The Rowton Peak hike 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 others use of the trails.
Park at the Hoelter Hall Trailhead. To get to the trailhead, turn left at a small TDLT trailhead sign that’s on the left side of Soda Springs Rd, shortly before the asphalt ends and the road becomes a dirt road. From the parking area, turn left onto the trail just beyond the kiosk at the end of the parking area; this is the Reindeer Trail. After a little less than a half mile along Reindeer, the trail crosses a dry wash and another trail comes in from the left. Bear right at this intersection. A couple hundred yards after the wash the trail comes to an intersection where you are faced with three forks. Take the middle fork and follow the Royal Gorge Claim Jumper trail sign. Claim Jumper begins as a gentle climb lined with seasonal wildflowers and then becomes steeper through the forest.
At 0.9 mi from the trailhead, the trail forks – take the left fork which is the more heavily used trail. In another 0.2 mi, a small trail comes into Claim Jumper from the left. In another 20 yards, another trail joins from the left. Bear slightly to the right where the second trail intersects Claim Jumper. At 1.3 miles, the trail forks again. Taking the right fork leads to Rowton Peak. (The left fork leads climbs a short distance to a ridge that provides views of Summit Valley and across the valley to Castle Peak and other peaks along the Pacific Crest north of Interstate 80.) In a hundred yards, the right fork enters a small meadow at the upper end of which is a Royal Gorge Bogus Basin trail sign. Follow the sign that points to the right (the trail you are on goes straight past this sign, do not turn left or right). Beginning at this point, the trail climbs more steeply and in a half mile (1.9 miles from the trailhead) reaches a ridgeline and the Razorback Ridge Trail. At this point, you will have ascended just over 600 feet.
The views from the ridgeline make the two-mile climb more than worthwhile. There are expansive views of Crow’s Nest, the upper parts of the North Fork of the American River drainage, and the Granite Chief Wilderness area. At the ridgeline, turn right. Razorback Ridge stretches out to the southwest and the trail climbs up and down along the spine of the ridge with remarkable views extending beyond the Donner Summit area. The south edge of the ridge drops off precipitously as erosion-exposed ancient geology exhibits lava flows, mudflows, and fascinating volcanic rock formations. Look for the twisted trunks of Sierra Juniper trees that grow along the stark ridgeline. On each side of the trail wildflowers grow in profusion during early and mid-summer.
After about a half mile, the trail passes a large rock, which is the high point on the Razorback Ridge Trail. In a little less than a half mile beyond the rock, the Razorback Ridge Trail turns sharply right downhill and there is a Royal Gorge trail sign for ‘Lola’s Lookout’ straight ahead. Follow the Lola’s Lookout sign. A short climb takes you up to Rowton Peak where there is a USGS marker and a large rock cairn. The peak is 3.3 miles and 950 feet of ascent from the trailhead. This is a great place for a break and you’ll find shade in the trees just below the peak. Enjoy the spectacular view of Devil’s Peak, Snow Mountain, Castle Peak and numerous peaks along the Pacific Crest.
When you’re ready to head down, continue past the rock cairn onto a newly built trail that passes a number of unusual volcanic formations as it drops down from Rowton Peak along the edge of a volcanic cliff. Where the new trail intersects with an old service road, turn left (downhill). The trail passes twists and turns through a forested area, at the end of which it makes a sharp right turn and enters a small, wildflower-filled meadow, 0.9 mi from Rowton Peak. In the middle of the meadow is a Royal Gorge Tiny Tim trail sign. About 200 yards past the trail sign, next to a large fir tree, is an unmarked trail to the left. It’s a little less than an easy quarter mile to Bill and Flora’s Point, where there is a picnic table in the shade and a large open area with breathtaking views down into the American River Canyon and across to Point Mariah, another beautiful Land Trust hike. Retrace your steps to the Tiny Tim trail and turn left. In 0.7 miles, Tiny Tim intersects with Reindeer; turn right and in two hundred yards, the trailhead and parking area will be on your right.