Granite Chief is located on the northeast edge of the same named 25,680 acre Granite Chief Wilderness near the west rim of the Tahoe Basin. It is also located just west of the Squaw Valley USA ski area, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics . There are usually two reasons for seeking the summit of Granite Chief, the peak has spectacular views in all directions and it is the target of county high pointers since it was the high point of Placer County until a new liner point was discovered in 2008 on the Placer County - Washoe County line. Granite Chief stands out as its light granite composition contrasts with the darker volcanic rock of the nearby peaks. The hike up is very enjoyable as it passes through some nicely wooded forests (including a University of California Ecology Study Area) as well as across open granite hillsides and through some pleasant meadows. The trail skirts along the north edge of the ski area and along a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. This leads to the only drawback on the hike in that you almost always have the lifts of the Squaw Valley in view and are not far from civilization. The final segment of the hike passes under a ski lift and then you head for the summit from the upper lift shed. In fact if one were so inclined, a good segment of the hike can be cut off by using the gondola to Squaw’s High Camp area at 8200 ft.
From Truckee and Interstate 80 you head south on CA State Route 89 for 8.5 miles to Squaw Valley Road. From Tahoe City you go 5.2 miles north on CA State Route 89 to Squaw Valley Road. Follow Squaw Valley Road for 2.3 miles to a fire station on your right. There is a huge parking area for the ski area across from the fire station. It is free parking. The trail starts at the right front corner of the fire station. There is a sign on the fire station noting this. The hike from the fire station is 11.2 miles round trip.
There are no wilderness permits required to hike or backpack in the Granite Chief Wilderness. A valid fire permit is required to operate a stove on any National Forest land. The permits can be picked up at any National Forest Ranger Station.
Five Lakes Basin: Camping, fires and stoves are prohibited within 600 feet of any of the lakes in the Five Lakes Basin (NE corner of wilderness, just above Alpine Meadows.
Whiskey Creek Structures: Camping, fires and stoves are prohibited within 250 feet of the Whiskey Creek structures (less than one mile southwest of Five Lakes on the Whiskey Creek trail).
From May 15 to July 15 fawning areas in the Granite Chief Wilderness are closed to dogs. During this time, visitors are also discouraged from travelling in these areas.
Dogs: Prohibited between May 15 and July 15 in:
Wilderness portion of the French Meadows Game Refuge, except for the area east of the Pacific Crest Trail, and Big Springs trail and the portion of Five Lakes creek that parallels the trail (south of the Whiskey Creek structures, basically in the middle of the wilderness).
When To Climb
Granite Chief is summited year round. The most popular time to hike Granite Chief is from May through October when no snow is on the ground, based on survey of summit logs. Although the whole area west and north of Granite Chief is fairly popular in winter. There is a huge OSV area north of the wilderness boundary, and numerous winter outdoor skills courses use this same area. A popular winter ski tour climbs Granite Chief in conjunction with Needle and Lyon Peaks to the west along the connecting ridgeline. The bowls and chutes found on the north side of the ridge seem to be particularly popular with backcountry skiers. Be cognizant of ski area boundaries particulary if you have not paid for a lift ticket during ski season. Thanks to Bob Burd for winter information.
There are many places to camp in Granite Chief Wilderness itself, taking care to follow all regulations about keeping back from water and protecting meadows. There are also numerous first come / first served National Forest Campgrounds in and around the greater Tahoe basin including 3 along the Truckee River on CA State Route 89 between Truckee and Squaw Valley Road. There are 3 state parks requiring reservations along CA State Route 89 south of Tahoe City and Donner Memorial State Park just off Interstate 80 near Truckee.