Visit the Lake Tahoe (California and Nevada, USA)
Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada of the United States. Lying at 6,225 ft (1,897 m), it straddles the state line between California and Nevada, west of Carson City. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and at 122,160,280 acre⋅ft (150.7 km3) trails only the five Great Lakes as the largest by volume in the United States. Its depth is 1,645 ft (501 m), making it the second deepest in the United States after Crater Lake in Oregon (1,949 ft or 594 m).
The lake was formed about two million years ago as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin, with the modern extent being shaped during the ice ages. It is known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides. The area surrounding the lake is also referred to as Lake Tahoe, or simply Tahoe. More than 75% of the lake’s watershed is national forest land, comprising the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the United States Forest Service.
Lake Tahoe is a major tourist attraction in both Nevada and California. It is home to winter sports, summer outdoor recreation, and scenery enjoyed throughout the year. Snow and ski resorts are a significant part of the area’s economy and reputation. The Nevada side also offers several lakeside casino resorts, with highways providing year-round access to the entire area.
Much of the area surrounding Lake Tahoe is devoted to the tourism industry and there are many restaurants, ski slopes, golf courses and casinos catering to visitors.
Lake Tahoe Gondola Ride
During ski season, thousands of people from all over Nevada and California, including Reno, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento, flock to the slopes for downhill skiing. Lake Tahoe, in addition to its panoramic beauty, is well known for its blizzards.
Some of the major ski areas in Tahoe include:
Heavenly Mountain Resort: the largest ski area in California and Nevada, located near Stateline
Squaw Valley: the second largest ski area, known for its hosting of the 1960 Winter Olympics, located near Tahoe City
Alpine Meadows: a medium-sized ski area on the north shore only a few miles from Squaw Valley
Diamond Peak: a small ski area located in Incline Village, Nevada
Northstar California: a popular north shore ski area
Kirkwood Mountain Resort: a ski area which gets more snow than any other ski area in the Tahoe region
Sierra-at-Tahoe: a medium-sized south shore ski area
Boreal Mountain Resort: a small ski area on Donner Pass
Sugar Bowl Ski Resort: a medium-sized ski area in Donner Pass
Donner Ski Ranch: a very small ski area on Donner Pass
Homewood Mountain Resort: a medium-sized ski area on the west shore
Mount Rose Ski Resort: a medium-sized ski area north-east of the Lake, on Slide Mountain
The majority of the ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe region are on the northern end of the lake, near Truckee, California and Reno, Nevada. Kirkwood, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Heavenly are located on the southern side of the lake, 55–75 miles (90–120 km) from Reno. Scattered throughout Tahoe are public and private sled parks. Some, such as Granlibakken are equipped with rope tows to help sledders get up the hill.
Many ski areas around Tahoe also have snow tubing, such as Squaw Valley. Throughout Tahoe, cross-country skiing, snowmobile riding and snowshoeing are also popular.
A sailboat on Lake Tahoe
During late Spring to early Fall, the lake is popular for water sports and beach activities. The two cities most identified with the Lake Tahoe tourist area are South Lake Tahoe, California and the smaller Stateline; smaller centers on the northern shoreline include Tahoe City and Kings Beach.
Other popular activities include parasailing, jet ski rentals and eco-friendly paddle sport rentals. There are rental locations located around Lake Tahoe. Kayaking and stand up paddle boards have also become very popular.
Boating is a primary activity in Tahoe in the summer. The lake is home to one of the most prestigious wooden boat shows in the country, the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance, held every August. There are lake front restaurants all over the lake, most equipped with docks and buoys (See the restaurants section). There are all sorts of boating events, such as sailboat racing, firework shows over the lake, guided cruises, and more. As an interstate waterway, Lake Tahoe is subject to the United States Coast Guard. Lake Tahoe is home to Coast Guard Station Lake Tahoe.
SCUBA diving is popular at Lake Tahoe, with some dive sites offering dramatic drop-offs or wall dives. Diving at Lake Tahoe is considered advanced due to the increased risk of decompression sickness (DCS) while diving at such a high altitude.
Fred Rogers became the first person to swim the length of Lake Tahoe in 1955, and Erline Christopherson became the first woman to do so in 1962.
Hiking and bicycling
View from the Tahoe Rim Trail
There are numerous hiking and mountain biking trails around the lake. They range widely in length, difficulty and popularity. One of the most famous of Tahoe’s trails is the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165-mile (270-km) trail that circumnavigates the lake. Directly to the west of the lake is the Granite Chief Wilderness, which provides great hiking and wilderness camping. Also, to the southwest is the very popular Desolation Wilderness. One of the most popular trailheads used to access these popular destinations is Eagle Lake Trailhead, located near Emerald Bay on Tahoe’s west shore. The Flume Trail of the east shore is one of Mountain Biking Magazine’s Top 10 Trails in the U.S. There are also many paved off-road bicycle paths that meander through communities on all sides of the lake.
Gambling is legal on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. Casinos, each with a variety of slot machines and table games, are located on the South Shore in Stateline, and on the North Shore in Crystal Bay and Incline Village.
When Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, the first casino at the lake had already been open for years. First built on the North Shore in Crystal Bay by Robert Sherman in 1926, the Calneva cabin became the property of Norman Henry Biltz and was sold to Bill Graham and Jim McKay in 1929.
The Calneva was rebuilt after a fire in 1937 and expanded several times, most noticeably in 1969 when the high-rise hotel was built. Along the way, Frank Sinatra owned the property in the early 1960s, shared his cabins with the likes of Sam Giancana and Marilyn Monroe, and sold out at the height of the area’s popularity.
Other casinos at the North Shore include the Crystal Bay Club, first built in 1937 as the Ta-Neva-Ho; the Tahoe Biltmore, and the Nugget. The Hyatt Regency is found at Incline Village.
At South Shore, Bill Harrah purchased the Stateline Country Club, which had stood since 1931 and built Harrah’s Tahoe. Other casinos include Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, Montbleu, and the Lakeside Inn.
Lake Tahoe can be reached directly by car, and indirectly by train or air. The nearest passenger train service is the Amtrak station in Truckee, and is served by Amtrak’s train, the California Zephyr, which runs daily between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. The closest scheduled passenger airline service is available via the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO).
Cave Rock Tunnel on US 50
U.S. Route 50 in South Lake Tahoe
Visitors can reach Lake Tahoe under ideal conditions within two hours from the Sacramento area, one hour from Reno or thirty minutes from Carson City. In winter months, chains or snow tires are often necessary to reach Tahoe from any direction. Traffic can be heavy on weekends due to tourists if not also from weather.
The primary routes to Lake Tahoe are on Interstate 80 via Truckee, U.S. Route 50, and Nevada State Route 431 via Reno. Most of the highways accessing and encircling Lake Tahoe are paved two-lane mountain roads. US 50 is a four-lane highway (from the canyon of the South Fork American River at Riverton, over the Sierra Nevada at Echo Summit, and into the Lake Tahoe Basin, is a mainly two-lane road) passing south of the lake and along part of the eastern shore.
California State Route 89 follows the western shore of the lake through the picturesque wilderness and connects camping, fishing and hiking locations such as those at Emerald Bay State Park, DL Bliss State Park and Camp Richardson. Farther along are communities such as Meeks Bay and Tahoe City. Finally, the highway turns away from the lake and heads northwest toward Truckee.
California State Route 28 completes the circuit from Tahoe City around the northern shore to communities such as Kings Beach, Crystal Bay, and into Incline Village, Nevada where the road becomes Nevada State Route 28. Route 28 returns along the eastern shore to US 50 near Spooner Lake.