Those who do not wish to drive to Lake Tahoe can enjoy the beauty and peace of Donner Lake, located off Highway 80 near Truckee. It is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and families, offering a wide range of activities and natural beauty. The lake is surrounded by towering peaks, pine forests, and meadows, providing a stunning backdrop for activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, and hiking. There are also several parks and beaches located around the lake that provide opportunities for picnicking, barbecuing, and other family-friendly activities. Here are the best family activities near Donner Lake California.
This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
1. Hike Around China Cove
The China Cove Loop hike is an easy Donner Lake family activity that takes you past China Beach on the West End of Donner Lake, which is adjacent to the Donner Museum and rest stop parking lot.
Parking is free outside of the Park, and parking within the lot is $10.
2. Visit the Little Truckee Ice Cream Shop
Stop by Little Truckee Ice Cream shop and enjoy some deliciously crafted homemade ice cream! They offer standard favorites (strawberry, vanilla) and unique flavors (blueberry, honey lavender, strawberry lemonade sorbet, Truckee tracks with pine nut brittle.).
The employees are cheerful and the views of the lake are serene!
3. Fish at the Donner Lake Piers
Filled with kokanee salmon and rainbow trout, Donner Lake is an excellent destination for families who want to fish! Fishing from boats is common, but there are many good locations to fish from shore.
You must have a fishing license to fish on the lake, and fishing is permitted from sunrise to sunset.
4. Swin or Sunbathe at West End Beach
Donner Lake has a large sandy beach at the West End. There are many shaded picnic tables, multiple playgrounds, a large beach, shallow and calm water, grills, and a permanent bathroom facility, among other things.
The restrooms and changing rooms are clean, the beach is litter-free, there are areas for big groups with shaded picnic tables and barbecues, and paddleboats and concession stands may be rented.
5. Rent e-bikes
Donner Lake Electric Bikes, a small business on Donner Lake’s west end, offers electric bike rentals. Old Highway 40 or downtown Truckee are among the many destinations to visit, and the bikes have a range of up to 45 miles.
I recommend this for teenagers and older kids and make a reservation by calling or texting beforehand!
6. Visit the Emigrant Trail Museum
Just in case you want to add some educational family activities near Donner Lake, consider the Emigrant Trail Museum! The museum, the gift shop, the historic cabins, and the Donner Monument all sit on the grounds of Donner Memorial State Park, where the Emigrant Trail Museum is also located. A visit there is well worth the time.
The museum itself is small and can be completed in less than an hour. Visitors can view a short film about the Donner Party rescuers on a loop.
The museum includes a small replica covered wagon and artifacts from the Donner campsites.
You can enter the museum for free, but parking is $10.
7. Camp at Donner Lake
Here are some of the main campground options located near or around Donner Lake in California:
Donner Memorial State Park Campground – This is the closest campground to Donner Lake. It has over 140 campsites for tents and RVs, flush toilets, hot showers, and easy access to the lake. Reservations are recommended.
Metal bear-resistant food lockers are provided in each campsite. All food, beverages, and toiletries are required by law to be stored in provided food lockers. The inside dimensions of the food lockers are 36″ deep, 43″ wide, and 28″ high. Violators will be cited.
Sugar Bowl RV Park – Located 4 miles from Donner Lake, Sugar Bowl offers RV sites and tent camping. Electric and water hookups are available. Amenities include showers, laundry, a general store, and rec room.
Granite Flat Campground – A primitive campground located 2 miles south of Donner Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail. First-come, first-served sites. Vault toilets are provided. This facility is operated and maintained by the Tahoe National Forest.
Note: Most of the sites near the Granite Flat Campground are near the highway and the area can be loud with passing cars.
Silver Creek Campground – Near Silver Lake, about 9 miles south of Donner Lake. Enjoying hiking and fishing at this site that has close proximity to the Truckee River. This site has primitive campsites for tents. There are no hookups available. There are vault toilets and food lockers on site. This facility is operated and maintained by the Tahoe National Forest.
Alder Creek – Alder Creek Campground Truckee is a camp site on 13813 Alder Creek Rd in Truckee. Tucked along the banks of Alder Creek in Tahoe Donner, Tahoe Donner Campground is the perfect place to escape. Loaded with amenities, the campground has everything, including tent and RV sites with electricity, water and hot showers.
Campers can enjoy volleyball, pingpong, horseshoes and more, plus free Wi-Fi access for those who still want to stay connected to the outside world. The campground’s location also makes hiking easy – with convenient access to the Emigrant Trail!
Tahoe Donner is a non-smoking resort. Smoking is prohibited in the campground. Two pets per campsite are allowed for a fee. Dogs must remain on a leash at all times and may not be unattended at the campsite.
No wood or charcoal fires allowed.
Campsites at state parks can be reserved online in advance through the ReserveCalifornia.com website. Reservations are recommended especially in peak summer months. Walk-ins are accepted if sites are available.
Donner Lake provides some great winter activities, like sledding and snowshoeing. There are several trails and areas around Donner Lake that allow snowshoeing. Some good options include the Lakeside Trail, Coldstream Trail, and Donner Lake Rim Trail.
These trails range from easy to moderate in difficulty.
The Coldstream Trail is a relatively flat and wide trail that runs along the south and west shores of Donner Lake. It’s a good option for beginner snowshoers looking for an easy walk.