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The Nature Trail - Donner Memorial State Park

Take a short walk along this interpretive trail to learn about the wildlife and plants in the area

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Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 0.8 miles
Duration: Less than 1 hour
Family Friendly

Overview :  Donner Memorial State Park, around Donner Lake, is the site of where the historic Donner Party stayed and struggled through the... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Jeffrey Pine

At the beginning of the Interpretive trail you will find a Jeffrey Pine. You can tell that a tree is a Jeffrey Pine by its distinct smell (like vanilla or pineapple), large cones about 4-6 inches, and needles which come in bunches of 3.

2. Lodgepole Pine

Lodgepole Pines look significantly different from Jeffrey Pines. These pines have thinner, darker bark, and their cones are also smaller (about 2 inches or the size of a chicken egg), and the needles come in pairs of 2 rather than 3. The pioneers of this area found that lodgepole pines were particularly good for building cabins and other... More

3. Murphy Cabin site

This large boulder was once part of the wall and fireplace of Murphy Cabin. On June 22, 1847 General Stephen Kearny buried the bodies of the unfortunate Donner party found nearby under the middle of where this cabin once stood.

Almost half of the original Donner party perished during the harsh winter of 1946-1947 while trying to cross the... More

4. Squaw Currants

These red berries were used for food by Native Americans who once lived here. They grow in Summer but you may still see some in Autumn.

5. White Fir

The White Fir is the most common fir in this area and can be recognized by short needles and green cones on the higher branches. Unlike pines, firs are able to survive in the shade with little direct sunlight and will eventually take over in area with little or no direct light.

6. Willows and Alders

These are small trees but require a significant amount of water, which is why you will often find them on or near a river bank.

What may look like red berries are actually insect galls. The insect stings the plant and lays eggs within the wound. The plant then responds by producing a protective covering around the eggs, which eventually hatch... More

7. Wild Rose bush and Lichen

This wild rose bush is growing straight out of the bounder. It is very likely that the seeds were brought here by a bird who earlier ate some berries.

On the other side of the boulder you will see some bright green lichen. Lichen is a combination between a fungus and algae. The algae produces food for the plants and the lichen creates an acid... More

8. Rose Hip

This bush produces a red fruit called a rose hip. Animals that eat the fruit digest the seeds that are stored inside and later release the seeds in their droppings. This process helps these plants spread and grow in new locations.

9. Bridge

From the top of the bridge you may see freshwater clams, crayfish, rainbow trout or minnows in the stream below. You may also notice beaver dams: look for bite marks on the stumps of trees that have fallen down.

Cross the bridge over the creek and you will soon meet up with the beginning of the loop.

10. Parking

There is a large parking lot next to the Visitor Center and near the trailhead. At the visitor center you can watch a 20-minute film about the Donner Party and the history of the area.