The Rowton Peak hike with its spectacular vistas is arguably TDLT’s “signature” hike for the Royal Gorge acquisition. The route to Rowton Peak is in an area of Royal Gorge where there are a number of crisscrossing cross-country ski trails made more complicated by a number of unsigned “use” trails. There are numerous ways to get to Rowton Peak, one of the best vistas on the entire Royal Gorge property.
The route described below is probably the least complicated way to the Peak. Some of the trail intersections have very tall Royal Gorge trail signs; other intersections have no signage. Because of these unsigned trail intersections, use of a GPS device to track distances from the trailhead can be very helpful. Most of the trails in this part of the Royal Gorge property are multiuse, please respect other’s use of the trails.
Park at the Hoelter Hall Trailhead. For directions to the trailhead, see the HOW TO GET THERE on the Royal Gorge Overview page.
From the Hoelter Hall Trailhead, starting at the kiosk at the far end of the parking area, turn left uphill and south onto the trail. In a short distance, this feeder trail merges with one of the main Royal Gorge ski trails. Bearing left, follow this main trail generally north and parallel to the paved Soda Springs Road, which is below and to the left. In 0.4 of a mile, the trail descends and crosses a creek with a large culvert. Another trail comes in from the left. Cross the culvert bearing right at this junction. A couple hundred yards after the culvert the trail comes to a four-way intersection. Go straight and uphill. There is a Royal Gorge sign marking this as the Claim Jumper Trail. Claim Jumper is a gentle climb lined with seasonal wildflowers.
At 0.9 miles from the trailhead, the trail forks. The right fork looks wider and is the continuation of Claim Jumper, but go LEFT which is the more heavily used trail in summer. There are no signs at this fork. In another 0.2 mi, a small trail comes in from the left and about 100 feet beyond another small trail departs to the left. Stay to the right in both cases, even though at your second right the trail to the left is more heavily used. After another 0.2 of a mile, another small trail joins from the left. This one forks before joining, making a triangle of trails about 10 feet on each side. There are no signs. Bear slightly to the right and continue through the triangle intersection.
At 1.4 miles, the trail reaches a small meadow. At the east and upper edge of the meadow, the trail you are hiking on crosses another trail. A rusted metal sign on your right “Hewitt Rim Trail to Rowton Peak” encourages you to turn right and follow this trail to Rowton Peak. Ignore the sign and continue east and up in the same direction you have been hiking. This route to Rowton Peak is much more scenic at only a very small cost in added distance. (Short detour: Turning left takes you in less than five minutes to a vista point that provides views of Summit Valley and Castle Peak.) Now instead of turning left or right, continue straight ahead climbing steadily for about half a mile. Your trail crests suddenly onto Razorback Ridge where you are treated to astonishing views. You are 600 ft above the trailhead.
The views from the ridgeline make the roughly two-mile hike to this point more than worthwhile. Crow’s Nest is immediately to the east but may be hidden by nearby trees. An ad-hoc trail can get you near the top of Crow's Nest, but the summit requires more serious rock climbing. The upper parts of the North Fork of the American River drainage are spread to the south and the Granite Chief Range including Needle and Lyons Peaks form part of the skyline beyond.
To continue the hike, turn right and follow the spine of Razorback Ridge west and then southwest. The trail climbs up and down. The Donner Summit area, Castle Peak, Ice Lakes, Devil's Peak, Snow Mountain, and The Royal Gorge come into view before long. On each side of the trail wildflowers grow in profusion during early and mid-summer. The south edge of the ridge drops off precipitously. Erosion has exposed lava flows, mudflows, and other fascinating volcanic rock formations. Look for Sierra Juniper trees that grow along the ridgeline just west of the high point, which is marked by a washing machine sized rock just off the trail on the left.
Less than a half-mile beyond the rock, the Razorback Ridge Trail turns sharply right. There should be a sign indicating that the continuation of the ridge trail west and up is now heading for Lola's Lookout. Follow the Lola’s Lookout sign. A short climb takes you to Rowton Peak, marked by a large rock cairn and a Coast and Geodetic Survey marker. The peak is 3.3 miles and 950 feet above the trailhead. This is a great place for a break. You’ll find shade in the trees just below the peak on the south side with spectacular views.
When you’re ready to head down, return to the rock cairn and look for the rusted iron sign that identifies the Rowton Peak Trail and advises that it is for foot traffic only. The trail descends from Rowton Peak toward the northwest along the top of a volcanic cliff. About halfway down you can marvel at a natural bridge that has been eroded from the lava; it is just off the trail to the left.
Where the Rowton Peak Trail meets an old service road, turn left downhill onto the road. (Alternate route down: A couple hundred feet from the intersection, the Hewlett Rim Trail crosses and the Sierra Watch trail departs on the right. The Sierra Watch Trail is for hiking and will get you back to the Hoelter-Hall trailhead fastest.) Continue down the road, which is the Tiny Tim Trail on Royal Gorge maps but unmarked. It twists and turns as it descends steeply through a forested area. At the bottom, it makes a sharp right turn and crosses a small, wildflower filled meadow, 0.9 miles from Rowton Peak. (Short detour: Near the end of the meadow and next to a large fir tree on the left, is a sign to Bill and Flora's Point. It is a little less than 0.25 miles to Bill & Flora’s Point where there is a picnic table and a large open area with breathtaking views down into the American River Canyon and across to Point Mariah, another beautiful Land Trust hike.)
Continue straight through the meadow northwest and then gradually down on the unmarked Tiny Tim Trail. Stay straight ahead on the Tiny Tim Trail and in 0.7 miles you come to a T-junction. Turn right and in 50 yards, you will arrive at the trailhead and parking area