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About Donner Lake

Once Around Our Lake

Donner Lake is a focal point for many activities. The usual water type activities of swimming, sailing, water skiing (35 MPH Limit), diving, and fishing (Mackinaw, Rainbow, German Brown, and Kokanee; FISH WARNING) can be enjoyed on our "Jewel of the Sierra".

There is quite a bit of "public" access to the Lake: Donner Memorial State Park and Museum (Campground Map / Donner Brochure), West End Beach, as well as 1.5 miles of public boat docks along the North side of the Lake, from the Public Boat Ramp, to the Donner Tract Private Beach (there is also a small section of public piers at the foot of Summit Drive).

Being at the center of some of the best snow skiing in the Sierra, makes Donner Lake a very popular place. Donner Lake is less than a half hour from: Squaw Valley (Webcams), Alpine Meadows (Webcams), Northstar (Webcams & Photos), Sugar Bowl (Webcmsm), Donner Ski Ranch (Webcams), Tahoe Donner®, Boreal, and Soda Springs. In addition, Royal Gorge (Trail Map) and the Donner Memorial State Park may have trails for the Cross Country crowd. Snowboarding is also popular.

For the more Adventuresome:
Hiking is very popular; take a tour with a Ranger at the State Park; visit the Indian "Petroglyphs" near Rainbow Bridge, or Rock Climbing near the Summit -- there are several climbs which have challenged even the best!

Horseback riding is available at various resorts and Golf Courses are also less than a half hour away. Soar above us all, with a glider ride from the Truckee Tahoe Airport (KTRK), just minutes away. The local Experimental Aircraft Association, EAA Chapter 1073 also offers free flights for kids 8 through 17.

Organized Summer Activities:

Mini Triathlon (which inclues swimming about 1 mile, 40K bicycle race, then run around the Lake!); The 4th of July FIREWORKS; Donner Lake Swim; The Lake Tahoe Music Festival will be held exclusively in the Village at Northstar; Turkey Trot (run around the Lake). Throughout the summer there are all types of events happening, such as sailboat and windsurfing races. Check often with the Truckee Donner Park & Recreation's Event Calendar for what's happening while your visiting Donner Lake.

Most of Donner Lake is within the Limits of the "Town of Truckee" with the exception of the area of Placer County which is NOT in the Town proper. We are also serviced by Special Districts that have jurisdictional control over Donner Lake: Tahoe Forest Hospital District (TFHD), Truckee Tahoe Sanitation Agency (TTSA), Truckee Sanitary District (TSD), Truckee Cemetery District, Truckee Fire District, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD), Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District (TDRPD), Truckee Donner Public Utility District (TDPUD), and Truckee Tahoe Airport District (TTAD).

Real Estate Activity

Undeveloped lots can still be purchased around Donner Lake; prices start near $44,000. Lots ON the Lake are usually in excess of $1,000,000. A small "Cabin " may occasionally be picked up for around $379,000 in surrounding areas. A Cabin/Home ON the Lake will usually command a price well over $1,000,000 no matter what shape it is in! Some previously undeveloped acreages at Donner Lake are now subdivided, but other large parcels are still divisible. We are fortunate that we do NOT have as many layers of government to go through if we want to build something (as the property owners at Lake Tahoe are faced with); however, various agencies do have to be satisfied (often to conflicting requirements). To check out what's available through the Tahoe Sierra Multiple Listing Service, Listing Page.


Donner Lake is steeped in history. A visit to the Museum located in the Donner Memorial State Park, or the Truckee Historical Society's "Jail" downtown, can fill many history buff's cravings. However, briefly let's just say that Donner Lake has been a major avenue for most people transiting the Sierra Nevada. Major Emigrant Trails run near the Lake and it is the site of the "Donner Party" story. A Toll Road was later constructed over the Summit and it became one of the first trans-continental highways (Lincoln Highway), followed by the Rail Road; then, Highway 40 (now, "Donner Pass Road") and finally Inter-State Highway 80.


The majority of our full time population (approximately 1500) is located at the North-East end of Donner Lake because that is the closest to downtown and other services. Due to the configuration of the surrounding mountains, this end of the Lake also gets the most sun during the winter months. The prevailing winds bring storms over the Summit, from a South-Westerly direction. It is not uncommon to find it snowing at the West End of the Lake; yet, almost clear at the East End. When the sun drops behind the ridge line, only the East End will have any direct sunlight most of the day, in the dead of Winter.

During the Winter Holiday periods and a majority of the Summer, the population of the Lake can swell to over 6,000 people. In addition, day visitors at the beaches and State Park, can almost match that number.


Two motels are along the water's edge: Donner Village Resort and Lock Leven Lodge. Four other motels (Richard's Motel is the oldest, continually operated, motel at Donner Lake). There are three condominium developments: Donner Pines EAST, Donner Pines WEST, and Donner Village Resort. Donner Village Resort also has several office businesses, a convention center and Summer boat rentals. Major shopping centers are just minutes to the East of Donner Lake. By riding the "Truckee Shuttle", one can access most Truckee and North Lake Tahoe amenities and now get to the Reno-Tahoe Airport via the North Lake Tahoe Express.

Staple Groceries may be purchased at the Donner Pines Market, also located in the Donner Pines Center, at the East End. You can also pick up gifts and souvenirs at the Donner Lake Gift Shop, at the West End of the Lake. Other business at Donner Lake include: Architects, Contractors, Artists, and of course Real Estate Offices (Sales and Property Management).

Geographical Information 

Donner Lake is a natural alpine type body of water which lies almost exactly "True" East/West, along the Eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Range (no "s" on the end, "Sierra Nevada" is already plural), in the Tahoe National Forest. We are bounded at the West, by the infamous Donner Summit; on the North, by Donner Ridge along which runs Inter-State 80; at the East, by the Donner Memorial State Park; and the South, by Shallenburger Ridge along which the main East-West Union Pacific Rail Road tracks and their "snow sheds" are located. The Lake itself is totally within Nevada County (Town of Truckee); however, along the south side of the Lake, the Nevada/Placer County Lines parallels the Lake and some subdivisions straddle this line. 

Donner Lake was formed primarily through a combination of faulting and glacial action. "Glacial Polishing" of the granite can be seen nearer Donner Summit. Glacial moraine formed a natural dam to the Lake, upon which most of the State Park is situated. The main streams which feed the Lake are: Summit Creek, coming from the West and Gregory Creek (AKA: Negro Creek), from the North-West; as well as many underground springs which surround the Lake. The water then exits the Lake, through the State Park, via Donner Creek and joins the Truckee River near the Donner Creek Mobile Home Park, on West River Street. 

Donner Lake from 7,000'

Lake has been measured by the California State Lands Commission, to be 328 Feet deep at it's deepest point -- just off the "guard rail" along Donner Pass Road. The Lake is just under 3 miles long and about 3/4 miles wide. High Water level is 5935.8 feet above Mean Sea Level (since Lake Tahoe's high water line is 6228' MSL, that dispels the myth that somehow the two lakes are connected). Donner Lake can reach a temperature of 76° during Summer. When measurements were taken one year it was determined Donner Lake was, on average, 6° warmer than Lake Tahoe; when you take into account Donner Lake will occasionally freeze over during Winter, that means we have to definitely make up the difference during the Summer! The Lake is lowered between 8-12 feet during winter to provide a "catch basin" during spring run-off, so flooding Reno is less likely.

Donner Lake Lodge, California

Donner Lake Lodge Post card by Mike Roberts, Berkeley 2, Calif.  circa 1960Back in the 50's and 60's, Donner Lake Lodge was the hot spot in the Sierra Nevada's. Interstate 80 (I-80) had not been built yet so locating the lodge on U.S. 40 at the foot of Donner Summit and on the lake was a dream location. A true "All Season Resort", Donner Lake Lodge was open all year. In the Spring there was the great fishing; in the Fall it was hunting; Summer boating and water skiing; and during the Winter snow skiing.

Donner Lake Lodge Marina Post card by Mike Roberts, Berkeley 2, Calif.  circa 1960They had it all with complete marine facilities, Donner Lake Lodge was the resort for the entire family to enjoy. Beautiful sandy beaches for the children and adults for that enjoyable "Perfect "vacation."Donner Lake Lodge Post card by Mike Roberts

The pictures you see displayed are copies of postcards by Mike Roberts, Berkeley 2, Calif. circa 1960 of the grand old lodge. Today, Donner Lake Lodge is the site of Donner Lake Village Resort.

Copyright 1999-2012
Charlie White  / 15963 South Shore Drive, Truckee, CA 96161
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