Top Trail Towns: Truckee, California
Where history and mountain life collide
Photo by Andy Giordano
This article originally appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Truckee is a laid-back town with a hyper focus on outdoor sports. "It may sound cliché, but that’s us,” says 39-year-old, middle-school English teacher, ultrarunner and Truckee resident Gretchen Brugman. The 16,000-person town, located partway up the eastern side of California’s Sierra Nevada, gets stout winters and dry, warm summers. Truckee’s multisport draw centers around the snowmelt-filled Truckee River, the wild and high Sierra Nevada, several nearby ski resorts and the ever-popular waters of Lake Tahoe. “We have so many trails, but trail running definitely remains a minority sport,” explains Brugman.
This casual mountain town and its still- somewhat-unknown trails have a not-so- secret and storied past. Originally inhabited at least seasonally by the Washoe and Paiute Tribes and perhaps other Native Americans, the region became famous when the Donner Party of pioneers became stranded there in the winter of 1846 and 1847. Truckee’s robust history continued and included railway building in the 1860s, ice and wood milling in the late 1800s, the 1915 opening of the Lincoln Highway and Hollywood movie filming in the early 1900s. Truckee’s past is still on display in its downtown historic districts and, thus, part and parcel to its mod mountain vibe.
> GET THERE / Fly into the Reno-Tahoe international airport, 36 miles northeast of Truckee in Reno, and rent a car for the drive into the mountains. Truckee is served daily by Amtrak’s California Zephyr route and Greyhound buses coming from the east and west. If you arrive by public transport, rent a car in Truckee for your trailhead travels.
> BE A TOURIST / Brugman says you must drop into Wild Cherries Coffee House for a pre- or post-run fill on coffee, treats and other good eats like breakfast sandwiches, paninis and salads. Visit Donner Memorial State Park to learn about the infamous pioneers who overwintered there. Stroll commercial row, Truckee’s historic downtown, and venture deep into Truckee history and, whatever you do, take a day or more to head south and enjoy Lake Tahoe.
> TAKE NOTE / Truckee trail running is definitely a summer activity! Area trails are snow-free late May or early June until the first major snowfall in November.
BY THE NUMBERS
9.5 As the crow flies, miles downtown Truckee lies northwest of lake Tahoe.
1846 Year the infamous Donner party of Midwestern pioneers became trapped by bad weather near what’s now Truckee while trying to cross the Sierra Nevada. Only about half of the original 87 pioneers survived the westward journey, and many purportedly did so by resorting to cannibalism.
5817 Elevation, in feet, of Truckee, which sits a short distance east of the Sierra Nevada crest.