Donner Summit - the most important historical square mile in California and maybe the entire Western U.S. Native Americans summered on Donner Summit for thousands of years before the arrival of European Americans. They left behind petroglyphs (see our petroglyph page), mortars, and projectile points. The first wagon train to reach California with wagons crossed Donner Summit followed by hundreds more. Donner Summit is the site of the first transcontinental railroad, the first transcontinental highway (the Lincoln Highway), the first transcontinental air route, and the first transcontinental telephone line. It has been a hive of activities including many different industries: agriculture, sawmills, forestry, mink farming, ice harvesting (See the Ice in Ice Lake), dairy cattle, railroading, highway maintenance, tourism, and the ski industry. The rescued members of the Donner Party, their rescuers and the Forlorn Hope, the first group to escape Donner Lake, all crossed Donner Summit.

For a quick introduction to Donner Summit in PDF form with lots of pictures click here. Peruse our brochures for all the big events in Donner Summit history. Visit our 20 Mile Museum, interpretive signage along Old Highway 40 and nearby. Sign up for the Heirloom, a monthly publication full of Donner Summit history stories and photographs - free. See the links to the right.

Finally, acquire a copy of Walking Through Donner Summit History - ten walks where you will read about the stories, "hear" history through people's words, and see the historical photographs that bring history to life. You might also get a copy of Extraordinary Crossings, stories about crossing the great barrier, the Sierra Nevada. Get copies or find out more.


“Donner Summit has its beauty of high crags and gleaming granite…” but it does not rival Yosemite. Donner Summit is special because "it has kept a rendezvous with history, and its interest to the person who passes here should be historical as much as scenic…”

George R. Stewart
Donner Pass and Those Who Crossed It

George R. Stewart is also the author of Fire, Storm, Ordeal By Hunger,
Donner Pass and Those Who Crossed It, Earth Abides, The California Trail