Best of Hiking in Tahoe Donner

By Ashley Quadros  |  Photos by Court Leve

Hitting the trails around Tahoe Donner for an afternoon hike isn’t an activity just for the elite. With over 60 miles of multi-use terrain available to explore, Tahoe Donner has trails for almost every ability—and every trail offers a unique experience. From the avid outdoorsman ready to conquer his next mountain, to the family looking for an easy stroll with the kids, Tahoe Donner has it all.

Best for Kids 

Alder Creek Trail is a fantastic hike for families with small children. This nearly all-level hike or walk offers plenty of shade and allows kids to see some incredible sights, like the beaver dams that intermittently line the creek. Annie Rosenfeld, an avid hiker and director of risk management at Tahoe Donner, advises, “Take a chair, sit awhile at the middle ponds and you will see ducks, woodpeckers, dragonflies, water snakes, and maybe a beaver at the right time of day.”

Glacier Way is another great trail for kids. The trail is mainly level with modest inclines. Kids will appreciate the small climb once they realize they can see Donner Lake from high above. (See Mellow Strollers for more info on Glacier Way).

Best for FALL LEAVES

When it comes to trails that offer the chance to see beautiful fall colors, Whoop It Up is hands-down one of the best trails to explore, but it’s not the only leaf-peeping trail in Tahoe Donner. Off the beaten track is Lower Mother Lode. Hike Lower Mother Lode to Fools Gold for a chance to see beautiful fall-changing foliage with peak changes expected to occur late September to early October.

Trails Manager Christina Thayer notes Crabtree Canyon Road is another great option. “It offers some of the largest aspens in the area, as well as incredible views from the top,” she says.

Best for VISTA VIEWS

For breathtaking views, McGlashan is a must-do trail. Access the McGlashan trail off Bermgarten Road and head out to the Donner Lake viewing area to see the lake and beyond. For additional vista options, consider taking Glacier Way to Drifter Hut; exploring portions of the Eastern Perimeter trail from Wolfgang East; or taking on all of Mustang Sally.

“East and West Mustang Sally provides amazing views,” Rosenfeld says. Thayer agrees, adding, “The trail winds through large, granite erratic boulders and provides extensive views in all directions.”

Best for Mellow Strolls

Glacier Way, while popular with kids, is also a great option for those looking to stretch their legs. The trail offers gradual inclines and an easy-to-navigate gravel path, but because much of the trail is in the sun, going in the morning hours is best.

For the easiest of mellow strolls, perhaps for those with baby strollers, Thayer recommends the Euer Valley overlook. Simply park at the Alder Creek Adventure Center and hit the trail.

Rosenfeld also recommends a new trail, which is part of the Town of Truckee trail network. “Take advantage of the new Trout Creek Class 1 paved trail and walk to downtown Truckee,” she says. This trail is also maintained year-round through Town of Truckee Measure R funds.

Best for adventure lovers

The most adventurous trails in Tahoe Donner prove challenging for all hikers, but they are not without reward. East and West Mustang Sally offers some of the best views of Hawks Peak's, Tahoe Donner’s tallest mountain, standing at 7,729 feet.

East and West Mustang Sally were realigned this summer, making for an enhanced user experience while establishing a sustainable trail and improving natural resources and water quality of the Prosser Creek watershed.

Hawks Peak, on the other hand, is one of the most popular adventure trails Tahoe Donner offers, but there are others just as challenging, if not more so. “Believe it or not, it’s tough to walk or bike the entire Eastern Perimeter Trail,” says Thayer. “Very few people have done this, though it is only seven miles.”

Adventure seekers should also consider the Donner Lake Rim trail. Access the trail off Glacier Way and it connects down into Johnson Canyon for an incredible journey.

Find more detail about these trails by picking up a trail map or downloading the Tahoe Donner app.