Ride Donner Lake to Cisco…and back!

Ride Donner Lake to Cisco…and back
Tim Hauserman

One of my favorite bike rides in the Tahoe region is the Donner Lake to Cisco Grove route along Highway 40. The 42 mile ride has a bit of everything: Steep climbs and descents on Donner Pass, as well as plenty of time just to roll along and enjoy the view of the Yuba River between Norden and Cisco Grove. The road is lightly traveled, but there are a few spots along the way to pick up food and drink. And those views, they are absolutely sublime.


I like to park my car at the east end of Donner Lake along the road. Why just ride along Donner Pass Road to the pass, when you could include a ride around Donner Lake as part of the package? I head into the park, and follow South Shore Drive to the southern edge of the lake. A few gentle miles and you are out of the park and then a short, steep climb, brings you into the residential area that you follow along the lake to West End Beach. There, a left turn onto Donner Pass Road/Highway 40 begins the three mile climb to the top of the pass. It’s steep, but just put it in first gear, and enjoy the endless views of massive granite faces dotted with climbers, or Donner Lake shimmering below. Give your lungs a break at the viewpoint just before the Rainbow Bridge.


From the top, Highway 40 crosses the Pacific Crest Trail and cruises past Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. It’s generally downhill past Soda Springs and Norden to the crossing of Interstate 80 where the descent gets steeper and the road less traveled. In what seems like a hop, skip and a jump you roll through Kingvale, and the grades eases, with a mostly gentle descent past Rainbow Lodge and to the turn around spot at Cisco Grove. 


The way back is always a puzzle. Wait, it wasn’t that long on the way down was it? Or steep? Especially the few miles from Kingvale to Norden seem like an eternity. But eventually, you reach the pass, where the wild downhill begins. The good news is that if you are cruising along at 25 miles an hour, there is a pretty good chance you will not encounter any cars. But those views…


At Donner Pass Road, go straight this time and find your own little mini pier on Donner Lake to jump into and wash off all that sweat and grime you accumulated in 40 miles. Now, you are refreshed and ready for a nap…I mean the rest of your day.