Donner Lake

Donner Lake – Placer County

Donner Lake is a natural alpine type body of water which lies almost exactly “True” East/West, along the Eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Range (no “s” on the end, “Sierra Nevada” is already plural), in the Tahoe National Forest. We are bounded at the West, by the infamous Donner Summit; on the North, by Donner Ridge along which runs Inter-State 80; at the East, by the Donner Memorial State Park; and the South, by Shallenburger Ridge along which the main East-West Union Pacific Rail Road tracks and their “snow sheds” are located. The Lake itself is totally within Nevada County (Town of Truckee); however, along the south side of the Lake, the Nevada/Placer County Lines parallels the Lake and some subdivisions straddle this line.

Donner Lake was formed primarily through a combination of faulting and glacial action. “Glacial Polishing” of the granite can be seen nearer Donner Summit. Glacial moraine formed a natural dam to the Lake, upon which most of the State Park is situated. The main streams which feed the Lake are: Summit Creek, coming from the West and Gregory Creek (AKA: Negro Creek), from the North-West; as well as many underground springs which surround the Lake. The water then exits the Lake, through the State Park, via Donner Creek and joins the Truckee River near the Donner Creek Mobile Home Park, on West River Street.

Lake has been measured by the California State Lands Commission, to be 328 Feet deep at it’s deepest point — just off the “guard rail” along Donner Pass Road. The Lake is just under 3 miles long and about 3/4 miles wide. High Water level is 5935.8 feet above Mean Sea Level (since Lake Tahoe’s high water line is 6228′ MSL, that dispels the myth that somehow the two lakes are connected). Donner Lake can reach a temperature of 76° during Summer. When measurements were taken one year it was determined Donner Lake was, on average, 6° warmer than Lake Tahoe; when you take into account Donner Lake will occasionally freeze over during Winter, that means we have to definitely make up the difference during the Summer! The Lake is lowered between 8-12 feet during winter to provide a “catch basin” during spring run-off, so flooding Reno is less likely.” –

photo by Gold Country Photography





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