Located at about 6,000 feet in Truckee, Donner Memorial State Park offers the summer vacationer opportunities for camping, picnicking, boating, fishing, water-skiing, and hiking. In winter, visitors can cross-country ski and snowshoe on trails.
Visitors are welcome year-round at the Emigrant Trail Museum and at the Pioneer Monument, built to commemorate those who emigrated to California from the east in the mid-1800s. The museum includes displays and information about one of the earliest pioneer wagon trains in this area, the Donner Party, which was forced by circumstances to camp at the east end of Donner Lake in the winter of 1846-47. The Donner Party's disastrous journey resulted in much human suffering and loss of life.
The park encompasses Shallenberger Ridge to the south of Donner Lake. In and around the park lies evidence of the Sierra Nevada's geologic history, including granite that rose within the earth's crust in enormous bubbles, then cooled and hardened, and has been exposed by erosion. Older sedimentary rocks, transformed by temperature and pressure. The Sierra's steep eastern face, created when gigantic upheavals tilted a section of the earth's crust. Huge boulders and debris that remained after the glaciers of the last ice age melted and receded.
Summer temperatures average about 75 degrees during the day and in the low 40s at night. In the winter visitors can take advantage of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing through the park's winter beauty. Winter temperatures average between a high of 40 degrees and a low of 20 degrees.
Public Boat Ramp The park doesn't have a boat launching ramp, but a public ramp operated by the Truckee Donner Recreation & Parks District is available in the northwest corner of Donner Lake. There is a fee charged for boat launching. For information call (530) 582-7720. The lake is open to both power and sail boats.
Fishing The park has over three miles of frontage on Donner Lake and Donner Creek. Although the fishing is not usually spectacular, the lake has some native Kokanee and planted trout. A fishing license is required. (Many fishermen prefer to use the park as a base to visit nearby lakes.)
Hiking Trails The park has about 2.5 miles (4 km) of hiking trails. Park property in Coldstream Canyon to the south contains the alignment of the primary Emigrant Trail, which leads up to U.S. Forest Service and the Pacific Crest trails beyond the park. Maps are for sale at the Emigrant Trail Museum.
Camping and Day Use Located at Donner Memorial State Park is a campground of 154 sites (closed for the winter season) and a day-use area along the lake with picnic tables, restrooms, a beach, fishing, and a lakeside interpretive trail that has 18 panels which discuss the natural and cultural resources in the area. All camp areas are provided with metal, bear-resistant food lockers.
Emigrant Trail Museum The Emigrant Trail Museum, located at Donner Memorial State Park, takes about 1 hour to visit. It depicts the history of the area and the people who came into this part of the Sierra, including local Native Americans, the Donner Party, and builders of the transcontinental railroad. Postcards, posters, maps, and books about the human and natural history of the area are for sale at the museum.
Pioneer Monument Visitors are welcome year-round at the Emigrant Trail Museum and at the Pioneer Monument, built to commemorate those who emigrated to California from the east in the mid-1800's. Near the museum is the Pioneer Monument and the Donner Party's Murphy family cabin site. Also starting at the museum is a self-guiding nature trail which is a one half mile loop. Nature trail guides are available at the museum and campground entrance station. Staff-led hikes, special feature shows, and campfires start in late June. Hikes, ranging from 1-2 hours, start at the museum at 10:00 a.m.
Year-round. Camping is not accessible in the later fall, or early spring while there is still snow on the ground.
The day use fee is $8 per car. Camping is extra and varies depending on site.
ADA Accessibility Notes
Camping Seven campsites are designated accessible. Four are in Creek Camp, and three are in Split Rock Camp. All seven are generally accessible. Creek Camp. Accessible restrooms and showers are available at each restroom-shower building. Route of Travel: The route from the road to the restrooms is accessible. Split Rock Camp: Accessible restrooms and showers are now available at each new restroom-shower building. Parking. Paved level spaces are adjacent to the restrooms. Routes of Travel: Routes from the sites to the restrooms are generally accessible.
Picnic Area Picnic tables are strung along the south shore of the lake. One such area just before China Cove Beach includes two tables on asphalt pads and paths that may be somewhat usable. One offers wheelchair users only 16" deep knee space under the table. A second table is similar but the knee space is only 22" high. A designated accessible portable restroom is at least usable. Designated accessible parking available for one auto is usable.
Trails The Ridge Campground to Lake Trail is accessible for 0.08 mile. The Split Rock Camp to the Boat Concession Trail is accessible for 0.13 mile. Both trail heads are in Ridge Campground. Parking is accessible in campsites only. Accessible restrooms and water are located in the campground.
Beach/Shore Access A beach wheelchair is available. Check at entry station.
Exhibits/Programs The Emigrant Trail Museum is older but generally accessible. Most exhibits are accessible. Restrooms in museum are small but may be usable for front transfers. Parking. Parking in the museum lot and route of travel to museum are generally accessible.
Pet Friendly Notes
Dogs are allowed only on leash in designated areas. Visitors should check at the park for specific rules and regulations.