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Truckee is an awesome little city, north of Lake Tahoe, in Nevada County, California. We’ve traveled through Truckee during our road trips, and enjoyed a memorable visit in Donner Memorial State Park (highly recommended)! The atmosphere in town was great – all about enjoying the great outdoors of the High Sierra ridge.
I just know we’ll be back to Truckee someday, and with that in mind, we’ve put together a quick list of things to do in and around town. If you’re planning a trip to Northern California, I hope you’ll find it helpful. And don’t forget to check out our special North California Bucket List post as well as that of Top California cities to visit!
Here are 8 things to do in Truckee, CA that will make your trip unforgettable:
- Visit Historic Downtown Truckee
- Check out Donner Memorial State Park
- Drive along Donner Pass to the summit
- Take a swim at Donner Lake
- Go for a hike
- Hit the slopes
- Visit a museum
- Go to The Village at Northstar
Below is everything you need to know to get the most out of your trip to historic Truckee.
A Part of American History
Truckee is a small town with a big history. The town is located minutes away from Lake Tahoe and was first inhabited by ancestors of the Washoe before being settled by Europeans in the mid-to-late 1800s. Though Truckee gained prominence in the 1860s as a railroad town, the city is best known for the Donner Party tragedy. These days, it is a destination spot for outdoor adventurers and art enthusiasts.
The best time to visit Truckee for watersports is from July to September; if you’re looking to ski, plan your trip between December and February. Keep in mind that nights can get down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, so pack accordingly!
8 Things To Do In Truckee, CA
There’s something for everyone, whether you love arts and crafts or carving through powdery snow. Below are the top 8 things to do for an authentic Truckee experience.
1. Visit Historic Downtown Truckee
Historic Downtown Truckee is called the town’s heartbeat and one stroll through its quaint streets will show you why. Donner Pass Road, the district’s main thoroughfare, is colored with a lively food and nightlife scene, rich shopping experience, vibrant art galleries, and significant architecture.
Start your Downtown Truckee visit in Brickelltown, home to historic 19th-century commercial and residential structures. When you’re ready to travel back to the future, head down Donner Pass Road to Commercial Row, where you can grab a bite to eat before taking in the local shops, art, and ambiance. Download this map for a directory of Commercial Row.
Go during the summer and you’ll get to experience Truckee Thursdays. Every Thursday from June to August, Historic Downtown Truckee becomes a bustling street fair highlighting work from local artists and entrepreneurs. Visit the Truckee Thursdays website here to plan your trip!
2. Visit the Donner Memorial State Park
Donner Memorial State Park houses the Visitor Center Museum, Pioneer Monument, and miles of beautiful terrain. The Visitor Center museum features exhibits on the Donner Party, area’s flora and fauna, and other historical events. Near the Donner Party cabins is the Pioneer Monument, erected in 1918 in honor of the emigrants who made the dangerous journey west. Admission to the museum and monument is free, but you have to pay to park. The fee is $5 during the off-season (October – April) and $10 during peak season (May – September).
Plan your trip to Donner Memorial State Park here.
3. Donner Lake
Twenty miles away from Lake Tahoe sits Donner Lake with its scenic beauty and a dizzying selection of recreational activities. The most popular things to do are Donner Lake Watersports and West End Beach. Both of these are kid-friendly.
At Donner Lake Watersports, you can rent a motorboat, partake in watersports, or ride a pedalboat with the family. You can view other available activities and their fees, along with information on how to get there, here.
If your idea of relaxation is lounging or playing games, visit West End Beach. There, you’ll find many shaded picnic and barbeque sites; basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts; a swimming and fishing area; and, playground areas and horseshoe pits for children. There is a $5 daily admission fee for West End Beach, which you can learn more about here.
4. Drive along Donner Pass to the Summit Point
This historic mountain pass sits 9 miles west of Truckee and was home to many firsts, such as the California Trail and Lincoln Highway, to name a few. Nowadays, it’s appreciated for its ski resorts and breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada, which you can capture as you walk along the bridge or drive down the Interstate 80.
If you’re visiting during the winter, head on down to Soda Springs, one of Donner Summit’s permanent communities. There, you can experience Tube Town and Planet Kid. Tube Town is open from 10 – 4 PM, Thursday through Monday, with exceptions made during the holiday season. The onsite price per person is $40 on weekdays and $45 on weekends. Planet Kid is for children 8 and under and has the same operating hours and days as Tube Town. The onsite price per child is $40 on weekdays and $45 on weekends – this includes admission for one parent. For more information, check out this guide on snow playing in Donner Summit.
5. Hit the hiking trails around Truckee
Exploring Truckee’s outdoors is a must, but choosing the right trail can be overwhelming. That’s why we rounded up the 3 trails rated most popular by tourists, locals, and us!
The Truckee River Legacy Trail is a paved, 6-mile bike path that runs along the banks of Truckee River. It’s easy and scenic. The trail can be accessed year-round but is best seen during the warmer months when the path is clear of snow. This trail is free to enjoy and can be accessed from downtown Truckee.
The Martis Valley Loop Trail is another popular, kid-friendly hike. Relatively flat, this 4-mile trail offers exceptional views of the surrounding mountains.
Though the Mt. Judah Loop Trail is more challenging, its views of fields of wildflowers in spring make it worth the sweat. These same views are also what make this trail highly popular, so we’d wake up early to beat the crowds. You won’t regret it!
Explore all of the trails Truckee has to offer here.
6. Or hit the ski slopes
Truckee is home to first-class ski resorts like the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. Pricier than other options, Sugar Bowl boasts over 1600 acres of skiable land and 500 inches of snowfall a year. That’s not including the world-class amenities and equipment, which you can rent from the resort at prices starting at $37 for children and $57 for adults. Holiday prices are slightly higher and can be viewed here. If you don’t know how to ski, Sugar Bowl offers lessons for adults and children. Learn more about Sugar Bowk’s ski experience here.
The less popular (and less crowded!) Tahoe-Donner downhill ski area is a great, affordable option for families skiing for the first time or looking for privacy. The Tahoe-Donner Downhill Ski Area offers similar amenities – numerous trails, ski rentals, and lessons – on a smaller scale and more manageable price. The holidays do affect pricing, which you can view here.
7. Travel back in time in history museum
Truckee’s larger-than-life history is on full display at the Railroad and Old Jail Museums – both of which are located in downtown Truckee.
Erected in 1875, the Old Jail Museum celebrates the endurance of one of the last remaining Old West jailhouses. Because its structure has remained unchanged, the Old Jail Museum retains the same charm and antiquity of the late 19th century. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10-4 PM, and on Truckee Thursdays from 5-8 PM. Admission to this museum is free.
The Railroad Museum by the historic railroad station in downtown Truckee offers a glimpse into Truckee’s notable railroad economy. The hours of operations are dependent on the availability of docents but are set at 10-4 PM on Saturday, Sunday, and most major holidays. Admission to this museum is free.
8. Check out The Village At Northstar
At the Village at Northstar, you can shop a wide selection of brands, eat from a variety of establishments, play, and relax. If you’re staying at Northstar, take the gondola from the Village to the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe. If you’re only visiting, you can still ride the gondola but have to buy a ticket. All Village guests can partake in free s’mores, which are passed out at 4 PM every day during the holidays. It’s a tradition no trip to Truckee would be complete without.
See the Village at Northstar’s directory and hours here.
Adjacent State Parks & National Forest
Have a bit more time on your hands? Stop by the Burton Creek State Park and Tahoe National Forest. Both are home to acres of trees, lakes, wildlife, and miles of trails begging to be explored.
See what Burton Creek State Park has to offer here.
Explore Tahoe National Forest here.
Where to Stay in Truckee, CA
Truckee hotels can get booked up quickly so we’d reserve your stay as far in advance as possible. Below are 2 top-rated hotels in Truckee, according to Booking.com.
Best Western Plus is Booking’s best pick for its location, amenities, and price. Minutes away from notable ski resorts and areas, this Best Western also offers a seasonal outdoor pool, fitness center, and free breakfast.
Donner Lake Village offers its guests beautiful views of the outdoors, a private beach, on-site sauna, and free parking. Most rooms also come with a kitchen or kitchenette, so you can save on eating out and indulge in more outdoor activities.
Truckee is truly a special place to visit and we hope this guide made planning your trip easier. If you’ve been to Truckee, please share your favorite attraction in the comments below. Have fun!