A Day Hike Adventure on Palisades Creek Trail and Lake side fun at Long Lake Near Soda Springs CA.
Fall hiking adventures in the Sierra Nevada hold a special place in our hearts. It’s akin to unwrapping a Christmas present, filled with the anticipation of discovering new trails and savoring a refreshing mountain lake swim on a beautiful fall day. At Sierra Rec Magazine, we’ve been on an exciting journey of growth and development in the outdoor recreation news and highlights business this summer and early fall. However, when the autumn foliage starts to paint the landscape, we can’t resist the call of new trails and fresh experiences.
This past Saturday, our expedition took us northward from our Carson Valley home to Soda Springs, just 13 miles west of Truckee. This area is a summer hiking hotspot, thanks to Tahoe National Forest’s extensive network of dirt roads and mountain peaks. Long Lake and Devil’s Peak have been on our radar for a while, and we’ve heard locals sing praises of their beauty and accessibility. Long Lake, a mere half-mile hike from the parking area, offers an easy way to carry paddleboards, picnic lunches, and more.
Our journey began at 8:30 AM, as my son Brandon, and my good friend Tom joined me on a scenic drive through Lake Tahoe’s Northside, passing through Kings Beach, Northstar, and Martis Meadow on our way to I-80. The fall colors near Northstar were simply spectacular. Once on I-80, locating the Soda Springs Ski Resort exit was straightforward, but finding the Palisades Creek trailhead required navigating a dirt road tucked behind a small community of homes. We highly recommend using Google Maps for this part of the journey. The four-mile dirt road meanders through thick forests and granite basins, gradually descending to the trailhead by Cascade Lakes.
Parking and Trailhead to Palisades Creek Trail
A spacious parking area at Cascade Lakes, overlooking the dam and trailhead leading to Long Lake, welcomed us. Palisades Creek Trail, our chosen path, spans seven miles, ascending toward the base of Devil’s Peak after a visit to Long Lake. It then descends six miles through a diverse landscape, including conifer forests, lush ground ferns, shrubs, and expansive granite outcroppings offering stunning Sierra vistas to the south, overlooking river canyons below.
Our plan for the day was to explore the trail until lunchtime, then return to Long Lake for an afternoon swim. The trail to Long Lake is well-marked and explains why it’s a local favorite in the summer months. Devil’s Peak looms to the west of the lake, and in early October, the shrubs leading to the peak display a vivid 60% color, resembling a small fire climbing towards the granite and basalt spires.
After briefly visiting the lake in the morning, we retraced our steps 100 yards to rejoin the Palisades Creek trail. Initially, the trail leads across granite terrain, weaving between several granite outcrops for about a mile. It eventually reaches a fantastic viewpoint of the Sierra Nevada to the south, offering an incredible vista. I couldn’t help but think that even those who aren’t avid hikers could enjoy an easy hike from the lake or car to this vantage point for breathtaking views before returning for a relaxing lakeside day.
Palisades Creek to North Fork of American River
Beyond this peak region, the trail descends for the next 5-6 miles, featuring switchbacks, creek crossings, and another densely forested area, teeming with signs of wildlife (note: it’s Cat and Bear Country). This weekend, the vibrant fall colors in the trees and on the forest floor were a sight to behold. The golden hues of the forest ferns parted gracefully for the trail, and we spotted our first mountain lion signs here, with prints and scattered markings along the path. Fortunately, the Tahoe National Forest and local trail stewards had recently cleared shrubs and trees from the trail, making our journey smooth and hassle-free.
Approximately 2.5 to 3 miles from our starting point, we stumbled upon an unnamed lily pond around lunchtime. We decided to pause here for a leisurely and relaxed lunch beside the pond. Not far down the trail, we noticed a couple who had ventured a bit further to an area called the Slabs, a granite expanse just beyond the forest, as the trail began its descent toward the river below. After a satisfying lunch amid the granite surroundings, we retraced our steps to Long Lake, eagerly anticipating the crystal-clear waters.
Just before reaching the lake, we ventured off the trail onto the granite terrain on its south side. Here, we discovered a rope swing that appeared secure, as the rope showed no signs of wear and tear. It was evident that Long Lake must be a summer paradise, offering a serene escape from the crowds at Donner Lake. While I may be a bit old for a rope swing, we couldn’t resist the temptation to enjoy some carefree moments, taking turns swinging like Tarzan into the inviting waters of Long Lake. Along the shoreline, we spotted a couple fishing, and as we departed a few hours later, several couples were sunbathing on rocks by and in the water.
The return journey was just as effortless as the initial hike, and as the midday sun gradually descended towards sunset, our group decided to head into Truckee for burgers and shakes—a delightful post-hike tradition. Driving from Soda Springs, we opted for the scenic Donner Summit route, departing from the freeway. Along the way, we passed Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and traversed Donner Summit, stopping for the iconic Donner Summit bridge photo. The Saturday was perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, with plenty of hikers and climbers near the train tunnels, a classic local hiking spot. As we drove past the shores of Donner Lake, every pier was occupied by swimmers, paddleboarders, and sunbathers. What a joy it is to relish the splendid fall weather that graces the Sierra during the shoulder season.
Historic Donner Truckee Pass and Local Favorites for Burgers
Our drive through Truckee, down to the riverfront, led us to a convenient parking spot near Burger Me—a local favorite for burgers and shakes in Truckee. As we savored our meal while gazing at the fall colors along the river, we couldn’t help but reminisce about our favorite moments on the Paradise Creek trail. We wondered when we would return for an extended adventure down to the North Fork of the American River.
How to get to Palisades Creek Trail
Directions– I-80, turn on Soda Springs exit, head left and follow signs to to Royal Gorge ski area, Turn right on Soda Springs Road, cross the railroad tracks. Turn right on Pahatsi road, continue on Kidd Lakes Rd. Continue until the road ends. A high clearance vehicle is needed to reach the trailhead. Rocky and Bumpy for about 3 miles.
If You choose to do the entire Palisades Creek Trail this 7 mile trail drops 4600 feet in total. So it is recommended as an overnight backpackers trip to the river. The climb back out is note worthy when hiking this Sierra region.