JP’s Trail Review
Trail Type: Out & Back
Start/Finish: Dead end of Cold Stream Road behind Donner Memorial State Park (click here for map)
Distance: 3 miles (options to go further)
Elevation: 571 ft
Getting There: This unexpectedly beautiful trail begins and ends on the paved portion of Cold Stream Road, just behind Donner Memorial State Park.
Important Notes (especially if running with a four-legged friend): First, this is a somewhat popular trail for mountain bikers. If you are running or hiking make sure you can hear what’s going on around you and be prepared for some speedy trail companions. Second, there really isn’t any water on this trail once you’re past the first quarter of a mile and unless you continue to the valley floor (more on this option later).
Once you park your car at the dead end of Cold Stream Road, a dirt fire road begins where the pavement ends. This fire road leads into Cold Stream Canyon. After about a tenth of a mile on the dirt fire road, which is mostly flat, you’ll have the option to continue up the fire road, or veer to your left and hop on to a single track trail which parallels the fire road. I recommend the latter.
Roughly a third of a mile in to the run, the single track crosses the fire road and starts back up again on the other side. This is where (I think) JPs Trail technically starts. From this junction, the trail largely parallels the fire road, but climbs higher up to the ridge-line, whereas the fire road is fairly flat and stays closer to the valley floor. After about a half a mile from the intersection with the fire road or .8 miles from the start, you’ll reach your first of many switchbacks and a lovely hand-painted sign indicating that you are indeed on JPs trail.
Another 8ish switchbacks, or about 1.2 miles in to the run, and you’ll come to another intersection with a fire road, marked by a sign indicating “MOTOR VEHICLES EXCLUDED”. It’s painted with a nice little JP in the upper left-hand corner. As you approach this sign on the uphill, you’ll see the back, but it is a nice landmark for the return trip.
Up until this point, the views are largely filtered through pines and really nothing to write home about, but once you reach this point, WOW! There are incredible views of the valley, and beyond, to both the west and the east.
It’s very easy to miss at times when vegetation is really lush, but at about 1.4 miles into this run, you’ll cross over a tunnel and the rail road tracks passing beneath. If you hit the timing right and get to see a train come through this point, be prepared for an exhilarating and somewhat terrifying experience. There’s nothing like hearing and feeling the power of a train this close. Beware though, if you’re running with a dog, they likely won’t enjoy the experience and may run for the hills (no pun intended).
Just beyond the tracks, you see can large ponds along the valley floor. From this vantage point, they look more like a long, lazy river. Another tenth of a mile at a slight downgrade and you’ll reach the midway & turnaround point for this trail description. Here, there is a fork in the trail – to the left you can continue on a fire road which will eventually lead to a crossing with the rail road tracks and further on to the valley floor. The single-track path to the right is the continuation of JPs trail and continues along the ridge for a bit.
Up until the turnaround point, you will have climbed about 500 feet, so the return trip will be quick. Assuming you descend right back down the way we came up, you’ll end the run with this stunning view to the west as you reach the dirt road leading back to your car.
Even though the start & finish of this course is surrounded by old mining pools and an occasional backhoe, the scenery above is still remarkable – don’t forget to look up! If you have time, there’s always the option to continue running through Donner Memorial State Park and take a dip in the lake.
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This trail review was written by Tahoe Mountain Sports Ambassador Mone Haen.