Mount Ralston

3-star hike.
7 mile out-and-back • Hard difficulty.
Elevation 6,500 - 9,235 feet. Gain 2,735 feet.
El Dorado National Forest, Northern California.
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There are many sights to wonder over as you snake eastward along US-50 towards Lake Tahoe, but Mt. Ralston isn't one of them, despite being situated right next to the road. Not that it's unworthy, but simply because the 9,235ft peak is obscured from view.

The trail to Mt. Ralston peak is a no-nonsense, straight up-and-down affair beginning at the side of the road by Camp Sacramento. Forests of pine gradually recede as the route up the mountain takes you to higher elevations, revealing granite outcroppings and views of Lovers Leap to the east and Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort to the south. Once you've climbed around two-thirds of the way up the mountain the evergreens give way almost entirely to open expanses of grasses and rock. Occasionally here the trail disappears from view, but this becomes less of an issue at this stage since the summit of the mountain comes into sight.

The trail up the mountain is pleasant, challenging to some, but nothing spectacular. Yet this only makes the final payoff all the more overwhelming. The views from the summit of Mt. Ralston, across the Desolation Wilderness, Echo Lakes, Mount Tallac and Lake Tahoe are immediate and nothing short of stunning.

Take precautions when you pack for this hike, because the weather can change substantially during the half-mile elevation change. Also take note that a permit, free for day-use, should be obtained before heading into the Desolation Wilderness.

You can choose whether to make your journey a little shorter just 200ft from the trailhead. By bearing right up the fire trail rather than taking the switchbacks through the forest, you can lop a little off your overall journey.

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