History of Rainbow Tavern and Lodge
Located on 114 acres along the South Yuba River, the Rainbow Lodge has provided guests traveling in the Sierras with a place to stay for 150 years. Travelers making the journey west to California in the mid-1800s, whether by horse or covered wagon, found shelter and camaraderie at the Rainbow Lodge. The Lodge was built on a popular camping spot where trekkers would water their horses, fish in the mountain stream, and rest up during their arduous journey. The Lodge got its name from the numerous rainbow trout that visitors would catch from the banks of the river and have prepared in the lodge’s kitchen.
The Rainbow Lodge was built in 1869 from local granite and the same hand-hewn logs used to build the Trans-Sierra Railroad. The original lodge was a stagecoach stop for those journeying through the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It was located near a well-traveled area of the Emigrant Gap where a number of trails originating in Independence, MO merged. The popularity of the Gold Rush no doubt necessitated the construction of the lodge to provide respite for the adventurers and fortune seekers. One of the most notable groups of the western migration, the Donner Party, spent its infamous winter of 1846-47 10 miles away.
The Lodge was expanded in 1930 and the beams and wood used in construction were taken from the snow sheds that still line the railroad tracks running through the Sierras. Shortly thereafter, the Lodge offered one of the first ski hills in the area. In the late 1930s a J-Bar lift was installed and later a gondola was added. The house behind the lodge was originally the ski lift house. When the ski hill was closed, the lift house was converted into a residence and still stands today.
The Rainbow Lodge has a rich history and many vibrant stories.
- A ghost named Mary still captures the imagination of lodge guests. Shot by her husband for her infidelities, Mary roams the upper floors of the lodge and many have experienced the cold spots she leaves behind in her forlorn rambling.
- Prohibition brought a new and colorful chapter to the Rainbow Lodge’s history. An illegal Speakeasy sprang up in the basement and became a popular spot for rambunctious card games. A dispute over a reported $40,000 in winnings from one of these cards games resulted in the shooting death of one of the players… The loot was buried near the lodge and has never been found. Perhaps some lucky modern-day visitor will solve the mystery, if the ghost of the gambler doesn’t get there first.
The Rainbow Lodge retains the allure of the past with a cozy and nostalgic atmosphere. Guest rooms and common area have been updated with modern furnishings within the context of the original construction. A pair of historic skis purportedly worn by the infamous 1800's Sierra mail carrier Snow Shoe Thompson hang in the bar downstairs. Around the base of the bar is one of the last historic bar spittoons remaining in California. For today's guests, the lodge offers a year round getaway: hike the Sierras, downhill or Cross Country ski at one of the nearby resorts, fish the South Yuba River for trout, or just relax and be rejuvenated by the mountains and river – it is all here at the Rainbow Lodge.