The Mt. Judah Loop is a popular roue that provides excellent panoramic views of surrounding peaks and ridges as hikers climb to Donner Peak and across Mt Judah. This moderately difficult trail has generally gentle grades with a few steeper sections to keep your heart rate up.
Begin your journey from the Donner Peak parking area and trailhead. Be ready to go once you hop out of the car, as you'll start by hiking up the switchbacks of the Pacific Crest Trail ( PCT: Echo Lake to Highway 80 (Donner Summit)
) as it climbs a steep granite ridge. After the initial ascent, the grade slackens as low shrubs and sparse trees pop up around the trail. Visible below are the dark waters of Lake Mary and Lake Angela.
Ahead, the trail enters the bottom reaches of a mature stand of trees that open onto a cleared ski-run. Take the trail to the left at the fork to follow the easy grade of the Mt. Judah Loop Trail
as it heads toward Donner Peak.
In about three-quarters of a mile the gradual climb pulls up to the intersection with the Donner Peak Spur
— it's a short detour and worth a bit of a scrambling and extra distance to checkout the vantage point.
From there, follow an an old jeep track that leads through a wet area that produces excellent wildflowers in the spring and early summer. Keep heading toward the saddle and then climb up the northeast face of Mt. Judah.
On the way up, enjoy the striking views of Mt. Rose, Truckee, Donner Lake, and Coldstream Canyon. The trail makes its way along the crest of Mt. Judah, providing even better views of the surrounding peaks. Past the crest, the descent gently connects back with the Pacific Crest Trail just past Roller Pass. Turn right onto the PCT to make your way back to the trailhead.
Alternatively, for those looking for a longer route, an additional 12.2 miles can be added by following the PCT: Echo Lake to Highway 80 (Donner Summit)
to the south until it connects with the Granite Chief Trail
which will continue down to Squaw Valley. This route makes for a 15.7 miles point-to-point hike that is recommended as a shuttle.
In the mid-summer the east face of Mt. Judah brightens with the small purple blossoms of the Rock Fringe Flower.
Roller Pass was a significantly difficult section for pioneer emigrants on their route to California. The steep slopes of the pass required each covered wagon be pulled up one-at-a-time by long chains and double teams of oxen.