Summit Lake Trail is more than just a good trail to stretch your legs for exercise. This 4.7 mile trail offers variety in terrain and views. Mostly level, this is one of my favorite walks to take in the summer.
Pack your supplies and be generous. With flower filled meadows and an alpine lake at its destination, you will want to stay awhile. Pack bug repellent. Mosquitoes love the damp meadow areas. I don’t know if it was the horse flies or the bees, but my dog was bitten.
To get to the trailhead, head up Interstate 80 to the Boreal/Castle Peak Exit. You can park on either side of the freeway. On the Boreal side you park at the sno-park parking area. On the Castle Peak side you park at the trailhead that also leads to Castle Peak. The trailhead is less than half a mile up either road. There is a large map at both trailheads. Note that you are next to the Interstate and you are headed to Summit Lake. On my last visit I started on the Castle Peak side. From here, head up the hill and stay to the right at the split. I prefer to start here because there is one more, even bigger, meadow to enjoy.
The first thing I noticed hiking in August were the flowers. Elevation works in our favor this time of year, keeping the temperature down and the grasses green and lush. The trail splits again. Stay to the right and enjoy a walk through the meadow. When was the last time you strolled through a mountain meadow? It should be a bucket-list item. The seasonal water runoff over the trail is easy to cross this time of year.
A small lake will come into view along with the sound of the Interstate. This is the back of the rest area, one exit up from where you parked. Parking for the hike is not permitted here.
A brief climb up into the forest and you no longer hear the interstate, but instead a variety of bird calls, and the breeze through the pine trees surrounding you in all directions. The clean smell of forest warmed by the sun is one of my favorite scents.
You begin to see signs for the Donner Lake Rim Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail and Summit Lake — among others. Follow the signs out of the forest to the edge of the mountain of exposed granite and take in the view. Part of the view is Interstate 80, look beyond. You are almost there.
The trail takes you back in among the trees. Enjoy the easy walk back to the lake. Pick a good spot and relax.
This is an out and back trail. I believe every trail looks different from the other direction, but that may just be me. Either way, Summit Lake Trail is a great day hike.
Mary West is author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guides (Available on Amazon). The books are a collection of the Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, and favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond. West was the recipient of the 2018 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Column by the Outdoor Writers of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram.