Donner Memorial State Park is the perfect place to go if you are just learning how to snowshoe. The park is pretty flat, and doesn't have too many trails. Most people stick to the trail that follows the river and eventually gets over to the lake. There is an actual "trail" but its really easy to just meander around too, as long as you have a decent sense of direction.
- Date: 12.28.15 and 2.4.17
- Miles: 1-3 mi
- Elevation Profile: Negligible
- Trail Type: Out-and-Back
- Cost: $8 per car, I believe
- Hours of visitor center: 10 am - 5 pm daily, park closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. You need to pay the entry fee inside the visitor center.
- Dogs are allowed on-leash, though we've noticed that rangers and visitors are very relaxed during the winter, and everyone's dogs are off-leash. Make sure your dog is well behaved and is controlled under voice command.
For a basic trail map, click here.
If you are facing the visitor center entrance, turn left and continue to the very end of the paved parking area. This could be different every year depending on snowfall. You should be able to identify a small up-hill area or steps in the snow to get to the trail. You will continue on for a little bit before reaching the lake outlet crossing, which you'll use the footbridge to cross. Again, depending on the snowfall for the season, you may or may not realize you are on a bridge. You'll generally follow "speed limit" signs, as the path is actually along a paved road.
When you come to this small footbridge, you'll know you are getting close to the lake (again, the snow year will dictate whether or not you see this bridge).
It was very interesting for me to compare my two visits! About one year apart, with 2015-16 having an average snow year, and 2016-17 having one of the biggest snow years in history! Definitely got much colder in 2017, as the lake was frozen.
We had a much more difficult time navigating in 2017 as there was just so much snow and it was honestly difficult to find our waypoints from the previous winter! But like I said above, this is a super easy cross country snowshoe so long as you have some directional skills. When you're ready to be done, just make your way back to the visitor center! You can go back exactly the way you came, or sort of loop around. There is another semi-groomed trail further back from the lake, more in the trees.
This has become a favorite for my family because of how easy it is. We just snowshoe and chill out, and it's always a great time!
Donner Lake is just such a fun and enjoyable snowshoe for the whole family! Even if you aren't into snowshoeing, you could come here to play in the snow and sled! I saw plenty of people in winter boots without snowshoes too, but they stayed on packed snow to prevent postholing. This is a pretty popular park, so I highly recommend getting there on the early side, though you will probably be able to get a parking spot any day during the winter months.