Castle Ridge Soaring Site

Boreal, CA

Description: This alpine site is located north of Interstate 80 between Sacramento and Truckee in the Tahoe National Forest, near the Pacific Crest Trail. An enormous high altitude bowl facing the prevailing SW wind guarentees the best lift around, but access requires a ride on a bumpy dirt road and hiking in a mile and up 1000 feet.

Location: Heading west on Interstate 80, drive about 14 miles beyond the junction with Highway 20, and turn off at the Boreal/Castle Peak exit. Turn left/north at the stop sign and go under the freeway. Set your odometer here, and continue up the hill to the right/east. Follow the paved road as it turns back north, through the dirt parking area and onto the dirt road through the green gate, and veer right at the fork at 0.2 miles. At 0.7 miles, veer left up the hill. There are other small spurs, but stick to the main road. At 1.7 miles, park at the cul-de-sac, and gather up your gear. Begin the hike by taking the broad trail up the hill on the NW side of the parking area. Keep to the main trail (not taking the right spur that doubles back to Donner Summit/I-80) until you get to the saddle in the low ridge a short distance in. Here, turn right/east onto the more primative but well traveled trail following the spine of the ridge toward Castle Peak. Follow this rocky trail beyond the exposed area, back into the forest near the top, to the junction of Castle Ridge with Castle Peak. Make your way NW along the ridge and pick a spot to fly.

Flying and Cautions: In the afternoon, the "delta breeze" from the SW in the valley is a 40mph gale directly facing this slope. At an altitude of 8700 feet ASL, the lift at this site is strong and smooth, and this site has an absolutely huge lift band. The site is an enormous bowl about a mile long that concentrates the lift, and towers over Round Valley and the Pacific Crest Trail below.  This is the finest, smoothest, biggest, fastest lift (hands down) that I have ever seen.  The gradient on the back side is well defined, and there is little turbulence to mess with tracking at ballistic speeds under the wind.  At this altitude, the air seems smooth as a baby’s backside, and I find I need much less ballast than I would expect given the wind and flight speeds.   I can crank up speeds dymanic soaring on the back side as high as I dare, and the gradient position is very stable.  In the morning (10:00 am  to 1:00 pm), the air is very smooth, but the heat on the slope in the afternoon makes the lift cycle a little later in the day, with peak winds around 2:00 pm.

The dirt road in is rough in places. To drive all the way in, I'd say the higher ground clearance of a truck or SUV is required, though I don't think 4WD would be. I am continually surprised though to see less equiped vehicles on this sort of road, maybe with a more patient driver than I am.

This is not a official Forest Service trail, and it shows--the trail is steep and rocky, though reasonably well marked, and with a little panting, not too bad. I recommend good boots, with the usual things for an alpine hike (water, food, first-aid kit, sun protection lotion, etc). Be careful with your footing—you will be checking out he scenery one second and brushing the gravel off of your elbos the next otherwise.  A lesiurely hike in takes an hour and forty minutes to the primary site near the base of Basin peak, and back down about half  that. You can instead take the Pacific crest trail to the west side of Basin Peak, then follow a jeep trail up over the top of Basin Peak, but the hike is longer and footing maybe not as good.

As with any hike in the mountains, check the weather forcasts carefully before you go.  In particular, if the forcasts call for higher humidity and thunderstorms in the afternoon, forget it.  You definitely don’t want to be on a mountain ridge sporting an antennae with any electrical storms in the area.

Remember that you are an ambassidor of R/C soaring while you are there.  It is great fun flying with the eagles there, but people can see you flying from miles away, so go easy on the wildlife.  Say hello to the many hikers you will see, and make very sure you don’t hit any of them with your plane.  Pack out everything, and try to stay on the trails.

GPS coordinates:  You don’t need them, but if you have a GPS unit, a little guidence can add to your confidence.  The 100 yard wooded area near the juction of Castle ridge with Castle peak has many short small trails, but the coordinates below detail the most direct route with the best trail.




Elevation (ft)








Parking area and trail head





440 feet

Take a right/east turn here to head up the ridge from the Pacific Crest Trail





0.9 mile

Turn right/south here and go 150 feet for a better trail through the woods





0.9 mile

From this larger trail to Castle Peak, turn left/east here to a smaller trail to the ridge.





1.0 mile

From this fork, take the left/north lower and smaller short cut trail to the ridge trail.





1.1 mile

Juction of the short cut with the ridge trail.  Go left/north along the ridge trail.





2.2 miles

Primary flying site, with a few trees for sun/wind shelter.

Video:  These two 15 second MPEG videos were captured with a digitital camera at 4 frames per second, so sorry about the resolution and jerky motion, but they tell the story.  That particular day, there was some sort of butterfly migration happening—those black flashes are butterflies, not bad data.

CASTLE1.MPG  On the back side, Rob Crockett dynamic soaring the Extreme, aileron rolls in the gradient.

CASTLE2.MPG  DS’ing the Extreme again, with figure eights and butterflies.

Photographs: The picture above is about 100 feet down from the south end of the slope looking north at Basin peak.  More photos and captions below.


TopoZone topographic map of the site. At Castle Pass, turn right/NE and follow the ridge trail (not marked) to the north side of Castle Peak.

Yahoo map of the Castle Peak/Boreal Ridge Area. Not very helpful.

TerraServer Sat Photo of the site. The meadow in the center is in the middle of Round Valley. Castle Pass is at the bottom center, with Castle Peak at the lower right.

Home Page.

Rob Crockett, 8/17/2000

Topographic map of the hike looking north.  The parking area is the first green dot at the bottom of the image, and the flying site is the last green dot at the top of the image.  The green dots correspond to the GPS waypoints.  The third green dot from the bottom is actually two dots—they are very close together.

Looking west back down the trail coming up the ridge, with the parking lot in the center of the image.

Telephoto, from the same location above, of the parking area near the small clearing (left lower), and the ridge saddle.

Facing SW from the trail up the ridge.   The ideal time is just after the summit clears of snow with the wildflowers in bloom, here around the first of August.

The last few hundred yards on the trail before the primary site.  Rob Crockett on the left, Art Noto on the right, each with two planes.

Phil Seargent (left) and Art Noto gear up.  Photo showing Castle Peak in the background at the south end of the slope.

 The front side of the slope, looking down on Round Valley.

The curve of the slope puts the best lift right in the middle.  The Extreme taking a lesiurely pylon turn on the front side to cool off after the back side.

Art Noto (lower right) pilots his 60 inch span Eliminator, dynamic soaring on the back side overlooking Truckee to the SE.

At the base of Basin Peak with the primary flying site in the background.  Art takes his Eliminator by the landing area to check conditions.