It’s been way too long since we got out and hit the trails. We had some spare time before the holidays, so we decided to head up to Tahoe for the weekend. There’s not much snow yet this year – 2013 was the driest calendar year on record (though water is usually summed by water year: Oct-Sep). California is going to have some serious water problems if we don’t get crazy amounts of rain/snow in the next couple of months. We wanted to use our snowshoes, but the road looked pretty bare so we left them in the car. (Of course the road was completely covered in snow as soon as we turned the first corner.) This hike was 8 miles roundtrip, with about 1700-ft of elevation gain.
Directions to Trailhead: The fire lookout on Martis Peak can be reached from both Martis Peak Road and the Tahoe Rim Trail. We had a limited amount of time, so we opted to go up the paved road which is a slightly shorter route. Martis Peak Road is on the north side of Hwy 267, less than a mile before Brockway Summit when coming from Truckee. There is a large turnout with plenty of parking. Alternatively, the Tahoe Rim Trail crosses Highway 267 at Brockway Summit. The TRT route is a couple miles longer. I’m not sure how well travelled the TRT is, but the road was very easy to follow – there were footprints and ski tracks all the way to the lookout.
Trail Description: In the winter, Martis Peak Road is covered in snow and you would never notice that it is paved. We were there on a weekend but we only saw three people the entire day. Two of them were learning to cross country ski somewhere near the beginning of the trail. We could have used our snowshoes but the snow wasn’t too deep and we were okay without them. The forest was peaceful and quiet: the relatively low snow levels kept the snowmobile rental place shuttered.
We headed up the trail past the snowmobile rental area. We reached a fork in the road at about 1.3 miles from the trailhead. We turned left (there was a gate to the right) and continued upwards.
After another mile or so we took a short break on a dry log. The snow was about six to eight inches deep. It was just icy and solid enough to walk in the footsteps of earlier hikers. Pavement was exposed in a few spots between the deepest drifts of snow. The snow was nice, but the views were not terribly epic – we were just in the forest. At about 3.5 miles from the trailhead, we reached another fork in the road. We turned left and headed towards the peak. The road seemed to get a bit steeper on the final leg up to the lookout.
As we neared Martis Peak, views began to emerge between the trees to the north. We couldn’t see the fire lookout until we were almost upon it.
Martis Peak Fire lookout is a nice structure with sweeping views in every direction except to the east, which is blocked by Martis Peak itself. You can see much of Lake Tahoe, from Desolation to Donner Pass. Allegedly you can see Mt. Lassen, but it was not clear enough to see that far… or we just didn’t try hard enough to spot it.
After a short break and some snacks at the top, we followed our tracks back to the bottom. It was much easier going down, but I did completely eat it on the ice. (Trying to kick a pine cone, I lost my balance and went down. Pine cone: 1, Christa: 0.)
All in all, it was a five hour trip: three hours up and two hours back to the car. Just some light traffic heading back to the smoggy valley. Finished the day off perfectly with a cheese fondue.
A little more about Martis Peak Lookout…
The lookout was built in 1914. It was added to the National Historic Lookout Register in 1998. It was deactivated in the 1970’s, then sadly it was badly vandalized in the 1990’s. Thanks to the CA Department of Forestry and volunteers, the lookout has now been restored and is staffed during fire season. There is a pit toilet and picnic table outside the lookout. The outhouse floor was absolutely covered in mouse shit. I guess the rodents use the same facilities. The lookout is unlocked and as far as I know, it’s possible to sleep there (on a first come first served basis).