The Warren Lake Loop – 13 Mile Trail Run
If you’re ever around Truckee/North Lake Tahoe and looking for the one run that perfectly balances breathtaking beauty and a little “what was I thinking?”, look no further than the (in)famous Warren Lake Loop.
Although plenty of variations exist to make this run harder/easier/shorter/longer, the preferred route for this local runner starts at the Castle Pass Trailhead (2WD accessible).
Warm up with a short jog up the Castle Pass Fire Road before banking right onto the Donner Lake Rim Trail for a couple of miles of rolling singletrack through classic Tahoe National Forest terrain.
About 2.5 miles in you’ll turn left and start the first big climb of the day, following the Warren Lake Trail as you gain over 1,000 vertical feet in less than a mile and a half (!).
At the crest of the trail, I strongly recommend turning right and adding a short, steep climb up to the Frog Lake Cliffs Overlook. The juice is worth the squeeze, as they say – you’ll be rewarded with a sprawling view of Frog Lake, Euer Valley, and Carpenter Valley.
Return to the Warren Lake Trail, and begin the sweeping descent down into Coon Canyon and the stunning backside of Castle Peak. The towers of Castle Peak rise up over 1,500 feet from the trail, and the perspective is jaw-dropping from this northern side of the peak.
The trail meanders through the basin, climbing a number of small rises and sapping the energy from your legs bit by bit as you go. The effort is rewarded with wild and rugged terrain and (if you’ve timed it right) expansive fields of wildflowers.
About 8 miles from the start you’ll hit a signed intersection beckoning you to continue on to “Warren Lake – NO HORSES”, but we’ll skip that option today. The detour to Warren Lake is only a mile down and a mile back, but packs over 1,200 feet of loss and gain and is not to be taken lightly. A fun and rewarding add-on, in my view, if your legs are long enough, though!
We’ll continue bearing left at the signed intersection toward “Devil’s Oven/PCT” and begin the climb up to Basin Peak.
As you wrap around to the northern flank of Basin Peak a left turn is encountered – turn left here to continue climbing (almost there!) for another 1/3 of a mile or so to the summit of Basin Peak. Your first real summit of the day features some incredible views: down the Western slope, and (on a clear day) the Sierra Buttes and Lassen to the North and the monoliths of Desolation Wilderness to the South.
You’ll continue on the trail for some of the best trail miles you’ll find all year as you traverse the ridge toward Castle Peak. Relish these – they’re some of the finest of the whole run.
Before getting to Castle Peak itself, you’ll bank right, following the trail down the shoulder of the mountain down toward Castle Pass. This portion of the trail is steep, loose, and technical – take your time and keep your wits about you.
At Castle Pass, continue on the ridge toward Andesite Peak on the Hole in the Ground trail. You’ll hate me for suggesting more climbing, but it’s worth it.
Before reaching Andesite Peak, bear left and follow the Hole in the Ground trail down toward the Castle Pass fire road. This section of trail is a flowy mountain bike staple, with banked turns and fluid movement all the way down to the road. The freewheeling descent is your reward after over 3,200 feet of vertical gain throughout the day – let er’ rip!
Upon hitting the fire road, turn right and warm down as you crash back down to the trailhead.
Map and Elevation Profile:
Maps of the route and a profile overview of the vertical gain and loss are included here for your reference.