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Truckee: Born of Trails and Rails

Just outside Lake Tahoe and above the infamous Donner Memorial State Park site, lies historic Truckee. Sit back, sip a cup of java and delve into every nook and cranny of this idyllic
winter sports destination.

downtown Truckee is lined with old-time buildings, image
Photo caption
Truckee was named after a Paiute chief named Tru-ki-zo.

The heavy snows that blanket the Sierra Nevada around Truckee in winter bring with them the joys of skiing, sledding, and snowboarding. With its busy downtown, Truckee is an ideal headquarters for the winter sports enthusiasts—it's close to ski lifts and backcountry trails, and its charming 19th century buildings house convenient shops, cafes, and lodgings. Truckee is also relatively close to Lake Tahoe and the glittery attractions of Reno.

Truckee has the look and feel of a crossroads town, which it has been through much of its history. In addition to being on the Emigrant Trail, the town made way for the Transcontinental Railroad in 1868 and, years later, the Lincoln Highway. Today, the renovated 1896 Southern Pacific Depot serves as the Amtrak/Greyhound station as well as the Visitors Center. Inside are pioneer belongings, railroad items, and historic photos.

A stroll along historic Commercial Row reveals other period buildings. Walking tour information is available from the Visitors Center. Of interest are the Old Jail, built in 1875 and used until 1964, the Capitol Building (a former theater and county court), and the Truckee Hotel, featuring 36 guest rooms and Victorian decor.

The winter snows that delight skiers have not always been greeted so enthusiastically. During the winter of 1846-47, a combination of extremely bad fortune and the elements overtook the exhausted Donner Party as they were preparing to make their way over the mountains. Stranded by deep snows, starving, and forced to resort to cannibalism, only 47 of the 89-member party survived.

The tragedy is remembered at Donner Memorial State Park, just west of Truckee. The Emigrant Trail Museum features Donner Party belongings, items from the Central Pacific Railroad, and natural history displays. A 25-minute slide show is presented several times daily.

The park maintains trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Rangers lead hikes throughout the season; (916) 582-7892.

If you like your cross-country skiing with touches of civilization such as groomed trails, lessons, and day lodges, head to Tahoe Donner, Royal Gorge, Northstar, Squaw Creek, and Lakeview.

Those wishing to strike off on their own will find several marked and unmarked trails and unplowed roads within the Tahoe National Forest, from the Pole Creek Trail System, six miles south of town, to Sagehen Summit, north on Highway 89, to the more difficult Castle Peak-Donner Summit area, west on I-80.

Downhill skiers can satisfy themselves at nearby Boreal, Tahoe Donner, Squaw Valley USA, Donner Ski Ranch, Soda Springs Ski Area, Sugar Bowl, Alpine Meadows, or Northstar. The Tahoe Area Regional Transit system (TART) provides ski-rack-equipped bus service to several resorts; (916) 581-6365 or (800) 736-6365 (out-of-area).

Whether or not you're a skier, there are other winter activities nearby. You'll find ice skating rinks at the Resort at Squaw Creek; (916) 583-6300, and Squaw Valley's High Camp; (916) 583-6985. Northstar offers horseback riding in the snow; (916) 562-1230. Eagle Ridge Snowmobile Outfitters, Inc., 14 miles north on Highway 89, has tours of various lengths; (530) 546-8667.

In west Truckee, with its gas stations and supermarkets, there are other points of interest. The Sierra Nevada Children's Museum, 11400 Donner Pass Road, focuses on interactive and hands-on activities. The new "Kids in Space!" exhibit, continuing through September of 1996, studies the stars as well as the Space Shuttle missions; (916) 587-KIDS. Bargain hunters should seek out the Tahoe Truckee Factory Stores, 12047 Donner Pass Road, for Dansk, Van Heusen, Bass Shoes, and other outlets.

For daily event updates call (916) 546-LAKE.

Photography courtesy of Epukas/Wikimedia Commons

This article was first published in January 1996. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.