Day Trips – August 2022

Donner Lake & Donner Pass

Looking west: Donner Lake & Pass

There aren’t many places where you can enjoy the rugged, stark beauty of the Sierras and witness the history of transcontential travel. Donner Pass and Lake is one such area.

For overland emigrants coming to California, the Sierra Nevada mountains presented the final obstacle in their journey. Although there are many passes through the mountains, this road to the west of present-day Truckee remains the most commonly used route.

Of course, the lake and pass are named after the ill-fated Donner Party, who in 1846 were trapped by an unusually early and heavy storm. Many of those travelers spent the winter trapped along the edge of the lake. A few brave souls made snowshoes and crossed the nearby pass on foot.

At Donner Lake State Park visitors can get a sense of the difficulties those earliest pioneers faced. A monument now stands on the site of one of the Donner Party cabins. The height of the pedestal, 22 feet, represents the depth of the snow that fell that Winter. A visitors center and museum offer exhibits of the history of the people and the place.

Picnic area, with the transcontinental railroad visible above

Within the park there are miles of trails, picnic areas, camping and even boat rentals. The views are stunning. One can look out over the blue water of the lake from the tree-lined shore. If you look up, to the south, you can see the original route of the transcontinental railroad, carved out by Chinese laborers in 1867. This effort came at a high cost in lives of those laborers. Their efforts made the journey over the mountains much easier for generations to come.

Outside of the state park, there is plenty to explore at Donner Lake. There are several beaches, parks and even a boat ramp. Additionally, there are plenty of vacation rentals and lodges around the lake.

Donner Pass Road, along the lake’s northern shore is a winding road leading up and over Donner Pass. Built in 1926, this is the route of Highway 40, the nation’s first transcontinental automobile highway. It roughly follows the same path those earlier pioneers took in the mid-19th century.

Sunrise over Donner Lake and Rainbow Bridge

Near the summit is Rainbow Bridge. This concrete-arch bridge, and the stunning vista it offers, is a favored spot for photographers and had been featured in many commercials and movies. When Interstate 80 was completed in 1964, the old Donner Pass Road fell out of use as the main corridor of vehicle traffic, leaving visitors free to enjoy the beauty of the area.

The sheer granite cliff in the area make this a popular spot for rock climbers. At the summit are two of the area’s oldest ski resorts: Donner Ski Ranch and Sugar Bowl.

No matter how you choose to view Donner Lake and Donner Pass, you are sure to come away with a sense of natural wonder and an appreciation of the efforts made to conquer its obstacles.

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Donner Lake at night

Historic Sacramento Waterfront

Aerial view of Old Town Sacramento

In the Gold Rush days, those who could afford it, often traveled to California aboard a ship. This route avoided many of the hardships faced on the overland route. After arriving in San Francisco, these Argonauts often continued their journey over water, via paddle-wheel. The Port of Sacramento offered a perfect spot to begin the journey to the goldfields. Upon disembarking in Sacramento, the would-be prospectors could find everything they needed to continue their quest.

The businesses located there provided lodging, dining, drinking and all the supplies needed for a proper grubstake. The waterfront was often chaotic, with a myriad of stagecoaches and teamsters looking to move people and supplies to the slopes of the Sierras and the Motherlode. At that time, the Sacramento River was one of the busiest waterways in the world.

Front Street, Sacramento Waterfront

These days it can be easy to overlook Sacramento’s Historic Waterfront as you zip by on Interstate 5. For those wanting a pleasant stroll through the past, a visit is well worth the effort.

The buildings are either well-preserved originals or replications. It’s a great place to take children or out-of-town visitors. There are plenty of candy and ice cream shops, restaurants, pubs and boutique stores. A Ferris Wheel provides kids of all ages a thrilling view of the area.

One of the most prominent fixtures of the waterfront is the Delta King. This paddle-wheel boat serves as a floating luxury hotel, features a bar & grill and is a popular venue for weddings and celebrations.

River tours are available for those wanting a unique vantage of the Capitol City. If you would prefer a land-based tour, the California Railroad Museum offers excursion trip aboard the Sacramento Southern Railroad.

The Delta King

If you prefer a casual stroll or ride, Riverfront and the Sacramento River Bike Trail provide a good way to take it all in. But don’t be surprised if you hear a sea lion barking. These aquatic creatures are known to swim up river from the Pacific Ocean to lounge about in Old Town.

Not matter how you choose to do it, a day trip to Sacramento’s Historic Waterfront is something everyone will enjoy.

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