate; one might believe just to fool the allergic!  It takes various forms even in this small setting, from vine, to climbing tall branches that look like part of a tree, or small bushes.  It can be a foot tall shrub or a 10 foot tall one.  The unique leaves and stem characteristics become clear the more you look for it.
In late spring and summer the foliage is glossy and may be turning colors as shown below.  The leaves are not necessarily smooth but may be fuzzy.
Taken along the river south of the Magnolia Equestrian Staging Area along CA 49.

In the fall and late summer, maybe early fall, poison oak leaflets are quite pretty,

displaying an array of autumn colors and are photogenic too! 

As the seasons change
and the leaves fall, be aware that they still contain the oil
that causes the miserable, oozing, itchy, red rash, so watch what you have contact with.

This plant's leaves have the lobed edges, glossy spring growth
and reddish coloring typical of poison oak. 
 In areas where it is growing like ground cover it doesn't look like a threat,
it just looks lush, healthy and pretty. 


  • Avoid any contact with any part of the plant and avoid touching pets and equipment that has had contact with the plant.  Dead plant parts may still have oils that cause the rash.
  • NEVER BURN poison oak that is dead or alive. (Be careful about firewood you pick up.)
  • Take plastic bags for boots and maybe even a change of clothes for the drive home.  
  • Medical sources say use rubbing alcohol as a rinse, followed by rinsing with cold water is most effective in preventing an outbreak. Avoid rubbing too much. Mainly try to rinse as much as you can. Water dilutes the oil but cannot dissolve it.
  • It is not best to use hand wipes. They spread the oil on your skin and rub it into your pores. Soap can't dissolve the oil either, but you can use it if you rinse well and avoid rubbing it in.
  • If you can, prepare ahead by having a gallon jug of water and rubbing alcohol for cleaning up. I do carry it in my car to clean equipment anyway.
  • If your dog is along, and it touches the oils, your contact with the pet can transfer the oils to your skin and it is best to wash thoroughly within 5 minutes
  • Also, using rubber gloves, remove your clothes and launder immediately. The warm water will remove the oil from your clothes.
  • When you are finished handling your clothing, clean oil from the gloves with rubbing alcohol.
  • If you develop a rash from poison oak contact, it can be within hours or may take weeks from the time of contact.  It is not contagious, even if you develop the oozing blisters.  The fluid is your body's attempt to push the oils out of your system, but it does not spread the rash.  If the rash spreads it is simply part of the process your body uses to remove the oils. 
  • Recovery may be fairly quick (average is around 10 days) or may take as long as 4-6 weeks for severe cases.  Over the counter products may help according to my friends who battle this allergy, but most end up getting medication from their doctor. 
If the rash gets around your eyes or genitals, or if you can't sleep due to discomfort, check in with a doctor. If you have difficulty breathing of course, call 911. 

*  I do not get rashes from poison oak contact.  My information is from reading medical reports, websites, and from friends who hike and are allergic to it.  If in question, talk to your doctor for preventative recommendations and treatment.  My hope is to offer photos and descriptions that help you identify the plant and prevent contact with it.

Happy Trails!
 I have learned about poison oak from many sources, but here are some sites you can visit for information:
Updated 12-2012