Mt. Ralston

Location: Twin Bridges, CA

Distance: 6.4 miles

Type: Day-hike

Rating: Moderately difficult

Permits & Fees

Parking is free, but a Desolation Forest day-use permit is required. Usually, you can self-register at the trailhead, but the box for permits is missing. You can pick up permits on the way (if driving via US 50 East) at the Pacific Ranger Station, which is about 30 minutes from the trailhead. There are a couple of parking options; first, when you pull off of the highway, there is a large parking lot. To the right is a dirt road that you can drive up to access the trailhead. There is parking at the trailhead, but it is very limited. I suggest getting there early to guarantee a closer spot. During the more popular summer months, Camp Sacramento has parking for those hiking Mt. Ralston. When I arrived, the gates were closed to Camp Sacramento, but there was plenty of parking in the lot off of the highway.

Preparation

I prepared for cold weather, so I wore a warm beanie, a thick long-sleeve shirt with a heavy jacket, leggings, a pair of regular socks under a pair of wool socks and my hiking boots. I also brought two 2-liter water bottles and gloves (although they weren’t needed). Also, since I hiked this one solo, I let friends/family know where I was going and when to expect a text from me when I finished the hike.

The Hike

I planned to do this hike fairly last minute (about 4 days prior), but was able to prepare myself in time. The morning of the hike, I left home around 8:00 a.m. and arrived to the trailhead around 9:30 a.m. There were only a few other cars parked at the trailhead, so I figured I’d run into a few people on the way up the mountain.

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The first part of the hike was fairly level and shaded. Pretty quickly into the hike, however, it became extremely steep and slippery. This steep climb continued until I hit a fork in the trail. After doing some research before this hike, I concluded that taking the trail to the left is a little longer, but has spectacular views and is a more mellow than the trail to the right. The trail to the right takes you straight up to the summit, continuing the steep climb.

After choosing the left trail, I started to become a little uneasy. As I continued onward, it became harder and harder to determine if I was still on the trail. Luckily, there were a fair amount of footprints that I followed until I reached a small post that read “LK ALOHA” with an arrow pointing down the side of the mountain:

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The footprints continued down the side of the mountain, but I knew I needed to continue straight. I came across another set of footprints and an arrow drawn in the snow. I followed the footprints until I reached this post:

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At this point I was close to the summit. The footprints had melted with the snow the rest of the way and I got turned around a bit, but I was able to find my way when I caught a glimpse of the summit and the hikers at the top. When I arrived at the base of the peak, the trail ended into what looked like a large pile of boulders. From here it was only a short climb to the top!

The views were stunning. With the clear and sunny weather, I could see Lake Tahoe, the Echo Lakes, Lake Aloha and Mt. Tallac. It was cold and windy at the top, so I was happy that I wore a heavy-duty jacket. I met a group of four hikers at the summit who had two dogs (this trail is dog-friendly by the way). We talked about the trail and their experience hiking up the peak. They suggested taking the right trail at the fork as opposed to the trail I took to the left, especially during this time of year. It’s best to stick to the right trail due to the amount of snow, which makes it tough to locate the trail I took. I wish I knew this before-hand. Oops.

After about 30 minutes at the top, I hiked down with the group to the fork of the trail. The trail isn’t clearly marked towards the top, so we ended up stumbling across the trail as we scaled down the side of the summit. The trail I took down doesn’t have any official trail markers, but there were several trail “ducks” that help to keep hikers on track. After the fork, I made my way down the rest of the mountain solo and ran into quite a few hikers making their way up the trail.

When I arrived at the trailhead, I couldn’t believe how fast the hike seemed to go. Although the hike took me around 4 hours, due to a lot of backtracking, it all came to an end too soon. I already want to go back to see the incredible views at the top. I hope to return to Mt. Ralston sometime in the spring of next year!

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