We like to take advantage of our Thousand Trails membership when we can, so after leaving the campsite near Lassen Volcanic National Park we went to Snowflower RV Resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was well within our 300 mile daily driving limit. When we arrived, we joined a line of campers waiting to get in the gate. The campground was at full capacity and as usual, Thousand Trail’s “find your own site” policy was a challenge. Finally, we found a site that fit our needs and we unhitched.
The campground features a 23 acre lake with stocked trout. We saw dads fishing with their children along the bank. Families set up chairs and pop-up canopies to stake out a spot on the beach. Some people rented canoes or kayaks from the camp store. One afternoon, we took a swim in the lake to cool off. There is a swimming pool, but it was too crowded with kids. With all the activities, this is a popular campground for families.
We didn’t look to see if there were any points of interest or things to do nearby until after we arrived. Boy, were we surprised. We were just minutes away from Donner Pass, a historic pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was through this pass where thousands of emigrants traveled by wagon to California in search of fortunes and a better life.
Located below the pass is Donner Lake where the infamous Donner Party spent the winter of 1846 – 1847. As the story goes, an early winter storm blocked the mountain passage and they had to sheltered near the lake for the winter. Tragically, they ran low on food and resorted to cannibalism to survive.
We went to the Donner Memorial State Park where the Donner camp was located. The park was open but the Emigrant Trail Museum was closed due to COVID-19. We’ll just add this to the many disappointments we’ve had so far caused by the virus. We did, however, admire the Pioneer Monument.
Donner Pass was also the location of the Transcontinental Railroad, the first railroad linking the east with the west. A series of tunnels, trestles and retaining walls built through the pass by a predominantly Chinese workforce made the trip over the Sierra Nevada Mountains quicker and easier. The tunnels, now abandon, attract many hikers and adventure seekers today. Known as the Summit Tunnel Hike, this was one of the best hikes we’ve been on and the highlight of our time in the area.
Taking Donner Pass Road to Sugar Bowl Road, we parked in a vacant lot near the beginning of tunnel #6 which is the longest of all the tunnels. It is 1659 feet long and considered an engineering marvel for its day. In later years, because of the massive amounts of snowfall, sheds were built linking the tunnels helping to keep the track open during the winter.
Peering down the dark eerie tunnel revealed a small speck of light at the far end. Carrying a small flashlight in one hand and a camera in the other we started walking across the damp gravel floor toward the light. An occasional whiff of guano told us we were not alone.
We hiked about two miles through four different tunnels before turning back. Some of the snowsheds have been removed creating scenic overlooks where you can view Donner Lake.
Even though graffiti covers the walls it doesn’t diminish the thrill of walking through these historic tunnels. I eventually started to admire the artistic ability displayed by some.
I hope if you ever come to this area, you would take this hike. It is fascinating.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.