Thanks to the wonderful snowfall in November and December, the Donner Summit Canyon Trail is perfect for snowshoeing, cross country skiing or snow-playing right now.
Start at the plowed trailhead off Old Highway 40 just west of Donner Lake (directions and map here). The trail meanders down into the canyon in an old-growth forest of white fir and ponderosa pine. Cross our first pedestrian bridge over the creek, still burbling through the snow, and you'll soon come to a beautiful clearing with views of Donner Peak looming above and Black Wall beyond. Many hikers have remarked that being directly beneath Donner Peak's granite slope feels like being beside the big walls of Yosemite.
If you're lucky, you might even see some bear tracks from a resident bear preparing to den for winter!
Continue up towards Donner Pass, eventually reaching our brand-new pedestrian bridge that crosses a washout that interrupted hikers and mountain bikers until the last month. Just installed in November by the Land Trust and California State Parks, the trail repair and new bridge wouldn't have been possible without the generous support of our donors.
Crossing the newly installed bridge.
Follow tracks across the bridge for a quick side trip to the overlook, where you'll find a picnic table and bench (maybe covered in snow), and a one-of-a-kind view back over Donner Lake and east across town to the Carson Crest. In the winter, most folks turn back here rather than continuing up the narrowing canyon.
This is a technically easy trip, but moderately strenuous due to the sustained climb, 400 foot elevation gain. The snow is well protected from the sun this time of year, so conditions should remain prime. Donner Summit Canyon was acquired by the Land Trust in 2010 and conveyed to California State Parks, who now manages it.