Explore California: Donner Memorial State Park | Cal Parks

Explore California: Donner Memorial State Park

Published: November 19, 2019

California’s 280 state parks have so much to offer, and today we’re shining a spotlight on Donner Memorial State Park.

A brief history:

This area has been home to the Washoe tribe for more than 9,000 years. In the mid-1800s, many emigrants began to enter California – the park gets its namesake from the Donner Party, a group of American pioneers who migrated from the Midwest in 1846. Snowfall was so heavy that winter that the group became trapped and many people in the party lost their lives. The park is named after the group’s leader, George Donner, who passed away on the journey.

What to see when you visit:

  • Pioneer Monument is dedicated to the Donner party and honors all of the emigrants who lost their lives in the winter of 1846-47. Its base stands 22 feet high — to surpass the greatest depth of snow that may accumulate at the lake (representing how high the snow was that winter).
  • Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center is a great place to go if you want to learn more about the park and its history. Exhibits include Washoe life, the 1840s emigration, the Donner tragedy, and early auto travel over the summit.
  • Donner Lake is a gorgeous, less-busy alternative to Lake Tahoe. You get the beauty of an alpine lake without the crowds and can fish, swim, canoe, and paddleboard when the weather is warm.

Winter activities you can enjoy:

With the arrival of cold weather (especially in the mountains!), it’s time to bundle up and enjoy the snow. Visitors are welcome to cross-country ski and snowshoe on trails in the park. Hike along the shore of Donner Lake or, if you’re up for a bigger adventure, take in some incredible views from Schallenberger Ridge. You may even see some eagles and showshoe hares along the way.

Let us know about your visit to Donner Memorial State Park by tagging us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. We’d love to hear the ways you enjoy the park!