Donner Summit Neighborhoods & Subdivisions

Donner Summit is located at the top of Old Highway 40 and Interstate 80 at an elevation of approximately 6800’, and receives considerable more snow than Truckee in the wintertime. The actual elevation of the Summit is over 7200’. There are several alpine ski and boarding resorts located in this area including Sugar Bowl, Boreal, Donner Ski Ranch and Soda Springs and Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Area, the largest cross-country ski facility in North America. Neighborhoods include Serene Lakes, Soda Springs, Pla-Vada Woodlands, Kingvale, Norden and Towle Mountain Properties.

Serene Lakes

The largest subdivision in the unincorporated community of Soda Springs, Serene Lakes is located about 1 mile south of Soda Springs, 1.5 miles from Interstate 80. Originally the Serene Lakes were called Ice Lakes which originated in the 1860s when the lakes was an ice harvesting station for the San Francisco area. The 2 lakes –Lake Serena (the upper lake) and Lake Dulzura (the lower lake) — were supposedly named by Mark Twain in honor of his daughters. Approximately 2400 acres, the Serene Lakes subdivision is comprised of 1000 lots with an average size of 1/5 acre. Approximately 800 of the lots are private homes, a majority of which are vacation homes; however there are full time residents. The community is surrounded by land owned and managed by the US Forest Service and world class Royal Gorge cross country ski resort. There is a boat launch (no power boats allowed) and a large beach for swimmers maintained by the HOA at the lower lake, with areas for horseshoes, volleyball, barbecues, picnics and swimming. Though all property owners are encouraged to join the HOA, SLPOA, membership is not mandatory. Homes are served by PG&E, Sierra Lakes Community Water District sewer and water and propane by individual selection.

Soda Springs

The summit community offering the most services, Soda Springs has a post office, general store, hotel, ski/board and bicycle shops, gas station and other conveniences. A majority of the homes are directly on Donner Pass Road or slightly in from Donner Pass Road. The latter are accessed by unplowed dirt roads and winter access is “walk-in”. Homes are served by PG&E, Donner Summit PUD sewer and water and propane by individual selection.

Pla Vada Woodlands, Kingvale and Cisco Grove

These are subdivisions geared towards snow play. There is a popular sledding hill in Kingvale, just off I-80. Pla-Vada’s name was made from combining the names of Placer and Nevada Counties, as the land borders both counties, and is around the 6000’ elevation. There are a total of 352 lots in the Pla-Vada subdivision and the roads are plowed by the mandatory HOA. However, with only with a “modified” plow, approximately 8 inches of snow is left on the roads for snowmobile access. Many houses back to large acreage parcels and some border the South Yuba River. The roads in Kingvale are unplowed whereas the roads in Cisco Grove are about 50% plowed. The homes in these subdivision tend to border Old Highway 40 or the South Yuba River. Freeway access is close by. Homes are served by PG&E, PUD sewer and water and propane by individual selection in Pla-Vada. Kingvale and Cisco Grove homes are served by PG&E, individual sewer systems, PUD water and propane by individual selection.


A small, unincorporated community, Norden lies along the First Transcontinental Railroad. Historic Sugar Bowl resort, dating back to the 1930s, is located in this community as is the smaller resort, Donner Ski Ranch. Both areas have condos and private homes served by PG&E, PUD sewer and water and propane by individual selection.

Towle Mountain Properties

Offering 20 to 60 acre parcels, Towle Mountain Properties is a unique community. There are no plowed roads so access to properties is by snowmobile. HOA is mandatory. Homes are served by individual sewer (septic) and wells. Power is generally gas generator or alternate sources.

Emigrant Gap

Located about 20 miles west of Soda Springs and 5 miles east of Blue Canyon, Emigrant Gap is lower in elevation (5200′) and has good winter access.  It is also closer to Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Propane Problems

With more than 20 feet of snow in some areas of eastern Placer County and Donner Summit, snow loads on residential propane tanks are at an extreme – and pose possible risk of leaks and/or explosion.

In 2011, when similar snow loads were a concern, propane leaks in the Serene Lakes area were widespread, triggering evacuations and the disconnection of power to homes. One leak caused an explosion that completely destroyed a home.

“Snow loads on roofs and decks are a problem throughout the Sierra right now, and everyone should take care to clear those. But the loads on propane tanks are an especially serious concern,” said Placer County Office of Emergency Services Manager John McEldowney. “Residents should dig out and inspect their tanks as soon as they possibly can and call 911 if they smell any gas at all.”

In cooperation with local fire districts, Placer County has issued an emergency alert for the greater North Lake Tahoe area west to Cisco Grove using the Placer Alert system to warn residents of the risk and urge quick action to remove snow from tanks, gas lines and regulators.

Access to all types of propane tanks should be cleared, including underground, sheltered and stand-alone tanks. Residents should contact the Placer County Department of Environmental Health office in Tahoe City at 530-581-6240 before digging into the ground. Residents with questions about safely clearing or de-icing any of their tank components should contact their propane provider.

Placer County encourages all residents to sign up for the Placer Alert emergency alert system to receive the fastest possible notification of dangers near the places they care about – by text, email or phone. Sign up at 

Tying Up Loose Ends


You can feel the change in the air.  The weather is starting to turn and there is a crispness to the days. While autumn is not far off, there are some late summer activities in which you can still partake.  The last of the Summer Movie Series will take place over Labor Day weekend, on September 3rd at 7:30pm at the Homeowner’s Beach (also known as Lot 1).  There will be s’mores and popcorn to go with a fun family movie.  A great summertime treat for the kiddos.  If you have questions, email Sharon Ruffner at

And although winter snows are not too far off, there is still an extreme fire danger situation here in our area.  For 2016, the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association is once again paying the costs of chipping green waste generated by property owners when they clean up their lots with defensible space work.  There is one last chipping date on Monday, September 19th that owners can take advantage of to make sure your lot is in tip top shape.  The chips generated can be blown back onto properties to use as mulch or ground cover.

You must sign up for the chipping program.  It does not happen automatically.  To sign up, go to the Fire Safety page on the SLPOA website and complete the chipping program form.  You must sign up at least one week in advance of the chip date in which you wish to participate.

If you have further questions, you can email, this year’s program coordinator.

And, it probably goes without saying but defensible space is a crucial element to keeping all Summit residents safe.  It improves not only the fire safety and overall look of our community but also our forest’s health.   Stay fire safe!

Summertime Adventures on the Summit

thSummer’s coming!  While planning your vacation or trip up to your cabin this summer, there’s a great option to consider for the younger members of the group.  When hanging with the grown ups ceases to be fun or you are just in the mood for a bit of adult time, check out the camps for kids at Sugarbowl.  They are offering Summer Adventure camps in partnership with the Gateway Mountain Center. Gateway is a leader in outdoor experiential adventure activities.  Their mission is to open young people’s hearts and minds to the natural world; we engage, impel and empower them to become knowledgeable, passionate, conscientious stewards – of themselves, their communities, the environment and our world.

Executive Director, Peter Mayfield, has an amazing resume.  He has designed and delivered creative and successful outdoor educational programs for thousands of California youth.  Peter has served as Chief Guide for the Yosemite Mountaineering School, and as Chief Examiner for the Professional Ski Instructors Association (Far West). As the founder and General Partner of CityRock Gym, the first large urban climbing gym, Peter was a catalyst for the growth of indoor climbing in North America. As a consultant Peter has designed and developed adventure programs for Disney, Discovery Communications, and Posades Resorts.  As a creative mountaineer Peter has succeeded on first ascents on Yosemite’s El Captain and Half Dome, climbed new routes in Peru, Patagonia, and the Alaska Range, and pioneered difficult snowboard descents.  And he has amassed an equally impressive staff.

Camps are arranged for specific timeframes and for specific ages, so that the activities will be age appropriate.  Campers can start as young as four years of age with a nature camp combining easy hikes, water play fun and nature art, storytelling and yoga.

Older campers can enjoy spectacular hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, mountain biking , stand up paddle boarding, swimming, and whitewater rafting or inflatable kayaking.

And for the oldest age group there is also  an Adventure, Leadership, and Stewardship camp.  In addition to the fabulous outdoor adventures the campers will learn to become a thoughtful citizen of the world . The leadership portion will focus on communication, teaching skills, goal setting, becoming role models, and problem solving. Stewardship themed activities include, a conservation project, studying and employing Leave no Trace practices, teaching younger kids, and learning about sustainability and personal stewardship.

You can find all the information on the camp offerings here. Have a great summer!

Step Back in Time with the Donner Party Hike

Travel is so easy, relatively speaking, these days that we rarely give it much thought. Hop on a plane and you’re on the opposite coast within the same day.  It’s hard to imagine the hardships and triumphs of those who first settled the west, traveling for months through grueling, dangerous conditions to reach their goal.  One great way to step back in time is the annual Donner Party Hike here238-2 in Truckee.  This year’s hike – the 23rd annual – is being held on October 2nd and 3rd.

On Saturday, hikers can choose among six guided hikes with different focuses and skill levels.  Each hike is led by knowledgeable guides who share fascinating details of the area and those who previously settled it.  Hikers can choose the railroad snow shed hike to hear about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad through the area, and the Chinese workers who lived and died to make it a reality.  Other hikes include Roller Pass, where emigrants were forced to winch their wagons up a 35-degree granite slope, or our lovely high Sierra lakes, or the Dutch Flat Wagon Road to learn about where and how the road was built and the advent of motorized transport through the Sierra.

Saturday hikes will begin and end at Donner Ski Ranch located on Highway 40 on Donner Summit. Guides lead groups of approximately 15–20 people to interpretive spots giving detailed historical information focused on emigrant and area history.  The cost for Saturday’s hikes is $45 per hiker; $50 after September 26.

Sunday provides the opportunity for an additional day of history and exploration as part of a two-day Donner Party Hike package. The day begins with an interpretive walk where participants will hear of the grueling travel and mishaps of the Donner Party and the archeological finds of the group in this area. Participants will then drive to Donner Memorial State Park to view the Murphy Cabin Site and Pioneer Monument. Participants are welcome to view the movie documentary and explore the Emigrant Trail Museum at the State Park, admission to the park is included for the remainder of the afternoon. The Saturday and Sunday package is $65 per hiker; $70 after September 26.

More information and the hike registration form can be found at the hike’s website.

Guide photo courtesy of the Donner Party Hike

Wild Fires and YOU

FullSizeRenderAs I write this, there is a Red Flag Warning in effect for our area and wildfires are raging throughout the west.  Tinder dry conditions and a prolonged drought have brought us to the brink of catastrophe.  There is no way to emphasize enough the importance of fire safety in our area.  We live on the edge of wilderness and must respect it.  Being fire safe might mean just the few minutes time you will need to escape safely and hopefully, perhaps even keep our community from facing a situation that desperate.

There is an incredible amount of information to be found in any number of places, but for Donner Summit and Serene Lakes property owners, perhaps your best resource is the Serene Lakes Property Owners website.  Here you can find the forms you’ll need to submit for property inspections, wood chipping dates, emergency checklists, the Serene Lakes fire wise assessment plan and so much more.

Let’s all do our part to protect the area we love so much, and keep one another safer as a result.

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