Snowshoeing Donner Summit Canyon

A few weeks ago, my friend Erin was in town visiting from Seattle, so Greyson and I took her on a snowshoeing adventure up Donner Summit Canyon.

Snowshoeing Donner Summit Canyon // tahoefabulous.com

Donner Summit Canyon was purchased by the Truckee Donner Land Trust in 2010, and it’s now part of Donner Memorial State Park and it’s a great place to snowshoe or cross country ski in the winter and hike or bike in the summer. To access the Donner Summit Canyon Trail, there is a small parking area on the south side of Highway 40, about a third of a mile up from the intersection with South Shore Drive.

Donner Summit Canyon Snowshoe // tahoefabulous.com

This is a great snowshoe that’s pretty safe (but check avalanche conditions before you go) and not overly difficult. It’s not so steep that you’ll be sliding backwards, but there’s enough of an elevation change that you’ll work up a sweat. On our route, we gained ~300 feet in ~2.75 miles. The canyon also doesn’t get a lot of sun in the winter, so it holds snow well. It’s a good option for snowshoeing when the snow has melted off more exposed trails.

Snowshoeing Donner Summit Canyon // tahoefabulous.com

We went up on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday, and though we had plenty of tracks to follow, we only saw a couple of other people the whole time we were out. A lot of the trail follows the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road, which was used to ferry supplies up to the transcontinental railroad construction site and was later used by auto traffic until Highway 40 was built in the 1920s (more history here). The canyon has views of Donner Peak, Donner Lake, and Shallenberger Ridge that are different from the usual angle that the more popular lookouts see. One thing that I really enjoy about snowshoeing, especially when the snow is deep, is the ability to go cross country, away from the normal trails and see familiar sights from new vantage points. Here’s a link to my Strava track, if you want to check out this awesome snowshoe!

Snowshoeing Donner Summit Canyon // tahoefabulous.com

Snowshoe Gear
Like other winter sports, having comfortable, effective snowshoeing gear is critically important for enjoyment. I used to think that I hated snowshoeing, but it turns out that I just didn’t like the snowshoes I was using! I’ve never had my own, and I’ve always borrowed Greyson’s, which are similar to the MSR Evo Trail. This style is a little too wide for me, and I was always walking a little bowlegged, which was uncomfortable. For this trek, I borrowed a longer, narrower pair that let me walk with a gait closer to my natural one, which was much more comfortable, like these Tubbs Wilderness Women’s Snow Shoes, 30″ – White/Green. I enjoyed snowshoeing so much more with this style! When I buy snowshoes, this is the style I’m getting, but I plan to try on a few different pairs to get a feel for what I really want.

Snowshoeing Donner Summit Canyon // tahoefabulous.com

I usually work up quite a sweat snowshoeing, so I like to wear lighter, breathable clothes and pack along a windproof layer just in case. I usually do a wool baselayer (like this SmartWool Women’s Hoody and these Stoic merino bottoms), with light, waterproof pants (I got a pair of amazing Arc’teryx Beta pants on super sale a few years ago. They’re pretty pricey at full price, but if you can find them on sale, they’re great!). I top things off with my trusty Marmot Aruna down vest and pack my Patagonia Houdini Jacket, which is packs down to a tiny size but is a great wind barrier. For my feet, I wear my thickest Smartwool socks and either my LL Bean boots or my KEEN Targhee boots – something waterproof and warm.

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