National Forest Foundation

Commemorative Emigrant Trail Project

Supported by REI

California’s Tahoe National Forest is a beloved recreation destination for millions of visitors from the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Reno, Nevada. Covering more than 870,000 acres of forests, Sierra Nevada peaks and trout-filled rivers, the Tahoe is truly one of America’s public lands gems.

History plays an important role in the Tahoe. Emigrants traveling across the “Overland” route passed through the Tahoe on their way to points farther west. No mention of early California settlers can omit the Donner Party, which was infamously stranded in the Sierras en route to California. Donner Lake, where the ill-fated party camped for the winter, is nestled amongst private land that’s completely surrounded by the Tahoe National Forest.

Modern day pioneers can hike, run or pedal much of the “Overland Emigrant Trail” that passes through the forest, including one of the most popular trail segments located along Alder Creek. The “Alder Creek Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail,” or “Emigrant Trail” as it’s also known, is a 15 mile out-and-back route that winds along Alder Creek outside of Truckee, California. This gentle, rolling, single-track trail is one of the first to melt out in spring and offers great trail running and mountain biking for beginners and intermediates.

With support from REI, the NFF worked with local groups to install two critical bridges along the Emigrant Trail that span sensitive riparian areas, finalizing a multi-year trail-improvement project. Prior work rerouted the trail out of riparian areas, benefiting wildlife habitat, watershed health and recreationists. Volunteer work complemented the bridge reconstruction and included:

  • Cleaning up and naturalizing areas around the two bridge construction sites; 
  • Revegetating and planting within the riparian zones along the trail; 
  • Naturalizing areas of obliterated old road bed near the trail; and 
  • Naturalizing any new trails built on location. 

This final phase completed the project, making the “Emigrant Trail” ecologically sustainable for the next generation of history and outdoor enthusiasts.


  • 3 partner groups included in project
  • 8 miles of trail rebuilt or maintained
  • 2 trailheads restored
  • 43 volunteers participated, including four youth
  • 282 hours of volunteer service
  • 23 acres of sensitive riparian habitat restored

*Preliminary numbers, not all reports complete.

Project Updates

August 16, 2017 update

Volunteers recently worked with Truckee Trails Foundation to naturalize sections of old trail and construct part of the new trail. Photos by Chelsea Dier Photography.