This content is sponsored by Marmot and ShopStyle — as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Having lived in Truckee (north of Lake Tahoe in California) for the past three years, I can confidently say one thing: I have barely scratched the surface of the incredible paradise I call home. Most mountain towns have one ski resort at best — my town has SEVEN (I’ve snowboarded at five of them), with many more in close vicinity throughout the entire Tahoe region. All that to say… it’s now mid-November with nary a snowflake in the forecast! Which just means we’re enjoying a gorgeous (albeit freezing) extended Fall. I’ve partnered with my friends at Marmot to share a few of my favorite local day hikes in the region — some more challenging than others, but all will require one thing: dress warmly.
Temps are beginning to dip below 15° at night, but this time of year, you need a warm jacket pretty much any time of day. I own a lot of jackets I love for varying purposes, but Marmot’s Featherless Collection is my go-to for hiking. The animal-friendly Featherless synthetic insulation performs better than 700-fill down — and at a weight of only 13.5 oz, packs down really well if you need to stick it in a day pack. All I needed on a recent sunrise hike up to Donner Pass was my Avant Featherless Hoody (love the Mallard Green color!), a mid layer, hiking pants, gloves and a beanie and I was incredibly toasty.
Add Marmot’s Featherless Collection to your holiday list, but don’t be surprised on Christmas morning if the box feels like it’s empty — this jacket really is THAT light! Even better: I try to support brands that practice sustainability whenever possible, so I also really love that the 3M™ Thinsulate™ Recycled Featherless Insulation is made with 75% recycled loose-fill fibers. The jacket truly feels just as warm as 700-fill power down, but still perform when wet — now if California could just get some precipitation, I could put it to the test!
If you’re visiting Truckee over Thanksgiving and looking for a hike with incredible views (but not TOO challenging so the whole fam can tag along), I put together a list of some of my favorite local gems.
Note: if a trail is unfamiliar to you, I highly recommend plugging it into the AllTrails app — even if you lose service (which you will), if you keep the app open on your phone it will still tell you where you are on the trail!
1. Donner Pass
Donner Pass is a pinnacle of American history. The series of granite peaks offer innumerable access points to hiking, world class climbing, backcountry skiing in the wintertime, and a chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail. Donner Pass is also where the ill-fated Donner Party met their match and were forced to camp out over the grueling winter of 1846 (the site of one of the cabins is literally across the street from my house). A decade later, drilling through the granite on Donner Pass proved to be the most challenging part of the Transcontinental Railroad’s westward expansion. The first ski resort to allow snowboarding was even on Donner Pass (Donner Ski Ranch)!
Looking for a day hike to explore some of this incredible and historic terrain? Hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail — I recommend deviating off to Mount Judah, which offers spectacular views of the entire Truckee basin — or explore the abandoned train tunnels along the pass. There are still artifacts from the 1800’s scattered through the area, as well as several petroglyphs carved into the granite. See if you can find this swing up on the summit!
2. Shirley Lake
Shirley Lake, located at Squaw Valley, is a surprisingly challenging hike with a lot of vertical gain (almost 2,000’ in only 3 miles). The good news? Once you reach Squaw High Camp, you can take the tram down for free and enjoy amazing views of Squaw Valley Ski Resort along the way — see if you can spot the rock formations that were the source of inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disneyland. Lots of history here too, as Squaw Valley was the location of the 1960 Winter Olympics!
3. Martis Valley
More of a walk than a hike as there’s not much vertical here, Martis Valley is technically 70 square miles of land with many well-trafficked trails criss-crossing each other. Bring your pup and get out there and explore! The crisp wind has blown all the leaves off the trees at this point, but it’s a gorgeous access point a little earlier in the season to enjoy Fall colors. This is a trail Nick and I run regularly as it’s less than a mile from our office.
4. Sawtooth Trail
Sawtooth is a popular mountain biking destination, but it makes for a great day hike, too. With part of the trail bordering Highway 89, there are several points you’ll have views of the Truckee River snaking through the valley below. The single-track trail is a bit narrow, so allow bikers and runners the right-of-way as you hike. Access to the Sawtooth trail system can be a bit hard to find: there’s a small parking lot along the FS06 fire road in the Sierra Meadows neighborhood. There’s plenty signage at the start of the trail, which is a 9 mile loop in total — a perfect mountain biking distance, but you can take a shortcut by cutting over to the fire road back to your car halfway through. Keep an eye out for bears — they’re notoriously active along this trail.
5. Castle Peak
Castle Peak is undoubtedly Nick’s favorite trail run in all of Truckee. It’s incredibly challenging (I’ve only ran it twice) but makes for a really great hike at 6 miles round-trip. Dubbed Castle Peak for the volcanic formations that resemble a castle when viewing from afar, the trail leading up to the steep spires is part of the Pacific Crest Trail — in summer months, you’ll run into many hikers following Cheryl Strayed’s footsteps. Park right off I-80 in the parking lot, or if you have a 4x4 with good clearance, you can shave off a mile or two by lumbering up the road and catching the trail higher up.
6. Loch Leven Lakes
Loch Leven Lakes is a series of three alpine lakes along the same trail — a great out-and-back hike that’s 8 miles round-trip if you make it all the way to the third lake. My advice? Skip it and stop at the second lake to enjoy a picnic lunch: it’s by far the prettiest, and is swimmable in the summer (I’ve camped here a handful of times).
If you’re traveling to Lake Tahoe this holiday season, make sure to squeeze in a couple hikes in Truckee — the options listed here barely scratch the surface! Of course we are due for some snow, so depending on when you visit, you might need to bring snowshoes instead of hiking boots. Either way, Marmot’s Featherless Collection will definitely be the right jacket of choice to keep you warm on all your outdoor adventures!