Donner Summit is the most historically significant square mile in California, and arguably the entire Western United States. Native Americans crossed the summit for thousands of years leaving behind grinding rocks and petroglyphs in dozens of locations. The first wagon train to reach California crossed Donner Summit, and as word reached back East thousands more soon followed. The first transcontinental railroad, the first transcontinental highway, the first transcontinental air route, and the first transcontinental telephone line all crossed Donner Summit. All of those historic accomplishments helped build the nation as California was tied to the United States.
Explore this site to discover more about Donner Summit, and visit exploredonnersummit.com, or go to the Donner Summit Historical Society's web pages for pictures, stories, and maps of the area’s rich history.
Native Americans crossed Donner Summit for thousands of years moving from lower elevations of the Sierra higher elevations in summer.
PIONEERS & WAGON TRAINS
Emigrants thought the deserts of Utah and Nevada were too difficult and enduring so they headed west.
A transcontinental railroad had been discussed for decades until Theodore Judah came along.
Modern Donner Summit history is heavily based on tourism related to ski industry and winter sports.
Around Donner Summit there are are dozens of sites where petroglyphs have been incised into granite by the Native Americans of a past era.
THE DONNER PARTY
The main pass, Donner Pass, is named for one of the parties of 1846. A combination of bad decisions and poor luck.
GATEWAY TO THE PACIFIC
A growing nation needed a highway that connected East and West—so thought the promoters of the Lincoln Highway.