Five years earlier we hiked the Mt. Judah trail with our eleven year old son. Now the Mt. Judah loop can be like a theme park full of people all struggling to find a parking spot closest to the trail head. The hike is short but beautiful. Even though it is a well traveled trail, it still might not be suitable for children under 10.
Mt. Judah is high Sierra
Our first hike up to the top of Mt. Judah found us encountering a black bear and only three other hikers at the summit. There were so many unleashed dogs on this last hike that seeing any wildlife was a slim possibility. It’s great that so many families are taking to the outdoors but they do need to be prepared in more than just flip flops as they hike up the trail.
Donner Peak is fun to scramble over
Even though it has a good elevation gain, you should be able to complete the loop on about 2 hours. I would recommend taking a short detour over to the granite dome of Donner Peak. It is a short walk and climb up the solid granite outcropping for some wonderful vistas of Donner Lake below. At the dome you can climb on what look like layers of granite with steep eastern cliffs. It is a naked landscape that many people, from early pioneers to perhaps Theodore Judah himself, climbed up to see.
Loop trail with Pacific Crest Trail
Mt. Judah contrasts the granite dome Donner Peak in that it is comprised of more volcanic material and consolidated mass. Just as treeless as the dome at the top, Mt. Judah also has good views, especially of the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. The trail down the north side of Mt. Judah hooks up with the Pacific Crest Trail to take you north back to the trail head.
Train below your feet
If you are fortunate, while on top of Mt. Judah you will see a train, Union Pacific or Amtrak, enter the western tunnel entrance, through Mt. Judah, and exit on the eastern side, approximately 1,400 feet below. The mountain was named after Theodor Judah who essentially mapped out the transcontinental railroad through the Sierras.
Historic transcontinental railroad snow sheds
The original transcontinental tunnels and snow sheds over Donner Summit were abandoned in 1993 for the tunnel under Mt. Judah. After hiking to the top of Mt. Judah you can walk the many miles of tunnels and cliffs blasted out by Chinese labor in the 1860’s. The concrete snow sheds that replaced the wooden coverings that were prone to fire from the steam engine embers, is now a canvass for graffiti art.
Chinese labor left a legacy
It is almost surreal to walk through these tunnels, blasted out with black powder and nitroglycerin, 150 years earlier and knowing that many Chinese men lost their lives creating this hole through the granite. While it can be dark inside the snow sheds, there are slits in the concrete walls to let in air and light. The old rail bed with towering granite cliffs is a fun family hike through snow sheds and history.
Nice family hike with history around Donner Summit
Get to the summit and the trail head early to avoid the waves of hikers diligently climbing up to Mt. Judah. I’m ambivalent as to whether dogs should be allowed on the trail. I see more and more people hiking with dogs. Must the dog, unleashed, be included in all the family activities? I’ll ignore the dogs and enjoy the views.
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