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by: John Svahn

Coldstream Valley is the two mile-long glaciated valley located just south of Donner Lake and Schallenberger Ridge. The Valley is Truckee’s ‘backyard’ for year-round recreation and for good reason: easy access to the backcountry and spectacular scenery! 


Most people know Coldstream for its summer trails, but it is open year-round and makes for a nice Nordic ski or snowshoe.  The Valley is steeped in the history of the Donner Party and the transcontinental railroad.  It is also home to raptors, deer, bear, bobcats and mountain lions.  And the scenery - Schallenberger Ridge and its windmill tree, Anderson Peak and Tinker’s Knob - form a stunning backdrop for the tour.


The standard route is to follow Coldstream Valley Road from the parking lot to the famous Horseshoe Bend where trains gather speed for the long push over Donner Summit.  From here, either retrace your tracks for a nice 5-mile tour, or take the loop road around the Coldstream Ponds.  Portions of this route traverse private property so please stay on the road which is the only permitted access.  For those looking for a higher-octane experience and familiar with backcountry safety and route-finding, there are numerous powder stashes and spring corn runs to be had on the publicly-owned lands surrounding Coldstream. 


Coldstream holds a special spot as the birthplace of the Land Trust, which was initially founded over development and logging concerns in the Valley.  In addition, Schallenberger Ridge, portions of Coldstream, and Emigrant and Lakeview Canyons were donated to Donner Memorial State Park through a partnership of the Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land more than tripling the size of our beloved state park.


Either pay a nominal fee to park at the State Park Museum lot or access Coldtream Valley via Coldstream Road, which begins at the red flashing signal on the south side of I80 at the Donner Pass Road exit at the West side of Truckee.  Proceed past the gas stations and park at the end of the pavement.  Coldstream Valley is administered by California State Parks as a part of Donner Memorial State Park.  Dogs are allowed and must be leashed at all times (please pick up after your dog and pack out the waste.)  Please follow the parking rules at the end of the paved road and do not block the access to Coldstream Road, the Caltrans yard, or impede the ability for emergency vehicles to turn around.  For more information, please visit the Donner Memorial State Park website here.


Enjoy your tour!

Photo: Bill Stevenson

Greyson Howard