Nature November 20, 2016
There’s No Other Hike In The World Quite Like This One In Northern California
The abandoned train tunnels at Donner Summit are hands down one of the coolest places to explore. History, nature, and modern evidence of human visitors are all rolled into one here.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
The tunnels are located toward the top of Old Highway 40 above Donner Lake near Truckee. They are almost 1,700 ft long and were completed in 1867.
This icicle was photographed in Summit Tunnel.
Built primarily by Chinese immigrant workers in the 1800s, this was the first railroad line to traverse the Sierra Nevada.
A new route through this area was built in 1993, and since then people have been exploring this area.
The pull off to the tunnels is on the left if you are heading west from Truckee up Old 40. It's a fairly mellow walk if you just want to check out the tunnels, although you can spend hours up here exploring. If you want a little more exercise, the Historic Donner Pass Trail is a 5.5 mile hiking path that winds through this area.
The abandoned tunnels were originally made of wood, but were slowly replaced over the years by concrete structures.
The retaining wall known as the Chinese Wall is 75 feet high. The craftsmanship is extremely impressive, especially considering that it was built without modern technology on very steep terrain and is still standing over a century after it was constructed.
Pictured here is the entrance to Tunnel 8.
Many openings and breaks in the tunnels reveal the spectacular beauty of Donner Summit.
It's very obvious that there have been many visitors to these tunnels since the trains stopped running through.
Inside tunnel 7.
The further along you walk through these tunnels, which were mostly built to keep snow off the tracks, you will see the older construction styles. This snow shed resembles the original shape of the wooden tunnels more so than the first models you will come across.
Not only is Donner Summit beautiful, it's also the site of about 200 ancient petroglyphs. They are believed to have been carved by hammerstone by the ancestors of the Washoe approximately 1500-4000 years ago.
If you zoom in on the foreground of this image, you will see the zigzags, circles, spirals, what appear to be suns, and bear and deer tracks as well as stick figures.
If the name of Donner Pass is ringing a bell, it's because this is the site where the infamous party of pioneers was stuck for the winter and resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.
Snow drifts here can pile up quickly.
Historical photos from the time these tunnels were first being built show the rugged landscape and the steep mountain sides that workers had to deal with.
Pictured here is Old Highway 40 looking down from the tunnels.
A helpful map shows how to find each tunnel and where other landmarks are located.
Watch this video made by Josh from California Through My Lens. He’s pretty spot on for most of his descriptions, but we think those are bats he heard at the end of the video, not rats!
There’s really no place in the world like these tunnels. Would you walk down an abandoned railroad track?