Most have heard of the Donner Party, the unfortunate group of pioneers heading for California country that became stranded near the east side of Donner Pass in 1846 by early storms and a massive Sierra snowfall. Donner Memorial State Park was established as a memorial for the Donner Party and all the emigrant pioneers that traveled overland to California.
Offering a nice balance of outdoor recreation options and California pioneer history, the state park wraps from Donner’s east shore around the north facing slopes above the south shore and a smaller portion of land on the west end of the lake. The hub of activity is centered around the park’s entrance and the east shore of the lake, where the Emigrant Trail Museum, campground and day use beaches are located.
Primarily a summer destination popular with campers, swimmers, and beachgoers enjoying the setting of Donner Lake, the park also hosts a network of winter cross-country and snowshoe trails.
In summer the beaches at China Cove and the Donner Creek Outlet are a big draw, and small boat rentals are available. Lakeside picnic areas offer fantastic views toward Donner Pass. Summer trails include hikes along the lakeside Interpretive Trail and the Old Emigrant Trail Road that contours along the slope above Donner Lake. The park’s 150-site campground lies within a short walking distance of the lake and is well suited for family camping.
Park facilities, other than the museum, are closed by mid-September and do not open again until late May. Dogs are permitted in developed areas of the park.