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Exploring Our Backyard: Not-so-cold Cold Stream Trail near Donner Lake

River along the Cold Stream Trail. (Shannon Kelly/NSN)

Welcome back to another week of Exploring Our Backyard. Last time, I reminisced on one of my favorite trails near Donner Lake, the Donner Summit Canyon trail, which is perfect for hiking or snowshoeing. This week, we're staying in the Donner Lake area but heading to the opposite end of the lake to check out the Cold Stream Trail, and there was nothing cold about it. Maybe that's because it's still summertime.

Getting there

The Cold Stream Trail at Donner Memorial State Park is a 4.6-mile out-and-back trail that runs pretty much parallel to the Cold Stream Creek. To get there, head west on I-80 and exit at Donner Pass Road. Make a left once you get off the freeway, and then at the stop sign make another left onto Cold Stream Road. At the roundabout, stay on Cold Stream Road, which is your first right. You'll notice a sign that says you're entering the Coldstream Valley at Donner Memorial State Park on the right-hand side. You'll drive about a half mile up that road and notice a parking lot on the left hand side, which brings your right near the start of the trail head.

The hike

The first third of a mile or so of the trail head is a dirt path, but that will lead you to a trail. You'll see a sign that says "locked gate ahead," but that's for Cold Stream Road. I was a little confused at first, but I continued to follow the route on All Trails, which kept me on the right path. You'll see the locked gate ahead, as in the photo below, but stay to the left where those bigger rocks are, that's where the trail continues.

From there, it's mostly carved out, but it's easy to get off track since there are two different paths throughout parts of the trail. It doesn't really matter which path you go on at times, but if I wasn't following the route on the All Trails app, I probably would have gotten lost, honestly. I'd like to think I'm pretty good at directions, but nature tends to look the same, so I like when hikes have signs to help me stay on the path. About a mile and a third into the trail, I came across a small river that surrounds a good portion of the entire trail. You really can't miss the river, even though you're surrounded by trees for a good portion of the hike. It was steep incline at the beginning, but it flattens out as you go, and you could probably jog that if you wanted to, or bring your mountain bike if you're feeling adventurous. I saw a few mountain bikers on the trail, but it was pretty empty for the most part.

Overall, I thought this was a fairly easy hike. There wasn't much of an elevation change along the trail, and it was very scenic. I always enjoy a nice hike surrounded by trees. All Trails rates this hike as "moderate," but I would say it was on the easier side, and dog-friendly, too, as there are some flatter areas compared to other trails in the Donner area.

Next week, we'll stay in this area and head up Highway 89 to Squaw Valley to check out Tahoe's only Via Ferrata with Alpenglow Expeditions!

Shannon Kelly is a Multimedia Journalist for Nevada Sports Net. You can contact her at or via Twitter @shannonkelly_2.

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