Donner Summit - Rock Climbing

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Donner Summit is classic Tahoe climbing on solid granite. There are routes for all levels and many climbers learn to step up their game on long, single pitch adventures.

Written by

James Dziezynski


1.0 miles

The approach to the crag is under a mile.

Destination Distance From Downtown

23.6 miles


3 of 5 diamonds

An excellent collection of established routes from 5.6 - 5.13 with a majority falling in the 5.10 range. Geared towards trad climbers, no pun intended.

Time To Complete

1 hours

Most people spend between one and six hours at the crag, but you can stay longer if you haven't pumped out!


Spring, Summer, and Fall

The high elevation means snow in the winter, though that doesn't stop some climbers.

Dog Friendly


Fees Permits




Donner Pass, without a doubt, is one of Tahoe's premier climbing destinations. The incredible granite in the summit area is a collection of cracks, slabs, and roofs, making it one of the best places for trad climbers to master their craft, especially on long, single pitch routes like Compure (5.6) and Insidious Crack ( 5.6). The bouldering has evolved over the years as well, with a modest collection of problems mostly in the V2 -V3 range. There's quality sport / top roping available as well, especially for intermediate climbers who want to partake in over 70 routes in the 5.10 range.  

Historically, Donner Pass was the setting for one of the more bizarre chapters in California history. In 1847, the Donner-Reed party ended up stranded on the east side of the pass and the tales of starvation and cannibalism continue to fascinate to this day. So the message here is that if you're climbing the crags, bring plenty of snacks. 

What Makes It Great

Before making a single move on the rock, the expansive mountain scenery from Donner Pass is worth soaking in. The mountainous landscape is a collection of rolling crags decorated with stately pine trees, nourished by inky lakes and pristine streams. Walls, cliffs, and rock outcrops practically beg to be climbed. 

All disciplines of climbing are represented at Donner Summit, with trad climbing building the reputation of the rock. One Hand Clapping (5.9) is a four pitch trad classic that ascends 500 vertical feet on bomber rock. Jellyroll Arch (5.8) is a two pitch slab-and-crack adventure that includes an extended section under a miniature roof. For more advanced climbers, Peter Principle (5.10d) offers a tricky network of cracks and jams along its 80 foot line. 

As is the case with most crags, sport climbing pushes up the difficulty grades to the 5.12 - 5.13 range. Climbers who thrive on technique and challenge will have over 80 routes to choose from. Finally, bouldering has come into prominence in recent years, with about 30 established problems and many more waiting to be discovered. 

Who is Going to Love It

Trad climbing is Donner Summit's bread and butter. Multi-pitch and single pitch classics abound, many of them employing techniques such as crack and slab climbing that cannot be easily replicated in climbing gyms (many a gym rat has been humbled by the low rated trad climbs in the area). Seldom mentioned are the top roping opportunities, which abound thanks to many climbs having safe walk-offs. There's a lot of climbing to explore and all levels of climbers will find something that suits their tastes, especially climbers who want to evolve their trad skills. 

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The nearest town to Donner Pass Summit is Truckee. Donner Pass Road is reached by I-80 Exit 184 to the east and Exit 174 to the west. Climbs are access from the summit area of Donner Pass Road or Old 40 and most are less than 10 minutes from the road.  There are several parking areas; for more information on specific crags, check out Mountain Project's excellent Donner Summit page

Note that camping is illegal on the summit area itself, but there are several campgrounds at the base of Donner Pass Road if you want to overnight legally. 

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Donner Summit

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