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The Best Beach For Kids- Donner Lake, Truckee (Lake Tahoe)

Updated on September 9, 2012
The kids having fun splashing around!
The kids having fun splashing around!
Floating out in the middle of the lake. Can life get any better?
Floating out in the middle of the lake. Can life get any better?
"This is the coolest beach ever!"
"This is the coolest beach ever!"

West End Beach, Donner Lake

The success of any family vacation really depends on how much fun your kids are having. After careful planning, packing and researching you leave the rest to mother-nature and your kid's healthy immune system. You pray your research found the perfect kid-friendly designation, free of dangers only known to the locals. So, when your children come back from the beach on the second day of your vacation and say, "Let's go back to the West End beach. That's the coolest one," then you know you struck gold.

Our family traveled to Donner Lake located in beautiful Truckee, California. We rented a gorgeous home about two blocks from the lake thinking we could walk down to the lake anytime and go for a quick swim. Wrong. Although we could see the lake from our house, the walk ended up being too long for our 5 and 6-year-olds. Two blocks from the lake actually meant two long blocks from the lake plus a few rocky slopes and a two-lane road heavily traveled by cars. We made the most of it and decided to drive down to the lake and look for somewhere to park along the rode. Wrong again. Unless you get there super early, most of the parking spots are full and the small public docks located all around the lake are taken. Still, we managed to find one good parking spot after driving around for a while. The public bathrooms were located nearby which is always a blessing when you are out with the kids. So, we unpacked our gear and headed to the lake.

It was great not having to pay for parking and we were only a few minutes from the house, but there is a reason why families go to one of the beaches at Donner Lake. There are rocks everywhere and huge tree stumps sticking out of the water all along the shore. It's great for dogs or older children who don't need as much help navigating the terrain, but for little ones it tends to be a little unsafe. Also, the waves can get a little choppy depending on the time of day. There is no space to lie out towels or picnic blankets, unless of course you are able to snag one of the public docks. However, we made the most of it and had a great time splashing around, but we made a mental note to check out one of the nearby beaches on the second day of our vacation.

On the second day we headed out to West End Beach, a 10 acre day use beach facility located on the West Shore of Donner Lake. Parking is free, but you do have to pay a $4 admission fee per adult and $3 per child (2 and under are free). The price is reasonable considering the beach offers family picnic areas, basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball courts, a playground area, horseshoe pits, kayak & paddle boat rentals, standing paddle board rentals, boat parking, fishing area and a concession stand. There are lifeguards on duty, which is a must when children are swimming, and plenty of sand for beach blankets and sand-toys.

We ended up renting a paddle boat (three days in a row) and a kayak, each for $15/hr. Not bad considering a nearby beach charges $40/hr for paddle boating. West End Beach has a great rental policy; if the weather turns sour within the first 20 minutes you can head back to shore and receive a full refund. We appreciated this policy considering there always seemed to be a few rainclouds in the sky. Fortunately the weather was perfect and the kids had a blast paddle boating and kayaking for the first time. The view was amazing out in the middle of the lake and there was even a small river that snaked around part of the beach, offering the perfect place to paddle boat away from all the big boats. At one time a family of geese swam alongside our paddle boat. As my daughter said, "This is awesome!"

After an hour of paddle boating we headed back to shore and cooled off in the chilly, yet refreshing, Donner Lake. Then we decided to visit the Snack Shack which offers hotdogs ($3), veggie burritos ($4),Pirate Booties ($1), chips ($1), and a whole assortment of ice-cream and drinks. If you are a coffee lover like me you'll enjoy the ice-blended chai or mocha, each for $4. There were no lids or straws, but the coffee tasted so good I simply didn't care.

We enjoyed our food, played in the sand and practiced snorkeling in the lake. The beach did get a little crowded, but everyone was friendly and respectful, something not always found at the beach. Speaking of friendly, the staff at West End Beach were helpful and extremely positive to be around. They genuinely seemed to want to be there and it showed in their friendly smiles and professional attitude. One woman working at the Snack Shack got a real kick out of my daughter all dressed up in her snorkel gear...even while buying food. She couldn't help but laugh as she listened to my daughter breathing out of her snorkel tube.

So, if you're heading to Donner Lake, check out West End Beach. It is a great family beach and the perfect place to have fun with the kids. The view is amazing, the people are friendly and the area is safe for kids to explore. That must be why we visited West End Beach three days in a row.

Hours of Operation:

-The beach is open from Memorial Day to Mid September

- Hours are from dawn to dusk (everyday)

- Lifeguards are on duty from 9am-5pm on weekends and 10am-5pm on weekdays

4.5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of West End Beach


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    • TeachableMoments profile image

      TeachableMoments 5 years ago from California

      Thanks for the feedback. I agree, it helps to know in advance which places to visit when you're on vacation with your children.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      That's useful information about which beach is better for kids. Trying to haul little kids over rough terrain is no fun for anyone. Voted up.