The history of Donner Summit is unique. Native Americans crossed it for thousands of years. Wagon trains crossed the Summit beginning in 1844. The Transcontinental Railroad followed in the 1860s. The first transcontinental highway, the Lincoln Highway, came in 1913, which became the Victory Highway, and then as Highway 40, became part of the the first recognized numbered U.S. highway system. It became a designated year-round highway in 1932.
There were many industries: railroad, logging, lumber, dairy, ice harvesting, skiing, and hotels. And, there were colorful characters: visionaries, pioneers, a spy, embezzlers, gamblers, and even an escaped Nazi POW.
The 20 Mile Museum at Donner Summit brings history to life with dozens of interpretive signs placed along Old Highway 40, each of which explains the history of the sign’s location, displays historical photographs, tells a good story, and lists activities to do right there.
The “museum”, actually a 20-mile route, begins west of Donner Summit at the Eagle Lakes turnoff from I-80. From Cisco Grove it follows Old Highway 40 up and over Donner Summit catching the Emigrant Trail wagon train route, the Lincoln Highway, old hotels, the ice industry at Ice Lakes, the first chair lift in California at Sugar Bowl, the Transcontinental railroad’s Summit tunnel, snow-sheds, China Wall, and more.
For information and brochures, or to see the other interpretive signs included in the 20 Mile Museum, please visit the Donner Summit Historical Society website at www.donnersummithistoricalsociety.org.