33mi Loop to Donner Lake

Rate this Adventure Lake Tahoe Cisco Grove

  • Activities:

    Cycling, Fitness

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    33 Miles


33-mile loop with steep inclines, long downhill sections, a few flats, and a few rollers. This ride features a forrest, lake views, and a stretch along the Yuba River. Duration: 4-5 hours.

We love this 33-mile loop on old Highway 40 from Cisco Grove to Donner Lake and back. It has just about everything: a few flats, a long slow pull, rollers, a screaming downhill, a tough Alpine climb and a long, cruising downhill. Not to mention altitude. The ride starts at a little above 6,000 feet, climbs to the summit at about 7,200 feet and then drops down to Donner Lake at just under 6,000 feet. Of course you retrace those numbers as you head back the other way. The whole thing also features gorgeous forest and lake views and stretch along the gurgling Yuba River which, if you are not training and can stop for a blow, makes a fantastic rest stop.

The ride: We usually start the ride at a little dirt parking area off of Old Highway 40 just east of the Cisco Grove exit and the private campground at the end of the old highway. If you are coming from the west, exit and then cross the freeway overpass and turn right onto the Old Highway. From the east exit and turn right, then right again onto the Old Highway.

From here the ride begins a modest climb mixed with a few flat stretches as you pass the Rainbow Lodge and head east toward Kingvale. After a short climb out of Rainbow you see I-80 again and turn left to stay on the Old Highway and go under the freeway before continuing east. Here another strech of nearly flat road allows you to get back up to speed before the tough climbing ahead. Once through the stop sign at the Kingvale freeway exit, you begin a three-mile climb to Soda Springs that is tougher than it might look at first. The climb begins gradually enough but soon turns into a grind where it is tough to get your speed above the low-teens without starting your heart to racing. We usually ease off here and take it slowly, mindful of the even tougher climbing to come.

At the top of this pull you cross the overpass and head into Soda Springs, where the General Store on your right is fully stocked with drinks, snacks and, usually, fresh deli sandwiches. Continuing on you confront a series of rollers and eventually pass the Sugar Bowl ski resort on the right and Donner Ski Ranch on your left. About four miles from Soda Springs, you reach Donner Summit, where a parking lot at the Sugar Bowl Ski Academy provides an excellent re-grouping point.

Next comes the screaming, three-mile descent to Donner Lake. Watch for gravel from the shoulder on the first few turns after the bridge and vista point, and be mindful of tourists and rock-climbers pulling out from parking spots along the edge of the road. Once you are about a mile down the hill interruptions are less likely and you can really let it fly, easily reaching speeds in excess of 40 mph on this well-maintained stretch of mountain highway. A stop-sign at the bottom marks the entrance to Donner Lake’s West-end beach, which makes a good turnaround point, or you can continue on a few hundred more yards to the boat launching ramp, where bathrooms and water (but not swimming) are more accessible.

You can turn around here and retrace your track, or continue on another four miles to Truckee, where lunch and snack stops are plentiful. Our favorite is Wild Cherries’ deli and coffeehouse on your right along Donner Pass Road just as you enter Truckee’s newer commercial district. Wild Cherries has great sandwiches, salads and other fare, plus outdoor seating. Best of all, the place is a cosponsor of the CyclePaths/Wild Cherries race team. Source

Pack List

  • Bike
  • Helmet
  • Hydration
  • Sunglasses
  • Nearest Bike Shops:
  • Paco’s in Truckee on Donner Pass Rd in the Safeway Shopping Center; CyclePaths, in Truckee “Gateway” on Donner Pass Rd.
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