Orion Trail - Inner and Outer Loops


Summary

Difficulty 3 Intermediate
Length 4.9 miles round trip
Starting
Elevation
6500 feet
Cumulative
Elevation
Change
+600, -600 feet
Navigation Road and marked trail
Time Half day
Season Late December through early April
Snowmobiles Not permitted [Please report illegal use of snowmobiles in this area.]
USGS Topo 7.5' series, Loon Lake
Start Junction of Ice House Road and snow-covered road to Loon Lake Campground. From Highway 50 turn north onto Ice House Road. Drive 24 miles to the intersection where you must turn right to stay on Ice House Road. Turn right and continue for 4.4 miles until you reach the snow-covered road to Loon Lake Campground. This location is 0.9 mile before the Loon Lake Chalet.


Description

This tour includes both the inner and outer loops that make up the Orion Trail. It includes skiing over wonderful touring terrain with vistas interspersed along the way. There are views of the peaks to the south, of moon-like Loon Lake to the north, and of the brown face of Brown Mountain looming above the trees.

Image of Loon Lake
Loon Lake

Image of Brown Mountain
Brown Mountain

When snow conditions are good, this tour offers perfect slopes, rarely steep, to practice downhill turns of all types. Try to visit here when spring-like conditions afford easy travel over corn (ego) snow and turning is a pleasure both in the open areas and areas with scattered trees. Keep in mind that at this low elevation any powder snow quickly turns to mush as the temperature warms rapidly.

A word of caution; for most of the distance this tour does not follow obvious terrain so people unfamiliar with the route will want to carefully follow the blue diamond markers and signs.

If you are looking for a shorter and slightly easier tour, you should consider the shorter Orion Trail tour that only includes the inner loop, but offers many of the same features of the two-loop, longer, version.

The Orion Trail was conceived and planned by dedicated members of the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol and marked by the Patrol and volunteers from Snowlands Network.

Mileage Log
Numbers in parentheses
correspond to mileage points on map

Miles: 0.0 - 0.4
Elevation change:-50 feet

From the trailhead (1) ski northeast on the snow-covered road for 0.4 mile until you reach the sign marking the Van Vleck turnoff (2). This tour follows the trail that heads east from the sign toward the Van Vleck Bunkhouse.

Miles: 0.4 - 0.9
Elevation change: +50 feet

Ski east and then southeast for a total of 0.5 mile until you reach a trail junction (3) where the Orion Trail branches off from the Van Vleck Bunkhouse trail. This junction is marked with a sign. You have passed the trail junction if you find yourself descending to the Rubicon River.

Miles: 0.9 - 1.4
Elevation change: +150 feet

Veer left at the trail junction to continue on the Orion Trail, and follow the marked trail as it loops east and then north of 0.5 mile until you reach a ridgetop (4). At the ridgetop you will encounter another signed trail junction. The Orion Trail's outer loop and Brown Mountain are to the east (right), and the Orion Trail's inner loop and the trailhead are to the west (left). This is a wonderful place to enjoy a snack or lunch while enjoying the scenery.

Also noteworthy is another vantage point along this section of the trail. As the marked trail starts to turn north and head up a shallow gully, there is a low-lying ridge to the east (right). A short detour onto the ridge will afford you a good view to the southeast.

Miles: 1.4 - 1.6
Elevation change: -50 feet

Turn east (right) and ski down the broad ridge for 0.2 miles until you reach a broad saddle (5). Here you will encounter another signed trail junction that marks the start of the outer loop. Although the loop ahead can be skied in either direction, it will be described counter-clockwise because this direction results in the largest open area being downhill.

Miles: 1.6 - 1.7
Elevation change: +50 feet

Ski southeast for 0.1 mile until you reach an obvious vantage point (6). Brown Mountain is visible in the distance. Many skiers refer to this as lunch rock though with deep snow you might not see the rock.

Image of Brown Mountain from Lunch Rock
Brown Mountain from Lunch Rock

Miles: 1.7 - 2.3
Elevation change: +150 feet

Ski northeast for 0.6 mile until you reach the highest point of this tour at the southwest base of Brown Mountain (7). You will emerge from the trees just as you reach the highest point of the tour. Here and just ahead you will have your best views of stark Loon Lake to the northwest.

Image of great touring terrain on way to base of Brown Mountain
Great touring terrain on way to base of Brown Mountain

Miles: 2.3 - 2.8
Elevation change: -150 feet

Ski north down an open slope and then west through open and lightly wooded terrain for a total of 0.5 mile until you reach the west end of a broad high point (8).

Image of Loon Lake from open slope near base of Brown Mountain
Loon Lake from open slope near base of Brown Mountain

Image of lightly wooded terrain
Easy skiing through lightly wooded terrain

Miles: 2.8 - 3.3
Elevation change: +50, -100 feet

Ski south for 0.5 mile until you reach the broad saddle and trail junction (5) where you started the outer loop.

Miles: 3.3 - 3.5
Elevation change: +50 feet

Ski west up a broad ridge for 0.2 mile until you reach the ridgetop and trail junction (4). Now you are back on the inner loop.

Miles: 3.5 - 4.1
Elevation change:
-200 feet

Ski west (straight) and follow the marked trail as it first passes on level terrain to the north of a broad high point and then drops for a total of 0.6 mile until you reach the snow-covered summer Wilderness trailhead (9). An outhouse may be visible at the trailhead.

Miles: 4.1 - 4.2
Elevation change: Nil

Ski on the snow-covered road to the southwest for 0.1 mile until you reach a road junction (10). To the north (right) is a summer campground and the tour continues to the south (left).

Miles: 4.2 - 4.4
Elevation change: -50 feet

Turn south (left) and follow the snow-covered road as it loops south and then west for a total of 0.2 mile until you reach another road junction (11). To the north (right) is the boat ramp and the tour continues to the south (left).

Miles: 4.4 - 4.9
Elevation change: +100 feet

Turn south (left) and follow the road as it turns southwest for a total of 0.5 mile back to the trailhead (1).

Elevation Profile
Elevation profile
Link to elevation profile
Link to waypoint data
Link to full page map
Link to see and submit reviews and corrections about tour