A few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to tackle a hike I’d never done before and tackle a new-to-me peak, Tinker Knob on the Pacific Crest Trail. Tinker Knob is a landmark peak on the Sierra Crest between Truckee and Squaw Valley. It’s odd, nose-like shape is visible from Donner Summit and I-80. It’s apparently named after James Tinker, the proprietor of the hotel at Tinker’s Station (now known as Soda Springs) and his prominent nose.
There are a few ways to access Tinker Knob – from Olympic Valley via the Granite Chief Trail and the PCT, from Coldstream Canyon via the Coldstream Trail, and from Donner Summit via the PCT, which is the way I went. This route was about 15 miles, 2,300+ feet of climbing and it took me a little under six hours. (I started my Garmin a little late on the Strava track below).
I started my hike parking at the Donner Peak/Pacific Crest Trailhead. This area can get really crowded, especially on summer weekends, so the earlier you arrive the better, and be sure not to park in no parking areas.
The Donner Peak section of the PCT starts with a stout climb up rocky granite “stairs” cut into the hillside before transitioning into a dirt trail through Sugar Bowl Resort. This section is about 540 feet of climbing in a little over a mile before a trail intersection.
Turn right to continue on the short Mount Judah section of the PCT (the left junction heads toward Donner Peak). After less than a mile, there’s well-signed a trail intersection where you could take a sharp left to detour and summit Mount Judah. This route had enough climbing for me already, so I decided to skip it for this trip.
The next section Judah to Tinker Knob, will take you to your goal. Shortly after the intersection with the Judah detour there’s a very short digression that’s worth taking. It leads you to a beautiful overlook at Roller Pass, named because wagons could be winched up this pass, not disassembled and carried like they had to be over Donner Pass.
After some more hiking through the trees, the trail opens up along the shoulder of Mount Lincoln and you can see for miles and miles. This is the start of a long, exposed section with no shade so be sure to have sun protection. I imagine it can be pretty hot up here if there’s no breeze or really windy. I got lucky and had just enough of a breeze to be comfortable, but I wasn’t being blown around or anything.
The entire section climbs about 1,450 feet in five miles, but it’s not straight uphill. There’s a significant downhill that drops you over 250 feet about 0.85 miles in. There are also some really nice, flat portions of the trail that are easy to cruise on. Additionally, most of the trail is nicely packed dirt, though there are some sandy sections and loose rocky areas where paying attention to your feet (especially when you’re tired!) is important.
The PCT does not go over the top of Tinker Knob, so if you want to summit you’ll have to detour and be comfortable with a little class 4 scrambling. The trail to the summit isn’t on Trail Forks, but it exists and it’s pretty obvious, when you’re below the summit. The first half of the trail is just a steep hike, but then you’ll have to do a little route finding. I needed to use both my hands and feet to climb the last little bit to the summit. I didn’t think it was too difficult, but I was extra careful since I was hiking solo.
The 360 degree view from the top is incredible! It gave me a perspective on the area that I hadn’t had before, and I could even see into the Lake Tahoe Basin. After hanging out for a bit, I (very carefully, very slowly) picked my way back down to the trail and started back towards home.
Once off the sketchy part, I realized that I forgot to take a summit selfie, so I made do with a slightly-below-summit selfie that included the Knob itself.
Even though this hike is an out and back, the views as I headed north were very different, so I wasn’t bored. I especially loved looking into the huge and impressive American River Canyon, which I rarely see on my typical hikes.
I hiked along, occasionally breaking into a slow run to give my hiking muscles a break, until I arrived at the last real climb of the hike. I plodded up this, stopping occasionally to stretch and catch my breath, and finally made it to the top. I was super tired after this exertion, but my hips and knees were even more sore, so I did occasionally break out into a “run” in the smoother sections.
Once at the granite step downclimb section I slowed down considerably. I was so tired and I definitely couldn’t run on this technical section, so I just took it as gingerly as I could. When I got back home, I joked with my husband that I was going for an “SKT” or slowest known time on that segment. Finally, finally, after at least 6 hours, I got back to my car and collapsed in the driver’s seat.
This is the longest hike I’ve done in a long time (maybe ever?) and exhausting, but so worth it. If you’re looking for a gorgeous hike that introduces you to a great section of the PCT with ever changing views and great wildflowers, I’d highly recommend the hike to Tinker Knob on the PCT.