Round trip distance:~4 miles
Altitude: ~7300 feet
Features: Quiet forest, meadows, alpine, streams, lake, vistas, wildflowers
Best Time of Year: Late spring to early summer; after the snowmelt and before the trail gets too dry
Take: Walking stick to help cross streams, water, picnic for the lake, hat
Trailhead: vI80 Westbound rest stop at Donner Summit or Pacific Crest Trail trailhead at Boreal Ridge exit of I80
For our hike, we parked at the I80 rest stop for the westbound traffic at Donner Summit. To do this, we drove up I80 in the eastwards direction and over the summit. Some miles downhill from the summit, we exited at the first interchange and got back on the highway in the westbound direction to head back up to the summit. Exiting the highway at the rest stop, we glided to a stop in a parking place as far away from the restrooms as we could get. The lot is posted with a sign stating that the rest stop is not a parking lot for hikers. The problem is, the other trailhead is across the highway and requires passage under the highway through a huge culvert pipe that is usually running with snowmelt during the spring and early summer weeks. Since the rest stop has plenty of parking spaces and we needed to use the facilities before and after our hike, we chose to disregard the sign.
We used the facilities and then donned our knapsacks and grabbed our walking sticks. Just east of the restrooms, we ambled past the picnic tables and found the trailhead. Off we headed into the forest. At about a quarter mile, the trail linked up with the Pacific Crest Trail at a large sign that displayed a map of the area. We already knew that it is important to watch for sign posts on this hike since there are several places where the trail splits for destinations further into the wilderness. We followed the signs for Summit Lake< at each of these splits.
Soon after linking up with the main trail, we found ourselves climbing up a hill at what I have always found to be one of the hardest parts of the hike. The hill is ascended by a staircase made from rocks and logs Most of the rock steps have a rise that is hard for my short, weak legs. Using my walking stick helped.
We marched on through the forest, crossing several streams, sometimes stepping on rocks and sometimes using logs. The wildflowers were starting to show everywhere, although we were a bit early in the year for the grand show. The meadow was lush and green, but not yet in bloom.
After the final trail split, we entered the Alpine area. This wide open area is mostly granite rocks and offers grand views in most directions. After carefully following the trail over and around the rock faces, we reentered the forest for the last part of the hike before arriving at Summit Lake.
We wandered about near the lake’s edge until we found a place for our picnic. There were numerous boulders and logs that work well for sitting and for laying out food. On this day, many of our favorite spots were already taken. We settled for a nicely placed log and unloaded our knapsacks, spreading the food containers out on top of the log. We spent the next couple of hours munching, sipping, talking, and relaxing.
Those who want a bit more of a hike can walk around the lake using a sometimes hard to find and follow trail. A bit later in the season, the streams and ponds surrounding the lake dry up and allow total access. It was too wet on this hike, so we simply strolled around to the far end of the lake and back before heading down the mountain.