The turreted summit of 9,103-foot Castle Peak is a worthwhile destination for any crystal-clear day, when the panorama extends more than 160km north to Lassen Peak and west to the Diablo Range. But according to botanist Karen Wiese, the region’s diverse landscape—including “the lush meadow of Castle Valley, the dry slopes of Castle Peak and the towering volcanic summit”—yields seriously awesome flowers by mid-July.
From I-80 just east of Soda Springs, the route follows the Pacific Crest Trail northwest through Castle Valley, which Wiese describes as “a delightful subalpine meadow with Lewis’s monkeyflower, little elephant’s head, alpine shooting star, corn lily and monkshood.” Watch for an early-summer flower prize: the unusual steer’s head, a tiny pale pink flower whose petals resemble a steer’s horns and snout.
The ascent is moderate to Castle Pass, but the final kilometre to the summit will test your stamina. Use the flowers as your excuse—stop to catch your breath to admire carpets of pink star onion, spreading phlox, and sulphur buckwheat. Wiese’s summit tip: “Look just below the summit on the north side and you may discover Sierra primrose and rock fringe (both coloured a showy magenta pink).”
All told, the route is about 16km round trip. (There is a popular dirt road that cuts off almost 6.5km, but you’ll miss lots of flowers.)
DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD: Take the Castle Peak/Boreal Ridge exit off I-80 at Donner Summit. The Pacific Crest Trail begins on the south side of I-80; the dirt road shortcut begins on the north side, at the end of the frontage road.
Snow-covered peaks in winter, gushing waterfalls in spring, wildflower meadows and glistening lakes in summer, vibrant colours in fall—this is a land of dramatic and wild beauty. World-class mountain resorts circling turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe, and at Mammoth Lakes cater to all, with scenic ski trails in winter and trails and vistas in summer.
Yosemite Valley…is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and gold and wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” --photographer Ansel Adams
Yosemite National Park, a World Heritage Site, is here, roughly 3½ hours east of San Francisco. Whether you hike a mountain, ski the steeps, or lounge in a hot tub beneath a canopy of stars, you’ll find your perfect getaway.
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