Ridgetop Rambles, Tahoe National Forest, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14267A, Lodge


  • Explore the high passes and granite peaks of the northern Sierra Nevada
  • Discover the vistas of the Pacific Crest Trail and the history of the famous Donner Pass
  • Enjoy the comfort of a rustic, historic lodge (with hot tub at the end of the day!)


  • Lodging and all meals (vegetarian option available)
  • Hot showers
  • Presentations on the history and conservation of the Donner-Tahoe region


DatesSep 21–27, 2014
StaffRon Franklin

Trip Overview

Please note that the trip title has changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us. 

The Trip

We’ll explore the fabulous scenery of granite peaks, sparkling lakes, and the awesome trails of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Our hikes will take us through pine and cedar forests to awesome vistas, remote meadows, and secluded mountain lakes. The focus of our activities is the Donner Pass just west of the town of Truckee, California. The area is home to the historic routes to the promised land of California -- the California Trail, the first transcontinental railway and the first transcontinental improved highway for automobiles (from New York City to San Francisco). We’ll walk some of the original roadbeds of these famous routes. And then we’ll hike the most scenic trails in the vicinity of Donner Summit and Lake Tahoe. Particularly enjoyable is the Granite Chief Wilderness west of Lake Tahoe: it straddles the Sierra Nevada crest, includes the Pacific Crest Trail and the headwaters of the North Fork American River. Granite Chief is characterized by rugged granite cliffs, alpine meadows, and dense pockets of fir.

Equally enjoyable after our pleasant day in the mountains, we'll return each evening to a lodge where we can enjoy hot showers, home-cooked meals, a hot tub, and the camaraderie to share our adventures. Our home base for the week is Clair Tappaan Lodge. Nestled in a scenic pine forest at 7,000 feet, the Lodge welcomes people of all ages who share a sense of adventure.  Built in 1934 and owned by the Sierra Club, the Lodge is a community experience, with family-style meals and simple daily kitchen chores. There is a cozy, quiet library and the large, lively living room with massive stone fireplace. We’ll have evening presentations and discussions on the history of the area and the conservation of the Lake Tahoe Basin. You’ll especially enjoy the solitude, with no TV, alarm clocks or internet, and limited cell phone service.


We will explore beautiful hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail, around Donner Summit and Lake Tahoe. Our hikes will be varied, taking us through groves of rustling aspens to pristine alpine lakes and magnificent views of towering peaks and forested valleys. We may swim in mountain lakes or just relax and enjoy the cool breezes of September in the High Sierra. The exact hikes and itinerary are subject to change depending on a variety of factors, including weather, trail conditions, permits, availability of speakers, and unforeseen circumstances. Some evenings we'll gather for a program.

Here’s our tentative schedule:

Day 1: Plan to arrive at the lodge in plenty of time to unpack and relax before our social hour at 4 p.m. We'll eat dinner at 6 p.m. and afterward get together to discuss our activities for the week.

Day 2: History Day. A local historian will guide us on a walk to the site of petroglyphs etched by the native people as far back as 4,000 years ago. We'll also walk on part of the Emigrant Trail and see the famous tunnels constructed as part of the first transcontinental railroad. Afterward we’ll hike to a stunning glacial lake nestled in the Sierra.

Day 3:  Castle Peak Day. We'll climb to Castle Pass, perhaps to Castle Peak at 9,100 feet. Then we'll hike down into Round Valley, where we will have lunch at one of the Sierra Club's backcountry huts.

Day 4: Lake Tahoe Day. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Its depth is 1,645 feet, making it America's second-deepest lake. The most remarkable thing about Lake Tahoe is the emerald color of the water -- you have to see it to believe it. 

Day 5: Wilderness Day. Nestled in a valley of the Granite Chief Wilderness are five lakes that promise dramatic yet tranquil surroundings in which to relax, fish, or swim.

Day 6: Summit Bagging Day. This is your opportunity to “bag” two Sierra peaks and experience breathtaking views.

Day 7: The trip ends after breakfast.



Getting There

Clair Tappaan Lodge is located at 7,000 feet 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, Amtrak), where a taxi can be hired to take you to the lodge. For more information about transportation from Reno and travel from San Francisco, please see 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 to 25 miles.

Accommodations and Food

Built entirely by volunteers in 1934, Clair Tappaan Lodge -- the Sierra Club's rustic, two-story mountain lodge offers a spacious living room, enormous fireplace, cozy library, and outdoor fire ring. Most sleeping accommodations are dormitory-style, but there are several family-style rooms and small cubicles; all are equipped with bunk beds with mattresses and pillows. Except for two or three cubicles, there are no double beds.

For more information, see http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/lodges/ctl/accommodations.aspx

By today's standards, space for belongings is limited (remember this when packing). It is an uphill walk from the parking lot to the lodge, but you can drop off your gear and return your car to the lot below. Shared bathrooms and showers are down the hall. Please bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper. Trip participants provide their own sleeping bags or bedding, towels, soap, and toiletries. There are two men's and two women's bathrooms, with showers. A hot tub is available in the lodge. No smoking is allowed in the building or on the surrounding trails. Although we may be sharing the lodge with other groups, we will be sharing rooms and bathrooms with only our group.

As in a hostel, each lodge guest is expected to pitch in with a daily housekeeping chore, such as meal preparation and serving, setting tables, sweeping/moping floors, bussing tables, or dishwashing. Participants may sign up for chores in advance. These chores require about a half-hour each day.

A hearty breakfast and dinner are prepared by the professional kitchen staff and served in the lodge's large communal dining room. Lunch provisions are available, and guests prepare their own lunches to take on the trail. Please bring reusable containers for food, a bandanna or cloth napkin, and a reusable bag for carrying your lunch. A vegetarian meal option is always available. Participants with other dietary restrictions can usually be accommodated; inform the leader well in advance. Two small refrigerators are available in the basement, on a first-come, first-served basis. Any food kept in the rooms needs to be stored in sealed plastic containers.

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

Trip Difficulty

This trip is for the experienced hiker who is comfortable with altitudes up to 9,000 feet and distances of 5 to 9 miles. Our goal each day will be to enjoy our time in the mountains while hiking at a moderately brisk pace. These hikes are considered intermediate level. Ascents and descents will vary from 800 to 1,200 feet. Our hikes will be over gravel, on steep and rocky terrain -- sometimes over boulders -- and over stream crossings. In some areas footing may be unstable. Occasionally drop-offs may be seen from the trails. Hikes will vary from 4 to 6 hours, with a lunch break around noon. You will need comfortable, well-broken-in hiking boots.

Keep in mind that since we will be hiking at elevations above 7,000 feet, where the air is thinner than at sea level, 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.

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will send participants a detailed equipment list. Examples of necessary items include good-quality waterproof rain gear, including both a jacket and rain pants (no ponchos), broken-in hiking boots, and a day pack. Prepare to dress in layers. We have had light snow during some 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 windy, 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 screen.



  • Sorer, Tracy I., Sierra Nevada Natural History.
  • Blackwell, Laird R., Wildflowers of the Tahoe Sierra.
  • Powell, Margie, Donner Summit, A Brief History.

The Sierra Club publishes numerous books about California. Find them at www.sierraclub.org/books/recent.asp


  • 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.
  • Tahoe National Forest Map



Your volunteer trip leaders are dedicated to the Sierra Club, conservation and enjoyment of the outdoors. Our wish is that you will become strong believers in the need to protect our wild areas. While on the trip, please don’t hesitate to ask your leaders about any conservation concerns that you may have.

Your participation on a national outing provides the opportunity for you to learn about the conservation issues in a different area of the country from your home. In the Donner Summit and Lake Tahoe areas, the public lands are owned by you and managed by the U.S. Forest Service. On one evening, you will have an opportunity to share local conservation issues from your area.

The region we will explore is very popular among recreational users in both winter and summer. As more and more people escape the big cities and buy homes in 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 will also be practicing the seven Leave No Trace principles. The Sierra Club believes that following these guidelines is one of the most relevant and effective long-term solutions to maintaining the beauty, health, and access to our natural lands.

Since any traveling leaves a carbon footprint, check out the information that the Sierra Club offers about carbon offsets at: http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/ national/offsets/Carbon_neutral.asp

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



A Sierra Club member since 1991, Ron Franklin lives, hikes, and mountain bikes in Tucson, AZ. Previously, he's lived in Utah, California, and Washington, DC, for 2 years each; preceded by 16 years in Hawaii. His principal enjoyments are hiking, backpacking, kayaking, and ‘peak bagging’ – most notably the two volcano mountains on the Big Island, Mt. Rainier in Washington state and Mt. Whitney in CA -- both above 14,400'; even more challenging were summiting Africa's 19,340' Mt Kilimanjaro in 2007 and the Thorong La Pass (almost 18,000’) in the Annapurna Mountains of Nepal in 2013. His current adventure is to paddle (and portage) the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, some 740 miles over four summers in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine; he completed the second leg this past summer. Ron has led hikes in the Sierra Nevadas for a number of years, especially around Lake Donner and Lake Tahoe; he looks forward to sharing all these interests and the marvels of the Sierra.

Assistant Leader:

Pete Potamianos has been a Sierra Club member since 1994. He's an avid hiker and enjoys backpacking and biking. He's a graduate of Sierra Club's National Outings Leaders Training course and is currently certified in Wilderness First Aid and in the American Heart Association's Heartsaver CPR program. Pete is a retired adjunct professor from the College of DuPage department of Field and Interdisciplinary Studies. Since 1996, he has led students on hiking and backpacking trips to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Glacier. He's created other field-based courses on Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discover, Route 66, The Beat Generation, and on Chicago's history and neighborhoods. His goals for student learning are 1) Have an open mind, 2) Be willing to challenge mindsets and preconceptions and 3) Be open and sensitive to the unknown and to the unexpected. Pete holds a Ph.D. in English and is a retiree of Ameritech, now AT&T. He lives with his wife Mary in Glen Ellyn and has a son in Arcata, California and a daughter in Chicago.

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