Donner Summit Canyon

Purchased by the Land Trust in 2010 and conveyed to California State Parks in 2012 as an addition to Donner Memorial State Park, Donner Summit Canyon is the gateway to perhaps the most important square mile in California’s history. The conservation of this land respects that history, protects the tributaries that provide Donner Lake with clean, clear water, and ensures that the scenic viewshed remains intact and beautiful. Additional history. 

Donner Summit Canyon Map May 2016


A trail up the canyon follows much of the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road, which later served as the Lincoln Highway. Some of the historic features visible from the upper part of the trail include Native American petroglyphs, the China Wall, and the world’s first automobile underpass (1913). Look for the abandoned Turkey Truck that careened off the road in 1955, scattering 30,000 pounds of frozen turkeys down the 175’ drop and delaying Thanksgiving dinner for hungry Nevadans!


  • Hike or ride the trail that loosely follows the original Lincoln Highway route. The route traverses Donner Summit Creek and offers spectacular views of Donner Lake, Donner Peak, and Schallenberger Ridge as it climbs to Donner Summit
  • Picnic at the Kathy Polucha Kessler Memorial Picnic Area with an amazing view of Donner Lake
  • Marvel at the Native American Petroglyphs as you approach the summit (Please don’t step on them!)
  • Watch rock climbers near China Wall
  • Relax at the lower picnic area
  • Count tadpoles in the Beaver Pond
  • Snowshoe or ski from the parking area to the Kathy Polucha Kessler Memorial Picnic Area (the trail beyond this area is highly avalanche-prone in the winter)


From Truckee, proceed West on Donner Pass Road along the North Shore of Donner Lake. As you approach the West end of Donner Lake, go past South Shore Drive and continue up along Old Highway 40 towards Donner Summit. The trail head and parking area is on the left, roughly 1/3 of a mile from South Shore Drive (If you reach the winter closure gate, you have gone too far). You can also hike from Donner Summit down to the parking are. If you do, be sure to park legally near the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead (see map).


Hike Description: This hike is approximately six miles round-trip with a 1,000’ elevation gain; moderately strenuous due to uneven terrain and moderate to steep ascents. You can also hike one way by doing a two-car shuttle.


  • Trails are open to all non-motorized use. Please tread lightly and be courteous
  • Open for day-use only, from sunrise to sunset. Camping is not permitted
  • Fires of any kind, including but not limited to smoking, campfires, camp stoves, and fireworks are strictly prohibited
  • Pack out your trash, including pet waste. NOTE: the Land trust is considering closing the property to pets, due to a lack of consideration by users that are leaving pet waste bags around. Again, PLEASE PACK OUT YOUR PET’S WASTE AND TAKE IT HOME WITH YOU
  • Pets must be leashed; please be sure that your pet does not harm or harass wildlife


Back to Plan Your Visit