The Clair Tappaan Lodge, the Sierra Club’s flagship lodge, offers a wide variety of winter activities and provides a unique experience where visitors can be as active as they want and explore hundreds of acres of backwoods trails or just lounge around in the rustic commons area in the lodge, which has a huge fireplace and a variety of board games.
Located about 45 minutes west of Reno just off Interstate 80 at an elevation of 7,000 feet, the lodge offers an inexpensive retreat that is within minutes of several ski resorts in the Donner/Lake Tahoe area.
“We have lots of fresh snow here and we expect a lot of people here for the Valentine’s Day and President’s Day weekend,” said Andy Sexton, the front desk manager at the lodge said on Tuesday. She said there are no overnight accommodations this weekend, but there are daily snowshoe hikes at 10 a.m. for those who want to explore the area in a group.
Built by Sierra Club volunteers in the 1930s, the lodge always has been an excellent home base for year-round recreation. The friendly, casual atmosphere and affordable nightly rates make the lodge the perfect rustic getaway to the Tahoe/Donner area.
Mealtime at the lodge is a special experience for many visitors. Three daily meals are included in the nightly rate, which is a bargain at less than $60. The meals are home-cooked and serviced family-style by lodge chefs. Vegetarian options also are available for all meals.
“It’s operated like a hostel,” said Peter Lehmkuhl, lodge manager. “Everybody is asked to help out on meal prep and most of the rooms are dorm style.”
Depending on the group size and personal preference, a variety of room choices are available at the lodge. Bunk-style accommodations include large single-gender dorms, smaller group rooms, and cozy two-bunk twin rooms.
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada at the top of Donner Pass, the rustic mountain lodge receives the highest average snowfall of the entire Sierra Nevada range, making it a favorite with cross-country ski and snowshoe enthusiasts during the winter.
For those with an appetite for adventure, the lodge has a full-moon snowshoe trek scheduled for March 21. Also there are organized cross-country and backcountry ski tours of the area.
According to the Web site, while you are exploring the backcountry, “you will hear the sounds of nature — the wind whispering through the trees and the winter wildlife greeting you as you come into their habitat.
“You will see the wonders of this forest — the tall, soaring Jeffery Pines, the region's awesome mountains and peaks. You will marvel at the clear blue sky above. You will experience nature at its finest.
“After enjoying lunch with a view the group will return to Clair Tappaan Lodge with new skills, friends and confidence. You will be building memories that will encourage you to explore more of the Sierra Nevada during all seasons.”
Even after the snow has melted off and the warmer months settle in, the lodge has an abundance of activities. During the summer, bicycle enthusiasts, backpackers and families frequently use the lodge as a base camp, which allows them to explore the region and return to a warm meal and social atmosphere.
A network of nearby trails offers miles of hiking and provides access to fishing streams, remote meadows and peaks, and crystal-clear lakes. The well-known Pacific Crest Trail is only a mile away and can be reached right out the back door of the lodge and Lake Tahoe is only 25 miles away.
The Donner Summit area is great for both road and mountain biking and also is widely known as a rock climbers’ Mecca.
The lodge also has a wide variety of programs that support sustainable practices and the Sierra Club’s mission to “explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the Earth.”
For those who are really adventurous, the lodge is a great starting point for a multi-day trek to the Sierra Club’s huts. If you want to explore the Sierra Nevada in the winter but don’t want to build an igloo or dig a snow cave, the four Sierra Club backcountry huts, such as the popular Peter Grubb Hut, are perfect getaways.
Lehmkuhl said the lodge strives to increase awareness of the environment, foster a sense of community, increase the spirit of volunteerism, and nurture eco-conscious conduct.
The lodge has hosted generations of Sierra Club members and non-members alike, and its unique architecture creates a maze of nooks and crannies to explore.
The original rustic charm is evident the moment you step through its doors.
A small, friendly and professional staff cares for the lodge year-round and is on site to serve guests as needed.
Each room has a distinct quality. The large living room offers an inviting atmosphere for guests to visit, play board games, or toast their toes in front of the enormous fireplace.
The cozy library shows off historic Sierra Club memorabilia and promises a quiet place for reading or reflection. A projector is available for PowerPoint presentations or slide shows and there are several comfortable spaces for breakout sessions.
During mealtime, the dining room is filled with a bustling array of guests who make the most of the opportunity of sharing tasty meals while making new friends.
The lodge has made its facilities attractive for meetings and retreats for Sierra Club entities, church groups, scouts and school groups. It has a capacity of 140 people.
The lodge’s fundraising committee is exploring the possibility of running an environmental education program at the lodge. The ability to provide meals and classroom spaces makes the lodge attractive, and it is an especially appropriate spot for studying several of the science and history subjects in the California State Curriculum Standards, Lehmkul said.
The lodge also has an ongoing need for volunteers to help keep things in tip-top shape. There are jobs with all levels of time commitment, especially for activity leaders and for enthusiastic volunteers to help contact groups that might like to stay at the Lodge.
The lodge is for kids, families, couples, singles and groups. No pets are allowed.
So, put visit Claire Tappaan Lodge high on your list of things to do outdoors this year.
And be sure to tell your friends. Keeping the lodge operating depends on continued visitation and use. In 2006, the lodge was in danger of being closed because of a financial shortfall.
By staying at the lodge, you not only will have a unique experience, but you also will be helping the time-honored lodge continue to offer a unique, hostel-like mountain retreat for years to come.
Paul G. White is a freelance writer living in Reno. Comments? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.