Wagon, Highway & Railroad Routes

Wagon Routes

Donner Pass:
In 1844 the Stephens-Murphy-Townsend Party became the first wagon train over the Sierra Nevada Mountains crossing at Donner Pass.

Coldstream Pass:
Some books say it was pioneered by the last party in the summer of 1846 (sometimes called the Middle Pass) was the easiest ot ascend but the most difficult to descend. Phil Sexton, of the Forest Service, has done additional research and found no evidence that Coldstream was ever used.

Roller Pass:
Opened in 1846 to avoid the awesom granite escarpments of Donner Pass. Wagons were hauled up the last 400 ft. by attaching long chains and pulling them from the top. To lessen the frection of the chains a log was laid across the lip of the rock; as a result of this method, the pass was called Roller Pass.

Source: "Historic Overland Emigrant Trail" brochure and map from the Forest Service

donner peak, mount judah, coldstream pass, donner pass, roller pass

See Early Crossings by pioneers at the History of Transportation to California


The Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Wagon Road (DF&DLWR) was completed in 1864 to help in building the railroad. The road ran from Dutch Flat to Tinker's Station (Summit), to Donner Lake and then on to 'Coburns Station' (Truckee) and Lake's Crossing (Reno)


The DF&DLWR was replaced by a State Highway in 1909. After many accidents at the grade crossing near the exit to the railroad tunnel an underpass (first highway underpass) was constructed in 1912. The first coast to coast highway, the Lincoln Highway, was completed in 1913.

Source: "Donner Summit; A Brief History", Margie Powell


In 1862 congress passed an act to build a transcontinental railroad. It was started in 1863 and finished in 1869.
Speeds averaged from 25-40 MPH and it took 10 days from New York to Oakland.

CENTRAL PACIFIC RAILROAD Photographic History Museum
Railroads at the History of Transportation to California

The History of Transportation to California
California Trail
Historical Donner Pass | OnTheSummit

"Trails of the First Wagons Over the Sierra Nevada" by Charles K. Graydon, 2d edition 1994,
"Seven Trails West" by Arthur King Peters (Abbeville Press)
"Year of Decision: 1846", Bernard DeVoto, 1943, reissued 2000, Focused on the migration of settlers via the Oregon and California trails and the Mexican War.
"Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West" by Dale Morgan
"History of the Sierra Nevada" by Francis Farquahar
"The Dutch Flat Chronicles" by Russel Towle (Giant Gap Press, 1994).
"Donner Summit; A Brief History" by Margie Powell - Available at Donner Memorial State Park Information Center
"Historic Overland Emigrant Trail" brochure and map from the Forest Service

last updated 14 July 2007
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