Donner Memorial State Park is a scenic collection of trails in winter when the park closes all of its roads to vehicles and grooms them for cross-country skiers.
From the park visitor center, locate the trail by heading about 100 yards west toward the parking entrance kiosk, and the trailhead lies just behind that. The cross-country ski trail follows the path of South Shore Drive, the summer road that visitors use to travel through the park. The trail quickly arrives at two closed gates that make up either end of the loop. The left gate will lead you first into rolling forest, while the right will take you over flat terrain toward Donner Lake.
The wide and generally level trail begins to pass by views of the lake through the picnic areas. And though the actual trail never goes to the lakeshore itself, there are many opportunities to leave the main trail and head down to the lake. It is even possible to ski most of the course of the snowshoe trail, which offers a far more scenic, if slightly more backcountry, course.
At the southeast edge of Donner Lake the path leaves the open and flat South Shore Drive path and enters the path of a summer fire road. Here the forest becomes more dense and the terrain encounters some very slight elevation variation, though the route remains good for skiers of all ability levels.
The trail passes by the sites of several summertime campgrounds along with the intersection for the Coldstream Trail before reemerging at the closed gates just down the slope from the trailhead.
The trails themselves are unmarked, so having an idea of landmark locations or a navigational aid may be helpful. Trails are open from sunrise to sunset. All state park rules apply. Also note that, while the park grooms trails when it is able, there is no regular schedule for grooming. New snow may mean the route is not maintained.
When skiing near the edges of the water, be aware that flat areas, including areas with previous tracks, may be on frozen water and may change with conditions.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.