South Face of Snow Mountain, from Soda Springs Road. August 2007
Snow Mountain is a relatively high, broad, and remote summit located in the Tahoe National Forest, about 7 miles southwest of Soda Springs and Interstate 80. It sees fairly little traffic for a variety of reasons, but the views from the summit plateau are amazing. The mountain sits above Royal Gorge, a 4500 foot-deep canyon where the American River rushes and crashes down into the Foothills and onward to Sacramento. Snow Mountain's west, north, and eastern aspects are, for the most part, quite mellow and covered with typical flora found in this area. White tip fir, lodgepole pine, and mule's ears are found in abundance on this side of the mountain. The south face is a steep and rocky slope that plunges from the summit for 4500 feet to the North Fork American River in a mere mile and a half. Because of this, most, if not all, people bag this peak from the northwest, either from I-80 or from Cascade Lakes through the Royal Gorge Cross County Ski Area, which is the largest cross country ski resort in the country. There is no trail to the summit, yet logging roads and ski trails meander within a mile of the top. This peak can be bagged in conjunction with its neighbor Devils Peak
, and in doing so can make a nice snowshoe, cross country ski, or hiking day.
Snow Mountain is located about 5 miles south of the Kingvale exit on I-80. Probably the most straight forward way to get to the summit would be to exit I-80 at Kingvale and take the frontage road west for 1/4 mile to Troy Road. Turn south on Troy Road, go under the freeway and drive .5 miles to the railroad tracks. Park here. Simply follow the paved road for a few miles until you are just below and west of Devils Peak, and adjacent to a ski warming hut on the right. Take a dirt road to the left, stay right at the immediate fork, and follow this road to the ridge that separates Devils Peak and Snow Mountain. From here, follow the ridge until is ends in Snow Mountain's more rockier eastern slope, and climb about 400 feet up onto the summit plateau. There are several options for which highpoint is the tallest. When I was up there, I thought the highest point was the second-most eastern one. This was also where the benchmark was, but some of the others look really close. Best to just tag them all, they are all within about a 4 minute walk from each other. I couldn't find any register anywhere.
Troy Road, a few miles from the railroad tracks. This is a gated road, and public vehicles are prohibited.
You could also approach the area from Cascades Lakes, off of Serene Lakes Road. Refer to the Getting There
section of Devils Peak for this option, which does save a little elevation gain, but is comparable in mileage.
Obviously snowshoe and ski outings may require you to follow different routes, depending on conditions. Also note, that if you are using the Troy road approach, that Troy Road is NOT plowed at all in the winter, so you would have to park on Donner Pass Road in Kingvale to start out, adding about a mile roundtrip to the route.
The mountain itself is located in the Tahoe National Forest, so national forest rules apply there.
The Troy Road trailhead is located on railroad property, and the gated paved road that leads from there towards Snow Mountain is owned by a private timber interest. There are several "No Trespassing" signs, on Troy Road before the tracks, as well as along the way to the area below Devils Peak. It's unclear whether hikers are welcome on this road, but it's pretty easy to walk this road undetected. If that isn't for you, approaching from Cascade Lakes skips the No Trespassing zone for the most part.
Camping is allowed anywhere around Snow Mountain on National Forest land. However, I would imagine it is not allowed in the basin to the northeast, near Huntley Mills Lake, and probably not in the area west of Devils Peak.
Bob Burd's snowshoe trip report