The 7-mile loop around Donner Lake is my go-to road run during the late Spring and Fall. It is scenic, fairly flat, and easily accessed from Donner Pass Rd. in Truckee.
- Fairly flat road run (by Tahoe standards)
- Donner Lake and mountain views
- Easy parking and restroom access
- Going for a run while the family plays at the lake
- Marathon training (do laps), especially during late Fall
But watch out for:
- Traffic during peak summer months (July & August)
- Snow in Donner Memorial Park during the Winter months
The loop is pleasant to run in either direction, starting at either end. The run is right at 7 miles if stay on the road through Donner Memorial State Park. You’ll shave off about .3 miles if you opt for the crushed granite trail through the park. Below I describe the run starting from West End Beach and traveling counter-clockwise. This is the normal route for the Donner Lake Turkey Trot.
West End Beach, counter-clockwise
Get to West End Beach by traveling West on Donner Pass Rd. from Truckee. Turn left on South Shore Rd. at the end of the lake and before Donner Pass Rd. heads uphill to Donner Summit. Parking is free, but there is a fee to enter the park between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
From West End Beach, head south then east on South Shore Rd. Gentle rolling hills take you generally uphill along the “backside” of Donner Lake. Traffic on the backside is very light in all but the peak Summer months. It is shady and cool back there, and prone to slick roads or black ice in the late Fall and Winter. After 2 miles, you drop down a short, steep section to the end of the road and a short paved path that enters the backside of Donner Memorial Park. Be advised that the path and road through Donner Memorial Park are NOT plowed in the winter.
Follow the road through the park, hugging the lake / staying left until you reach the entrance kiosk, where you go left to Donner Pass Rd. Alternately, you can take the crushed granite trail (between the road and the lake) through the park, and follow the trail over the bridge then out to Donner Pass Rd. The trail gets crowded with slow-moving pedestrian traffic during the Summer months.
There is considerably more traffic on Donner Pass Rd. than the backside of the lake, but the paved bike lane provides adequate space to run. Continue west along this flat to slightly-downhill road back to West End Beach. Reward yourself with a cold plunge in Donner Lake!
There are several parking options around Donner Lake. The closest parking to Truckee is just outside Donner Memorial State Park, where you can park head-in on the dirt (assuming there is no snow) for free. On-street parking is also available around the lake from May through October – just be sure you don’t park in the bike lane.
If you have member access to the Tahoe Donner Beach Club Marina, then park there and enjoy the run in either direction around the lake. Enjoy a cold plunge and snack before going about your day!
Train for the big climb at the Lake Tahoe Marathon by adding a run up Donner Pass Rd. toward Donner Summit to one of your laps. (This is only advisable during low traffic season.)
Or, add mileage by exploring the crushed granite and dirt trails that wander through Donner Memorial State Park.
- Donner Memorial State Park, located at the east end of the lake on Donner Pass Rd. The restrooms near the museum are open year-round. Additional restrooms and porta-potties are located throughout the park along the the running route. (These are closed for the winter.)
- Donner Lake Boat Ramp, located at 15511 Donner Pass Rd. Restrooms are closed for the winter.
- Shoreline Park, located midway on the North Shore / Donner Pass Rd. Restrooms are closed for the winter.
- West End Beach – located inside the park, so there is a fee to enter unless you are outside operating hours. Restrooms are normally open when there is no danger of freezing.
- Construction porta-potties – there always seems to be at least one or two construction sites along the lake. If you gotta go, you gotta go…
Enjoy your run, and feel free to leave a reply below if you have questions or corrections!