Highway 80 to Old Highway 40 on the PCT - Backpacking

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Take the whole family on this quick hike that is great for beginning backpackers.

Written by

Jill Sanford


4.0 miles

It can be shortened or lengthen depending on group needs.

Destination Distance From Downtown

23.6 miles


1 of 5 diamonds

Easy, mellow hike with minimal elevation gain

Time To Complete

2 days


Spring, Summer, and Fall

Area is snow covered and inaccessible during summer months.

Dog Friendly




The Pacific Rim Trail is known as an impressive feat for serious through hikers, but it is also a great place for beginning backpackers to venture into the woods for the first time. The 2.9 mile stretch of trail south from Donner Pass on Highway 80 to the Sugar Bowl Academy parking lot on Old Highway 40 is fun for all ages, but it is an ideal overnight trip for kids ages 10 and younger. 

What Makes It Great

Pristine granite slopes, beautiful lakeside camping spots, and ease of access into the backcountry all make this stretch of the PCT perfect for beginners. Connect with this section of the PCT near the summit of Donner Pass. You will start this easy hike with minimal elevation gain on a well maintained trail that rambles across granite boulders. The rock makes it tricky to see the exact trail, but you can’t get lost on this mellow hike. You will be rewarded with epic views of Sierra mountains, such as Castle Peak, an iconic summit in the Truckee area. 

Continue along the trail for approximately 1.5-2 miles. A ridge on your right hand side obscures 3 gorgeous lakes that make for great overnight spots. Keep an eye out for small spur trails or just hike up and over the granite in a westerly direction to check out Azalea Lake, Flora Lake and Lake Angela, in that order. 

Set up camp along one of these pristine alpine lakes. There are no designated camping spots, but there is plenty of space to make yourself cozy for the night. Take a dip in the sparkling waters of the 3 lakes, pretend the surrounding boulders are a natural playground, or see what flora and fauna you can identify as you hike. There are plenty of natural wonders to explore for all ages on this very friendly family hike. 

Who is Going to Love It

This hike is perfect for those who have never experienced the feeling of carrying everything they need to spend a night outdoors on their own back. Ideal for adventurous families with small children, the minimal elevation change and entertaining landscape is great for little ones 10 and under.  Adults looking to check their first backcountry trip off the bucket list will also be happy with this hike, especially if the steeper and more lengthy backpacking areas of the Sierra seem like a daunting physical challenge.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Take the Boreal Ski Resort Exit off Interstate 80. Follow a frontage road south to where it dead ends in a parking lot with the trailhead. 

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