It's easy to relate to frustrated motorists returning from a weekend skiing in Tahoe, stuck in heavy interstate 80 traffic with aching legs and a long journey ahead. But spare a thought for those whose journey to the west coast was a little more arduous, and a little less certain that they'd make it there in one piece.
Just over a century and a half ago, a group of emigrants led by George Donner headed west over the Sierra Nevada mountains in search of a better life. Instead they found little more than suffering, snowstorms and starvation. Infamously resorting to cannibalism of the dead to survive, the party was to lose half its numbers before finally making it over Donner summit and into a more forgiving landscape.
The site of the Donner Party's suffering at the shores of Donner Lake is memorialized with a State Park complete with Emigrant Trail Museum and a monument to the casualties of 1846.
Traveling around the area now is much less foreboding. This easy stroll around the lakeside and through areas of forest is an ideal place to bring young kids, and also makes a great location for your first snowshoe adventure.
• A fee is payable for the use of the parking lot and entry to the Emigrant Trail Museum. An hour at the museum will teach you about the history of the area including the Donner party, the Native Americans and the building of the nearby transcontinental railroad.
• Some free parking may be available just West of the park entrance, depending on snow removal conditions.
• The State Park operates a 154 site campground during summer months and a day-use area by the lake for picnics, fishing and beach activities.
Begin the hike at the parking lot for the museum and visitor center. Head in a Westerly direction towards the lake and the first signs for the campground.
Check out the Emigrant Trail Museum and the neighboring memorial before or after the hike to learn more about the history of the area the Donner party, the Native Americans and the building of the nearby transcontinental railroad.
Just after crossing the bridge choose the right-hand road to take a counter-clockwise route around this loop trail. Following this road will take you to another junction at which point you can head off-road and follow Donner Creek towards the lake.
If you're visiting the park in winter and following a route along the edge of the lake, then you will certainly vary a little from our route.
Snow and ice cover the shallower areas of Donner Lake which means you're likely to be walking within the shoreline of the lake at times. Since these areas are shallow there's slight chance of getting wet, but it always pays to be cautious nevertheless.