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Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum
Ranked #1 of 53 things to do in Truckee
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Owner description: This museum documents the fascinating and tragic history of the Donner Party's journey to the west coast.
Reviewed 24 July 2014 via mobile

Sitting on the Beach at Donner is never a bad thing. There are great views, nice sand and plenty of more private little spots along the shore. Gets very busy on weekends but weekdays are a pleasure. Great for dog walking as well as for a starting point for a paddleboard or kayak excursion. Lots of BBQ pits scattered thru out.

Thank TruckeeTroutTraveler
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 22 July 2014

We are a group of 4 adults and 3 kids happened to stop by this state park. To our amaze, you just need to pay for the parking fee (about $8), you can enter the Emigrant Trail Museum for free. There are displays of the items such as photos, carriage, baskets about the early emigrants especially the Donner Party. Besides this, you can also see a film about the adventure of the Donner Party which is pretty educational. There is a short trail (less than one mile) just outside the museum, a nice stroll along the trail is refreshing. You also can take pictures outside the museum where statues of the Donner Party can be found. We found this little unexpected stop interesting and relaxing. It is worth stopping by this park during your visit to the Donner Lake.

2  Thank CarmenL2112
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 20 July 2014

While on our way to Lake Tahoe, we stopped by to visit the “Donner Memorial State Park.” In front of the museum sits this enormous “Pioneer Statue Memorial” that was erected in their honor. It tells a sad story of their survival trying to reach California.

We stopped in “The Emigrant Trail Museum” which was interesting to look at. There were quite a few literatures on the Donner Party and their struggles to reach California.

There were displays and other “replicated” memorabilia associated with this family that you could purchase in the form of books.

We saw numerous exhibits about the cultural history of the area, including local Native Americans, the Donner Party, and builders of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

Near the museum is the Pioneer Monument and the Donner Party's Murphy family cabin site. The walk was a short hike where we viewed what remains of this historic site.

We also took a short and pleasant nature walk in the park and admired the surrounding areas then concluded our stop by taking photos of the monument. Stopping here was more out of respect than anything else.

“Donner Memorial State Park” was built to preserve the site of the Donner Camp, where participants of the ill-fated “Donner Party” were trapped by weather during the winter of 1846–1847.

The party was caught without shelter or sufficient provisions and associates of the group resorted to cannibalism to survive. The Sierra Nevada site has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The state park also contains the Emigrant Trail Museum and the Pioneer Monument dedicated to the travelers of the Emigrant Trail. This is short version of their story.

In April 1846, a group of Midwestern families left Independence, Missouri for California. Their wagon train rolled crossed the Great Plains and through the Rockies, but was seriously delayed when a “shortcut” leading southwest became treacherous.

The emigrants clashed continuously with each other and eventually resulted in one man killing another and an old man was left on the trail to die.

An early and severe snowstorm prevented passage over the High Sierra and forced the ill-fated party to spend the winter near present-day Truckee.

41 of the 89 settlers perished when their supplies and oxen were consumed, the desperate emigrant’s finally cannibalized their dead friends and relatives.

Today, the “Donner Memorial State Park” is located where many members of the Donner Party spent their final days.

The park draws nearly two hundred thousand tourists a year, typically very inquisitive about the cannibalism facet of the Donner story.

“The Pioneer Monument” was erected in honor of all those settlers who made the difficult journey to California during the 1840s.

In 1901, construction to the monument begins which is near the site of the cabins that gave shelter to the Donner Party.

On June 6, 1918, a ceremony was held that included “Donner Party survivors” and the Native Sons of the Golden West who donated the completed monument and 11 surrounding acres to the State of California.

A trail from the museum leads (about 200 yards) to a large granite boulder against which was built the cabin that sheltered members of the Murphy, Pike, Foster, and Eddy families during the harsh winter of 1846–1847. A plaque on the boulder's face reads:

The plaque on the front of the Pioneer Statue reads:

“VIRILE TO RISK AND FIND; KINDLY WITHAL AND A READY HELP. FACING THE BRUNT OF FATE; INDOMITABLE,—UNAFRAID.”

The plaque on the rear of the Pioneer Statue reads:

“NEAR THIS SPOT STOOD THE BREEN CABIN OF THE PARTY OF EMIGRANTS WHO STARTED FOR CALIFORNIA FROM SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, IN APRIL 1846, UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF CAPTAIN GEORGE DONNER. DELAYS OCCURRED AND WHEN THE PARTY REACHED THIS LOCALITY, ON OCTOBER 29, THE TRUCKEE PASS EMIGRANT ROAD WAS CONCEALED BY SNOW.

THE HEIGHT OF THE SHAFT OF THE MONUMENT INDICATES THE DEPTH OF THE SNOW, WHICH WAS TWENTY-TWO FEET. AFTER FUTILE EFFORTS TO CROSS THE SUMMIT THE PARTY WAS COMPELLED TO ENCAMP FOR THE WINTER. THE GRAVES CABIN WAS SITUATED ABOUT THREE-QUARTERS OF A MILE TO THE EASTWARD, THE MURPHY CABIN ABOUT TWO HUNDRED YARDS SOUTHWEST OF THE MONUMENT, AND THE DONNER TENTS WERE AT THE HEAD OF ALDER CREEK. NINETY PEOPLE WERE IN THE PARTY AND FORTY-TWO PERISHED, MOST OF THEM FROM STARVATION AND EXPOSURE.”

“IN COMMEMORATION OF THE PIONEERS WHO CROSSED THE PLAINS TO SETTLE IN CALIFORNIA. MONUMENT ERECTED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE NATIVE SONS AND THE NATIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE GOLDEN WEST.
MONUMENT DEDICATED JUNE 6, 1918”


“THE FACE OF THIS ROCK FORMED THE NORTH END AND THE FIREPLACE OF THE MURPHY CABIN. GENERAL STEPHEN W. KEARNY, ON JUNE 22, 1847, BURIED UNDER THE MIDDLE OF THE CABIN THE BODIES FOUND IN THE VICINITY. FOLLOWING IS A COMPLETE LIST OF THE MEMBERS OF THE DONNER PARTY WHO OCCUPIED THE VARIOUS CABINS AND TENTS.”

1  Thank Holdtheair
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 13 July 2014

We visited mid-week and paid $7 ($1 discount for seniors) for a car of 4 visitors. The museum contains artifacts from the Donner party rescue sites and explains the event well via displays and a dated film. (A beautifully designed new information center is almost complete next door, so perhaps they will update the film as well.) This exhibit is fine for children to view. A self-guided 1/2 hour walking loop provides a pleasant outdoor experience (sniff the tree; see the back wall of one of the cabins) across a stream and through both meadow and woods. A well-stocked gift shop includes books about the event and the area. We left the site but returned free due to the good-all-day admission; we drove down the shore and parked near the lakeside trail, which provided access to the water and several information boards describing natural features. Water sports, biking, and hiking were all occurring, but it was not crowded.

1  Thank Robyn S
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 2 July 2014

We brought our kids mid-week and it was our first time there. We stayed 3 nights and enjoyed every minute of our stay. The days were filled with hiking around the lake; swimming in the lake; and playing around the camp area. The restrooms were clean. Neighbors were friendly and considerate...and the extra bonus for wife and kids was that the showers ($1 for 12 minutes - quarters only) had and nice steady flow of hot water! A very welcome addition after a couple dusty days in temps that reached in the 80s during the day, and mid 30s at night. On Thursdays, downtown Truckee closes down the street filled with live music and booths filled with arts and crafts made by local artisans. Moody's Bistro Bar and Beats was a great restaurant for dinner with wonderful service and very kid friendly. There was so much to do each day that we didn't get a chance to visit the museum near the entrance or attend any of the activities that the rangers setup for the kids a few times each day.

We plan to make this an annual trip!

1  Thank wethere
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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