Truckee’s historical Rainbow Bridge turns 94 this August! The iconic arch style bridge sits along a scenic section of Donner Pass Road, also known as Old Highway 40, and overlooks Donner Lake below. It’s a landmark of Truckee and a must-see for any trip. Whether you’re just visiting, or a lifelong Truckee local, Rainbow Bridge never fails to “wow” on a drive down Old Highway 40.
About Rainbow Bridge
For many, the steep, windy curves that take you up Donner Summit are a challenge in and of itself. Can you imagine what it was like to drive before Rainbow Bridge was built when the grade of the road was 18% in places? It made for a difficult journey in the early ages of the automobile. With the rise of lumber demand and auto-tourism, the decision was made to create a new, safer route with the addition of a bridge.
But building this bridge was a huge undertaking. Construction began in 1924 and lasted two years until its completion in August 1926. In a nod to local history, surviving members and descendants of the Donner Party were invited to the dedication ceremony of Rainbow Bridge, which at the time was called Donner Summit Bridge. The route Old Highway 40 follows is the same that was attempted by the Donner Party in the fateful winter of 1846-47.
Rainbow Bridge Fun Facts
- The bridge is the first of its kind, built with both a grade and curve.
- Old 40 was closed in winter until the Auburn Ski Club began plowing in 1931.
- The bridge was deteriorating by the late 80s and was rehabilitated in 1993.
- Initial estimates cited $26,00 as the cost to build the bridge. At its completion, it cost over $37,300.
Cruise Historical Outdoor Museum Markers
A visit to the Rainbow Bridge is a great opportunity to journey back in time and learn about Truckee’s rich history. It’s a stop on the historical 20 Mile Outdoor Museum, which brings the history of the region back to life. A collection of interpretive signs that spans a 20 mile section of Donner Pass Road makes up this outdoor museum. As you travel along the road, stop at each marker to learn about ice harvesting, Native American’s, the transcontinental railroad, and more! Each sign tells a fun story and recommends nearby activities. If you plan to wish Rainbow Bridge a happy birthday, make sure to add the 20 Mile Museum to your travel itinerary!
Amazing Views of Rainbow Bridge & Nearby
From downtown Truckee, Rainbow Bridge is a short 20 minute drive. However, due to a road rehabilitation project this summer, the bridge is only accessible from the top down midweek. If you are visiting on a weekday, take exit 174 for Soda Springs/Norden and continue east on Donner Pass Road.
If you plan to visit on the weekend, head west on Donner Pass Road from downtown Truckee. Continue straight past Donner Lake. Whichever direction you travel, take in the 360 degree scenic views and look for climbers on the surrounding rock walls. Next to Rainbow Bridge is a large paved pullout, the Donner Lake Overlook. Here you can stop for photos and get an up-close look at the bridge itself.
Donner Pass Road Construction
Summer 2020 Update
Old Highway 40 is currently undergoing a major road rehabilitation project. Because of this, weekday closures will create limitations on when you can visit Rainbow Bridge. Make sure to plan ahead and bookmark this page to stay up to date on Donner Pass Road closures. We are excited to see the completion of this project, which will improve sightseeing, parking, and safe biking along the scenic drive by widening the road, enhancing pullouts, and constructing 4 foot shoulders with bike lanes in both directions.
Now thru October 15, Donner Pass Road from Rainbow Bridge to the Town of Truckee Limits will be closed to all traffic from 7:00 am Monday- 5:00 Friday. The road will be open with one-way traffic control on the weekends.