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“Fun but spartan lodging, beautiful cozy lounge and library, decent food, LOTS of SNOW!!!!”

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Clair Tappaan Lodge
Reviewed 29 December 2011

We are a family of four, just went to Clair Tappaan for our 6th year in a row and loved it. But then again I can see how it can be a good fit for some folks but not for everyone. When we're on vacation, we don't spend time in our room, we're out and about enjoying our destination. Our beds/hotel room are NOT our destination, and we don't care much what they look like! So the fact that Clair Tappaan has bunkbeds does not bother us in the least--the mattresses are comfortable, the rooms are clean, just be sure to bring your own sleeping bag and towels. Pillows and clean pillowcases are provided. There are several configurations of rooms, accommodating 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, or 12 (I think). There are also a men's and a women's dorm for singles. Some rooms have a door directly out to a balcony overlooking the winter wonderland that surrounds this place. The facility is well-heated. Bathrooms are shared, well-stocked, and clean. Meals are decent and wholesome, sometimes quite good, sometimes average, but there's plenty to go around and we don't find ourselves hungry between meals. Good vegetarian options are available at every meal. A nice hot breakfast is served at 8:00AM, dinner is at 6:00PM, and you bag lunch youself from fixings they put out at 7:30 AM. You eat at slightly cramped tables with 8-10 people per table, so you get to know others staying there. It's great for kids, who can make friends and play together. You are expected to do a small (about 1/2 hour daily) chore of your choosing, part of the cooperative experience, helps to keep prices down. Our kids have a blast setting the tables before dinner! If you're not into pitching in with chores, or eating at prescribed times, or sharing a table with folks you don't know, you should stay elsewhere.

The wonder of Clair Tappaan lies partially in the location, and partially in the experience of the lodge itself, a lovely giant log cabin built by a committed team in the 1930's. The lounge has comfy couches, a piano, a crackling fire, and lots of games to choose from. The library is smaller and quieter, with jigsaw puzzles, a great selection of books, and a warm woodstove--a great place to read, write, relax, escape. There's a pingpong room and a hot tub in the basement. Prices are per person, reasonable, and include 3 meals/day. There's a discount for Sierra Club members--it's worth it to become a member.

The location is one of the snowiest places you can go in the area--last year there was 8+ feet of snow pack on the ground, this year was unusual--only about a foot late December. There is a glorious sledding slope right out the door, as well as a cross-country ski path and lots of space to build snow sculptures, snow forts, snow-anything! The lodge rents snowshoes and XC skis, and offers XC lessons, all for a reasonable price. (there are sleds available to use for free) Other snow fun places are close by: Royal Gorge, Donner Ski Ranch, Sugar Bowl, etc.

The ambiance at Clair Tappaan is friendly and laid back. Whatever the weather, the director, Peter, is very resourceful and can advise you on fun things to do. We are adventurers, love new things, and almost never go to the same place twice. Clair Tappaan is our exception: It's become our family's winter tradition, and we love it there. Give this place a try!

Room Tip: Rooms for 2 are called "cubicles" and are TINY, so don't be surprised. They're ki...
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  • Stayed: December 2011, travelled with family
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3  Thank karen_travelmom
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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22 - 28 of 30 reviews

Reviewed 8 February 2011

We stayed one night in order to link two days of fun at Sugar Bowl. Perfect location near Sugar Bowl, Donner Ski Ranch, Soda Springs, or Royal Gorge. Also would be great for snowshoeing or hiking in the Donner Summit area. Considering 3 meals are included, it is the best value around short of camping out.

It is much more comfortable than camping, but less comfortable than a motel. Beds are bunk beds and your sleeping bag, walls are thin, and clean bathrooms are shared down the hall. We had to ask a group of boy scouts three times to do less shouting after 10pm and again before breakfast, and likewise we were awoken around 6am by some eager beavers upstairs whose footsteps while packing caused the old structure to squeak. I highly recommend earplugs, which I forgot!

Hearty, simple meals are shared in a boisterous mess hall. There is a quiet, well-stocked library that offers a quiet escape for reading or jigsaw puzzles. All in all, I would recommend the lodge for families or groups who enjoy the outdoors, do not require much privacy or creature comforts, and who need only simple lodging and food at a reasonable price.

  • Stayed: February 2011, travelled with family
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1  Thank clifster
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 20 July 2010

Great Location even for Summer fun!
I brought a group of 15 people.
We went on fantastic hikes - Including Mount Judah. We fished and swam in Donner Lake--( every day we were lucky enough to secure a free public mini dock for our group). Some of our group went kayaking, others rock climbing, while others just hung around the lodge and read books, played ping pong and volleyball, sat in the hot tub, played cards and worked on puzzles...etc.
The food was good- all three meals are included.
The bedrooms are small but workable. (They also have men and woman's dorms??) Doing one chore each day was no big deal.
The staff was very friendly and helpful -especially in directing us as to where to go hiking.
At first The type of people that were staying at the Lodge were those who shop at REI all year long, recycle and smell like DEET. The lots of kids arrived -- but all in all they were all Good people.
The "However" is--it is QUIET time at 10pm and the first night everyone was very respectful. The second night as mentioned a group of HS kids as part of the Parents with teems program arrived and part of our group had a very hard time sleeping with all of the noise of excited teens (the parents did apologize the next day..) this however is rough when you are going fishing, backpacking or hiking EARLY the next day.

  • Stayed: July 2010, travelled with family
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2  Thank NorCal13
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 21 March 2009

Not a luxury resort but a kind of funky european-style hostel (it does have a nice hottub). Slap on your snowshoes or cross country skis and start your outdoor adventure from the Lodge's back door. We had a fabulous time hiking off trial in snow shoes, and climbing ridges for outstanding views. All meals included, yes, it is institutional cooking, but with some nice spices. It's communal living, meaning more noise and less privacy, but also easy to meet people if you happen to come alone, and some how sleeping turns out to be relatively easy (even in the dorms) -- the Lodge does get quiet at night. Excellent value.

  • Stayed: March 2009, travelled with friends
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3  Thank SFNYTraveler
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 23 February 2009

This is the Sierra Club Lodge in Donner Pass, started in the 1930's, and has ways of operating that are more like a Hostel and less like a hotel. If you like camping in the summer, then you will find it a wonderful place- with bunk beds (bring your own sleeping bag, pillow + case provided), full meal service, and chance to meet other families outside and inside at meals and at the fireplace room, ping-pong room, and library! At $60 per adult including all meals, and half that for kids age 4 to 13 make for a very affordable stay in a very expensive region.
It has reliable snow in the winter time- we like to go there because it has a safe sledding hill and place to play in the snow right outside- without being anywhere near cars, plus you can keep an eye on the kids from several inside places. The Lodge rents XC skis and snowshoes for use on trails that start right outside the Lodge, or you can use them at other nearby ski areas, perhaps taking the shuttle bus.
You will need to bring your own snow boots for getting around outside, sledding or snowshoeing, and bathing suit for the hot tub.
*Please note- the Lodge will set aside rooms for families and groups. The Lodge is often jam-packed full on winter weekends and holidays. At other times, families can reserve a "group dorm" and have it all to themselves- the Lodge has a dozen of these "rooms", each containing from 5 to 12 bunkbeds, and sharing baths down the hall. The Lodge has other types of rooms, but this is the best choice so that families can be together.
The Lodge discourages very young children, especially when the Lodge is jam-packed, but at other times, if your toddler can deal with a bottom bunk, or you can share your sleeping bag with your child, it should work out OK.
Meals are served at 8AM and 6PM, have a vegetarian option, and are served family style. There was enough variety so that my son, the picky eater, managed to find something to eat at each meal, without having to resort to making some mac-n-cheese. Each morning at 7:30 AM, you can make your bag lunch for the day, selecting from a variety of chips, cookies, breads, cheeses, meats, etc.
The chores that guests do range from helping the cook prepare or clean up meals to taking out trash- they can be shared with children when practical.
The Lodge is near North Lake Tahoe, but because you don't have to cross "Donner Summit" on I-80, the trip is shorter from the Bay Area to the Lodge than all the way to Tahoe. This cuts out the section of road most likely to be slow or even closed due to storms or accidents. You may still need chains to get to the Lodge, but you won't have to drive another 30 miles on them to get to North Lake Tahoe. We recently had the fastest trip ever to the Lodge- 3:15 from the Peninsula- and that includes a bathroom break that was at least 15 min!
The staff at the Lodge "gets it" when you show up with your kids- unlike some other places with snow... for example, another place closes their sledding hill after 4PM! The Lodge staff is very knowledgable and helpful from bunks to snowshovels to rentals to ping-pong balls.
The elevation of the Lodge is 7000 feet- which accounts for heavy snowfall and altitude-related headaches for guests. Another important elevation is the 40 feet up from the parking lot up to the Lodge, fortunately, a new "loading zone" across from the other end of the parking lot avoids this climb. But luggage still needs to be pulled on a sled from that zone along a longer but flatter snowy path to get it to the Lodge.
This separation from their cars keeps the kids safe- this is difficult in the snow at hotels where you have to drive everywhere. On our last trip, we let 2 feet of snow build up on the car during the 2 days we were there- we didn't need to go anywhere else. When it was time to leave, we dug it out, loaded it up and drove home.

  • Stayed: February 2009, travelled with family
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1  Thank Snowshoe_Thompson
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 29 July 2008

I stayed at Clair Tappan Lodge with a Sierra Club trip during the summer. We were the only group at the lodge for most of the time and there were about 30 to 50 at the lodge total, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Most of our group stayed in the dorm. The dorms were roomy, but I can see how the place would feel crowded if full. If you’re in the dorm, the bathrooms are next door (there is even a door leading from the women’s dorm to the women’s bathroom). A few people were in the double rooms and said those were pretty tight quarters. The website says they rent out sheets and a blanket, but I brought my own.

I think the free meals are the selling point of Clair Tappan. They put out plenty of fixins for you to make lunch and there is always tons of food made for breakfast (all the oatmeal you could ever eat). Dinner is also hearty and there is a vegetarian option, plus dessert. The chores typically involve meal set-up or clean-up. Mine never took more than 10 minutes.

There is also a library with lots of reading and games and a common room. The area in the back has a great feel to it and there are plenty of other places to just sit around. Downstairs, they have a hot tub, laundry room and table tennis. I was there in the summer, so I can’t comment on the winter sports options but there are endless hiking trains within a 15 minute drive. I had cell phone connection at the lodge but for Internet, you have to go into Truckee. There is no public transit directly to the lodge but you can cobble together train/bus/shuttle/taxi rides to get to the lodge if you don't have a car.

I loved the rustic feel of the lodge and felt like this was the perfect place to come back to after a long day of hiking

  • Stayed: June 2008
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2  Thank SusieGirl7
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 12 February 2008

We stayed in one of the micro rooms -no frills room with a tiny bunk bed, and an opening for the door -bring your own sleeping bag. Shared bathroom, wooden floor hallways full of noise of passing people and children playing. An incredibly unsafe 100 yard walk from the road to the lodge on an icy slippery trail. No railings, no lights at night. People must sign up for chores to do, such as moping the floors, etc. Food was served by tables of 10, and was of good quality and hearty portions. Price includes the meals, including a bag lunch. Ok value, but no amenities, and beware of falling on the long entrance trail.

  • Stayed: January 2007, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank robert c
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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Additional Information about Clair Tappaan Lodge

Address: 19940 Donner Pass Road, P.O. Box 36, Norden, CA 95724
Region: United States > California > Norden
Amenities:
Free Breakfast Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Children Activities (Kid / Family Friendly) Restaurant Ski-In / Ski-Out
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 1 Speciality Lodging in Norden
Price Range: £40 - £47 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:2 star — Clair Tappaan Lodge 2*
Number of rooms: 145
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Clair Tappaan Lodge is a hostel-style mountain lodge nestled in the Sierra Nevada of California at the top of Donner Pass. Built by Sierra Club volunteers in the 1930s, the lodge is an excellent home base for year-round recreation. The friendly, casual atmosphere and affordable nightly rates (including family-style meals) make the Lodge the perfect rustic getaway to the Tahoe/Donner area. Please note, hostel-style means guests bring their own bedding, towels, and assist with kitchen chores daily. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Clair Tappaan Hotel Norden

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