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Thunder Mountain Loop Trail

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El Dorado National Forest

Thunder Mountain Loop Trail is a 12 mile loop trail located near Kirkwood, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, trail running, camping, and nature trips and is best used from July until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

Distance: 12.0 miles Elevation Gain: 2,552 feet Route Type: Loop

dog friendly



nature trips





wild flowers




7 months ago

I loved the views but had snow on part of the trail right before the main rock, where you see the whole valley and lakes. I was too afraid to walk the narrow, slippery trail with the most views. Struggled to make the whole loop because had new hiking shoes on that gave me blisters, so make sure you get shoes that are comfy and long socks that protect your ankles. The other thing I did not like is that we parked on one part of the loop (Thunder Mountain) but when we finish we ended up at horse Canyon and we had to walk another mile down on sidewalk of the freeway 88 where the cars drive too close to the narrow sidewalk, since it was my first time, it kicked my butt. If I do it again, will try to do half loop.

8 months ago

This is a good training hike. We are doing half dome in September. went clockwise and did entire loop. took 6.5 hours stopped for pictures and a quick lunch. Incline the first 3-4 miles then back down for a bit. can see silver lake but you dont get close to it. great views of kirkwood and surrounding valleys. keep checking you map as the trail markers are a bit confusing. thought we weree done when we got to horseshoe trail head parking lot. didn't like that we had to cross hwy 88 near that point and hike road to a small camp ground. watch for trail signs. lots of incline on this part of trail. Felt like it took forever. Then you cross back over 88 to trail head parking lot.

9 months ago

Great hike. Epic views! Suggest early mornings in the hot summer months because at the higher elevations where shade is minimal the heat can get you. A good 4 miles up to the peak and 4 miles back to parking. Lots of wild flowers and noisy grass hoppers, lots of bees and butterflies, did this hike last year around the same time and there was a couple of cans with notebooks in at the peak so you could sign and/or write a message, the can and books are gone. Kind of a bummer. So if you read this before you go, please be kind and take a can with some paper and a couple of pens so we can keep the tradition alive. The altitude is noticeable if you are not accustomed to it, do remember to take breaks as needed when you do get some shade in the higher parts of the trail, and pack sufficient water and snacks. This hike is beautiful, there is some grinding involved but not too hard for the average hiker. Saw a few mountain bikers. Always practice courtesy on the trail.

9 months ago

Completed 8/10/19; quite easy given the altitude and the varied terrain made it very enjoyable. We took a wrong turn once we were across the street at the camp sites and had to scramble all the way up the hill to relocate the trail, but no big deal. No mosquitoes but very high winds on the ridge.

9 months ago

Great trail. Pretty hard for this 70 yo. Still lots of flowers and amazing views

Mon Dec 17 2018

Amazing trail to hike during the spring when the flowers are in full bloom. The first 4 miles are uphill but definitely worth the climb. Was fortune to witness the beautiful sunset coming back. Fun hike to do.

Tue Dec 11 2018

great hike but next time i would skip 1/2 of it after thunder mountain not much to see i would go to thunder mountain N back the go to the last mile an a half where thete are cool views can't wait till wild flower season

Mon Nov 19 2018

This was an amazing hike. Started at 7:30am with a 34 degree air temp, no wind. Moving time to the summit was just over 2 hours. Once you pass a trail junction near the summit that says .5 miles, there will be a Y in the trail. If you follow the map, you will be taking the left trail. This will add .8 miles to your hike and take you through some very gnarly terrain before reaching the summit. If you take the right trail, which is not on the map, it is a more direct route to the summit, not as gnarly, and shaves .8 miles off your hike. I'd say this hike is easy to moderate. Just enough to get the blood flowing good at times but very pleasant and a great warm up hike. The hike to the summit and back can range from 7.6 to 9.2 miles depending on if you take that short cut or not. Well worth the effort indeed!

Sun Nov 04 2018

Typed ‘Thunder Mountain Trailhead’ on google maps and it led the way. Pay attention about 300 yards up, it’s a quick turn out. You’ll know you got it when you see the large trail head sign with map at the back of the parking area. This is a well marked trail that we took our little dog on. Carried him over the sharper rocks but it was a nice hike. Got the heat rate up at times and you really experience a wide range of conditions and terrain.

Sat Oct 13 2018

First 4 miles uphill, the rest is downhill, except for short push up the Castle point. Great for hiking, trail running, mountain biking, rock climbing, bouldering, it’s a great hike with great views! December 13, 2018, no snow on trail, some water in the streams.

Mon Sep 24 2018

Really beautiful throughout the entire hike. - varied terrain and good amounts of shade. I agree with previous folks, it’s windy and well marked. Tons of bear scat - didn’t see or hear any, but they are definitely around. I also saw and heard quite a few hunters first thing this morning.

Mon Sep 24 2018

A wonderful hike with a group of people today. We started at the trail head and went clockwise. A lot of climbing in the first 4 miles. Great hike and would do it again.

Fri Sep 14 2018

pretty trail very windy up on Thunder Mountain, make sure to grab some layers and ear muffs (or whatever protects your ears:) ) I think I ended up doing the loop backwards because I got the crazy incline in the beginning along with beautiful mountain views and then gradually descended too 7,100 followed by some uphill action at the very end to get back to the parking lot.

Wed Aug 29 2018

Great hike and views all around.

Sat Aug 25 2018

Great hike. First part nice and gentle going down to the lake through the woods followed by a steep but progressive climb of 2000 feet to the top. It’s very dry and dusty now but the view over the Sierras remains spectacular.

Sun Jul 15 2018

I enjoyed this hike, but did not do the full loop. I went about 4 miles out, following the ridge above Kirkwood. It's got magnificent views and lots of wildflowers. A note for those who hike with dogs: I went the second week of July and there were no natural water sources for them along that part of the trail. So bring enough water for your dogs. Even though I brought water, my dogs were still hot and tired by the time I got back to the trailhead.

Tue Jul 03 2018

Absolutely gorgeous! I’ve never seen so many wildflowers! Incredible views. I highly recommend this hike!

Tue Jul 03 2018

Great Vista with well maintained trail. Only went to top of Kirkwood and didn't complete loop but again the view was tremendous

Sun Jun 24 2018

There is still snow that turned some folks back (for us that meant we had the top all to ourselves). From theHwy 88 TH it's up all the way but most of the climb is gradual until you actually get to Thunder Mountain itself. After passing through some beautiful wildflower fields and beautiful vistas we climbed above tree line. There were some small sections that required a bit of scrambling but not too bad. Actually getting out to the "top" can be a bit tricky and potentially treacherous but the views will not disappoint.

Sat Sep 02 2017

We started from Thunder Mtn. trailhead and headed towards Kirkwood. Was a great hike until we made the turn at the bottom of the loop at Horse Canyon Trail. Once we hit the Horse Canyon parking lot, we ran into private property and decided to hike the last few miles back in 88. App is accurate at about 12 miles. The altitude is real, we drank more water than we normally would have.

Thu Aug 31 2017

Great trail.Some confusion coming back to hgw.88.Beautiful view from the ridge over the canyon.

horseback riding
Fri Aug 18 2017

I'm done this on horseback a few times - long ride, crossing the highway twice isn't fun but there are such spectacular views it's well worth it. Horses should be in pretty good condition or you'll have to stop once in a while for a rest.

Mon Jul 24 2017

Started the trail at 8 am Saturday morning, made it to the top with my 50 pounds of gear by noon. Made camp at 9200 feet of elevation. Training at altitude for High Sierra Trail/Mt Whitney in 2 weeks. I was surprised at the amount of snow still present. Did some exploring and practicing with my gear, melted snow for water etc. Great views and a decent challenge with so much weight, I stopped frequently due to heavy breathing, a great workout. Overnight camping was a blast but you'll need to put in the effort to prep a flat spot for your tent. Broke camp Sunday morning and make it back to the truck in about 2 hours. What a great local trail we have here.

Sat Jul 22 2017

Beautiful views! decent hike, just a few steeper parts

Mon Oct 10 2016

Great hike with fantastic views

Fri Sep 16 2016

Awesome trail I've done many times slightly different than the route displayed . The hike we take gets us closer to the campgrounds at silver lake on the way back.

Thu Aug 11 2016

The hike to the summit is awesome, but the loop trail is not worth the extra miles. Once you're close to Horse Canyon trailhead and turn onto Castle Point trail, you parallel Hwy 88 for a short distance, then cross over the highway and walk on a forest service road. It's hot, you're tired, and all the while you hear nothing but cars going by.

Fri Jul 15 2016

This review is for the portion from the Trailhead to the summit and back. Great place to hike with awesome views of the surrounding areas. Went in mid July and most of the snow was gone. Just a few patches remained. I'd rate this as a moderate hill as the incline really works the legs and the decline can be tough on the knees and feet. The overall climb from the trailhead to the summit is about 1800 ft and about 7 miles round trip. Make sure to have plenty of sunscreen as once you clear the tree line you are at the mercy of the sun. Also it can be very windy up there. When my group was there winds were around 30-40mph. There were a couple of times it blew us a step over. Recommend looking at the weather as temperatures can be in the 60's the higher you go. Make sure to pack the right clothes. Overall a great hike though and I recommend it for nearly everyone except the really young or those who have a tough on inclines/declines.

Sat Jul 09 2016

It had some awesome views of the surrounding mountains and Silver Lake

Mon May 16 2016

Due to the amount of snow still at the top and on the back side of Thunder Mtn this trail is much more than a Medium level trail and in some spots very very very dangerous! I did this trail clock wise, with shoe chains on and a day pack. What I needed was an ice pick, helmet and a 2nd day do finish the trail. The trail was ice covered making it much slower than a normal hike or snow shoe. We completed the loop in 7.75 hours of none stop hiking. Longest stop was 5 min. and a quick look at the view from Thunder Mtn. This is not a safe hike for newbies during the spring! Lots of creeks to cross, snow covered trail is not marked, lots of falling into melted undersnow and sliding down hills. I suggest waiting until after July or August. If you snow shoe this trail in the winter I suggest having a radio beacon and rope. I think I"ll do the trail c'clock wise next time. Clock wise was brutal.! We were the only people on the trail and only saw tracks from a solo hiker from a few days before us. I'll go back in the summer to do the loop again.

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