Donner Lake near Truckee is a beautiful and less crowded option for those that don’t want to make the trek all the way out to Lake Tahoe. Located right off of Highway 80, Donner Lake has plenty of gorgeous views and activities to keep everyone happy. Here are the best family activities at Donner Lake California.
Where is Donner Lake?
Donner Lake is located in the Tahoe National Forest towards the north end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s roughly 3 miles from downtown Truckee.
BEST family activities at Donner Lake California
EMIGRANT TRAIL MUSEUM
Families should make an effort to visit the Emigrant Trail Museum located at Donner Memorial State Park! The entire grounds are pretty polished, with museum, the gift shop, the historic cabins, and the monument all within the park proper. The museum itself is small can be completed fairly quickly. There is a short film about the rescuers that plays on a loop.. They have a small replica covered wagon and a few of the artifacts from the actual Donner campsites!
Entrance to the museum is free however parking is $10.
Hiking China COVE Loop
Located adjacent to the parking lot of the Donner Museum and rest stop, China Cove Loop is an easy hike for families that goes past the China Beach on the West End of Donner Lake.
Parking outside of the Park is free, parking within the lot is $10.
Get ice cream at Little Truckee Ice Cream Shop
Treat your family to some fantastically made homemade ice cream at Little Truckee Ice Cream shop! They have lots of standard favors (strawberry, vanilla) and fun flavors (blueberry honey lavender, strawberry lemonade sorbet, Truckee tracks with pine nut brittle.) The shop staff is incredibly friendly and there are some peaceful views of the lake. They do have a pretty small parking lot, so consider parking alongside the lake.
Families can rent electric bikes at Donner Lake Electric Bikes, a small business located on the west end of Donner Lake. The bikes have a range of up to 45 miles and there are plenty of places to explore, go up Old Highway 40 or head into downtown Truckee. I would suggest this activity for teens and older and be sure to make a reservation by calling or texting ahead!
fish at the public piers
Donner Lake is stocked with kokanee salmon and rainbow trout making it a great activity for families! While most fishermen work from boats, there are plenty of good places along the shore to fish. Fishing is legal one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset and you WILL need a fishing license to fish on the lake.
Swimming at West End Beach
West End Beach is a large sandy beach area at Donner Lake. The area has lots of shaded picnic tables, a couple large playgrounds, an expansive beach, calm and shallow water, a few grills, and a permanent restroom facility. The restrooms/changing rooms are clean, the beach is trash free, there are areas for large groups that have shaded tables and BBQs. There is an opportunity to rent paddle boats and have a concession stand onsite too.