Waddle Ranch, photo by Elizabeth Carmel

Waddle Ranch, photo by Elizabeth Carmel

Waddle Ranch Preserve provides important habitat for many birds and mammals. Recent resort and residential development in the Martis Valley and around Truckee have made Waddle Ranch Preserve increasingly important for these displaced species. After an unprecedented community fundraising effort, the Truckee Donner Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land purchased the 1,462 acre Waddle Ranch in 2007 for $23.5 million, protecting it forever.

In 2009, title to Waddle Ranch Preserve was transferred to the Truckee Tahoe Airport District. The Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the property, forever prohibiting development while assuring the public’s right to access and enjoy the property. The Land Trust and the Airport District manage the property jointly. Several forest thinning projects totaling nearly $2 million were conducted to restore forest health and reduce fire threat. Now disease-resistant sugar pines will be planted to restore forest composition.


field notes


Located in the heart of Martis Valley near Truckee, Waddle Ranch Preserve was home to indigenous people. Artifacts left by the Martis people are estimated to be two to three thousand years old. More recently, the Washoe Indian Tribe used the valley as a summer encampment until the 1910s.


Trails for hiking, mountain biking, trail running

  • Wildflowers as you cross the first creek you come to after the dam

  • View Waterfowl in Lake Ella and see Bald eagles fly overhead (if you’re lucky!). Woodland birds are frequently seen along Katy’s Walk

  • Forested area along Erika’s Trail with many misshapen trees

  • Picnic tables at Beacon Meadow and at Erika’s Trail viewpoint

  • Waddle Ranch Preserve is an excellent wildlife viewing area. Visitors have seen coyote, mule deer, mountain lion, and many other forest mammals

smartphone navigation


The Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the property, forever prohibiting development while assuring the public’s right to access and enjoy the property.



Waddle Ranch Preserve is accessed via Martis Dam Road off State Route 267 in the Martis Valley, about four miles south of Interstate 80. This trailhead can be reached by car between May and the first snowfall. A gate at the beginning of Martis Dam Road restricts vehicle access in the winter.

  • From State Route 267 turn north onto Martis Dam Road. Proceed to the trailhead located on the left at the junction of Glider Port Road and Martis Dam

  • From here walk or bike across the dam and follow the signs to Waddle Ranch Preserve


There are numerous ways to tour Waddle Ranch Preserve. A suggested route is to hike from the Martis Dam trailhead to Lake Ella and back.

This hike is approximately six miles round-trip with moderate elevation gains; moderate difficulty due to uneven terrain, and elevation gain. It takes approximately 4 hours for a round trip.

Hike Description:

Starting at the trailhead, walk north along Martis Dam Road and after almost a mile cross over the top of Martis Creek Dam. (Do not take the paved road on the left along the way as it leads to the bottom of the dam). Keep an eye to your right for osprey and bald eagle fishing Martis Creek Reservoir. Depending on the time of year, you might also see migratory waterfowl.

Once across the dam the trail becomes dirt. Follow the trail signed as Waddle Dry Lake. (Lake Ella was originally called Dry Lake but now contains water.) The trail crosses drainage, and turns abruptly left and east. At the first intersection, take the right fork signed as Waddle Ranch Preserve to stay on Matt's Trail which is unsigned.

You can stay on Matt’s Trail to Lake Ella - or you can take a recommended scenic detour onto Erika’s trail. Erika’s trail ascents to the Linker Family Meadow – a perfect place for a picnic with a table and benches. To take this detour, continue along Matt’s Trail until you see a sign for Erika’s Trail on the right. Take the right and ascend Erika’s Trail to Beacon Meadow. At the top of Erika’s Trail, you will have expansive views of Martis Valley. From here, continue north on the trail and take a left onto Sawmill Road, an unsigned dirt road. Continue on Sawmill Road to Lake Ella.

Lake Ella is a beautiful spot for a rest and a picnic. There is a table and benches with a spectacular view of the lake.

From Lake Ella you can optionally take a short circular route called Katy’s Walk just right and south of the lake. It is an excellent option for spotting birds and other wildlife. Visitors have seen coyote, mule deer, mountain lion, black bear and other animals on the Waddle Ranch Preserve. Work is underway to restore sugar pine to the forest here. Follow the sign to Katy’s Walk and continue on the trail until you reach Megan’s Trail to return to Lake Ella.

To return to the Martis Dam trailhead from Lake Ella, re-trace your steps. Take Sawmill Road back to Matt’s Trial. Backtrack on Matt’s Trail down to Martis Dam Road and finally the trailhead.


  • Trails are open to hiking, running, bicycling, and non-motorized winter use

  • Unauthorized motorized vehicles of any kind are strictly prohibited

  • Fishing, hunting and discharging firearms are prohibited

  • Fires of any kind, including camp stoves and smoking, are prohibited

  • Open for day use only

  • Waddle Ranch Preserve is open sunrise to sunset. Camping is by special arrangement only

  • Dogs must be on a leash so as not to disturb wildlife. Please pick-up after your pet and pack out the waste


ELIZABETHTOWN MEADOWS is a property adjacent to Waddle Ranch Preserve that consists of a beautiful meadow and surrounding forest.