Lake Tahoe is a large
freshwater lake in
the Sierra Nevada mountains of
States. It is located along the border between
California and Nevada, west of
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake
. Its depth is making it America's
Lake, in Oregon, being the
deepest at 1945 feet (594 m) deep).
The lake was formed about 2 million years ago and is a part of the
Lake Tahoe Basin
with the modern
lake 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.
Lake Tahoe is a major tourist attraction for both California and
Nevada. It is home to a number of ski
, summer outdoor recreation, and tourist attractions
. Snow and skiing are
a significant part of the area's economy and reputation. Mountain
and lake scenery are attractions throughout the year. The Nevada
side also includes large casinos. Highways provide year-round access from
Reno, Carson City
is the second deepest lake in the U.S., with a
maximum depth of , trailing only Oregon's Crater Lake at .
Rocky terrain is highlighted by a
recent snow on US Highway 50 southwest of South Lake Tahoe
Tahoe is also the 16th deepest
lake in the world
, and the fifth deepest in average depth. It
is about long and wide and has of shoreline and a surface area of .
Washoe Indians used Lake Tahoe.Approximately two-thirds of the
shoreline is in California. The south shore is dominated by the
lake's largest city, South Lake Tahoe, California, which adjoins
the town of Stateline, Nevada, while Tahoe City, California is
located on the lake's northwest shore. Although highways run within
sight of the lake shore for much of Tahoe's perimeter, many
important parts of the shoreline now lie within state parks or are
protected by the United
States Forest Service
situates in parts of two counties in California and three in
According the Census Bureau, it has a
surface area of 496.210 kmÂ² (191.588 sq mi) distributed among
these five counties in the given percentages:
The Lake Tahoe Basin
was formed by a geologic
block (normal) faulting
million years ago. A geologic block fault is a fracture in the
Earth's crust causing blocks of land to move up or down.
blocks created the Carson
Range on the east and the Sierra Nevada on the
Down-dropped blocks (a graben
created the Lake Tahoe Basin in between.
More technically, Lake Tahoe is the youngest of several extensional
basins of the Walker Lane
that accommodates nearly 12 mm/yr of
between the Sierra Nevada Microplate
. The Lake Tahoe
basin is formed by a series of large down-to-the-east normal
faults, including the West Tahoeâ€”Dollar Point
and the Incline
. These right-stepping en-echelon faults
are capable of large
with the most recent M7 paleoquake (~1500 AD) occurring on the
Incline Village fault with nearly of vertical offset. The West
Tahoe-Dollar Point Fault (WTDPF) appears to be the most active and
potentially hazardous fault in the basin. A study in Fallen Leaf
Lake, just south of Lake Tahoe, used seafloor mapping techniques to
image evidence for paleoearthquakes on the WTDPF and revealed the
last earthquake occurred between 4,100-4,500 years ago.
the highest peaks of the Lake Tahoe Basin that formed during
process of Lake Tahoe creation are Freel Peak at , Monument
Peak at , Pyramid Peak at (in the Desolation Wilderness), and Mount Tallac at .
from the extinct volcano Mount
Pluto formed a dam on the north
Melting snow filled the southern and lowest part of
the basin to form the ancestral Lake Tahoe. Rain and runoff added
Modern Lake Tahoe was shaped and landscaped by scouring glaciers
during the Ice Ages, which began a million
or more years ago. Lake Tahoe is fed from 63 tributaries with the
as the only outlet.
Truckee flows northeast through Reno, Nevada and into Pyramid
Lake, Nevada which has no outlet.
Soils of the basin come primarily from andesitic
volcanic rocks and granodiorite
, with minor areas of metamorphic rock
. Some of the valley
bottoms and lower hill slopes are mantled with glacial moraines
, or glacial outwash material derived from
the parent rock. Cryopsamments, Cryumbrepts, rockland, rock
outcrops and rubble and stony colluvium
account for over 70% of the land area in the basin (see USA soil
taxonomy). The basin soils (in the 2 mm fraction) are
generally 65-85% sand (0.05â€“2.0 mm).
Given the great depth of Lake Tahoe, and the locations of the
normal faults within the deepest portions of the lake, modeling
suggests that earthquakes on these faults can trigger tsunamis
. Wave heights of these tsunamis are
predicted to be on the order of in height, capable of traversing
the lake in just a few minutes. A massive collapse of the western
edge of the basin that formed McKinney Bay around 50,000 years ago
is thought to have generated tsunami/seiche
with height approaching .
Mean annual precipitation ranges from over in watersheds on the
west side of the basin to about 26 inches (660 mm) near
the lake on the east side of the basin. Most of the precipitation
falls as snow between November and April, although rainstorms
combined with rapid snow melt account for the largest floods. There
is a pronounced annual runoff of snowmelt in late spring and early
summer, the timing of which varies from year to year. In some
years, summertime monsoon
storms from the
Great Basin bring intense rainfall, especially to high elevations
on the east side of the basin.
normally the warmest month at the Lake Tahoe Airport (elevation ) with an average maximum of 78.7 Â°F
(25.9 Â°C) and an average minimum of 39.8 Â°F (4.3 Â°C).
January is the coolest month with an average maximum of 41.0 Â°F
(5.0 Â°C) and an average minimum of 15.1 Â°F (-9.4 Â°C). The all-time
maximum of 99 Â°F (37.2 Â°C) was recorded on July 22, 1988. The
all-time minimum of -29 Â°F (-33.9 Â°C) was recorded on December 9,
1972, and February 7, 1989. Temperatures exceed 90 Â°F (32.2 Â°C) on
an average of 2.0 days annually. Minimum temperatures of 32 Â°F (0
Â°C) or lower occur on an average of 231.8 days annually, and
minimum temperatures of 0 Â°F (-17.8 Â°C) or lower occur on an
average of 7.6 days annually. Freezing temperatures have occurred
every month of the year.
Vegetation in the basin is dominated by a mixed conifer forest of
), white fir
), and red fir
). The basin also contains significant areas of
areas, dry meadows
brush fields (with Arctostaphylos
) and rock outcrop
areas, especially at higher elevations.
is capable of fixing nitrogen
, but mountain alder
which grows along many of the basinâ€™s streams, springs and seeps,
fixes far greater quantities, and contributes measurably to
nitrate-N concentrations in some small streams.
The area around Lake Tahoe was originally inhabited by the Washoe
tribe of Native Americans
Tahoe was the center and heart of Washoe Indian territory,
including the upper valleys of the Walker
Truckee Rivers. The English name for Lake Tahoe derives from the
Lt. John C. FrÃ©mont
was the first person of
European descent to see Lake Tahoe, during Fremont's second
exploratory expedition on February 14. 1844. John Calhoun Johnson
, Sierra explorer
and founder of "Johnson's Cutoff" (now U.S. Route 50), was the first white
man to see Meeks Bay and from a peak above the lake he named
Lake after his Indian guide. His first job in the
west was in the government service, carrying the mail on snowshoes
from Placerville to Nevada City, during
which time he named the lake "Lake Bigler" in honor of Californiaâ€™s
third governor John Bigler.
1853 William Eddy
, the surveyor general
of California, identified Tahoe as Lake Bigler. In 1862 the U.S. Department of the Interior first introduced the name Tahoe.
were used until well into the next century. The lake didn't receive
its official and final designation as Lake Tahoe until 1945.
California and Nevada reached the compromise to partition Tahoe
between the two when Nevada became a state in 1864. With the state line
east of the approximate centerline of the lake and then at 39 degrees north latitude, the state
border runs southeasterly towards the Colorado River.
Boat at Lake Tahoe
Upon discovery of gold
in the South Fork of the American
in 1848, thousands of gold seekers going west passed near
the basin on their way to the gold fields. European civilization
first made its mark in the Lake Tahoe basin with the 1858 discovery
of the Comstock Lode, a silver deposit
just 15 miles (24 km) to the east in Virginia
From 1858 until about 1890, logging in the
basin supplied large timbers to shore up the underground workings
of the Comstock mines. The logging was so extensive that loggers
cut down almost all of the native forest. In 1864, Tahoe City was
founded as a resort community for Virginia City, the first
recognition of the basinâ€™s potential as a destination resort
Public appreciation of the Tahoe basin grew, and during the
, congressmen tried unsuccessfully to designate the
basin as a national
While Lake Tahoe is a natural lake, it is also used for water
storage by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation
(TCID). The lake level is controlled by a dam built in
1913 at the lake's only outlet, the Truckee River, at Tahoe City.
The high dam can increase the lake's capacity by .
During the first half of the 20th century, development around the
lake consisted of a few vacation homes. The post-World War II
population and building boom,
followed by construction of gambling casinos in the Nevada part of
the basin during the mid-1950s, and completion of the interstate
highway links for the 1960 Winter
held at Squaw Valley, resulted in a dramatic increase
in development within the basin. From 1960 to 1980, the permanent
residential population increased from about 10,000 to greater than
50,000, and the summer population grew from about 10,000 to about
90,000. Since the 1980s, development has slowed due to controls on
Government and politics
Lake Tahoe lies within the borders of both California and Nevada,
and as such is not governed by any single entity. In California,
Lake Tahoe is divided between Placer County and El Dorado County.
In Nevada, Lake Tahoe is divided among Washoe County, Douglas
County and Carson City (an independent
The Tahoe Regional
(TRPA) is a bi-state compact between California
and Nevada, that is charged with environmental protection of the
Lake Tahoe Basin through land-use regulation and planning.
Lake Tahoe is also the location of several 19th and 20th century
palatial homes of historical significance. The Thunderbird Lodge
built by George Whittel Jr once included nearly 27 miles of the
Nevada shoreline. Vikingsholm was the original settlement on Emerald Bay and included an island teahouse and
a 38 room home.
The Ehrman Mansion is a summer home built by
a former Wells Fargo president in Sugar Pine Point and is now a
Secret Beach on Lake Tahoe's Nevada
In spite of land-use planning and export of treated sewage
effluent from the basin, the lake is becoming
excessive richness of nutrients), with primary productivity
increasing by more than 5% annually, and clarity decreasing at an
average rate of 0.25 meters per year. Until the early 1980s,
nutrient-limitation studies showed that primary productivity in the
lake was nitrogen-limited. Now, after a half-century of accelerated
nitrogen input (much of it from direct atmospheric deposition), the
lake is phosphorus-limited.
Test results over the last eight years have shown a stabilization
in lake clarity, announced the Lake Tahoe Research Group in March
2009. Fine sediment
, much of it resulting
from land disturbance in the basin, accounts for about half of the
loss in clarity. Charles
Goldman from UC
Davis was directly responsible for prompting Tahoe
officials to pump all sewage effluent from the basin when Tahoe was
being greatly developed in the 1950s.
Goldman made local
officials understand that even treated sewage would greatly affect
the water quality of Lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe is a tributary watershed drainage element within the
Truckee River Basin
, and its
sole outlet is the Truckee River, which continues on to discharge
to Pyramid Lake. Because of the sensitivity of Truckee River water
quality (involving two protected species, the cui-ui sucker fish
Lahontan cutthroat trout
this drainage basin has been studied extensively. The primary
investigations were stimulated by the U.S. Environmental
, who funded the development of the DSSAM
model to analyze water quality
Lake Tahoe never freezes. Since 1970, it has mixed to a depth of at
least a total of 6 or 7 times. Dissolved oxygen is relatively high
from top to bottom. Analysis of the temperature records in Lake
Tahoe has shown that the lake warmed (between 1969 and 2002) at an
average rate of 0.015 Â°C per year. The warming is caused primarily
by increasing air temperatures, and secondarily by increasing
downward long-wave radiation. The warming trend is reducing the
frequency of deep mixing in the lake, and may have important
effects on water clarity and nutrient cycling.
Since the 1960s, the Lake's food web and zooplankton
populations have undergone major
changes. In 1963â€“65, opossum shrimp
introduced to enhance the food supply for the introduced Kokanee salmon
). The shrimp began feeding on the lake's cladocerans
), and their populations virtually
disappeared by 1971. The shrimp provide a food resource for salmon
, but also compete with juvenile fish
for zooplankton. Since the 1970s, the cladoceran populations have
somewhat recovered, but not to former levels.
2007, the Angora
Fire burned approximately throughout the South Lake
While the impact of ash on the lake's
ecosystem is predicted to be minimal, the impact of potential
future erosion is not yet known.
Until recently, construction
banks of the Lake had been largely under the control of wealthy
real estate developers. Construction activities have resulted in a
clouding of the lake's blue waters. Currently, the Tahoe Regional
Planning Agency is regulating construction along the shoreline.
(and has won two
Federal Supreme Court battles over recent decisions
regulations are unpopular with many residents, especially those in
the Tahoe Lakefront Homeowners Association.
Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe
The League to Save Lake
(Keep Tahoe Blue) has been the public interest watchdog
in the Lake Tahoe Basin for 50 years. Founded when a proposal to
build a four-lane highway around the lakeâ€”with a bridge over the
entrance to Emerald Bayâ€”was proposed in 1957, the League has
thwarted poorly designed development projects and environmentally
unsound planning. Currently evaluating the "Pathways 2007"
comprehensive plan being developed by TRPA, the League embraces
responsible and diversified use of the Lake's resources while
protecting and restoring its natural attributes.
Since 1980, the Lake Tahoe Interagency Monitoring Program (LTIMP)
has been measuring stream discharge and concentrations of nutrients
and sediment in up to 10 tributary streams in the Lake Tahoe Basin,
California-Nevada. The objectives of the LTIMP are to acquire and
disseminate the water quality information necessary to support
science-based environmental planning and decision making in the
basin. The LTIMP is a cooperative program with support from 12
federal and state agencies with interests in the Tahoe Basin. This
data set, together with more recently acquired data on urban runoff
water quality, is being used by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality
Control Board to develop a program (mandated by the Clean Water
Act) to limit the flux of nutrients and fine sediment to the
Much of the area surrounding Lake Tahoe is devoted to the tourism
industry and there are many restaurants, ski slopes and casinos
catering to visitors.
Ski slopes overlooking Lake Tahoe
ski season, thousands of people from all over
Nevada and California, including Las Vegas, Los
Diego and San
Francisco, flock to
the slopes for some of the best skiing in the
Lake Tahoe Gondola Ride
Lake Tahoe, in addition to its panoramic beauty, is
well known for its blizzards
Some of the major ski areas in Tahoe include:
majority of the ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe region are on the
northern end of the lake, near Truckee, California and Reno, Nevada.
and Heavenly are located on the southern side of the lake,
approximately 80 miles (129 km) from Reno. It is common for
visitors to ski amongst these 3 resorts when staying in Southern
Lake Tahoe and not venture to the northern lake resorts (Squaw
Valley, Northstar at Tahoe, Sugar Bowl, etc.).
Scattered throughout Tahoe are public and private sled
parks. Some, such as Granlibakken are equipped
with rope tows
to help sledders get up the
Many ski areas around Tahoe also have snow
, such as Squaw Valley. Snow tubing is popular among
people who are interested in alternative sports. Throughout Tahoe,
cross country skiing
riding, and snowshoeing
are also popular, thus there are many
trails for them.
During late Spring to early Fall, the lake is popular for water sports
and beach activities.
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.
Boating is a primary activity in Tahoe in the summer. There are
lake front restaurants all over the lake, most equipped with
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
Tahoe is home to Coast
Guard Station Lake Tahoe
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
(DCS) while diving
such a high altitude.
Hiking and bicycling
view from the Tahoe Rim Trail
There are hundreds of hiking and mountain biking trails all around
the lake. They range 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
Also, to the southwest is the very popular
Desolation Wilderness. One of the most popular trailheads is the
Eagle Lake Trailhead
. There are
also several paved off-road bicycle paths.
Casinos in Stateline, Nevada
is legal on the Nevada side of
Lake Tahoe. Casinos, each with a variety of slot machines
, are located on the South Shore in Stateline, and on the
North Shore in Crystal Bay and Incline Village.
North Shore - Crystal Bay:
North Shore - Incline Village:
South Shore - Stateline:
nearest passenger train service is the Amtrak
station in Truckee.
Cave Rock Tunnel on US 50
Airports serving Lake Tahoe
Visitors can reach Lake Tahoe under ideal conditions within 2 hours
from the Sacramento area, 1 hour from Reno or 30 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, US
Highway 50 via South Lake Tahoe and Nevada Highway 431
Village. All of the highways accessing and encircling Lake Tahoe
are paved 2-lane mountain roads. US 50 traverses part of the
eastern shore of the lake.
California Highway 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
Bay and Tahoe City.
Finally, the highway turns
away from the lake and heads northwest toward Truckee.
California Highway 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 Highway 28
. Highway 28 returns
along the eastern shore to US Highway 50 near Spooner Lake
In the media
The Ponderosa Ranch
of the TV series
was formerly located on the
Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. The opening sequence of the TV series
was filmed at the McFaul Creek Meadow, with Mount Tallac in the
background. In September 2004 the Ponderosa Ranch closed its doors,
after being sold to developer David Duffield for an undisclosed
In the motion picture The
Godfather Part II
, the Corleone
lived in a compound on the shores of the Nevada side of
Lake Tahoe. In a famous scene from the final minutes of the film,
is taken out onto the
lake for a fishing trip, only to be executed for treachery, on the
orders of his brother Michael
), who watches from the shore.
The house and grounds portrayed in the film are actually located on
the California side of Lake Tahoe: Fleur du Lac, the summer estate
of Henry J. Kaiser
. The only structures used in the
movie that still remain are the complex of old native stone
boathouses with their wrought iron gates. Although Fleur du Lac is
private property and no one is allowed ashore there, the boathouses
and multi-million dollar condominiums are easily viewed from the
Most of the film Smoking Aces
was filmed In South Lake Tahoe and Stateline. Many of the hotels
and casinos are visible in the film with their older names. The
climactic scenes of the 1987 Charles
were filmed around and on
Lake Tahoe. Tahoe features prominently in the plot of the noir
classic Out of the Past
City Of Angels
climactic scenes at and around Lake Tahoe and the surrounding
Fallen Leaf Lake (California). Meg Ryan
bike-riding scene prominently features Lake Tahoe in the
The British TV program Top
filmed at Lake Tahoe in Episode 2 of Series 12 in
Peaks and mountains
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transport in streams of the Lake Tahoe basin, California-Nevada.
Water Resour. Res. 37: 405-415.
- Coats, R. N., J. Perez-Losada, G. Schladow, R. Richards and C.
R. Goldman. 2006. The Warming of Lake Tahoe. Climatic Change (In
- Crippen, J. R., and B. R. Pavelka. 1970. The Lake Tahoe
basin, California-Nevada U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply
- Goldman, C. R., A. Jassby, and T. Powell. 1989. Interannual
fluctuations in primary production: meteorological forcing at two
subalpine lakes. Limnol. Oceanogr. 34: 310-323.
- Goldman, C. R., A. D. Jassby, and S. H. Hackley. 1993. Decadal,
interannual, and seasonal variability in enrichment bioassays at
Lake Tahoe, California-Nevada, USA. Can.J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 50:
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phosphorus transport in the Lake Tahoe Basin, 1989-1996.
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 69: 63-83.
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seasonality, cycle, and irregular fluctuations in primary
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H. Hackley, 1994. Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus
in the annual nutrient load of Lake Tahoe (California-Nevada).
Water Resour. Res. 30: 2207-2216.
- Jassby, A. D., C. R. Goldman and J. E. Reuter. 1995. Long-term
change in Lake Tahoe (California-Nevada, U.S.A.) and its relation
to atmospheric deposition of algal nutrients. Arch. Hydrobiol. 135:
- Jassby, A. D., C. R. Goldman, J. E. Reuter, and R. C. Richards.
1999. Origins and scale dependence of temporal variability in the
transparency of Lake Tahoe, California-Nevada. Limnol. Oceanog. 44:
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long-term water -quality change in the presence of climate
variability: Lake Tahoe (U.S.A.). Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 60:
- Leonard, R. L., L. A. Kaplan, J. F. Elder, R. N. Coats, and C.
R. Goldman, 1979. Nutrient Transport in Surface Runoff from a
Subalpine Watershed, Lake Tahoe Basin, California. Ecological
Monographs 49: 281-310.
- Nagy, M., 2003. Lake Tahoe Basin Framework Study Groundwater
Evaluation Lake Tahoe Basin, California and Nevada. U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers, Sacramento, CA.
- Naslas, G. D., W. W. Miller, R. R. Blank and G. F. Gifford,
1994. Sediment, nitrate, and ammonium in surface runoff from two
Tahoe basin soil types. Water Resour. Bull. 30: 409-417.
- Richards, R. C., C. R. Goldman, E. Byron, and C. Levitan, 1991.
The mysids and lake trout of Lake Tahoe: A 25-year history of
changes in the fertility, plankton, and fishery of an alpine lake.
Am. Fish. Soc. Symp. 9: 30-38.
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quality projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Environmental Monitoring
and Assessment 90: 225-242.
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History of the Lake Tahoe Basin.