History: Donner Party Hike back after a 2-year hiatus

Judy DePuy / Special to the Sun

The Donner Party Hike event encompasses and recognizes the tenacity of our early pioneers. The past two years have matched some of what our early pioneers may have endured albeit not quite so horrific but equally tragic.

For those not familiar with the Donner Party Hike it is all about learning the history of Donner Summit and the surrounding ‘most historically significant square mile in California.’ The Donner Summit Hike is a weekend of interpretive hikes, walks, talks, music and exploration of the region’s history.

The Donner Party Hike was postponed two years ago due to the pandemic. The planned 2021 hike was cancelled due to smoke. But the spirit of these hikes continues. So in 2022 the Donner Party Hike team is trying to make it tangible for visitors and locals, again.

On top of Donner Summit.
Provided/Bill Oudegeest/Donner Summit Historical Society

On the interpretive walks you can almost hear the sound of the oxen teams and rumble of wagon wheels as countless emigrants scaled the Sierra in search for a better life. Learn about the treks of the early pioneers (including the success of the Stephens Party and the tragedy of the Donner Party), the building of the railroad, the significant contributions made by the Chinese community, the hidden lakes, and much more.

The hikes will be on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 17-18.

Saturday will have a choice of eight hikes:  Historic Donner Pass (2.5 miles), Donner Peak/Coldstream Pass (4.5 miles), Railroad Snowsheds (4-6 miles), Summit Meadows (4 miles), Summit Canyon/Dutch Flat Wagon Road (3.5 miles), Roller Pass/Judah Loop (6 miles), High Sierra Lakes (6 miles) and Donner Memorial State Park Natural History Hike (3 miles). The hikes will begin and end at Donner Ski Ranch located on Donner Pass Road/Highway 40 on Donner Summit.

Trail Map for 2022 hike.

The hikes are based on interest and technical level and are led by historical guides that will share the rich history of that specific hike. There is a splendid group of volunteers who make this happen. These volunteers keep the history of the Truckee Basin alive.

In the afternoon enjoy music by Alice Osborn, a singer/songwriter from North Carolina, who will be sharing her songs of the Donner Party.

At the end of each hike, lunch will be served at Donner Ski Ranch with presentations by two of the four extreme athletes (Bob Crowley and Tim Twietmeyer) who did the reprise in 2020 of the Forlorn Hope trek from Donner State Park to Johnson Ranch. The Forlorn Hope reprise was in honor of the group of 15 people from the Donner Party who risked everything to bring help back to those left at Donner Lake. They also did the reprise of the Donner Party Rescue Expeditions in 2022. They will share the challenges of hiking over 100 miles, some of the errors and tragedy of the original Donner Party and the difficulty of finding the routes.

Sunday’s hike offers an additional walking tour and exploration of the Donner Camp Picnic Area and Donner Memorial State Park where Donner Party families wintered. Admission to the State Park and movie documentary are included.

Tickets for Saturday’s hikes are $65 per hiker. The two day package is $85 per hiker.

Space is limited. Details on each hike and registration for Saturday or both days can be found at (Note that registration will close on Sept. 4. After that date there will be no refunds.)

To get some exercise and learn about the history and pioneers of the area, please register soon.

Judy DePuy is a member of the Donner Summit Historical Society and on the board for the Truckee Donner Railroad Society and Museum of Truckee History. She resides in Tahoe Donner with her husband, Dave, and their black dog, Morticia.

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