Signal Peak is the high point along the ridge also known as Red Mountain. The peak commands fine views of the Yuba River Canyon and the Sierra Crest. One would think the name of the peak is derived from the large complex of radio and cellular towers that occupy the high point. However, its name pre-dates the cell phone era. To the western portion of the ridge sits an old Central Pacific Railroad Fire Lookout. The old stone building was built in 1909, and was subsequently abandoned in 1934. It was used over the years to alert trains to track hazards, particularly avalanches.
Signal Peak is popular with all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. In the warmer months, the areas must be shared by hikers, mountain bikers and off-road vehicles. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) a dirt road leads all the way to the summit, and such, it's not unusual to see 4wd vehicles in the summer. In winter, Signal Peak makes an excellent backcountry ski and snowshoe destination. There are tons of potential decent routes along both faces of the ridge.
Signal Peak is listed on the Tahoe OGUL Peak List.
There are at least two routes to the summit.
- The first is a hiking trail that begins a little over 1 mile along Fordyce Road. One way distance to the summit is a quick 1.6 miles climbing about 1,800 feet in the process. This trail passes the CPRR Lookout on the way to the summit.
- The second follows Fordyce Road along Rattlesnake Creek, past Woodchuck Flat to Fordyce Summit. The road then turns west, continuing up the ridge. This route reaches the peak in about 6.25 miles from the frontage road, covering the same 1,800 feet.
- From Sacramento and the Bay Area, take Hwy 80 east approximately 40 miles past Auburn. Take the Cisco Grove exit and turn left, back over the freeway. Turn left (west) on the frontage road, and travel on to the store (about 0.25 mile). In the winter, buy a permit in the store and park in the plowed lot. In summer, Fordyce Lake road begins slightly before the enrty kiosk to the campground, on the north side of the road. The signage will direct you to Woodchuck Flat. If you don't want to drive off-road you can choose to leave your car here and continue on foot. If you have a high clearance vehicle you can press on. Continue on Fordyce Road approximately 1.15 mile to where to trail begins.
- From Reno and Tahoe, take hwy 80 west and exit at Cisco Grove. Turn right to get to the frontage road, then follow the directions above.
Permits are not required for day hikes or overnights stays in any season. More information can be found at the Tahoe National Forest website. In the winter months, sno-park permits can be purchased from the small store at the park. As of January 2005, the cost was $10.00 per vehicle. In summer, trailhead parking is free.
When To Climb
The beauty of Signal peak is it's relative ease of access. You can just as easily climb it in the winter as the summer. After particularly large storms in winter, the parking lot may not be plowed, making access more difficult.
There are numerous Forest Service campsites in the area, most of which charge about $14.00. There are several "hike in" sites managed by the Forest Service for which there is no charge. Please visit the Tahoe National Forest Camping website for more information. There is also a privately owned campground at Cisco Grove. This facility has running water, toilets, convenience store, RV hook ups and more. Visit Cisco Grove Campground for more information.
For Current conditions and information call or stop by the:Big Bend Visitor Center
Tahoe National Forest
49685 Hampshire Rocks Road (old Hwy 40)
(at the Big Bend or Rainbow Road exits off of I-80)
PO Box 830
Soda Springs CA 95631
530.426.3609 (voice only)
- Beware that avalanches can be a distinct possibility after winter storms. Please check the Central Sierra Snow Advisory before leaving on any backcountry ski or snowshoe trip.
If you're interested in railroad history as it pertains to the Central Pacific lookout on Signal Peak, a good source of information can be found at CPRR.org