Looking for the best things to do in Truckee, California?
Unlike the casino towns on the Nevada side of the border, Truckee has a unique, old-western feel that is perfect for people looking for a laid-back weekend away.
Whether you are visiting in the summer or winter, you’ll quickly discover that the primary demographic in Truckee is people who love the outdoors.
The winter months are all about ski trails and snow play, while summer provides opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and a variety of watersports.
However, the town of Truckee is also well known for having plenty of delicious restaurants, boutique shops, craft breweries, and fascinating historical significance around the first transcontinental railroad.
This post has two separate sections.
➡️ First, we’ll give you a list of the top things to do in Truckee during the winter, followed by a list of what to do in the summer. BONUS kid-friendly activity at the end!
➡️ Then we give you some additional tips to help plan your trip to Truckee, California.
Best Things To Do In Truckee, California – In Winter
Winter brings an abundance of snow to Truckee so that travelers can enjoy a range of activities unavailable in the summer months.
Ski resorts are at capacity, hot chocolate and mulled wine are added to the menu, and the town is decorated for Christmas all December.
As for the weather, December through March in Truckee is usually very cold, with daily highs ranging from 16-40ºF.
The good thing about winter in Truckee is that when it snows, it comes in heaps. This heavy snow creates frequent powder days on the ski slopes and plenty of sunny days for non-skiers.
1. Historic Downtown Truckee
Truckee is a historic mountain town established in 1863 as a trading post. The town soon became an integral part of the U.S. logging industry and for people traveling to and from the California gold rush.
Visitors today will find a busy tourist town of boutique shops, unique museums, and a variety of great places to eat.
Be sure to spend a few hours strolling around the town, admiring the historic buildings, and imagining what the town would have been like a couple of centuries ago.
One thing to note about Truckee is that it’s a popular destination for people to visit on a long weekend. For this reason, most museums, tours, and even restaurants are open only from Wednesday to Sunday.
Travel Tip: Additionally, if you happen to visit in the summer, Truckee hosts a fun street fair called ‘Truckee Thursdays’ with local street vendors, activities, and live music.
2. North Star Ski Resort
Northstar is one of the snowiest ski resorts in California and a popular ski resort for families but it’s known for more than just ski trails.
The vibrant, European-feeling village is full of shopping and fine dining, and it’s the closest thing you will find in California to upscale ski towns like Telluride, CO, or Deer Valley, UT.
On the mountain, skiers and snowboarders are treated to 100 unique trails, most of which are rated as blue squares (intermediate), and an elevation drop of about 2,300 feet from summit to village.
Northstar has an average snowfall each year of 350 inches (9 meters), so there is a good chance you’ll get to ski in some powder between December and March.
Even if you aren’t into skiing, the village is fun to visit, and enjoy the lively ski village atmosphere, especially around the holidays.
✔️BUDGET TIP: For skiers who want a more affordable, laid-back ski experience, we recommend heading to Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort. It’s the largest ski resort in California and just 15 minutes from downtown Truckee.
3. Eat at a Classic American Diner
Truckee has done well to preserve the town’s old buildings, turning them into restaurants, bars, and classic American Diners.
A couple of local favorites have stood the test of time, operating for over 50 years and expanding to other Sierra Nevada cities.
Pro Tip: If you visit Truckee in the winter, the diners are a great place to escape the cold and get some classic American food.
One of the best places to try is Jax @ the Trax, an old-school diner with a retro interior right next to the historic train station.
They serve classic American diner food like burgers, pulled pork, and milkshakes. Jax @ the Trax is open each day from 7:00 am – 9:00 pm (9:30 pm on the weekend).
Another popular option is called Squeeze In. It’s a local breakfast & brunch diner established in 1974 but has expanded to 8 locations across the Sierra Nevada.
At just over 10 feet wide, you’ll literally have to ‘squeeze in’ to find a table. Breakfast and brunch are available from 7:30 am – 2:00 pm every day.
4. Truckee Railroad Museum
The Truckee Railroad Museum is an interesting place in downtown Truckee, where you can learn about the town’s railroad history, dating back to the mid-1800s.
The museum has several exhibits, including a model train layout, photos and artifacts from the railroad era, and a restored caboose. It’s a great place to learn about Truckee’s essential role in America’s first transcontinental railroad.
The railroad museum is small, so you just need 30 to 60 minutes to see the museum. It is open on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is always free, but a donation of $2 is suggested.
5. Snowplow at Tahoe Donner
Snowplay at Tahoe Donner is a family-friendly snow playground in Truckee, California. It is only open on weekends, but it is fun to come in the winter to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, or slide down the monitored sledding/snow tubing lanes.
The entry fee is $20. This increases to $30 on specific holiday weekends. The park is open on Friday from 12:15 – 3 pm and Sat/Sun from 9 am – 4:30 pm.
It’s recommended to bring your own gear, but you can also rent sleds and/or snow tubes for an additional fee from Tahoe Donner. There aren’t a lot of amenities around, so dress warm and bring your own snacks and water.
6. Truckee River Winery
Truckee River Winery is a small family-owned winery located downtown on the banks of the Truckee River.
The original ranch closed in January 2020, then reopened in May at a new location called “The Barn.” They specialize in producing wines from locally grown fruit and grapes, including Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Malbec.
You can buy the wines directly from the tasting room or take a winery tour to learn about the wine-making process. The winery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 am – 5 pm.
Travel Tip: Reservations are highly recommended, as walk-in availability is not guaranteed. You can schedule a tour by calling 530-587-4626 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Boreal Ski Resort
Boreal Mountain Resort is located just 10-15 minutes from Truckee, just off route 80, and is the most affordable ski resort in the area.
It is a pretty small resort but offers a great experience for families with younger children who may have a smaller budget.
Lifts are open daily from 9 am to 8 pm. The ski resort has a unique ticketing system called ‘Go-Time,’ where tickets start at $99 for 9 am – 9 pm, then gradually get cheaper if you start later in the day.
The mountain included lots of beginner-friendly ski trails and a few black diamonds and terrain parks for experts. Snow tubing sessions are also available.
One unique part of Boreal is its focus on activities outside of skiing, including an indoor skate park. During the summer, Boreal Resort shifts its focus to extreme sports, hosting youth camps and classes for BMX, mountain biking, scooters, and even parkour.
8. Book a Snowmobile Tour
Lake Tahoe Snowmobile is located just south of the Northstar Ski Resort entrance and leads guided snowmobile tours to the best lookouts in Tahoe National Forest.
The Truckee/Tahoe region is one of the best places to try snowmobiling for the first time. These tours are an excellent way to explore the white-washed backcountry of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Experienced guides lead every session. You can choose between a 2-hour Adventure Tour, a 3-hour private peaks tour, or a 4-hour Ultimate Tour.
You don’t need any previous experience for the 2-hour adventure cruise, which follows groomed trails around Lake Tahoe.
The three-hour and four-hour snowmobile tours venture farther off-trail into Tahoe’s backcountry. These are best for people with some previous snowmobile experience.
9. Find the Best Coffee in Town
Truckee has a vibrant coffee culture, and you’ll find plenty of great places to get your caffeine fix.
One of the lesser-known coffeehouses may have the best-tasting coffee in all of Truckee.
The Pacific Crest Coffee Company is a local roastery with a selection of manually brewed methods, a tasting room, and use a premium espresso machine to make excellent lattes and cappuccinos.
Wild Cherries Coffee is the most popular coffee shop in downtown Truckee, offering a range of specialty espresso drinks, outdoor seating, and reasonable prices. Along with coffee, you’ll also find an assortment of pastries, sandwiches, and brunch items on the menu.
If you prefer craft third-wave coffee and pour-overs, head to Dark Horse Coffee Roasters on the other side of town. This small roastery is home to a friendly atmosphere decorated with fair trade art and vintage furniture.
10. Take a Day Trip to Reno
Reno is the largest city near Truckee and probably where you will fly into if visiting from out of state (excluding Nevada).
The self-proclaimed “biggest little city in the world” is about 1 hour from downtown Truckee and is actually a lot of fun!
It’s not a traditional city, mostly known for being a second-rate Las Vegas.
Of course, plenty of tourists come here to try their luck at one of the world-class casinos, but if you aren’t into gambling, there are still lots of reasons to take a day trip to Reno from Truckee.
Fun Fact: Reno has a surprisingly large amount of attractions, like museums, art galleries, zoos, and theme parks. You can also enjoy various shows and concerts at venues throughout the city.
11. Hang Out at a Local Brewery
Truckee is home to several great breweries, so a nice way to spend the evening is by sampling some locally brewed beer. Here are three local favorites!
Alibi Ale Works is one of the most popular breweries in town, founded in 2014. The food rotates seasonally, and local brews are always on tap. The brewery also hosts regular events in the beer garden, including live music nights, beer tastings, and food truck pop-ups.
Fifty Fifty Brewing Company is another award-winning brewpub with a huge selection of beers on tap, all brewed in-house. They also serve up some delicious wood-fired pizzas, burgers, and sandwiches that perfectly complement your cold pint!
Donner Creek Brewery is not a micro-brewery… or a nano-brewery… but a pico brewery. While it may only have 3-4 options on tap, the few you find have exceptional quality.
Best Things To Do In Truckee, California – In Summer
Summer is a great time to visit Truckee. The ski resorts close for the season, but warm weather drives people to scenic hiking trails, mountain biking, beaches, and water sports around Lake Donner.
The summer is very sunny in Truckee, with just a day or two of clouds each month, and the temperature hovers between 73º – 81º.
The reliable weather is perfect for people who need to plan their trip far in advance since there is such a low chance of bad weather, no matter when you go.
12. Donner Memorial State Park & Emigrant Trail Museum
The story of the Donner Party is a tragic chapter in American folklore.
Donner Memorial State Park was named in memory of the 18th-century pioneers who were stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846-47. The group barely survived the winter, infamously resorting to unspeakable acts in order to continue their westward journey.
These days, the area is a popular spot for outdoor recreation, offering plenty of hiking trails, picnic areas, and sandy beaches.
The Emigrant Trail Museum exists to tell the story of these pioneers and their struggles in an immersive museum experience. You can either take a self-guided or a free tour with one of the park rangers.
Entrance to the state park is $10 per vehicle in the summer (May 1 – September 30) and $5 per vehicle in the winter (October 1 – April 30).
13. Hike the Donner Peak/Mount Judah Loop
If you’re looking for a hike with stunning views, consider hiking to the top of Donner Peak and Mount Judah. This 5.2-mile loop is one of the most popular trails around Truckee and takes just 3 hours to complete.
The hike begins at Donner Summit and follows the Pacific Crest Trail for a few miles before branching off to Mount Judah.
Donner Peak is a small spur along the trail, so make sure you don’t miss it. All along the way, you will have stunning views of Donner Lake and distant mountain peaks.
The Donner Peak / Mount Judah loop is very popular in the summer, so start early and bring some snacks to have a picnic at the top!
The trail is exposed and can be rocky, so it’s a good idea to bring plenty of water, apply plenty of sunscreen, and wear sturdy hiking shoes. The best time to hike this route is in the summer, but even in the winter months, it provides an unforgettable experience!
Pro Tip: If 5.2 miles sounds too much for you, try skipping Mount Judah. Hiking the out-and-back trail to Donner Peak cuts the hike down to 3.8 miles and takes just 2 hours.
14. Mountain Bike Lake Flume at Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a paradise for outdoor adventure, and one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is through mountain biking.
The Flume Trail is the most popular route in the area, thanks to its close proximity and stunning views of Lake Tahoe.
This 14-mile trail begins at Spooner Summit and winds down to Tunnel Creek Road.
It’s a demanding route that starts with about 1000 feet of steep elevation gain in 4 miles, followed by a gradual descent of 2,000 feet over the final 10 miles. The trail is rated as moderate, so best suited for intermediate mountain bikers.
The trail is open from May through October. Mountain bike rental shops are abundant in Incline Village, usually for around $50-110 per bike.
These shops typically have a free shuttle to the trailhead included with each rental.
Safety Tip: Bring your own water since there are no facilities along the trail.
The views of Lake Tahoe along the route are well worth the effort, so don’t rush through them. One thing to do is bring your hammock and stop to enjoy snacks or a sack lunch along the way.
15. Old Truckee Jail Museum
The Old Truckee Jail Museum showcases a resorted jailhouse built in 1875 and tells the story of Truckee’s wild west roots.
Within the 32-inch thick walls are a replica jail cell, old photos, and artifacts from hundreds of years ago. Other displays include related parts of Truckee’s history, such as gambling, bootlegging, and even film.
Admission is free, but donations are gratefully accepted.
The museum is open on weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The weekend hours are 10 am to 4 pm, and the Old Jail Museum is open during Truckee Thursdays from 5 pm – 9 pm.
16. Emerald Pools Swimming Hole
Take a break from the summer heat and go for a dip at Emerald Pools Swimming Hole.
Emerald Pools are a series of swimming areas along the Yuba River, which flows about 30 miles east of Truckee. Since the river is fed by snowmelt, it is usually chilly, but this feels great during a hot summer day in Truckee.
The swimming hole is one of the best things to do in Truckee for families, as there are shallow areas safe for young children. The more adventurous travelers will prefer deeper areas, where they can leap from cliffs up to 75 feet when the water level is high.
To get there, follow the short 0.7-mile trail from the parking lot. It’s mostly flat so that all levels can enjoy this trail.
Travel Tip: The swimming hole can get crowded on hot days, but it’s still worth visiting it for a fun and refreshing day out!
17. West End Beach, Donner Lake
West End Beach is a great place to spend an afternoon in Truckee. The lakeside beach is popular among families or friends to enjoy the sun with a great view of Donner Lake.
The staff at Donner Lake is particular about keeping the beach clean, and there are plenty of amenities like picnic tables, public restrooms, tennis courts, volleyball courts (sand and grass), and a snack shack.
Like most lakes in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the water can be pretty cold, but it’s refreshing in the summer. If you aren’t interested in swimming, there are different water sports to try, or you can even take your boat out on the lake.
Travelers also love walking or biking on the many trails that connect West End Beach to Donner Memorial State Park.
West End Beach is open daily from dawn to dusk, but lifeguards are only on duty from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission to West End Beach is $4 per person ($3 for children).
Pro Tip: If you want to spend a day at the beach, we recommend heading to Lake Tahoe. There you can find nicer beaches, like Sand Harbor and Kings Beach, which are just 25-35 minutes from Truckee.
18. Water Sports at Donner Lake
As we mentioned briefly above, one of the best things to do in Truckee is to try out a few different water sports at Donner Lake.
Several rental companies are located near the lake, so you don’t need to worry about bringing your own boat or buying equipment.
Donner Lake Marina has a ton of options. While these excursions are definitely more expensive than other things to do in Truckee, it’s just a fraction of what you would pay at Lake Tahoe.
You can rent jet skis, fishing boats, pontoons, or more powerful wake boats with a Bimini Top for skiing/wakeboarding.
Paddle sports are also available (and much more affordable), such as stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, hydro bikes, and pedal boats.
19. Truckee River Legacy Trail
The Truckee River Legacy Trail is an easy 9.6-mile paved path that follows the Truckee River through pine groves and sage meadows.
Starting from Truckee River Regional Park, the dog-friendly trail follows a paved path along the river, with lots of benches and informational signs all the way to Glenshire Drive.
The trail is perfect for those looking to take a leisurely stroll or bike ride in Truckee. It can get crowded mid-summer, but if you start early enough, you can still enjoy some solitude.
20. Horseback Riding at Tahoe Donner Equestrian Center
A few miles north of town is the Tahoe Donner Equestrian Center, which is the best spot to find horseback riding in Truckee.
The center offers semi-private guided horseback rides and monthly horse leases for those staying longer than a week.
The guided tours last 1 – 2 hours, and you will see plenty of wildlife along the way.
You have to be seven or older to take one of the guided horseback riding tours; therefore, The Tahoe Donner Equestrian Center offers short pony rides for children six years and under.
21. Hike the Angela, Flora, Azalea Lake Look
The Angela, Flora, Azalea Lakes Loop is an excellent hike for those looking to get some exercise and take in the stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The loop is approximately 5 miles long and has a moderate elevation gain of 600 feet.
It’s super easy to get to the trailhead, which begins just 10 minutes from Truckee town (off route 80), or you can visit the lakes on an out-and-back trail starting at Donner Summit.
Along the way, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of the three lakes, as well as wildflowers and unique rock formations.
This trail is still popular but significantly less crowded than the hike up to Donner Peak, making it a great place to spend an afternoon with the family or find peace and quiet in Truckee.
22. *Bonus* Kid Zone Museum
Located in downtown Truckee, the KidZone Museum is a great place to take your kids for an afternoon of fun and learning.
With a focus on child development, all museum exhibits are designed for children to learn through play. Children must be seven years old or younger.
Highlights include a play structure, outdoor nature play area, and Sierra Settlers exhibit. The museum also has a movie theater, art studio, and science lab.
The children’s museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 am to 5 pm (closes at 3 pm on Saturdays).
23. *Double Bonus* White Water Rafting at Truckee River
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, you should try white water rafting down the iconic Truckee River.
The staff is well-trained and highly knowledgeable, usually with 10+ years of experience.
The whole experience will include a short safety training instruction for navigating the rapids as a team and an exciting journey through the most beautiful canyons around Truckee.
In addition to a fun experience in the raft, they do their best to capture high-quality photos of your rafting journey, which you can browse or purchase as an add-on.
The tours range from family-friendly to intense (Class 2-3+). The rafting season runs from May to September, and half-day tours are $89-99 per person.
Where To Stay In Truckee, California
If you plan to visit Truckee, staying close to the historic downtown is best. This way, you will have easy access to most of the top things to do in Truckee.
One reason you may want to stay further from downtown Truckee town is if you are going on a ski trip to Northstar. In this case, the Northstar Lodge is an incredible ski-in resort.
These are a couple of great places to stay in the heart of Truckee, California. Here is the best luxury hotel and the best place to stay in Truckee for those on a budget.
📍Best Luxury Stay – Gravity Haus Truckee-Tahoe
If you’re looking for a luxurious and relaxing stay in Truckee, Gravity Haus is the best choice. This stunning hotel offers everything you want, from on-site dining to free bikes, ski storage, and a hot tub.
The location is also perfect. It’s close to downtown Truckee and a short bike ride from Donner Lake, but it feels much more secluded. The hotel is nestled into a thick-wooded area just outside of town, so each morning, you can relax on your balcony without the noise of the city.
Breakfast is not included in the room, but it is available at the restaurant if you prefer to stay near your room.
📍Best Budget Stay – Truckee Donner Lodge
The Truckee Donner Lodge is a great place to stay if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option that’s close to the historical entrance of Truckee. The lodge is next to Donner Memorial State Park, so you’ll have easy access to the historic town’s shops, restaurants, and Donner Lake.
Guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast each morning, free wifi, and parking available at the lodge. All rooms are clean and comfortable, with two-bedroom options that cost almost exactly the same.
Truckee Donner Ledge has large rooms with one king bed for couples and two queen beds for families or friends traveling together.
How To Get Around Truckee
Getting around Truckee is easy, even if you don’t have a car. Several transportation options are available, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs and travel situation.
You can rent a car, take the public bus, hire taxis, or rent a bike in Truckee. Here are the details for each transportation option.
Rent A Car
Although not completely necessary, renting a car in Truckee is the most convenient option and the best way to explore the surrounding area of Truckee. We recommend renting from Reno and driving over to Truckee to save some money.
And if you’re keen on a road trip through California, either keep Truckee in mind or use it as a starting point to hit the road beyond this little portion of paradise.
Take the TART Bus
The Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit (TART) bus system is a great way to get around town if you don’t have your own car. Buses run all day from dawn to late in the evening.
Bus tickets are affordable. A one-way bus ticket is $6, but to get the most value for your dollar, buy a 10-punch pass for just $10.
There are five bus lines with stops all throughout the city, including Donner Memorial State Park, Downtown Truckee, and the gateway shopping center. You can also connect to buses departing for surrounding areas, like Olympic Village, NorthStar, and Lake Tahoe’s Northern Rim.
Taxis in Truckee
Taxis can be a great way to get around town if you’re short on time or don’t want to rent a car. It’s easy to hail a taxi from anywhere in Truckee, and the fares aren’t too expensive at roughly $3/mile.
Uber and Lyft are active in Truckee but are not always reliable since it’s a small city. Typical taxi/ride-sharing fares are:
- Truckee to Tahoe-Reno International Airport – $110-130
- Truckee to Incline Village, Tahoe – $40-50
- Truckee to NorthStar Ski Resort – $25-35
Rent a Bike
Truckee is an excellent place for biking, and there are several bike rental shops in town. This can be a fun and affordable way to explore the outdoors. Plus, you get the added benefit of exercising while you’re sightseeing!
Many Truckee hotels and resorts have bicycles available to use, but if not, there are also plenty of bike rental shops in town. The best place to rent a bike is Truckee Bike Rentals. Here, you can find all kinds of E-bikes, mountain, performance, and comfort bikes.
Rates go from $45 per day for a comfort bike to $130 per day for a fully electric mountain bike.
Visiting Truckee Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re considering a visit to Truckee, you may have some questions about what to expect, so we’ve put together a list of the most common questions people have before visiting the town.
Below, you’ll find information on everything from transportation to weather and everything in between. We hope this will help make your planning process a little easier!
How Far Is Lake Tahoe From Truckee?
Lake Tahoe is connected to Truckee via a scenic drive down US Route 89.
The north rim of Lake Tahoe (including Incline Village) is about 17 miles from Truckee and takes roughly 25 minutes by car and is a great place to start a Lake Tahoe scenic drive.
The journey is significantly longer if you want to visit South Lake Tahoe. It’s 43 miles away and will take roughly one hour of driving time on average.
For those looking for something closer, Emerald Bay State Park is only 45 minutes from Truckee and is one of the best spots to see along Lake Tahoe.
The TART Bus system does have routes from Truckee to Lake Tahoe’s north rim and the western village of Tahoe City. Stops included, it takes about 45 minutes – 1 hour to get from Truckee to the North Rim. Unfortunately, the bus system does not have routes to South Lake Tahoe.
Is Truckee Worth Visiting?
Truckee is absolutely worth visiting, both in the winter and summer. It’s such a charming town and has something for everyone, whether you’re a history buff or someone who just loves the outdoors.
The town is full of exciting shops, restaurants, museums, and galleries to enjoy.
Truckee is also very close to Lake Tahoe and other major ski towns in the area, so you can base yourself here and take day trips to see other fantastic places in the Lake Tahoe region.
What Are The Best Free Things To Do In Truckee?
Truckee has a ton of free activities to enjoy for people traveling on a budget. One way to save money is by bringing your own bicycle or kayak.
You can also enjoy a picnic at one of the parks or take advantage of the free outdoor concerts offered throughout the summer months.
- Donner Memorial State Park – Very scenic in both the winter and the summer
- Historic Downtown Truckee – It can be as expensive as you make it or even free!
- Hiking at Donner Pass – Mount Judah Loop / Angela, Flora, Azalea Lake Trail
- Truckee Donner Recreation and State Park – Free concerts on Wednesdays from June 22 – August 31
What Are The Best Activities To Do In Truckee With Kids?
Truckee is a great place for families to explore and have fun, especially if they love the outdoors. Here are some of the best activities that are perfect for kids:
- Kid Zone Museum
- WaterSports at Donner Lake
- Pony Rides at Donner Park Equestrian Centre
The Wrap-Up: What To Do In Truckee
Truckee is a fantastic place to visit, whether it’s for a weekend getaway or an extended stay. Aside from the beautiful nature surrounding the town, there is also a lot of interesting history, shopping, and great restaurants in downtown Truckee.
If you are planning a trip to Truckee this summer or winter, be sure to give yourself a few days to see all the area has to offer.
It’s such a cool town, and these 21 things to do in Truckee, California, are sure to leave you with unforgettable memories and a renewed appreciation for the outdoors.