The Heritage Trail | Explore Placer County’s history at 19 free sites |

The Heritage Trail | Explore Placer County’s history at 19 free sites

Get up close and personal with a preserved black bear at the Gatekeeper's Museum in Tahoe City.
Courtesy photos |

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Nineteen local museums, including seven mountain museums, will offer free admission during the 6th annual Heritage Trail Aug. 10-11.

The Heritage Trail is an event which showcases Placer County’s captivating history in fun and fascinating exhibits and activities. Admission is free to all visitors, and all museums are open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. both days.

Placer County, Calif. was home to a thriving Native American culture, then the California Gold Rush beginning in 1848, the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, and later a booming fruit ranching industry, and remains home to a variety of winter sports and outdoor recreational activities.

Local museums showcase Placer County residents’ role in these dramatic events, which continue to impact California today.


Seven of these museums are located in Placer County’s mountain communities. The Gatekeeper’s Museum and the Watson Cabin are located in Tahoe City. The Donner Summit Historical Society Museum is located in Soda Springs. The Western SkiSport Museum is at Boreal. Also on the western slope are the Golden Drift Museum in Dutch Flat, the Colfax Area Heritage Museum, and the Forest Hill Divide Museum in Foresthill. Six more museums are in Auburn, and another six in the valley.

Activities vary greatly among the museums. Some focus on historic artifacts, while others may include living history activities. Free printed Heritage Trail Guides, complete with maps to all 19 sites, will soon be available at every Heritage Trail museum. A copy is available for download at


At the Gatekeeper’s Museum in Tahoe City, visitors can also come face-to-face with a real black bear, preserved and presented as part of a special exhibit “Ursus Among Us: The American Black Bear in the Tahoe Basin.” It describes black bears in their wild state and examines the at-times complex relationship between people and bears living in the basin. The Marion Steinbach Indian Basket museum on site includes more than 800 vintage and contemporary Native American baskets, jewelry, pottery and dolls.

The Watson Cabin is the oldest building constructed on-site in Tahoe City, in 1909, and is set up as a typical Tahoe pioneer family dwelling of that era, with many artifacts from the Watson family.

The Donner Summit Historical Society Museum, located in Soda Springs, features the unique history of Donner Summit. There is information about Native Americans, who crossed Donner Pass thousands of years ago, leaving behind petroglyphs and grinding rocks. Some exhibits focus on “first events” across Donner Summit, such as the first wagon train to California, the first Transcontinental Railroad, Transcontinental highway, Transcontinental telephone line and Transcontinental air route.


Visitors interested in the Donner Summit museum may wish to participate in the 2nd annual Margie Powell hike to Summit Valley, which will leave at 9:30 a.m. each day from the Van Norden Dam opposite the Soda Springs Ski Area. The two-mile hike will include information about the dam, the historic Lincoln Highway, the Dutch Flat Wagon Road, Native American activities, wagon train passes, the sheep industry and the railroad, during the two-plus hour tour before lunch.

People who visit the Western SkiSport Museum at Boreal Mountain Resort can see the wooden skis dating from 1853 when gold miners on 14-foot “longboards” raced at 80 miles per hour down perilous slopes for sport, alongside photos and memorabilia from the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley. The museum also houses the mailbag and skis of “Snowshoe” Thompson, who provided the only mail delivery service through the Sierras in the winter beginning in the 1850s.

The Forest Hill Divide Museum (in Foresthill) will feature a working blacksmith and the first motorized fire engine on the Divide. The Colfax Area Heritage Museum features the history of the railroad, gold mining, fruit ranching and the struggles of pioneer families, plus an extensive collection of historic pharmacy items. The Golden Drift Museum in the charming town of Dutch Flat is considered the best preserved Gold Rush town in Placer County, and displays of old photos, Native American projectile points, mining and railroad displays and Chinese artifacts.

Farther down the mountain are six participating museums located in Auburn, and six more in South Placer County.

All will be described in the Heritage Trail Guide and online at

Bus tours, which visit several museums each day, are available on both Saturday and Sunday. The bus departs and returns to Auburn each day; tickets are $10 per day. Reservations are required; call 1-530-889-6500. Bus tours are not able to visit most mountain museums.

Sponsors of the Heritage Trail are the County of Placer, WAVE Broadband, KAHI, SureWest and the Native Sons of the Golden West (Auburn Parlor #59 and Lincoln #63 Silver Star Parlor), who also make their historic wagons available for photos at the Bernhard Museum in Auburn.

Find complete information about all sites at or by calling 530-889-6500.

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