50-Plus Ridgetop Rambles, Tahoe National Forest, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13251A, Lodge


  • Stay in Sierra Club's historic Clair Tappan Lodge
  • Hike in the high mountains, surrounded by magnificent scenery with no backpack
  • Soak in a hot tub after hiking


  • All meals and lodging
  • Hot showers, home-cooked meals
  • Leader-led hikes


DatesSep 15–21, 2013
StaffTom Brown

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Once known as a gateway to the promised land of California, the towering granite peaks and high passes of the Sierra Nevada posed stark challenges for early explorers. Today this area is a welcoming place, offering the visitor spectacular scenery, sparkling mountain lakes, and magnificent hiking trails.

Using the Sierra Club's Clair Tappan Lodge as our home base for the week, we'll explore the network of trails in the vicinity of Donner Summit and Lake Tahoe. Our hikes will take us through pine and cedar forests to scenic vistas, remote meadows, and secluded mountain lakes.

Best of all, after a pleasant day in the mountains we'll return each evening to the lodge, where we can enjoy hot showers, home-cooked meals, a hot tub, and the camaraderie of kindred spirits.

Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) will be sent application forms, and must fill these out and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner. Please wait for approval from the leader before making any transportation reservations.


Day 1: The outing begins at 5:00 p.m. with a welcome reception and tour of the lodge. After our 6:00 p.m. dinner we’ll have an orientation meeting to discuss our week together in the awesome Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Day 2: Castle Peak Day.  Our destination is one of the Sierra Club’s iconic backcountry huts, set in an idyllic alpine valley where we’ll have a picnic lunch.  This hike is approximately five miles in length with 800-feet elevation gain. 

Day 3: History and Environment Day. We’ll take a guided hike with a noted local historian through the famous tunnels constructed as part of the first transcontinental railroad, and visit the site of petroglyphs drawn by the native people as far back as 4,000 years ago. Then we’ll journey to the Tahoe Environmental Research Center of UC Davis at Incline Village. There we will learn about the ecology of Lake Tahoe through a presentation, then take a tour of the center.

Day 4: Lake Tahoe Day. Today we pay a visit to stunning Lake Tahoe for a dramatic shoreline hike. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Its depth is 1,645 feet, making it America's second-deepest. The most remarkable thing about Lake Tahoe is the color of the water -- you have to see it to believe it.

Day 5: Alpine Lakes Day. Nestled in a valley of the Granite Chief Wilderness is a chain of lakes that we'll discover. They'll  promise dramatic and tranquil surroundings, a place to relax, fish or swim. Four miles, 900-feet elevation gain. 

Day 6: Summit Day. This is your opportunity to “bag” one or two Sierra peaks and experience breathtaking views. We’ll hike over Donner Peak and offer an optional scramble to the summit peak (elevation 8,019 feet).  Then we continue our ascent and everyone will reach the summit of Mt. Judah (elevation 8,254 feet). The Forest Service classifies this as a “moderate” hike, however it begins with a steep climb up a granite headwall.  Five miles, 1,000-feet elevation gain.  After dinner we’ll enjoy a campfire, s’mores, and conversation about the week. 

Day 7: The trip ends after breakfast.

The exact hikes and itinerary are subject to change due to weather, poor trail conditions, and unforeseen circumstances.



Getting There

Clair Tappan Lodge is located in Norden, California, about 2.5 miles off Interstate 80 using the Soda Springs/Norden exit. This is approximately 13 miles west of the historic town of Truckee, California, and about 50 miles west of Reno, Nevada, which is the nearest airport. The lodge is also about 180 miles east of San Francisco. Although there is no public transportation to the lodge, there are several ways to get to Truckee (shuttle, Greyhound, or Amtrak), where a taxi can be hired to take you to the lodge. For more information about transportation from Reno, please see http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/lodges/ctl/contact.aspx.

For travel from San Francisco, please visit http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/lodges/ctl/contact.aspx.

Due to insurance regulations, all transportation to the lodge, trailheads, or other activities is the responsibility of each participant. Leaders are unable to arrange carpools for participants. Those arriving by air should plan to rent a car or make their own arrangements to carpool with other trip participants. If you wish to carpool, a roster of other trip members may be provided before the trip.

Participants will need to carpool to trailheads. Distances to trailheads range from 2-10 miles, with the exception of a trip to Tahoe Environmental Research Center, which is 35 miles one way.

Accommodations and Food

In 1934, Sierra Club volunteers built Clair Tappaan Lodge as a rustic retreat for hikers, skiers, and mountain climbers. Located near Donner Summit, the area receives the highest average snowfall of the entire Sierra Nevada Range, making it a favorite of winter sports enthusiasts. In summer, a network of nearby trails offers miles of hiking and bicycling, and provides access to fishing streams, remote meadows and peaks, and good swimming lakes.

It is an uphill walk from the parking lot to the lodge, but you can drive to the back entrance, drop off your gear, and return your car to the lot below. All luggage has to be carried or pulled by cart from the unloading zone to the entrance. There is no parking close to the lodge, and there are no valets. The road from the loading area to the entrance is not smooth, making rolling suitcases difficult to manage. Keeping your belongings to a minimum makes it easier.

The lodge has a special rustic charm, although it is not a luxury lodge. It has a spacious living room, enormous fireplace, cozy library, and outdoor fire ring. A small, friendly staff cares for the Lodge. In keeping with the cooperative spirit of the Lodge, each guest pitches in by doing a simple chore that requires about a half-hour each day. Chores involve housekeeping ones such as preparing and serving meals, setting tables, sweeping/mopping floors, bussing tables, dishwashing, and taking out trash/recycling.

Prior to breakfast, guests prepare their own bag lunches from plentiful and varied ingredients. A hearty breakfast and dinner are prepared by the professional kitchen staff and served in the lodge's large communal dining room. A vegetarian meal option is always available. Participants with other dietary restrictions can usually be accommodated, provided that their trip leader is informed in advance.

Coffee, tea, and water are served with meals. For those wishing hot drinks before or after mealtimes, please bring change for the donation box. A soft drink coin machine is available in the lodge.

Sleeping accommodations vary in size from very small (approximately 50 sq. feet) two-person cubicles to larger family rooms and separate dorms for men and women. The dorm rooms are large, but contain many sets of bunk beds, so your personal space will be small. All rooms are furnished with bunk beds with mattresses, pillows, and pillow cases. Trip participants provide their own sleeping bags or sheets, towels, soap and toiletries. The walls are thin and you will hear your neighbors, so bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper. The Lodge Manager -- not your trip leader -- assigns all accommodations in advance.

Doors do not lock; but there are lockers, and you can bring your own padlock. Restroom and shower facilities are shared, with two men's and two women's bathrooms (bring your own towel). The lodge also has a hot tub, so be sure to bring your bathing suit. A washer, dryer, and a refrigerator are available.

Reservations for extended stays before or after your outing may be made by calling the lodge directly at 530-426-3632 or 1-800-679-6775. 

Trip Difficulty

This trip is for the experienced hiker who can hike at high altitude for several days in a row. Our goal each day will be to enjoy our time in the mountains while hiking at a consistent pace. The hikes are considered intermediate level, at altitudes of 7,000 to 8,500 feet, and a minimum distance of five miles. Ascents and descents will vary from 800 to 1,000 feet. We will hike over gravel, steep, rocky terrain, sometimes over boulders, and possibly small stream crossings. In some areas, footing may be unstable. Occasionally drop-offs may be seen from the trails. Hikes will vary from 4-6 hours, with a lunch break around noon. You will need comfortable, well-broken-in hiking boots.

Keep in mind that we will be hiking at elevations above 7,000 feet where the air is thinner than at sea level, so more exertion is required. It is dry in the Sierra; bring water bottles that will carry at least two liters/quarts total. Plan to drink lots of water. Participants owe it to themselves, and to the other hikers, to be in good physical condition. Temperatures will range from the 60s-70s during the day to the 30s at night. We have had light snow in past trips in September.

All hikes and programs are subject to change depending on a variety of factors including trail conditions, permits, weather and availability of speakers. Please understand that your leader will try very hard to meet this itinerary. However, please come with an open mind and a flexible attitude.

Photographers are welcome, understanding that the focus of this trip is hiking; photographers are expected to keep up with the group, and not lag behind. This is a group hiking experience which is very different than hiking by yourself, and group preferences will take priority over individual preferences. 

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will send participants a detailed equipment list. Examples of necessary items include good quality raingear, including both a jacket and rain pants (no ponchos), broken-in hiking boots, and a day pack. Prepare to dress in layers, as temperatures may range from the 60s to the 70s during the day, to the 30s at night. We have had light snow in past trips in September. We will be in the mountains, where weather is often unpredictable. Be prepared for any kind of weather, from mild and breezy, to hot, to snow or rain. That is all part of the adventure! Be sure to bring a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip gloss with sunscreen. 




If you're interested in learning more about the area, pick up a copy of the USGS topographic map for Donner Pass, available at many sporting goods stores and at the lodge.



Our trip will follow Leave No Trace protocols. One evening participants will share local conservation issues from their area.

The area that we will explore is very popular among recreational users in both winter and summer. Indeed, as more and more people escape the big cities and buy homes in the foothills of the Sierra, they contribute to a growing pollution problem. In addition, logging practices have ruined many acres of surrounding land, threatening the ecosystem. We'll discuss these and other issues while on the trip. We may have a local ranger speak with us one evening.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Tahoe National Park and DL Bliss & Emerald Bay state parks.



Tom Brown has a lifetime of outdoor experience. He's a bicyclist, hiker, fisherman, and skier. Tom is a certified snow-skiing instructor, certified in Wilderness First Aid, active as a trail maintainer on the Appalachian Trail in his home state of Virginia, and an Ambassador for the World Fishing Network. He has a passion for sharing the outdoors with others and believes that the best way to instill a spirit of conservation is simply to spend time with nature.

Assistant Leader:

Linda Conklin is a retired special education teacher who lived and worked in the Sierra foothills near Yosemite for 35 years. Her family spent many years camping, backpacking, swimming in mountain lakes and river rafting. In the past she has been very involved in environmental politics. Now, her interest is to share her love of the Earth and her outdoor experience with others. Linda has led over 20 Sierra Club National Outings since 2003 and looks forward to leading many more.

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