As you come over Emigrant Gap on I-80 eastbound, near the Blue Canyon exit, Old Man Mountain dominates the view to the north as the dome-shaped mountain, almost resembling Half Dome in miniature. Old Man Mountain is a very distinct peak located above the mighty Yuba River. It is so distinct that you can easily identify the mountain from the Central Valley floor, over 50 miles away.
There is no trail to the summit, and the easiest route entails some moderate class 3 scrambling. Getting to the base of the peak is somewhat tedious, especially if you do not have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. If you do have 4WD, the route is about 4 miles round trip, with 2300 feet of climbing up the southeast slope. Other approaches exist from the north as well.
The summit is very broad and rocky, and steeply drops off to the northwest face. All of the other sides of the mountain are more or less uniform rocky slopes. The view from the summit is a very nice 360 degree perspective of the surrounding peaks, like English Mountain, Signal Peak, Sierra Buttes, and Snow Mountain. There are two registers at the summit, both filled with scraps of paper, yet there is no official sign-in book. Judging from the amount of signatures, not many people climb Old Man Mountain, even though many, many drivers see the peak every day from the interstate. The peak is on the Tahoe OGUL List!
The famous Fordyce Creek Trail is located at the base of Old Man Mountain, and makes a good approach to the base of the peak, that is, if you don't mind hiking with a bunch of off-roaders.
If you would like to hike up the Fordyce Creek OHV trail, you can get there by exiting Eagle Lakes Road off I-80 and following the road west until you reach the Indian Springs OHV staging area. Here you can park and hike up the rock-crawling trail and approach the peak from the south.
To get to the southeast slopes of Old Man Mountain, exit Cisco Grove from I-80 and go north, over the Yuba River and make a left onto Donner Summit road. Before you come to the large group campground, make a right onto FR 85. This road starts out paved, then turns dirt after 1/4 mile. Take the dirt road up the valley, passing the Woodchuck Flat campground. The road begins to ascend toward the Fordyce Summit.
The road gets pretty rocky, yet a passenger car should be able to make it to the summit with careful driving. Once you get to the Fordyce Summit, this is as far a passenger will make it. If you have 4WD, you can continue in the direction of Fordyce Lake. There will be a sign at the summit pointing to Fordyce Lake. Continue on the road and go right at the next fork. You know you have gone the right way if you start to descend.
The road will soon switchback down towards Fordyce Lake. Pay attention to a gap in the ridge immediately to the left of the road. Once the road comes to the gap in the ridge, you can park your 4WD vehicle. This gap marks the beginning of the route up the southeast slope, yet one still has to descend 500 feet down to Fordyce Creek before beginning the 1800 foot ascent up to the summit of Old Man Mountain. The place to park/leave the road is approximately 1.25 miles past the Fordyce Summit.
Old Man Mountain can also be approached from the north, starting at Meadow Lake. From Truckee, take Highway 89 north for 17 miles to the Jackson Meadows Road (FR 7). Take this road to Jackson Meadows, and head on to Webber Lake. Just past Webber Lake, you'll see the signed road to Meadow Lake. Take this for 10 miles and you'll arrive at Meadow Lake.
The peak is located in Tahoe National Forest, and there are no permits or restrictions on hiking. Be sure to check their websites, for they can close the approach roads to the peak for fire dangers.
There are many maintained campgrounds near Old Man Mountain. The closest ones are the Sterling Lake campground and the Woodchuck campground, located to the southeast of the mountain. Indian Springs campground is located off the Eagle Lakes Road, to the southwest of Old Man Mountain, near the beginning of the Fordyce Creek rock-crawling OHV trail. See the Tahoe National Forest website for more info about the campgrounds.