Monday, April 27, 2015

Donner Pass Hike through abandoned railway tunnel

One of my favorite parts of our recent trip to Truckee, was actually the drive home! I know that sounds bad, but on our way out Sunday morning, we took a hike through an old railway tunnel above Donner Lake that was really amazing. I was a little nervous about hiking through an abandoned tunnel in the mountains, and had no idea if the kids would enjoy the experience or be terrified the whole time. As it turned out, our 3.5 year old was the one that didn't want the hike to end.

View of the tunnel as it curves around the mountainside.
We parked our car at a turnout along Donner Pass Road, just before you reach the Donner Summit Bridge. From the parking lot, you can walk up the road maybe 100 yards at which point you will find a clear path to the tunnels laid out. The hike up to the tunnels is pretty easy, our 3.5 year old was able to maneuver herself along the rocks and boulders without any problems.

This is where your hike should begin, just up the road from the parking turnout.

The hike to the tunnels takes 10-15 minutes, and then the real adventure begins! We were there on a warm day, so the snow above the tunnel was melting, causing water to drip down from above and puddles to form along the path. I would suggest bringing a flashlight for the darker portions of the tunnel as well as to help you avoid stepping in the puddles.

The railway was originally constructed in 1867, with the last train running through it in 1993. Since it's closure, the tracks have been torn out and much of the interior has been covered with graffiti. Along the tunnel there are openings where you can step outside and get some pretty amazing views of Donner Lake and the Sierras. (For more history on the tunnel as well as additional pictures, check out this post by one of my favorite travel bloggers.)

View from the first opening.

We didn't make it that far into the tunnel before turning back, but the portion that we did was well worth the stop! I think this would be an amazing place to explore more of in the future.

After our hike we continued our drive back to the Bay Area, and made our final stop at Goathouse Brewing in the small town of Lincoln. Our stop in Lincoln added about 30 minutes of driving (which I was initially regretting), but in the end it was well worth the detour! Goathouse Brewing is situated in one of the more peaceful and beautiful settings I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying a beer. The tasting room is in a converted barn that opens up to a patio with picnic tables, and just beyond that is a grass field with goats and a donkey! It was the perfect place to let the kids stretch their legs on the drive home, and to top it off, the beers were really good!

Seriously...have you ever seen a prettier beer tasting venue?
The brewery serves 5 oz. sample glasses at $2/glass with 8 beers on tap to choose from.
There was an 8 week old baby goat when we were there, and several pregnant goats.

Our stop at Goathouse Brewing was probably the most enjoyable beer I have had since having children. I can count on one hand the number of times we have been able to sit and drink a beer while the kids entertained themselves (this actually might be the only time that has ever happened!). If only they were closer to home!!

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The details: To get to the hike from Truckee, we took the Donner Lake exit at turned right onto Donner Pass Road at the bottom of the hill. We followed Donner Pass Road until we saw Donner Summit Bridge, at which point we pulled into a parking turnout (just before the bridge). You will know if you are at the right turnout because you will see a plaque about the China Wall of the Sierra (see pic below). From the parking lot, you should walk up the road about 100-150 yards until you see an easy point to cross the small creek, and from there it is pretty easy to find your way to the tunnel. 
You can also refer to this post by another blogger that includes a map and more pictures of the hike. 



  1. Is it an easy hike for an old dog to reach the tunnels?

    1. Yes it is! When you park in the pullout you will want to follow the road up to where you can see a clear path. It's maybe a 5-10 minute walk up to the tunnels and a gradual incline most of the way.