In 1934, a group of Sierra Club volunteers built a rustic, hostel-style retreat for hikers, skiers, and mountain climbers.
According to old-timer Frank Shoemaker, the lodge opened on Christmas Eve of 1934. Former Lodge Committee Chairman Lewis F. Clark said they named it the Clair Tappaan Lodge after Clair S. Tappaan, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, to use his popularity for fundraising.
Volunteers are the back-bone of the lodge. They help with all different jobs including on-site chores like dish washing and snow shoveling, as well as publicizing events, marketing, recruiting new volunteers, and leading outings for guests. They also encourage guests to pitch in and help out during their stay. This community spirit makes the place feel more like a home than a hotel with similar vibes as a hostel. In the evenings, you’ll often find people of all ages hanging out in the common areas chatting and sharing a bottle of wine (for those over 21). The one big difference between Clair Tappaan and any other hostel I’ve been to is that all meals are included. Everyone eats together in a large dining hall at long tables where they serve breakfast and dinner family style. For lunch, everyone is able to make bag lunches before breakfast.
The lodge itself is a beautiful log cabin with accommodations for up to 145 guests. There’s a men’s and a women’s dorm along with a number of double and family rooms. There are also a number of common rooms including the library, a games room, living room, and hot tub. The library has a small wood stove and the living room has a fire place, so you can start up a fire on cold nights and get cozy. I especially like the library, which usually has a puzzle that anyone is welcome to work on!
In the winter months, the lodge is ideally situated within five miles of five different ski resorts: Donner Ski Ranch, Boreal Mountain Resort, Soda Springs Mountain Resort, Sugar Bowl, and Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort. Donner Ski Ranch is a small, family run resort with nice staff and decent runs. Boreal is a budget-friendly ski park with night skiing and lots of freestyle options (think jumps and tricks). Soda Springs is a small resort with a couple lifts and a tubing slope. Sugar Bowl is more up-scale, meant for the hard-hitters and go-getters. Lastly, the Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort has over 140 km of trails for cross-country skiing, hiking, and snow shoeing.
As far as price goes, Clair Tappaan offers more affordable accommodation than many options in the area. You can find some cheaper places on AirBnB, especially if you’re in a group, but not too many. For a dorm bed, it was $77 per person per night or $154 for a double room when I went. (They don’t actually list these prices on their website, so I’d assume they are subject to change.)