Max Jones, famous for The Flume Trail and his long-time stewardship of the Spooner XC ski area, once told me that three things are needed for successful winter recreation: plowed parking, packed snow, and winterized restrooms.
As you can imagine, these things cost money. California SNO-PARK is one program that provides winter trail access for a fee ($15/day and $40/season as of 22-23 season). Click here for SNO-PARK locations and information. The Sno-Park at the Boreal/Castle Peak exit provides access to the Castle Valley and Castle Peak for a more mountainous environment and vertical relief than what you might find elsewhere.
All of the local (Tahoe Donner, Royal Gorge, Tahoe City XC, Auburn Ski Club) cross-country ski areas welcome snowshoe runners, but this is a more expensive venture. Of these, Auburn Ski Club (ASC) at Donner Summit is the most affordable.
If you are new to snowshoe running, see Coach Peter’s article on basic snowshoe running gear here.
If you are willing to forgo the restrooms and take your chances on snow packing conditions, here are three winter trailheads for free:
Cold Stream Canyon
Much of lower Cold Stream Canyon is part of Donner Memorial State Park, but the Cold Stream Canyon Rd is a public, plowed road where you can park for free.
- Exit Interstate 80 at Donner Pass Road, Exit 184
- Proceed through the four-way stop onto Cold Stream Rd
- Pass our partner hotel Truckee Donner Lodge on your right and continue on the paved road
- Park where the pavement ends
- Lat/long of parking: 39.318866, -120.231351
From the parking, you can go up the roads into Cold Stream Canyon or follow the flatter terrain in the main park area.
Prosser Hill OHV
Nestled just north of Truckee, Prosser Hill OHV Staging Area provides free parking and a forest snow experience for those willing to explore. Snow is often packed by snowmobile users. You can also head out towards the Emigrant Trail (east of 89) for fresh tracks and less snowmobiles.
- Take I-80 exit 188B (89 North) toward Sierraville/Lake Tahoe
- Follow the signs through the roundabouts to stay on CA 89 North
- The Prosser Hill OHV Staging Area is 4 miles north of I-80 on the left
- Lat/long of parking: 39.386911, -120.185683
Look for user-packed snow and make your route!
Tahoe Donner Powerline Trail
Paved parking at the top of the Trout Creek bike path also provides access to the Tahoe Donner power line trail. This route is less scenic, but extremely easy to follow under the power line (shown here on the summer trail map.)
- Take Northwoods Blvd north from Donner Pass Road in Truckee
- Paved & plowed parking is at the top of the hill on the right, just past the Coyote Moon Golf Course.
- Lat/long of parking: 39.33667, -120.20911
The paved & plowed Trout Creek bike path is downhill (east) of the parking. The Powerline Trail snowshoe route is uphill (west) of the parking on the other side of Northwoods Blvd. Expect mixed conditions of user-packed and untracked snow. Follow the power lines about 2.5 miles up and back, crossing the street a total of three times each way.
Parking is plentiful near the summit of 431, as are the options for exploring! In some areas you will have to deal with snowmobile traffic and sledding, but this area is large enough that peace and quiet can be found by everyone willing to explore a bit.
Nevada Nordic Trails off Hwy 431
There is a large plowed turnout along the Mount Rose Highway (431) at 39.2827, -119.9343 and the groomed trails start just to the north of this parking area. Please consider making a donation on their website, as this is the only form of support that keeps these trails groomed!
There is a 2 mile snowshoeing loop in the Spooner Lake State Park off 28, just north of 50.
Donner Memorial State Park
Parking is available at the Donner Memorial Visitor Center. You can explore the areas near the lake, or use this parking area for accessing the Coldstream Canyon Road area (the dirt road is occasionally groomed).
If you are looking for some snow vert, this is a great spot. You can follow fire roads all the way to Summit Lake, or the more challenging narrower trail up to Drifter Hut. Accessed via the Donner Lake exit on I-80. There are some plowed spots in a turnout just south of I-80. Don’t park on the exit ramp or road.
Canyon Spring & Glenshire Meadows
Start from the Glenshire Clubhouse and circle the pond or cross the meadow. Access TDLT’s Canyon Springs land from Glenshire Drive, about a 1/2 mile east of the Glenshire Clubhouse (if parking area has been cleared). A lot of foot and ski traffic usually has created a variety of well-packed trails to follow.
Page Meadows (Tahoe City)
Park in the TRT trailhead lot near the transit center. Follow the summer TRT trail west into the meadows.
Head into the large meadow in the valley, where the golf course is located in the summer. Not groomed. Can park in the Olympic Valley Park (101 Olympic Vly Rd, Olympic Valley, CA 96146) and take the bike path to get there.
Sawtooth/06 Forest Rd area
Parking is tricky for this spot. Your best bet is a friend’s driveway, otherwise you risk getting a ticket. But if you can get there, you will find seemingly endless miles to explore. This area gets a lot of snowmobile traffic, which can help create roughly groomed conditions.
Get out there and try it out, and you’ll be all ready for The Racing Gnome Snowshoe Race on Sunday, February 12, 2023!
Sharon Fong says
Glacier Way behind the Tahoe Donner downhill ski area has a trailhead and scenic views. Carpenter Valley just outside Tahoe Donner and Alder Creek road also is popular.