Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum

As Northern California natives and Oregon residents, we’re well-versed in Oregon Trail pioneering history, and specifically, the Donner Party. We’ve taken the kids to Sutter’s Fort State Park in Sacramento, CA, where they first learned about the ill-fated party, and when we found ourselves on Interstate 80 at the beautiful Donner Summit during our Thanksgiving break travels, we just had to make a pit stop at Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum in Truckee.

In warm-weather months, the park features lakeside access, well-tended picnic grounds, and hiking trails, but it’s still very worthy of a visit in winter. The Emigrant Trail Museum features extensive displays depicting the Donner Party ordeal, and includes exhibits describing general pioneering ways: wagons, tools, maps of established trails, and the like. Most interesting is the video (shown on the hour) and the short walk (accessible even in early winter) to the site of one of the Donner Party cabins. The kids found it fascinating that it was still possible to see the discoloration on the granite slab that served as a cabin wall, caused by chimney smoke. The nearby Donner memorial statue is also worth a look: the pedestal (base) of the memorial illustrates the height of the snowfall during the winter the Donners spent below the summit.

Tip! If you’re visiting in winter, you might want to consider stopping to sled or snowshoe near the state park at the sno-park by Boreal (a few miles south on I-80).

Date last visited: November 2011

Distance from the interstate: Directly off I-80.

Admission costs: $8 per vehicle, payable at a self-pay station or within the museum. Note: cash only!

Hours of operation: The museum is open 9 am to 4 pm, year round. State park grounds are open sunrise to sunset.

Directions: The park is 100 miles east of Sacramento via Interstate 80, and is within the town of Truckee, just west of downtown on the south side of the freeway.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.



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