Family Goals: 7 Mile Donner Falls Hike
We decided to give the Donner Falls hike a go again today with all 6 of us, minus Gus. This one was our longest hike to date at about 7 miles and included beautiful stream side trails, secluded, early wildflowers, horse encounters, awesome views and a waterfall. From the Tri-valley it took about 35 minutes to arrive.
We parked on the opposite Weatherly Rd. side to avoid heavy foot traffic to the Regency Rd. entrance of the trail and that made all the difference in our mental state to have some family time to assemble ourselves and assess the challenge ahead of us. I’ve read about this hike from fellow community hikers and recently found an Instagram post from a stranger whose photos I admire. This is one of those times I love utilizing Social Media as a resource. So naturally after researching some more decided this was a hike we could all manage.
Once we figured out what trail to begin on using our AllTrails app, we noticed there was a mass of hikers also trying to figure out where to go. There’s a trail post right at the first fork and we took the Donner Canyon Road trail until we got to the streams where we decided to go that route. It meets back up to Donner Canyon, but we wanted to check out the streams and the old cabin site that is a great place to play a bit.
The trail zig zags in and out of the wooded areas which makes for perfect shade on the way up, and the slopes were just lush with green and wildflowers. It was super hot (it basically felt like Summer in Winter) and about halfway to our destination, we started getting low on water. We had enough to share with each other, but this was a note to self for next time. We could have taken the Donner Canyon all the way to the first waterfall, but we chose the instinctive Middle Trail which was more shady throughout. I’m so glad we decided this because the sun was bright and even though this trail was narrower, it gave us some awesome views of the city and some much-needed coverage.
Middle Trail starts heading up the Falls Trail, and in between climbing, there was a lot of maneuvering left and right to let people pass us or vice versa. On narrow trails this is what I like to call a “fun shuffle and sometimes sliding tumble.” As we continued on, I swore to myself if we didn’t see a waterfall, I’d throw myself off the side of the mountain. Wheew, after about 1/2 mile up the Falls Trail, our small but gushing waterfall greeted us. We took advantage and climbed the area to admire the beautiful sight. We did not make it to the other waterfalls on the loop. By now we were almost at 4 miles.
The trip back was faster, but not easier. We found the flattest area off the narrow trail to change Poppy’s diaper while the big kids asked how long it would take to get back to our starting point while taking some last sips of their water supply. We backtracked and took the Middle Trail back to Donner Canyon and then our streams trail. There was the Bruce Lee Springs trail (insert Bruce Lee photo opp at trail post) which also led back to the Regency Rd. starting point. This little trail forked off into a secluded water area that then goes back out into the sun–no thanks.
By the time we made it back to our truck, it was 7 miles round trip–heavy boots, tired legs, and 1 exhausted family later. It was the longest hike we’d ever completed together and we did it through dwindling water supply, unforgiving heat, and a toddler in tow. That is amazing and hi-fives were all in order afterward.
If you attempt this hike or variations of this hike, here are some things to consider based on our experience:
- Bring plenty of water! We didn’t bring enough and this is definitely a must as the elevation and weather is challenging in some parts
- Wear a hat or bandanna
- Slather up the sunscreen
- Keep your kids engaged by doing some fun activities throughout the hike
- Keep in mind trail etiquette like making sure to yield on one side of the trail when other hikers are coming down off the slope
Have you ever braved a longer hike with your kids? Share some of the benefits or challenges you encountered in the comments below. For other variations of this trip or surrounding area, visit the AllTrails Donner Creek Trail listing.