7 places to picnic in Truckee (and leave no trace)

Visit Truckee-Tahoe / Special to the Sun
Rainbow Bridge, Donner Lake Overlook.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — When in Truckee, enjoy your takeout with mountain views. Our rugged skyline, shimmering alpine lakes, and lush meadows offer the perfect backdrop for a scenic picnic. What better way to get a taste of Truckee’s food scene?

Truckee’s off-the-beaten-path picnic spots rival any restaurant patio for dinnertime ambiance. And this list is just the beginning. So, where will your takeout take you?

Order Takeout in a Reusable Green Box 

Truckee restaurants, coffee shops, and markets now offer a sustainable takeout option: a reusable Green Box. These to-go containers help reduce waste, a great alternative to single-use cardboard, plastic, or styrofoam. If you’re planning a picnic with takeout, consider ordering from a Green Box participating location.

Picnic Essentials

What’s in your picnic basket? If you need supplies, Truckee’s outdoor gear stores have everything from coolers and picnic blankets to solar lanterns and reusable utensil sets. Here’s a list of essentials for a Truckee picnic.

  • Reusable water bottle, like this Hibear flask created by Truckee locals! Stay hydrated, especially if you’re hiking to a picnic spot.
  • Cloth napkins – Ditch single-use paper napkins and choose reusable. It’s less likely to get blown away in the wind and when you’re done, just throw it in the wash and use it again later.
  • Reusable Utensils – There are lots of great reusable utensils that come in travel sets. Keep them in your picnic basket to always be prepared to dine outdoors.
  • Hand sanitizer – Keep yourself healthy, remember your hand-sani!
  • Garbage bag – Pack it in, pack it out! Always bring a garbage bag with you in case trash bins are full and clean up your picnic site before you leave.
  • Backpack – If you’re hiking to a picnic spot, like Hawk’s Peak, don’t forget to bring a backpack to carry hiking gear and picnicking essentials.

7 Places to Picnic in Truckee

No. 1 Truckee Tahoe Airport – grass area and plane viewing

Families love this lesser-known picnic area where you can watch planes take off and land on the airstrip. Order takeout from Red Truck, located inside the airport, and find a spot to enjoy your meal at one of the shaded picnic tables or on the big grassy field. The outdoor seating area also has a playground for the kiddos.

Just 10 minutes from Historic Downtown Truckee, this quaint aviation hub is close to dining at the Rock and just a few minutes from Waddle Ranch scenic dirt trails, perfect for a walk, run or ride before or after your meal.

Truckee Tahoe Airport Grass Area and Plane Viewing.
No. 2 Donner Party Picnic Area

Enjoy a quiet picnic where the infamous Donner party overwintered in 1846-47. This cozy picnic area is nestled among tall pines next to the Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail. 

Make sure to dispose of all trash properly in the bear-proof garbage receptacle. After enjoying your takeout, hike the short Emigrant Trail Interpretive Loop which begins at the picnic area. This easy walk takes you around Donner Party’s winter campsite and tells their incredible story of struggle and survival.

No. 3 Stampede Reservoir

Take a drive to Stampede Reservoir for a quiet picnic spot on the water. The large body of water is a beautiful place to dine with lots of quiet corners to lay down a picnic blanket. 

Explore the spacious shoreline and you’ll find ample opportunities to spread out from others and find a moment of solitude. This is a great spot for kids to run and play with the possibility of wildlife viewing. Bring binoculars if you have them and keep a sharp eye out for bald eagles and osprey.

Stampede Reservoir. |Photo credit Paul Hamill, courtesy of Visit Truckee-Tahoe
No. 4 Donner Memorial State Park

Enjoy lake views, swimming, paddleboarding, and more at Donner Memorial State Park. Start at the Visitor Center and experience Truckee’s history through the interpretive exhibits about the Donner Party, the Chinese construction of the railroad, and the Land of the Washoe.

After stopping at the visitor center, find the perfect spot to picnic along the shoreline of Donner Lake at the Day Use Picnic Area. Enjoy picnic tables with an incredible view and endless water adventures! Remember to pick up your trash and any other garbage you see, including micro-trash, before leaving the picnic area. It’s up to all of us to Leave No Trace to keep Donner Lake clean.

No. 5 Rainbow Bridge, Donner Lake Overlook

Drive into the large, paved overlook next to Rainbow Bridge (also known as Donner Summit Bridge) for Truckee’s iconic view of Donner Lake. Like a drive-in movie but better, this overlook delivers the convenience of tailgating with mountain views you won’t forget anytime soon. 

*Donner Pass Road (Old Highway 40) is closed Monday – Friday for a road rehabilitation project to widen the roadway and add a bike lane. Construction is estimated to be completed Aug. 31. View the Truckee-Tahoe Travel Alert for updates.

Rainbow Bridge, Donner Lake Overlook. | Photo credit Paul Hamill, courtesy of Visit Truckee-Tahoe
No. 6 Truckee River Regional Park

Picnic meets playtime at the Truckee River Regional Park. There are large grassy fields where you can spread out and comfortably enjoy your meal, secluded nooks near the amphitheater for more privacy, plus endless fun for the kids including a disc golf course, skatepark, and tennis courts. The Regional Park is minutes from downtown Truckee and The Rock, both of which offer delicious Truckee takeout options. Choose The Rock for Thai, Sushi, and local Gastropub or head downtown for everything else.

No. 7 Hawk’s Peak

A hike up to Hawk’s Peak is an unforgettable way to experience the sunset in Truckee. It’s a strenuous trek but the climb up to the peak is well worth the effort, especially with a tasty reward! We think everything tastes better at 7,700 feet, what about you?

Make sure to pack appropriately for this hike and practice good hiking etiquette along the trail. You should carry a map, plenty of water, layers, and a headlamp if you plan to watch the sunset. View a hiking map and description. 

Hawk’s Peak.
Tips to Leave No Trace on a Picnic
  1. BYOB – Bring Your Own BAG! Be prepared in case garbage/recycling containers are full or not available. Always carry an extra bag to pack out your trash.
  2. Leave Your Picnic Site Better Than You Found It: Do a full sweep of your picnic area before leaving and make sure to pick up all trash. Don’t forget about micro-trash like bottle caps and can tabs!
  3. Respect Truckee’s Wildlife: Never feed or approach wildlife. Make sure to dispose of all trash properly in a bear-proof garbage receptacle.
  4. Be Careful to Avoid Sensitive Vegetation: Having a picnic in a meadow could cause long-lasting damage to sensitive plants. Set up camp chairs or picnic blankets on durable surfaces.
  5. No Campfires or Charcoal Grills! Fire bans are in effect. Check the Truckee-Tahoe Travel Alert and our Visitor’s Guide to Wildfire Season to learn more.
  6. Park in Legal Parking Areas Only: Parking outside of designated parking areas is a safety hazard for pedestrians and cyclists and creates dangerous situations for emergency response vehicles. Never park on vegetation as the heat from your engine poses a significant risk of starting a wildfire.
  7. It’s Windy! Catch Your Trash Before it Escapes in the Breeze. Light items like wrappers and empty bags can easily blow away in the strong Santa Ana winds Truckee typically experiences in the fall. Keep a neat, tidy picnic site with everything safely secured from gusty winds.

Source: Visit Tahoe-Truckee

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