Back to index Warren Lake Trail Loop Hike

Trip Date:  09/09/2019

: 15.0 Miles

Vertical Gain: 3300'

Group Size: 1

Hike Rating: Easy   Moderate   Hard   Strenuous
Warren Lake Loop Route
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Warren Lake Loop Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 39 20.375  W 120 20.579
    End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates  
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No
Parking Directions:   From Interstate 80 take the Castle Peak/Boreal Ridge Road exit.  Take the freeway exit to the south, and then turn left at the T intersection following the signs for the Sno-Park and the I80 PCT Trailhead.  Park at the lot about 1/2 mile down this road and find the trailhead just to the left of the kiosk at the eastern end of the parking area.
Hazards of Note:   Navigating the many trail junctions along the way is the most difficult part of this hike.  The trail between the Warren Lake Trail and the PCT has steep, loose, rocky sections to be careful of.  

Crowd Factor:   Moderate.  The Warren Lake Trail appears to be popular with trail runners doing the loop in the reverse direction that I did, and there were bike tire marks along the way as well.  Once you reach the Peter Grubb Hut and the PCT, there can be many hikers on that trail any day of the week.
General Notes:
The first half mile of the trail from the parking area is just an access trail to reach the PCT as well as the new Donner Lake Rim Trail.  When you reach the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT,) turn left/north and you will soon enter two tunnels running under the freeway which give hikers the ability to get past the busy highway without having to attempt to dodge traffic. 
Turn right on the Warren Lake Trail, heading toward Summit Lake, and then at the next junction take the left hand fork toward Warren Lake.  The next couple miles will be an almost steady climb, until you reach the crest of this first hill.  Take the use trail to your right/east for a great overlook spot high above Frog Lake.  Back on the trail you will now drop down into the valley on the backside of Castle Peak, losing almost 800 feet of elevation from what you just climbed earlier.  Another climb awaits exiting the valley, which will be persistent for the next few miles. 
Soon there is a junction for Warren Lake and Devil's Over Lake.  Take the trail to the right if you want to head to Warren Lake, but be aware there is another 800' drop down to the lake from here which will have to then be climbed back up to continue.  Taking the left hand junction toward Devil's Oven lake and the PCT, you will have great views of Devil's Over and Paradise Lakes along the way.
This section of trail is pretty rough with sections of loose rock to content with, but isn't anything that isn't easily navigatable.  Reaching the crest you will start to drop down as you parallel the PCT, eventaully meeting up with it in another couple miles. 
The last three miles of PCT area relatively banal, being mostly a forested hike with little views of any kind.  The Peter Grubb warming hut will be passed along the way, and there is a wmall lake on your right as you near the undercrossing fo the freeway once again, completing the loop and getting you close to the access trai where you parked.

The trailhead from the parking area described above is found just to the left of this information kiosk.
Kiosk at the parking area

There are helpful trail signs along the way, but it would be a good idea to have familiarity with which trails you will navigate on this loop as there are at least three different named ones along the way you will travel.
Trail markers

The connector trail passes by an unnamed lake early on in the trip.  This looks like it would have many mosquitos earlier in the summer.
Unnamed lake

After the first 1/2 mile you will reach the actual PCT, and will head toward Castle Pass as you make a turn to the left.
PCT Junction

Very helpful to have these tunnels under both directions of freeway traffic, or nobody would be able to get past the exceptionally busy highway.
Under the highway

The trail starts to climb quickly and steadily, but the benefit is that you get great views to the south very quickly.  Easily spotted from the left are Tinker Knob, Mt. Anderson, Granite Chief, Needle Peak, Lyon's Peak,and Mt. Lincoln above Soda Springs.
Looking south

The signpost here gives good information indication which direction to head for Warren Lake. 
Another junction

After about 4 miles you reach a crest in the trail.  Take the use trail to the right for about 1/4 mile and you will be rewarded with a great view high above Frog Lake.
Frog Lake cliffs

Back on the main trail you can get a glimpse of the trail far below, but it will drop even more into the bowl behind Castle Peak to the west.
A look ahead

The valley behind Castle Peak is pretty amazing, with lots of water and late season wildflowers in abundance even into September. 
Behind Castle Peak

Even managed to spot a peak bagger on top of Castle Peak from far below.
On the peak

After passing through the valley here is a look back at the way we came, dropping down from the high ridge in the middle.
Looking back

I wasn't expecting many wildflowers this late in the season, but there was a lot of water on the backside of the ridge and these columbine seemed to really be thriving!

A look to the east and toward Nevada as you start another climb out of the low spot behind Castle Peak.

Taken from a hike a few weeks earlier, you can see the terrain for Castle Peak, as well as the Frog Lake cliffs from this vantage point.  It is an interesting perspective of the area from today's hike from further south.
Looking north

At this junction you can make a detour a long way down to Warren Lake, or head to the left past Devil's Oven Lake to turn this into a loop hike.
Next junction

Warren Lake turned out to be very picturesque, far down in a canyon below Mt. Lola in the distance.
Warren Lake

It's impossible to not want to at least check out a lake with the name of Devil's Oven.  It was pretty nice, but again, it would be a bit of a scramble to get down to it from the trail.
Devil's Oven Lake

From this vantage point we had a great look at the popular Paradise Lake on the left, Devil's Oven Lake to the right, and Mt. Lola, the highest point in Sierra County in the middle.
Paradise and Devil's Oven Lakes

Coming up over the ridge from the lakes, we had a nice view to the west of Old Man Mountain, Grouse Ridge and even English Mountain in the far distance toward the right. 
Over the ridge

The loop trail skirts along the western side of Basin Peak, about halfway between the peak and the PCT below.  As the trails get close to converging, the big open meadow below Castle Peak comes into view.
Dropping to the PCT

This is the junction where the trail which loops around to the Warren Lake Trail leaves the PCT.  If going the opposite (clockwise) direction, look for this junction and head upward to the right.
Trail junction

The popular Peter Grubb ski hut is managed by the Sierra Club, and has this second story entrance in the backfor the winter when snows will easily be that deep.
Peter Grubb Hut

Interestingly enough, the outhouse had the same optional winter entrance as well.

A good view of Castle Peak from near Castle Pass, taking the junction to the left to follow the PCT for the rest of the loop.
Castle Peak

There is a small lake not even 50 feet from the busy Highway 80 as you near the undercrossing from the west side.  A very noisy spot along the way.
Near the undercrossing

Hike route going counter clockwise from the bottom left.
GPS Track of the hike