Hike Name: Donner Camp Trail at Alder Creek
Name of area/general location: Tahoe National Forest near Truckee, CA
Land Acknowledgement: This trail is located on the ancestral homelands and traditional territories of the Cayuse, Umatilla,Walla Walla, and Washoe People. To learn more about the original residents and stewards of the lands, visit native-land.ca.
Trail rating: Easy/moderate depending on season and activity
Trail mileage: 0.4 miles
Permissible trail uses (dogs, horses, mountain bikes, others): Dogs are permitted on a leash and mountain bikes are permitted on marked trails.
Description of the area, sights, wildlife, and any key markers on the trail:
Truckee-Tahoe, California sits in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range filled with a vast array of flora and fauna. Truckee itself is surrounded by the Tahoe National Forest which hosts an array of hiking and recreational opportunities while providing important habitats for wildlife like bears, coyotes, and even wolverines.
The Historic Donner Camp Trail at Alder Creek is one of Truckee-Tahoe’s most popular short hikes, as it weaves through the camp of the ill-fated Donner Party. What started out as a hopeful journey towards prosperity, ended tragically for the 89 member Donner Party during the harsh winter of 1846-47 when snow trapped the George and Jacob Donner families in the Alder Creek Valley. This short interpretive trail offers a glimpse of what the group went through during their futile efforts to cross the summit in over twenty-two feet of snow.
Accessible all year round, this short but informative 0.4-mile-long trail follows signs and plaques that tell the story of the Donner Party while weaving through sagebrush and the many varieties of coniferous pines that thrive in the Alpine Sierra.
While the plaques and trail markers are a bit more difficult to locate during heavy snowfall years (such as this year) you can still take in the picturesque beauty of the meandering trail and open meadow.
To note: Parking is limited as of 4/3/2023 due to the lack of snow removal at the main parking area. There are a few parking spots available on either side of I-80. Restrooms and picnic tables are available at this unstaffed historic site during the summer months, but they may not be accessible in the winter months due to heavy snowfall.
Directions: From Truckee, CA, head north on Highway 89 (towards Sierraville) for about 2 ½ miles. In the summer months, you’ll see the large trailhead sign. In the winter, be on the lookout for a pullout on either side of the road.
Places to camp nearby: Alder Creek Campground is just a short drive away. Tucked along the banks of Alder Creek, the campground has both tent and RV sites. Campers can enjoy flush toilets, laundry facilities, hot showers, and RV sites with electricity and water. No winter access.
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials