Donner Lake has all the beauty and fun of Tahoe but without the scene
Just 20 miles west of Lake Tahoe, there is an equally beautiful, crystalline lake offering endless summer and winter activities. Donner Lake is an idyllic destination with public docks and beaches, fantastic hiking, and its own ski resort, and it’s right down the road from Truckee, which boast breweries, a winery, and fantastic restaurants. Here’s what to do on your next warm-weather trip there.
Packing for a Weekend on the Water
For this trip, we packed with Truckee’s warm days and cool nights in mind, plus an anticipated plethora of water-based activities. We partnered with Carhartt and Hurley to celebrate the launch of their new line of hardworking, water-friendly wear, and we brought the Hurley x Carhartt Classic Workwear Jacket, Hurley x Carthartt BBH Hat, Hurley x Carhartt Men’s Classic Double Front Pants, and Hurley x Carhartt Men’s Ringer Shirt in both long and short sleeves . We also brought a few of our favorite goodies: Redwood Empire whiskey, Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and a vintage Steinbeck novel—my pick for evening reading on our vacation rental’s beautiful porch.
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There are a couple of hotels in the area, like the fantastic Cedar House Sport Hotel, but the best way to experience Truckee and Donner Lake is with a vacation rental. You’ll have room for your gear, ample outdoor space, and bedrooms for everyone who will want to join you. From Tahoe Vacation Rentals, we booked the Tahoe Donner Mountain Retreat and loved the rustic interiors, large patio, and alpine aesthetic. Plus it’s dog-friendly, a huge bonus for our pup in tow! When you rent with Tahoe Vacation Rentals you also gain access to all of the Tahoe Donner amenities: Donner Lake beach club, tennis, workout facility, golf course, and so much more.
We had the best day paddling around the lake in a canoe from Donner Lake Watersports. They rent canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and motor boats. We opted for a classic canoe, which felt appropriate for the lake. Rowing a canoe requires some elbow grease but allows you to pull up to shallow-water beaches around the lake for a picnic. Better yet, the canoes are dog-friendly, so of course we brought our pup.
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Float the Truckee River
Floating the Truckee River is a must on any trip to Donner Lake or Northern Tahoe. There are several options for a float trip—none of which require a guide because the water is so calm. We rented our raft from Truckee River Raft Co. and had a fantastic experience, but you can also rent from Truckee River Rafting or DIY the whole thing and use your own inner tube (you will need to figure out how to transport it).
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Donner Lake has more to offer than just water activities. The region surrounding it boasts an array of hiking and mountain biking trails, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. After working up sweat on an ascent, you’ll be rewarded with views of the lake and the stunning landscape.
Truckee River Winery: The winery, which won “Best of Class, Double Gold” in the 2019 Sunset International Wine Competition for its Malbec, is the highest-elevation winery in the West. Open year-round, the homey tasting room is surrounded by beautiful grounds, which boast bocce courts and several family-friendly seating areas. The wine is fantastic—we loved the Malbec, of course, but we were also very impressed with their long list of Pinot Noir vintages.
Fifty Fifty: What is a mountain town without a top-notch brewery? We tasted our way through the tap menu at Fifty Fifty, which includes several fantastic hazes, IPAs, and a sour. Fifty Fifty has a large, beautiful patio, perfect for enjoying a pint and one of their fresh menu items.
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Pianeta Ristorante: Pianeta is packed every night with visitors and locals alike. The cozy restaurant serves up hearty northern Italian food, including the best Bolognese I have ever had. This restaurant is so popular (for good reason), that reservations are very strongly recommended.
Stella: We highly recommend this popup restaurant at the Cedar House Sport Hotel, which serves an exciting mix of Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisine. Picture this: hummus and falafel appetizer, ceviche and chicken tinga entrees, and a kombucha float dessert. Unfortunately, Stella is only open on the weekends during the summer, but we’re really hoping it sticks around.
Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar: There is nowhere better to take in a pink-hued sunset in the Sierra than Cottonwood. Perched on a hill above Truckee’s downtown, the restaurant boasts stunning views, classic cocktails, and delicious American food that hits the spot after a day spent in the great outdoors.