Campfire Talks & Sierra Speaker Series Presentations (Saturday Evenings)

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  • Amphitheater (Campfire Center) Location: Campground Map - link


Historical Tours

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Birdwatching Tours

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Donner Lake Paddling Guided Tours -


Junior Rangers: 

  • Double Happiness or Interdependance River

  • Junior Ranger Fishing Programs

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In-person Field Trips


PORTS Virtual Programs -






Campfire Programs are held in the campground Amphitheater (south of Ridge Campground) 8:00pm-9:00pm. Remember to bring a flashlight or headlamp and light sweater or jacket. FREE!

Sierra Speakers Series held in the Visitor Center Main Theater. Doors open at 5:00pm and the presentation follows at 5:30pm. Admission is a suggested $5 donation. Light refreshments will be available for purchase. No registration required. 


 June 22 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: Alice & the Wonderlandz. “Music with an historic twist”. Alice Osborn on vocals/guitar and John Kedzie on keyboards. Featuring Alice’s original compositions and John’s varied and original progressions, this band can’t be categorized—it’s an energetic mix of folk, Americana, pop, and adult contemporary that leaves audiences waiting for the next note to drop. Campground Amphitheater


June 29 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: “A Touch of Gold – Children of the Pioneers''.  Historical storytelling through music and song. Great family fun! Campground Amphitheater


July 6 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: “Caleb Greenwood – The Most Famous Unknown Hero”. Through the voice of our own, Greg Palmer,meet the mountain man, trapper, pathfinder, pilot to the pioneers, and friend of the Crow; Caleb Greenwood. Campground Amphitheater


July 13 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: Alice & the Wonderlandz. “Music with an historic twist”. Alice Osborn on vocals/guitar and John Kedzie on keyboards. Featuring Alice’s original compositions and John’s varied and original progressions this band can’t be categorized—it’s an energetic mix of folk, Americana, pop, and adult contemporary that leaves audiences waiting for the next note to drop. Campground Amphitheater


July 20 - Sierra Speakers Series – 5:30-6:30pm: Join Steve Hale, portraying John C. Frémont- “The Great Pathfinder” who led wilderness expeditions to open settlement of the American West.  Steve Hale brings John C. Frémont to life with his live historical character portrayal. Frémont played a role in almost every pivotal American political and military event of the mid-19th Century. He was a pioneering Western explorer, millionaire gold baron, premature emancipator, Major General of Union forces in the Civil War, California Senator, Governor of the Arizona Territory, and the United States’ first Republican Presidential candidate.

Along with his wife Jessie, the Frémonts barreled through life blazing new trails and challenging the prevailing norms in 19th Century America. Frémont’s setbacks were tempered by his achievements and Jessie’s steadfast support. Their devotion to each other and the American legacy they molded distinguished them as the power couple of the 1800’s. Visitor Center main theater.


July 27 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: “Through Tamsen’s Eyes— the Story of the Donner Party”Though Tamsen Donner’s journals were never found, enough has been written about Tamsen to inspire a solo show about this extraordinary woman. Join Leslie Scatchard in her portrayal of the teacher, botanist, and pioneer, Tamsen Donner. Campground Amphitheater


 August 3 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: “All About the Black Bear”. Join naturalist Brian Buttazoni as he delves into the wonders of the area’s largest mammal, the American Black Bear. Through pictures and stories Brian will enlighten his audience about this powerful, mischievous, tree climbing, food driven, and often misunderstood neighbor of the woods. Campground Amphitheater


August 10 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: “Forest Ecology”. Dan Joannes, Forest and Restoration Coordinator for the Truckee Donner Land Trust will get into the inner workings of our beautiful forests. Campground Amphitheater


August 17 - Sierra Speakers Series – 5:30-6:30pm:  “Living Alongside Black Bears: And the Power We Have to Keep Them Wild”.  Through compelling visuals, Sarinah Simons, will emphasize the crucial role we have as stewards of our environment and hopefully inspire attendees to discover the power they possess to make a positive impact on black bear populations. The presentation will cover practical guidelines for homeowners, hikers, and tourists on best practices to minimize conflicts and protect the natural ecology of these charismatic creatures. An eye-opening and engaging journey into the world of black bears and the responsibilities we bear in safeguarding their future. Participants will leave with a renewed sense of appreciation for these incredible animals and a profound understanding of their integral role in the delicate ecosystem of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Visitor Center main theater.


August 24 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: “Bats- Truth or Tales”. “Bat Aficionado'', Brian Buttazoni, reveals his insights to this often-misunderstood flying mammal.  Learn about where bats live, what they eat, and how we benefit from them. See photos of bats found around the world and hear the sounds that they create.


August 31 - Campfire Program - 8:00-9:00pm: “Leader of the Second Relief: Selim E. Woodworth - In His Own Words”.  Maligned and ridiculed by a few individuals in the decades following his death in 1871, Selim E. Woodworth, volunteer leader of the Second Relief whose mission was to rescue the survivors of the Donner Party, is now able to have his account of those harrowing months told. After 177 years his personal diary is revealed to add another chapter to this timeless historic emigrant tragedy that continues to capture the hearts and imaginations of generations.

Robert F. Bailey, a fifth generation Californian, retired Civil Engineer and avid history researcher. He has spent years carefully documenting the fascinating lives of people and buildings that have shaped California history. Campground Amphitheater


September 21 - Sierra Speakers Series – 5:30-6:30pm: “An Overview of Water Management at Donner Lake”. Kara Steeland joined Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) in 2016 and currently holds the role of Senior Hydrologist and Watershed Coordinator. She helps manage water resources for the Reno-Sparks area and led the update process for TMWA's 2020-2040 Water Resource Plan. Kara has also been key in the creation of a source water protection program for the region and has helped develop multiple watershed partnerships to protect the region’s water quality.

 Donner Lake is not only important ecologically and recreationally, but it also serves as a critical drought supply reservoir for over 440,000 people in the Reno-Sparks area in northern Nevada. The original dam was built in 1877, and the current dam which controls the top 12 feet of the lake was constructed in the 1930s. Water management throughout the Truckee River Watershed is complex, and Truckee Meadows Water Authority manages Donner Lake water levels to meet multiple needs. This presentation will provide a synopsis of basic water management in the Truckee River system and specifically how Donner Lake water levels have been historically and currently managed.  Visitor Center main theater.


October 19 - Sierra Speakers Series – 5:30-6:30pm: “Rethinking and Mitigating Wildfire Risk in a Warming World”.  Dr. Erin Hanan leads the Fire and Dryland Ecosystems Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her team ventures into coniferous forests in the Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains, Idaho Batholith, and Cascade Range to examine how climate change and land management practices contribute to fire hazard. Equally important, they strive to understand how wildfires influence ecosystems and watershed. Their research employs a range of tools and techniques, from examining microbial processes in individual soil cores to modeling entire ecoregions. Through this research, they aim to develop cross-scale, integrative approaches for understanding and responding to emerging challenges in fire science.

Over the last few decades, we have witnessed how climate change and historical fire suppression have transformed wildfire behavior—but how are these drivers playing out in the landscapes where we reside? This talk will dive into the changing nature of wildfires and its consequences for our ecosystems and watersheds. The talk will focus on 3 important topics. (1) Understanding fire changes: How have climate change and human activities influenced wildfire activity in the west? (2) Ecological and hydrological effects: How do changes in wildfire behavior influences processes like nutrient cycling, streamflow, and drinking water security? (3) Future perspectives: What does the future holds as fire regimes continue to change; how can research help guide decision-making and planning efforts?  Visitor Center main theater.



*These tours are offered Thursday-Sunday at 11:00AM and 1:00PM. Meet at the Visitor Center (12593 Donner Pass Rd, Truckee, CA 96161).

Join a compelling guided tour (60-minute, 1/2 mile) led by a local historian expert to learn about the the arduous overland journeys of California emigrants (including The Donner Party of 1846), indigenous presence (Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California), and wildlife diversity in the area. Drop in for this no-cost and family-friendly guided hike.





  •  Bird Watching Tours depart from the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center on Saturdays from 9:00AM to 10:00am (weather permitting). Led by Park Interpreters and Docents, tours are 60-minutes (1 mile) with short educational stops at exceptional bird and wildlife viewpoints.

  •  Binoculars and field guides will be provided to participants.  





Explore Donner Lake on a raft led by a California State Parks guide!

Welcome to all ages and we encourage youth participants to join with a parent/guardian. We provide paddling instruction, safety talk, and life jacket fitting before launching our two 14-foot rafts into the lagoon for a one-hour lake exploration (3/4 mi). Each raft holds 6-7 participants plus one guide who will discuss wildlife diversity and the rich cultural history of the area. You will have an opportunity to jump into the lake if you'd like!

Participants stay relatively dry throughout the tour, but clothes and shoes have the potential to get wet. This is a family friendly program with no-cost.

Full description, schedule, and registration




Jr.Ranger FishingJr. Ranger




PORTS Virtual Programs

PORTS (Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students) Program is a FREE distance learning program with California State Parks!

PORTS uses the power of videoconferencing to support K-12 educators in designing deep and meaningful learning experiences in virtual and in-person classrooms.

The Donner Party of 1846: Explore the region where the famous Donner Party spent the tragic winter of 1846 with a California State Park Interpreter. We will highlight the California emigrant experience and other important natural and cultural features of Donner Memorial State Park.

PORTS Home Learning Program - Join our California State Parks Interpretive Specialist to learn about the Donner Party of 1846 in this free, live public broadcast.

PORTS On Demand - Schedule an interactive virtual presentation with your class or group with a California State Parks Interpreter to learn about the Donner Party of 1846.



Educational Resources

Park Interpretive Content and Historic References - Donner Docent website

Donner Self-Guided Nature Loop Brochure (.5MB)

Donner Summit Historical Society