Walking in the steps of history can be fun for anyway, especially when it's a hike that offers up some of the finest views in Northern California. A hike that does just this is the Donner Lake Rim Trail, which sits close to where old travelers use to pass through Donner Pass to get to California in the 1840s. Nowadays the Donner Lake Rim Trail is a volunteer effort to create a hiking and biking trail that connects all the peaks along Donner Lake, which will eventually cross over 23 miles of land.
The Castle Valley Trailhead is along highway 80 and connects to the Donner Lake Trail via an access trail that is 1.5 miles long. Parking in the trailhead can be a challenge, as the trail is popular and spots are normally taken during the summer and fall months. The trailhead also offers no amenities, so be sure to bring water and clean-up bags and dispose of your trash properly.
Getting to the Donner Lake Rim Trail is easy and you will even cross over the popular Pacific Crest Trail. Once on the trail, you'll find yourself surrounded by a granite garden, with tall cliff faces that expose the raw rock to hikers. Other then rock formations and cliffs to see, hikers will enjoy a shaded walk under Jeffrey pine and sugar pine, along with a number of other trees that make up the Tahoe National Forest. About 3 miles into your hike, you and Fido will come across Summit Lake, a blue gem surrounded by tall pines and desert terrain. The lake is pet-friendly, with a few natural beaches to explore on that the trail connects to, perfect for swimming and fishing.
After this portion, the trail is mostly downhill, with a few elevated bumps. Other landmarks along the way include large boulders, crossing over a bridge over an unmarked creek, finally towards the end at Donner Ridge. The ridge will showcase the diverse landscape the best, with a mixture of tall firs and desert plains that make up the valley that the ridge looks over.
The trail continues to Glacier Way Access Trail and its trailhead, where you and Fido can find restrooms and water fountains.
Although many years have passed, the area hasn't changed much, and you'll be able to see what travelers passing through Donner Pass saw over a hundred years ago, with your pup right by your side. Not only that, you'll be able to enjoy the fine views and scenery which will leave you breatheless.
The best time to visit the trail is during July and October since snow and ice will build up along the trail during other months. The trail is in bear country, so beware of black bears and grizzly bears that live in the area.