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Donner Summit Sno-Park

Snow Sports Area
Donner Lake below the summit –

The Donner Summit Sno-Park in Nevada County is located near the impressive Donner Summitoff of Interstate 80 at the Boreal Ridge Ski Area exit. Cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, and snow-play are recommended at the Donner Summit Sno-Park. Donner Summit is within the Tahoe National Forest.

Donner Summit is a destination in itself- at 7,067 feet, Donner Pass offers majestic views of the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada's and Donner Lake below and is an important place in early California history. The early ancestors of the Washoe people left their mark here in the form of petroglyphs that are thousands of years old. Members of the pioneer Donner Party, for whom the summit is named, met their gruesome fate during the winter of 1846 here. Train tunnels snake through the peaks, and represent the Central Pacific Railroad's arduous task of constructing a rail road through this rugged terrain. The old California Highway 40 (also known as Lincoln Highway) passes through here along present-day Interstate 80, and follows the old emigrant trail over the Sierras. Remnants of old gas stations, restaurants, and hotels remain on Highway 40. The Donner Summit Historical Society is an active group that maintains information on the rich history of Donner Summit and the surrounding area.

Today, the area offers year-round outdoor recreation activities. Hiking, rock climbing, wildlife viewing, backpacking, mountain biking, fishing, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding are popular activities at Donner Summit. Boreal Mountain Resort, Donner Ski Ranch, and Sugar Bowlare located here, and the world-class Squaw Valley Resort, home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, is only 20 miles from here on Highway 89. An access point to the Pacific Crest Trail is located at Donner Summit, and the Castle Peak trail head is located off the same exit as the Donner Summit Sno-Park. The Donner Lake Rim Trail, Donner Memorial State Park, and Rainbow Bridge are also located along Donner Summit. The Hole in the Ground mountain bike trail is a challenging 17-mile ride that begins near the sno-park and is popular with mountain bicyclists in the summer. The historic town of Truckee is located at the bottom of the summit, and beautiful Lake Tahoe is just 23 miles from the pass. Granite Chief Wilderness is also accessible from Donner Summit via the Pacific Crest Trail. The Donner Summit Sno-Park is just one of many outdoor recreation areas in this region of the Sierras.

Recreation Activities

Snow-play, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing are recommended at the Donner Summit Sno-Park. Snowmobiling is not allowed at this sno-park.

Seasons Accessible

The Donner Summit Sno-Park is open from November 1 - May 30. Sno-Park permits are required, and are available online or from designated vendors.

Sno-Park Permit Vendors

Permits for the Donner Summit Sno-Park are available online from the California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division or from designated vendors in the area. Permits are $5 per day or $25 for a season pass. A complete listing of Sno-Park permit vendors throughout Northern California is available here.

Boreal Inn, 19455 Boreal Ridge Road, Soda Springs, Ca. 95278, (530) 426-1012

Mountain Hardware & Sports, 11320 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, Ca. 96161, (530) 587-4844

Mountain Recreation, 491 East Main Street, Grass Valley, Ca. 85945, (530) 477-8006

Tahoe Dave's Skis and Boards, 10200 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, Ca. 96161, (530) 582-0986

Truckee Ranger Station (ESIA), 10811 Stockrest Sp. Road, Truckee, Ca. 96161, (760) 873-2411

The Back Country, 11400 Donner Pass Road, Suite 100, Truckee, Ca. 96161, (530) 582-0909

Alpenglow Sports, 415 North Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City, Ca. 96145, (530) 583-6917

Reno Cycles and Gear, 3445 Kietzke Lane, Reno, Nv. 89502, (775) 355-8810

Placer County Visitor's Bureau, 13411 Lincoln Way, Auburn, Ca. (530) 887-2111

Sno-Park Permit Sales, California Department of Parks and Recreation, 1725 23rd Street, Suite 200, Sacramento, Ca. 95816, (916) 324-1222 or (916) 324-4442

California State Parks Division of Vehicular Recreation Sno-Park Program

Sno-parks provide access to cross country ski trails, snowmobile routes, and snow play areas. Sno-parks are operated by the California State Parks and Recreation Office of Highway Motor Vehicular Recreation (OHMVR) in cooperation with the United States Forest Service. All of the sno-parks in California are in the Sierra Nevada’s, and are open from November 1 through May 30. The California Sno-Park Hotline can be reached at (916) 324-1222. Sno-Parks operated by the state are designated by brown signs located along highways.

There are 19 sno-parks operated by the OHMVR, and permits are required for each one. Day permits for $5 and season permits for $30 are available from designated Sno-Park vendors, by mail from OHMVR, or on-line. On-line purchases are subject to an additional $1.95 service fee. Permits must be displayed on the left side of the dashboard, and clearly seen from the outside of the vehicle. Permits are non-refundable and non-transferable, and parking at a Sno-Park without a permit may result in a $94.50 fine. California Sno-Park permits are also valid in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Parking is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Sanitation facilities are provided at each of the parks. Camping, littering, and over-night parking are prohibited.

The Sno-Parks are located in areas that can experience road closures in harsh weather conditions. Call CalTrans at 1-800-427-7623 or check the CalTrans website to get information on roadway conditions when planning your trip, and carry chains and a shovel. Winter recreation can be hazardous, so it is important you consider your skill level, wear proper clothing, have respect for the terrain and park rules and regulations, and adhere to posted warnings for your safety.

A printable brochure of Sno-Park locations is available from the OHMVR website and can be found here.

Share your experience. Please leave a comment below if you've visited this sno-park.

Rules and Regulations

Permits are required.

Trail System

Ski trails at the Donner Summit Sno-Park are located on the north side of the freeway. Three cross-country ski trails are directly accessible from the Donner Summit Sno-Park: the Azalea and Flora Lakes trail, the Castle Pass trail, and the Warren Lake to Frog Lake Overlook Trail.

Azalea and Flora Lakes Trail: This trail is relatively easy and is 1.5 miles one way. Begin at the sno-park and ski to the Pacific Crest Trail. Veer left off the trail after 1/4 mile to arrive at Azalea Lake. Flora Lake is further south of this point. The trail can be continued further to Lake Angela for another 3/4 miles, or further to the Donner Ski Ranch for a 3 mile trail. The elevation change on this trail is about 50 feet.

Castle Pass: This trail is a popular 2 mile route that begins at the trail head at the north side of I-80 at the Boreal Exit. The trail along the road can be followed, or a skier can make their own route up to Castle Valley. The trail becomes gradually steeper reaching Castle Pass. Skiers can end here, or continue on for a longer journey around Andesite Peak to the left. Castle Peak will be on the right. The overall elevation change on this trail is about 665 feet.

Warren Lake to Frog Lake Overlook: This trail has a difficult skill level and is 3.0 miles one way and should only be attempted by experienced cross-country skiers who are able to assess avalanche threats. To access the trail, pass under the freeway by the Pacific Crest Trail pedestrian tunnel and turn right onto the Summit Lake - Warren Lake Trail. The first 2 miles climb gradually, and the last mile is steep. Castle Peak is to the left. At the ridge, turn right to the Frog Lake overlook. Caution is advised at the overlook- do not get too close to the edge, as the cliff drops vertically 1,000 feet. Views from this point are excellent. Summit Lake is also nearby and can be reached from this point.

Snowmobiles are not allowed at the Donner Summit Sno-Park.


Approximate Operating Season

November 1 - May 30

Nearby Places