Adventure entry by Hayley Paronish | Engagement Manager
Hike Name: Snowshoe to the Johnson Canyon Overlook via Glacier Way Trail
Name of area/general location: Tahoe National Forest in Truckee, CA
Land Acknowledgement: This trail is primarily located on the ancestral homelands and traditional territories of the Washoe, Umatilla, and Walla Walla people. To learn more about the original residents and stewards of the lands, visit native-land.ca.
Trail rating: As a 3.9 mile out and back trail with a low sloping elevation gain of around 400ft, this trail is rated easy. However, depending on snow conditions, pack weight, and other factors, the trail may become slightly more difficult.
Permissible trail uses (dogs, horses, mountain bikes, others): Dogs are welcome and may be off-leash in some areas.
Description of the area, sights, wildlife, and any key markers on the trail: The Glacier Way Trail to the Johnson Canyon overlook is a multi-use trail popular among hikers, snow sport enthusiasts, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. The area’s versatility and stunning vistas attract outdoor enthusiasts throughout all four seasons. As the temperatures rise in the warmer months, your journey along the trail will treat you to a display of wildflowers that paint the landscape in vibrant shades of yellow and violet. When winter envelopes the canyon from late October to early April, the trail invites outdoor enthusiasts to a pristine snowy landscape with added adventure opportunities such as cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
On your way up to the Johnson Canyon overlook, you’ll meander through open clearings and serene wooded glades, where dense manzanita, jeffrey pines, fir, mountain alder, and aspens create a dynamic backdrop. The experience is often one of peace and serenity, especially in the early morning hours or after a fresh dusting of snow. Once you reach the Johnson Canyon overlook, you’ll have the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of Donner Lake, Castle Peak in the northwest, and the Sierra Crest to the south. If luck is on your side, you might even catch sight of a westbound train emerging from the historic Truckee train tunnels, which, incidentally, offers another fun summer or winter adventure.
Despite the potential challenges that snowshoers might encounter in certain conditions and terrains, the Glacier Way Trail to Johnson Canyon offers a relatively gentle incline and low elevation gain, making it an excellent choice for beginners looking to take on their first snowshoeing adventure.
A bit of history on Johnson Canyon:
The canyon now known as Johnson Canyon owes its name to a remarkable historical figure, Albert Johnson. Albert was a prominent figure in the region for over four decades during the latter half of the nineteenth century. He was a beloved local resident who held Truckee close to his heart. Among his many talents and roles, Albert was renowned for his exceptional fishing skills and served as a highly sought-after wilderness guide for the Donner Hotel and Saloon.
However, before 2006, the location, despite its association with Albert, bore an offensive name that referenced the color of his skin. Recognizing the need for change, a concerted effort was set in motion. With the assistance of Rich Spradling from the U.S. Forest Service, the Truckee Donner Land Trust spearheaded a petition to officially rename the area, thus paying a long-overdue tribute to Albert’s enduring legacy.
Directions to the trailhead: From Truckee, head west and take a right onto Northwood Blvd for 18 miles. Turn left onto Glacier Way where you’ll find the Glacier Way Trailhead parking area. Once you get onto the gravel trail, be sure to be on the lookout and follow the signs for Donner Lake Rim Trail on the right.
Areas to camp nearby: Winter camping in Truckee will be difficult, as many of the campgrounds are closed for the season. However, in the summer months, there are plenty of camping areas around Donner Memorial State Park.
Caution: While uncommon, avalanches can and do occur on steeper slopes in this area. Be cautious if you wander too far from the trail, and if you do, be sure to have the proper knowledge and safety equipment in case of an avalanche, tree well, or crevasse.