Donner Lake is a freshwater lake in northeast California on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada and about 11 miles (18 km) northwest of the much larger Lake Tahoe. A moraine serves as a natural dam for the lake. The lake is located in the town of Truckee, sandwiched between Interstate 80 to the north and Schallenberger Ridge to the south. The tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad run along Schallenberger Ridge and closely follow the route of the original transcontinental railroad. The historic route of U.S. 40 follows the northern shoreline, then climbs to Donner Pass from where the entire lake may be viewed.
Both the lake and the pass were named after the unfortunate Donner Party, which spent its fateful winter near the lake in 1846. Donner Memorial State Park is on the east end of the lake and provides campsites with access to several different beaches. There are also various hiking trails in the park.
The lake's depth has been measured by the California State Lands Commission to be 328 feet (100 m) deep at its deepest point. High water level is 5,935.8 feet (1,809.2 m) above Mean Sea Level (since Lake Tahoe's high water line is 6228' MSL, that dispels the myth that somehow the two lakes are connected).
Donner Lake holds some of the biggest Lake Trout in the state. There is also a good population of Rainbow and Brown Trout as well as Kokanee Salmon. Fisherman use downriggers and troll with plugs for Kokanee Salmon and Rainbow Trout in order to catch the trophy sized Lake Trout. During the Spring and Fall season, Lake Trout come to the top to feed and this is the only time of year one has the chance to hook a Laker in shallow water.
Donner Memorial State Park wraps around the East and part of the South shore of the Lake, encompassing Scallenberger Ridge to the south. Summer activities include, camping, picnicking, boating, fishing, water-skiing, wind-surfing hiking and mountain biking. Winter activities include cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Park features the Pioneer Monument, welcoming visitors year round, which was built to commemorate the Donner Party traveling to California from the east in the mid-19th century. The statue itself is positioned 23 feet (7.0 m) high, which is said to be the depth snow reached during the winter of 1846 when the Donner Party failed to make it over the pass.
There are roughly 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of hiking trails inside the Park. Visitors can legally park in Coldstream Canyon (just past the 76 gas station) which contains the alignment of the primary Emigrant Trail, which leads up to U.S. Forest Service and the Pacific Crest trails beyond the park. Donner lake is roughly 8 miles (13 km) around which also makes for a great hike.
There are 154 sites to camp at in the park and a day-use area along the lake. A Lakeside interpretive trail has 18 panels which discuss the natural and cultural resources in the local area.
Max. length : 4.38 km (2.7 mi)
Max. width : 1.0 km (0.6 mi)
Surface area : 3.40 km² (1.31 sq mi)
Max. depth : 100 m (328 ft)
Surface elevation : 1809 m (5936 ft)