Distance: 3½ miles
Elevation gain: Negligible (at 6000ft elevation)
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 a distinct lack of food. 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, and the hike on the shores of the lake now offer great tranquil and scenic landscapes, despite its location next to I-80.
Provided you take care along the snow-covered shorelines, the level flat landscape next to the lake is a great place for an introduction to snowshoeing, and a good way to escape the crowds on the ski slopes. Also, there are several good opportunities for renting snowshoes in the neighborhood.
- Trailspotting Images: Donner Lake on Flickr
- Official Site: Donner Memorial State Park
- Wikipedia: History of the Donner Party