Lake Tahoe Stories and Tips

Following the Donner Party

Donner Memorial State Park Photo, Lake Tahoe, California

Much of our past has been overrun by the present, but there is an area near Lake Tahoe that provides us a glimpse into our history. Most of us have heard the story about the ill-fated Donner party that got stranded in the mountains in the winter of 1846 near present-day Truckee. One can visit the nearby park named in honor of this group and see for themselves the site of this infamous episode of human endeavor gone horribly wrong.

Donner Memorial State Park is today a quiet stop along a busy interstate highway. Little evidence can be seen of the tragedy that took place here so many years ago. However, there is a large boulder along one of the trails in this park that served as the back wall and fireplace of the cabin belonging to George Murphy, one of the members of the group. There is no visible sign that one of the settlements was located here apart from a commemorative plaque, erected in 1919, that bears the names of the 48 people who survived and the 42 who perished. Altogether there were four separate and distinct campsites located near each other.

Besides the previously mentioned Murphy cabin built against the boulder, there was a cabin located on the spot now occupied by the pioneer memorial statue erected near the museum and parking lot. Another campsite lies to the northeast along Donner Pass Road, less than a mile from the state park. A white cross and a simple memorial mark the spot. It's in the corner of a factory outlet mall that grew up around it. About 7 miles farther to the northeast was the Alder campsite where the Donners were encamped for the winter. That site is now a picnic ground and relatively undeveloped.

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