Searching for the Emigrant Trail at Alder Creek

One of our great joys is finding the actual routes of the emigrants, the emigrant trails. These are not always easy to find. In the case of The Donner Camp at Alder Creek, there are trail signs, though at times they are spaced quite far apart, or missing as the trail gets closer to Prosser Reservoir. We assumed the Donner Party set up camp along the trail, so it must be close to the Donner Tree, against which they built their winter home. Soon we spotted some small green "Emigrant Trail" markers near the tree. Following these, we realized they were not following the well-worn path from the interpretive trail, but headed through a thicket of trees and up and over a ridge. There was little to indicate the trail went up the ridge, except for the trail markers. Standing at the bottom of the hill the next trail marker was so distant we could hardly see it, but we did see it with effort, so we went that way!


There is no trail to walk in. We were traipsing through sagebrush in our shorts. We were so excited to see the trail path that we didn't notice our legs being scratched up quite nicely from the sagebrush. In some spots, we could see the outlines of ruts, made by hundreds and thousands of wagon wheels, and in other places no sign, except for the trail markers, which seemed to come in four different guises. The first, and easiest to spot where the small green "emigrant trail" shields. These looked the newest of the markers, and we have seen these same markers at various places along the Truckee Trail. The wooden markers, the ones we could read, seemed to say "Emigrant Trail" with an arrow showing the way, west. Many faded beyond recognition but seeing their outlines we knew we were on the right track.


One of the most exciting finds for us was the discovery of the unique "Donner Trail" shields that were painted on trees using white paint. The markers were splitting up as the trees had grown. They seemed the oldest of the markers we saw that day. I would love to know who painted these and the time frame.


The last marker, which was indispensable in marking a section of the path was the concrete post. It was the final sign that we were on the trail, until Prosser Reservoir, and the now flooded crossing at Alder Creek. It did not have the sign indicating "The Overland Emigrant Trail" like the one pictured in Bear Valley. We have seen a couple of these markers without their interpretive signs in a few places. Unless you knew what they represented, you would never know you're on the trail. We couldn't find any more markers from the concrete post to the reservoir.


Donner Camp at Alder Creek is a favorite spot of ours, now that we have discovered it for ourselves. The east side of The Sierra has a unique charm with its sagebrush-covered hills, and this spot is exceptionally beautiful. Anyone interested in The Overland Emigrant Trail, or the story of The Donner/Reed Party should include this place, as well as the nearby Donner Historical Park near Donner Lake in their visit.

Here is a short video of our trip to Donner Camp at Alder Creek, and our attempt to find the old Emigrant Trail.