The Donner Summit area offers a dynamic and scenic setting to develop students’ ability to ask, research, and answer scientific questions. During our multi-day trips, students stay in the Clair Tappaan Lodge, owned by the Sierra Club. The lodge is located near where we hike to various field sites each day. Donner Summit offers great opportunities in wetland science, forest science, geology and human history.

Study areas on Donner Summit:

Wetland Science

The Donner Summit area is home to the Van Norden Meadow, one of the largest sub-alpine wetlands in the Sierra and the headwaters of the South  Fork of the Yuba River. There is a lot of controversy over the management of  the meadow which also makes for a great environmental debate for students.

DSC_6088 (Ambrose Tuscano's conflicted copy 2014-08-12)
Forest Science:

The pine-dominated forest out the back door of the Sierra Club lodge offers a  number of hands-on case studies. This forest gives us great options to study  mutualism, parasitism, forest succession, and more.


Donner Summit is based in the middle of the Sierra Crest we have access to a number of engaging  geologic field sites. Students will hike to these locations and examine them as they learn about geologic  processes. Based on their observations, students will reconstruct a geologic history of the Sierra.

Human History as part of Ecology:

The Donner Summit area is a hotbed of human history, which we use to expand students’ ecological inquiry. From discussing the impact pioneers had on the fragmentation of old growth forest to the biological implications of aquaculture regimes developed during the creation of the transcontinental railroad, students can draw on their knowledge of human history to delve deeper into the scientific questions at hand.

Snow Science

Blessed with abundant snow fall and the location of the Central Sierra Snow Science Lab, Donner Summit is an obvious choice for delving into snow science. Students can examine snow: densities, water content, snow surface impurities, tensile strength, and more. Winter trips also allow for side trips of skiing, snow shoeing or snow shelter building.

Program Costs