Situated at the top of Donner Summit near Lake Tahoe, the Royal Gorge Resort flaunts 7,500 acres of stunning terrain, 200 kilometers of trails and more than 500 inches of annual snowfall. With spectacular scenery, ample amenities and a mountain of activities—pun intended—this Nordic resort is a wonderful addition to the Sugar Bowl snow mecca.
Royal Gorge started in 1971 as a ski touring company leading multi-day trips over Donner Pass and charged 50 cents for use of its 4 kilometer trail system. Later, the owners developed a day lodge and lesson program and began offering snowshoe rentals in 1974. The operation continued adding more trails, terrain and services until it became California’s top cross-country skiing resort in the mid-1980s. A recent partnership with Sugar Bowl resort in 2012 came with a $500,000 face lift resulting in expanded terrain and enhanced amenities, such as renovated warming huts and lodge facilities. Today it is the largest cross-country ski resort in North America, boasting a 200+ kilometer trail system, the entirety of which is open to snowshoeing.
According to JoJo Toeppner, an associate at the Royal Gorge lodge, snowshoers are welcome on all trails, provided that they stay to the side of the groomed tracks. In addition to the multi-use trails, an additional 22 kilometers are reserved just for snowshoers. This means that Royal Gorge actually has more snowshoe trails than cross-country trails, a rarity in the industry.
Visitors rave about the wide variety of terrain and scenery here, ranging from canyons and panoramic vistas to shady forests and open lake areas. The majority of the snowshoe-designated trails can be accessed right out of the Summit Station lodge basecamp, which houses a café, rental shop and retail center. Start with the moderate 3.4 kilometer Hawk’s Run trail for a winding walk through the woods. A venture on the 3.4 kilometer Fast Draw trail will lead you to the Wildy Café where you can enjoy lunch overlooking Kilbourn Lake. Fido can tag along with you on Snoop’s Loop trail, an easy romp around Van Norden Lake area where it’s likely to spot signs of wildlife such as deer, hawk, fox and snowshoe hare tracks.
According to Toeppner, the best view in the valley can be earned with a long, difficult trek up to Point Mariah. Recommended for advanced trekkers only, from this vista point one can peer into the 4,417-foot deep Royal Gorge canyon. You’ll pass several warming huts along the way offering a toasty place to rest and re-fill your water bottle, but you’ll want to pack a lunch and snacks to keep you fueled on this long day hike which Toeppner estimates will take approximately six hours round trip.
For a fun alternative to snowshoeing you can try your hand at snow kiting or rent a burly, fat-tire snow bike. Full moon wine dinners and guided treks are also offered monthly during the winter for a fresh snowshoeing perspective.
When you’ve had enough fresh air and exercise and it’s time for some R&R, snowshoe right down to the Lodge at Sugar Bowl, America’s only “snowbound” lodging property that offers “classic high-alpine charm.” This hotel has everything you need to recover from a long day outdoors: a cozy restaurant, pub-style bar and the Sporthaus Spa, a state-of-the-art wellness facility complete with a lap pool, yoga studio, treatment areas and sauna. After soothing sore muscles with a relaxing massage, feast on French-inspired California specialties like French onion soup, grilled elk tenderloin and penne pasta with fresh vegetables in the tasteful dining room.
Although the Lodge at Sugar Bowl surely has a romantic vibe, Royal Gorge is definitely a getaway that the whole family can enjoy. With free trail passes for kids ages 12 and under, ample dog-friendly trails, and combined pass options for the alpine skiing resort next door, there’s fun and excitement to be afforded around every trail bend.
- Pass Rates: $32 ages 23-64, $27 ages 13-22 and 65-74, Free for ages 12 and under. Season passes also available.
- Rental Equipment: Crescent Moon snowshoes $27, includes poles. All equipment may be exchanged for alternative equipment on the same day at no extra charge.
- Pet Policy: Dogs allowed on designated trails with the purchase of a pet pass for $5 per day.
- Lodging: The Lodge at Sugar Bowl offers direct trail access.
- Dining: Day lodge offers lunch, snacks and beer & wine. Warming huts offer water and snacks.