Lake Tahoe Info


From the time of its discovery by Captain John Charles Fremont and Charles Preuss on St. Valentines Day in 1844, this internationally-known icon of the west has always attracted attention, and with good reason. Once just a stop along the way for weary travelers seeking fame and fortune, today Lake Tahoe and its surrounding High Sierra is a mecca of activity and growth.

Long before white settlers arrived in the Lake Tahoe Basin, and for nearly 10,000 years, the lake was home to the Washoe Indian. They considered Lake Tahoe sacred - the water of life which fed all living things. The discovery of gold and silver in the Sierra, the arrival of the white man, and the growth of towns and settlements in the late 1880s ended the era of the Washoe. Lake Tahoe became the favorite summer vacation spot for wealthy San Franciscans in the 1900s - this started the beginning of the reign of tourism as the foundation of the lake's economy.

Lake Tahoe got its name from a Washoe Indian word, generally believed to mean "Big Water" or "Big Blue". While no exact definition has ever been agreed upon, many have interpreted the word to mean many things. Mark Twain, while visiting Lake Tahoe in his earlier days, was said to have defined Tahoe as "Grasshopper Soup". Others have said the word means "Strong Water" or "Whiskey". Whatever the meaning, the word Tahoe has long had a mystical connotation, which is appropriate in describing the overwhelming beauty of the lake.

Physical Environment

Lake Tahoe is located across the California/Nevada border, 198 miles northeast of San Francisco, 98 miles east of Sacramento and 58 miles southwest of Reno, Nevada. The Lake Tahoe Basin, that area defined along the crest of the Sierra Nevada and the Carson Range, covers 482 square miles.

Lake Environment

Tahoe's waters are among the cleanest in the world at 99.7% pure. A white dinner plate can be seen 120 feet below the surface with little trouble. The Lake never freezes over due to the constant movement of water from the bottom to the surface. This "turnover" allows an enormous mass movement of water, and keeps the lake ice free. However, ice may form at times along the shoreline in small protected inlets. During the summer, the upper 12 feet forms a layer that can warm to 68 degrees F., but below depths of 700 feet during the winter the temperature remains a constant 39 degrees F.

The surface elevation varies between 6,223' and 6,229' depending on the snow pack and how much water is released through the Truckee River. The highest peak on the Lake's shoreline is Mount Tallac at 9,725', while the highest peak in the Basin is Feels Peak at 10,881'. The lake itself is the highest lake of its size in the United States.

Lake Tahoe contains an estimated 122,160,280 acre feet of water, enough to cover the entire state of California to a depth of 14 inches or Texas to a depth of 8 ½ inches! On an average, 1.4 million tons of water evaporate from the surface of Lake Tahoe every 24 hours, yet the lake level drops only one tenth of an inch. The water which evaporates each day is enough to supply the needs of 3.5 million people per day. The total evaporation averages more per day than the water released through the Truckee Dam outlet.


The sunshine probability for the Basin is 84%, with at least 300 days of sun per year. Lake Tahoe gets an average of 215.4 inches of snowfall, or a little under 18 feet. Upper elevations can get between 300 and 500 inches per year. Winds are generally mild, 10-15 mph, out of the west and northwest. During storm periods they can average 25-35 mph. Sweaters and jackets are almost always necessary in the evenings. Winter means heavy jackets and warm boots and clothes, while summer days can be spent in shorts and t-shirts.

These mild temperatures and the lake's crystal clear waters encourage outdoor enthusiasts to sample Lake Tahoe's many recreational activities: golfing, hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, camping, sailing, biking and horseback riding. And in the winter, Lake Tahoe proves its reputation as one of the world's finest year-round playgrounds with America's highest concentration of ski resorts, including Squaw Valley/USA, host of the 1960 winter Olympics. Alpine Meadows, Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar are but a few of the 16 downhill and cross country ski areas.


In 1950 there were 2,500 permanent residents in the Lake Tahoe Basin. By 2006 that number had risen to 54,570 with 17,734 in Nevada. Some of the larger communities in Tahoe's High Sierra include:

Incline Village, South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City, Truckee, Zephyr Cove

(note: South Lake Tahoe and Truckee are the only two cities that are incorporated.)


The Tahoe Basin is at an elevation of 6,240 feet (1,901 meters) above mean sea level. On the west side of the Lake, the Sierra rises from elevations of 9,000 feet (2,743 meters) to 11,000 feet (3,352 meters) and to the east, mountains reach 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) to 7,000 feet (2,133 meters).

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