2023: Getting off to a Snow Start

Insights into navigating the Sierra Nevada on the ADT: historical snowpack data, snow stations, and planning tips heading eastbound or westbound.

2023: Getting off to a Snow Start
The Sierra Nevada at Lake Tahoe - Photo by Joey C on Unsplash

The Sierra Nevada mountain range can present challenges for hikers on the American Discovery Trail. This article provides insights into navigating the range, including historical snowpack data, snow stations, and planning tips for hikers heading eastbound or westbound.

Heading Eastbound

How to Navigate the Sierra Nevada's Snowy Terrain

To begin eastbound on the American Discovery Trail in California, you must wait until the snowpack recedes in the Sierra Nevada to continue into the Nevada and Utah deserts. High snow years, like this year, with record amounts of snowfall and more on the way, could push this year's start into June or July. It's happened before – three times in the last 15 years.

To aid your planning, three Snow Stations are along the Tahoe Rim Trail/American Discovery Trail. To the west is the Palisades Tahoe Station. In the center is Tahoe City Cross Station above Tahoe City. And east of Lake Tahoe is the Mount Rose Ski Area Station.

Here are the first dates in the Spring and Summer that the snowpack at each station has receded to three inches or less over the last 15 years. Plus, averages and extremes.

You'll notice that Tahoe City is never a problem once you pass Palisades, but Mount Rose is different. The final column calculates the days you would have had to wait after Palisades to clear Mount Rose.

The good news is that even if you are delayed to summer and arrive at the Appalachian mountain range during winter, snow there is generally measured in inches and not hundreds of feet.

On average, planning for a Palisades crossing by Memorial Day usually sets you up for success – weather permitting!

Heading Westbound

Here's How to Cross the Sierra Nevada Before Winter Hits

For Westbounders, the goal is the exact opposite, with more left to chance and luck. Instead of just waiting for the snow to clear, you have to guess when to start early enough to clear the Sierra Nevada before the snow socks in the area, anywhere from early October through mid-November.

And also hope for a quiet summer/fall wildfire season.

Here are the first dates in the Fall that the snowpack at each snow station along the American Discovery Trail measured three inches or more over the last 15 years. Plus, averages and extremes.

Like hiking East to West, you read the chart above from right to left.

In 2016, if you reached Mount Rose in the east, you would have had a leisurely 15 more days to get up and over Palasaides. Conversely, in 2021, if you reached Mount Rose, you would have been almost a week too late.

On average, if you cross the Palisades by Halloween, you should be set to finish.  But there is little room for error in heading Westbound, as in only four out of the last 15 years has Palasaids received later early snow than Mount Rose.

Hike your Hike. - John.