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7 Places to Picnic in Truckee (And Leave No Trace!)

Siobhan Kenney
May 5, 2021
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Forget TV dinners, when you’re in Truckee you should enjoy your takeout with a view! Our rugged mountains, alpine lakes, and colorful meadows offer the perfect backdrop for any meal and what better way to get a taste of Truckee’s food scene than with a scenic picnic? There are plenty of unique, off the beaten path spots that rival any restaurant patio for dinnertime ambiance. This list is just the beginning! So, the million dollar question is, where will your takeout take you?

Safety Reminder: The safest way to enjoy takeout is with your household bubble. If a picnic area looks crowded, have a backup plan to go somewhere else. Practice social distancing and stay 6 feet from others. Wear a face covering to pick up your meal and bring hand sanitizer with you and use it before eating. Wherever you choose to picnic, practice Leave No Trace and Recreate Responsibly.

Picnic Essentials

What's in your picnic basket?! If you need supplies, Truckee's outdoor gear stores have everything you need to get out there like coolers, picnic blankets, solar lanterns, etc. Don't forget these essentials when you head off on your picnic and remember to Leave No Trace by packing out everything you pack in.  

  • Reusable water bottle, like this Hibear flask created by Truckee locals! Stay hydrated, especially if you're hiking to a picnic spot.
  • Cloth napkins - Ditch single-use paper napkins and choose reusable. It's less likely to get blown away in the wind and when you're done, just throw it in the wash and use it again later.
  • Utensils - There are lots of great reusable utensils that you can buy in handy travel sets. Keep them with your picnic basket and you'll always be prepared to dine outdoors!
  • Hand sanitizer - Keep yourself healthy by using hand sanitizer before diving into your tasty takeout.
  • Garbage bag - Pack it in, pack it out! Always bring a garbage bag with you in case trash bins are full and clean up your picnic site before you leave.
  • Backpack - If you're hiking to a picnic spot, like Hawk's Peak, don't forget to bring a backpack to carry all of your hiking and picnicking essentials.

7 Places to Picnic in Truckee

#1 Truckee Tahoe Airport - Grass Area & Plane Viewing

Families will love this lesser-known picnic area where you can watch planes take off and land at the airstrip. Order takeout from Red Truck Cafe in the airport and find a spot to enjoy your meal at one of the shaded picnic tables or on the big grassy field. This quaint aviation hub is only 10 minutes from Historic Downtown Truckee, close to dining at the Rock, and just a few minutes from the network of trails at Waddle Ranch. The airport comings and goings make for great entertainment for both kids and parents alike!

Have a picnic at the Truckee Tahoe Airport

#2 Donner Party Picnic Area

Enjoy a quiet picnic where the infamous Donner party overwintered in 1846-47. This cozy picnic area is nestled among tall pines next to the Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail. Bears frequent this area so make sure to dispose of all trash properly in the bear-proof garbage receptacle. After enjoying your takeout, hike the Emigrant Trail Interpretive Loop which begins at the picnic area. This short walk takes you around Donner Party’s winter campsite and tells their incredible story of struggle and survival.

#3 Stampede Reservoir

Looking for a quiet spot on the water to enjoy your meal? Take a drive out to Stampede Reservoir! The large body of water is a gorgeous place to dine with lots of quiet corners to lay down your picnic blanket. The spacious shoreline provides ample opportunities to spread out from others and find a moment of solitude. It’s a great spot for kids to run and play with the possibility of wildlife viewing. Keep a sharp eye out for bald eagles; they are often seen along the shoreline. There are also picnic tables at the Stampede Reservoir scenic overlook. Either way, choose Stampede for stunning sunsets and enjoy your takeout after a refreshing dip in the water! 

Have a picnic at Stampede Reservoir
Paul Hamill Photography

#4 Donner Memorial State Park

Enjoy lake views, swimming, paddleboarding, and more at Donner Memorial State Park. Start at the Visitor Center and experience Truckee’s history through the interpretive exhibits on the Donner Party, Chinese construction of the railroad, the Land of the Washoe, and more. Then find the perfect spot to picnic along the shoreline of Donner Lake at the Day Use Picnic Area. Here, you and your household can enjoy picnic tables with an incredible view and endless water adventures! Remember to pick up your trash and any other garbage you see, including micro-trash, before leaving the picnic area. It’s up to all of us to follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace to keep Donner Lake clean.

#5 Rainbow Bridge, Donner Lake Overlook

Drive into the large, paved overlook next to Rainbow Bridge (also known as Donner Summit Bridge) and enjoy incredible vistas in Truckee. You’ll be treated to panoramic views of Donner Lake below and the rugged peaks making up the crest of the Sierra Nevada. Kind of like a drive-in movie but better, this overlook delivers the convenience of tailgating plus memorable views you won’t forget anytime soon. By the way, did you know that Rainbow Bridge turns 95 this year? Make sure to wish it a happy birthday! 

2021 Update: Donner Pass Road from Rainbow Bridge to the town limits will be closed from starting Monday May 10th at 7:00 am through Friday at 5:00 pm and until further notice.  Additional closures can be expected the week of May 17th through June 1st extending the road closure up to the Sugar Bowl Academy in order to begin drainage work. Learn more.

Picnic on Donner Pass Road. Photo: Paul Hamill
Paul Hamill Photography

#6 Truckee River Regional Park

Picnic meets playtime at the Truckee River Regional Park. There are large grassy fields where you can spread out and comfortably enjoy your meal, secluded nooks near the amphitheater for more privacy, plus endless fun for the kids including a disc golf course, tennis courts and more. Please note that these facilities are only open for immediate families and households to use. As always it’s important to stick to recreating with your household bubble only. The Regional Park is minutes from downtown Truckee and The Rock, both of which offer delicious Truckee takeout options. Choose The Rock for Thai, Sushi, and local Gastropub or head downtown for everything else!

#7 Hawk’s Peak

A hike up to this vista is an unforgettable way to experience the sunset in Truckee. It's a strenuous trek but the climb up to the peak is well worth the effort, especially with a tasty reward! We think everything tastes better at 7700 feet, what about you?

Make sure to pack appropriately for this hike and practice good hiking etiquette along the trail. You should carry a map, plenty of water, layers, and a headlamp for the hike out in the dark (if you plan to watch the sunset). View a hiking map and description. 

Picnic on Tahoe Donner Trails

Tips to Leave No Trace with Takeout

BYOB - Bring Your Own BAG! More and more people are enjoying Truckee’s outdoor spaces but as a result, garbage and recycling containers are filling up quickly. Be prepared and pack a plastic bag with you in case garbage facilities are not available or if they are full.

Leave Your Picnic Site Better Than You Found It: Do a full sweep of your picnic area before leaving and make sure to pick up all trash. And don’t forget about micro-trash like bottle caps and can tabs!

Respect Truckee's Wildlife: Never feed or approach any birds or animals during your picnic. Make sure to dispose of all trash properly in a bear-proof garbage receptacle.

Be Careful to Avoid Sensitive Vegetation: Having a picnic in a meadow could cause long-lasting damage to sensitive plants. Set up camp chairs or picnic blankets on durable surfaces.

No Campfires or Charcoal Grills! A district-wide fire ban in Truckee prohibits the use of charcoal grills, campfires, and burning anything other than gas. Over 95% of wildfires are human-caused. Be alert and prevent a wildfire from burning down Truckee and Lake Tahoe. Read through this Visitor's Guide to Wildfire Season in Truckee for more travel tips.

Park in Legal Parking Areas Only: Parking outside of designated parking areas a safety hazard for pedestrians and cyclists and creates dangerous situations for emergency response vehicles. Also, if you are parked on vegetation, the heat from your engine poses a significant risk of starting a wildfire.

It's Windy! Catch Your Trash Before it Escapes in the Breeze. Don't let light items like wrappers and empty bags be taken away by the strong Santa Ana winds we typically experience in fall. Keep a neat, tidy picnic site with everything safely secured from gusty winds.

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