The mountain lodge was built in 1947 by volunteer members from the San Francisco and Oakland branches. The lodge is named after the founder of the San Francisco Nature Friends, William Heidelmann, who was the inspiration behind the new lodge after the club’s previous lodge that was built in 1931 on the same location, Sierra Haus, burned down in 1943.
In summer, there is easy access to Donner Lake, Donner Summit, Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and Reno where members and their guests can hike, swim, rock climb, raft, boat, play volley ball, and enjoy other activities.
In winter, members can enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing, tubing, sledding at Donner Ski Ranch, skiing at Royal Gorge, Soda Springs, and Sugar Bowl. A short drive gives access to Alpine Meadows, Boreal, Northstar, and Squaw Valley.
Members organize activities through the year that are published in the Nature Friends’ Bulletin. These events include New Year’s Eve, Presidents’ Weekend, Ski Races, and Summit Fest.
According to the Donner Summit Historical Society, early Nature Friends were eager to ski at the lodge:
For years [after the first lodge was built in 1931] the Nature Friends who wanted to go downhill skiing had to climb up to the peak behind the lodge in order to ski down. Ski lifts were coming into being however…and the Nature Friends and the Sierra Club wanted to join in. They ordered a modern rope tow from San Francisco and had it shipped up to the summit on the Lincoln Highway. There it was unloaded and hauled up the hill over the tracks, past the lodges to the the ski hill about a quarter mile farther on. (Donner Summit Historical Society Newsletter, September, 2011 #37)
The lodge has sleeping accommodations for 100 persons in two large single-gender dorms, with showers and restrooms on the second floor. The first floor offers a large living room with a piano and a wood burning stove, a large dining room/kitchen, a small library, and a warming room. The large basement has a cold storage room, a tool room, many lockers, table tennis, and a members’ room with a fireplace. You must bring your own sleeping bag, pillow cases, and toiletries. Indoor activities include games, table tennis, video, dances, music, reading, cooking, and more!
Members are on their own. They should bring sufficient food and drink, and cook for themselves. Food lockers are available for rent by members to store food over the winter. There are fridges, a freezer, and storage available. Everyone has to share the kitchen and dining room space. A gigantic stove is on from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.
During your stay, there are no house chores, but everyone is expected to clean after themselves and help the caretaker, if help is needed. This lodge belongs to the members. Please leave it as you would wish others to leave it for you.
Although special work days may be called, annual scheduled work fests include Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day weekends. A work day at Heidelmann can count as one of the required workdays for prospective members.
During summer, members’ dogs only are allowed outside the building and on leash.
In winter, try to travel during the daytime to avoid the snowy busy parking lot at night. Test snow chains before a trip. Pack light. Bring flash lights. Learn tricks from the Old Timers. Bring as much food as possible upon arrival. Ski and food lockers are for rent yearly.