Lake Tahoe Vacation Guide
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The Lake Tahoe Basin | Lake Tahoe California

Lake Tahoe Basin


When you visit Lake Tahoe, one of the things that will surprise you is that the people you meet who call Lake Tahoe their home have a fine sense of the area's history and heritage. In fact, some of the best views of Tahoe can be seen through the eyes of the locals!

Although Lake Tahoe is economically dependent on tourism, its approach is more friendly, casual and accommodating than most vacation destinations. You really get the sense that almost everyone's livelihood is associated with showing visitors a wonderful time.

And when you come to Lake Tahoe to play, you will be able to find a number of people who are experts at any activity that you are wanting to enjoy. Many business owners will tell you that they have been skiing or fishing or whatever for all of their life. They love what they do and they are good at it. They look at each day as another opportunity to do what they are passionate about while making new friends. Out-of-doors or indoors, work is play for many folks in Tahoe!

The residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin are the guardians of this paradise and they accept this responsibility with pride. They know their history and heritage and are dedicated to the preservation of their environment and committed to extending warm hospitality to vacationing guests.


If you are interested in knowing more about the Lake Tahoe Basin, please read on. The following sections provide a brief overview of how nature and man have independently and jointly contributed to create this magnificent vacation destination. In addition, a list of resources are offered for those wanting more comprehensive information.

Chances are your vacation will be even more enjoyable if you come to Tahoe with an appreciation for how it came to be what it is today!


Lake Tahoe is a masterpiece of nature and most locals can tell you just how it was created. In a nutshell, the Tahoe Basin was formed about five to ten million years ago by the rising and falling of the land due to the shifting of geologic faults.

Tremendous forces began the western tilt of the Sierra Nevada block. As a result, two principal parallel faults developed. The eastern margin created the Carson Range and the western margin created the Sierra Nevada. The up-thrown fault blocks created the highest peaks in the region. The down-thrown fault blocks sank to create a deep v-shaped valley, now called the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Later, about two million years ago, volcanic activity followed and played a key role in further reshaping the landscape of the region. Lava flowing from Mt. Pluto formed a barrier across the Basin's northeastern outlet, creating a natural dam across Lake Tahoe's original outlet, the Truckee River. Water from the snowfall and streams gradually filled the Lake Tahoe Basin, over 600 feet higher than its present lake level! Eventually, a new outlet eroded through the northeastern lava dam, creating the present path of the Lower Truckee River, the only outlet of the lake.

Then an Ice Age developed and huge glaciers grew in the surrounding mountains and gradually moved down the v-shaped canyons on the western side of the lake. The glaciers scoured away loose rock and reshaped the canyons into the broad, u-shaped valleys of Emerald Bay, Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake.

Today, the highest point in the Tahoe Basin is Freel Peak at 10,881 feet. The deepest part of Lake Tahoe is near Crystal Bay, measuring a water depth of 1,645 feet.


map of lake tahoe
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Tahoe residents are extremely proud of their lake and sooner or later you will hear all of the following facts, persuading you to grant them bragging rights.

Surrounded by mountains, the present day lake sits in a valley at an elevation of 6,229 feet. It is the highest lake of its size in the United States. It is the third deepest lake in North America and the tenth deepest lake in the world.

Lake Tahoe is 22 miles in length and 12 miles in width and covers a surface area of 191 square miles. The consistently beautiful shoreline is 71 miles, with the California shoreline being 42 miles and the Nevada shoreline being 29 miles.

This breathtakingly blue lake is so clear that in some places objects can be seen to depths of 75 feet! The reason the lake is so blue is that the thin, clear mountain air allows the lake's pure, crystalline water to reflect the blue sky above. The lake can also appear red during sunsets or gray-black during storms.

The average annual rainfall in the Lake Tahoe Basin is 8.3 inches and the average annual snowfall is 216 inches or 18 feet, for a total annual precipitation of 30 inches. (The ski areas average 350-600 inches of snow per year!) Most of the snow and rain falls directly into the lake or drains through lakeside marshes and meadows that act as water filtering systems, preserving the purity of the water.

Sixty-three streams flow into Lake Tahoe, but the Truckee River is the only one that flows out, past Reno and into Pyramid Lake.

The maximum depth is 1,645 feet, near Crystal Bay, and the average depth is 989 feet. The water shed of Lake Tahoe is 519 square miles. The lake holds over 39 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover a flat area the size of California to a depth of 14 inches. If drained, it would take 700 years to refill the lake!

Lake Tahoe loses much if its water to evaporation. If the water that evaporates from the lake every 24 hours could be recovered, it would supply the daily requirements of a city the size of Los Angeles.

The maximum surface water temperature is 68 degrees F. and the minimum surface water temperature is 41 degrees F. Below 600 feet, the lake's water is extremely cold, staying at 39 degrees F. year-round.

And for the curious, Lake Tahoe never freezes because the huge volume of lake water is always in motion. Each winter, the cold water on the surface sinks while warm water rises from the deep. Some protected inlets like Emerald Bay have been covered with a layer of ice at times.

So, let the locals have their moments by resisting the urge to say, "I knew that!"


The glorius peaks that surround Lake Tahoe are mountains of granite. This light gray, medium to coarse-grained rock is prevalent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, along with other igneous rocks and metamorphic slate.

Granite is composed of two light-colored minerals, quartz and feldspar. Some granite appears to be salt and pepper in appearance due to the presence of darker colored minerals such as iron and magnesium.

Much of the sandy, sterile soil in most of the region is composed primarily of decomposed granite rock. It is coarse in texture, low in plant nutrients and high in erosion potential. Fortunately, much of the sandy soil in the region is covered by a "duff" of fallen pine tree needles and decomposing natural materials. This natural covering helps cushion and absorb rainfall, thus slowing the speed of natural erosion.

When you visit the Lake Tahoe Basin, it is best to stay on established trails and roads in order to minimize the disturbance of this fragile surface condition.



Alder, Aspen, Cedar, Jeffrey Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Sierra Juniper, Sugar Pine, White Fir, Willow.


Blue & Purple: Dwarf Alpine Aster, Lupine, Meadow Penstemon
Pink & Red: Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, Shooting Star, Snow Plant, Thistle
White: California Corn Lily, Common Yarrow, Cow Parsnip, Mariposa Lily, Ranger Buttons
Yellow: Buttercup, Mountain Mule Ears, Sulphur Flowers


American Robin, Bald Eagle, California Gull, Canada Goose, Dark-eyed Junco, Hairy Woodpecker, Mallard, Mountain Chickadee, Red-tailed Hawk, Steller's Jay, Western Tanager, Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

Black Bear, Coyote, Douglas Squirrel (Chikaree), Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, Mule Deer, Pine Martin, Yellow-bellied Marmot.


Tahoe's shores have attracted summer visitors for thousands of years. The first humans to enjoy the Lake Tahoe Basin were the Native American culture group know as the Washoe. The discovery of stone artifacts and projectile points confirms the Washoes presence 10,00 years ago. They migrated each summer from the Carson Valley area seeking the cooler temperatures, abundant fish and plentiful game of Lake Tahoe. The Washoe women made exceptionally fine baskets of remarkable artistry.

"Da-ow-a-ga" was the Wahsoe Indian name for Lake Tahoe. The Washoes considered "the jewel of the Sierra" the birthplace of their heritage. The area from Taylor Creek to Camp Richardson was a favorite site. Today they are known as the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

Sadly, the Washoe homeland nearly perished in a scant period of time during the Comstock Lode silver and logging boom during the 1860s to early 1880s. The natural resources of the region are still recovering from the mass deforestation that occurred during this relatively brief period of time.

The first recorded sighting of Lake Tahoe by a non-Native American was by John C. Fremont in February of 1844. His exploration party was guided by the legendary scout Christopher "Kit" Carson. The party first viewed part of Lake Tahoe when they arrived at the top of Red Lake Peak, 10,651 feet elevation, at what is now Carson Pass. This area is located 20 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe.

In 1848 Kit Carson carved a trail over what is now called the Carson Pass. This trail became the main east/west route from Utah to California and was known as the Mormon-Emigrant Trail.

For many years thereafter, the area was virtually ignored. In 1859 the Comstock Lode was discovered in Virginia City, Nevada. During the 1860s Tahoe became the center of a lively commerce involving the silver mines in Virginia City and the Central Pacific Railroad, which was pushing over the Sierra toward the town of Truckee.

Wood was needed to supply the mines, the new boomtowns and the railroad. An extensive logging empire was established on the east shore of the lake from Incline Village to Glenbrook. The loggers clear-cut the entire shoreline until both the silver mines and the demand for timber petered out in the late 1870s to early 1880s. The scars of the logging industry lasted for decades.

By the 1890s Lake Tahoe had become a popular retreat for the wealthy from San Francisco, Sacramento and Virginia City. At this point in history the only industry that showed promise was tourism, so the rush began to build resorts.

In retrospect, from the turn of the 19th century small groups of diverse people discovered the lake's beauty and resources. Native Americans, explorers, early entrepreneurs, Basque sheepherders, Chinese laborers, and society's elite each contributed to the foundation of Tahoe's heritage.

By action of the California state legislature in 1945, Lake Tahoe became the official name of the lake. The Indian word "tahoe" means "big water."


To receive more information about attractions, special events, the Washoe culture and parks in the Lake Tahoe Basin, contact the following resources:

About Lake Tahoe
Extensive, categorized on-line directory of Tahoe area activities, weather, accommodations, etc.
812 Kekin Street
South Lake Tahoe, Ca 96150

Gold Country Best Guide to Lake Tahoe
Online guide to Tahoe events, fishing, golfing, lodging, real estate, skiing, timeshares, and weather.

KRLT and KOWL Radio Stations
KRLT 93-9 The Lake "Hits That Rock" and KOWL 190 The Owl "Tahoe's Talk" are the heritage Stations serving the Lake Tahoe basin and surrounding areas. Having been on-the-air for 34 and 53 years respectively. Loyal local listeners are the key to our success! We are well known as the promotionally active Sierra Stations with involvement in community events around the Lake. Tune in today!!

PO Box 11101
Zephyr Cove, NV 89448


See Lake Tahoe - Your Online Guide to Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce
Write, call or visit:
3066 Lake Tahoe Blvd. / U.S. HWY 50
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Douglas-Tahoe Chamber of Commerce
Write or call:
P.O. Box 7139
Stateline, NV 89449
Roundhill Shopping Center
195 U.S. HWY 50
Zephyr Cove, NV 89448

North Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce
Write or call:
P.O. Box 884
Tahoe City, CA 96145
245 North Lake Blvd.
Tahoe City, CA 96145

Incline Village-Crystal Bay Chamber of Commerce
Write, call or visit:
969 Tahoe Blvd.
Incline Village, NV 89451

Write or call:

Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California
Archive & Cultural Center
861 Crescent Drive
Carson City, NV 89701

Washoe Exhibit
The Washoe Indian Cultural Foundation Exhibit is located in the Baldwin Museum at the Tallac Historic Site. The Washoe display includes housing, artifacts, pictures and a slide presentation. Visit the area the Washoe called home in the summer months. The Baldwin Museum, Washoe Gardens and special programs offer an opportunity to learn about the Washoe culture. For information, call the Visitor Center at the Tallac Historic Site.


Write, call or visit:

California State Parks
Sierra Area Headquarters
P.O. Box 266
7360 West Lake Blvd.
Tahoma, CA 96142
SR 89 on the West Shore

Nevada State Parks
Sand Harbor State Park
P.O. Box 8867
Incline, NV 89452
SR 28 on the East Shore

USDA - Forest Service
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
870 Emerald Bay Road
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
One quarter mile north of the "Y" on SR 89

USDA - Forest Service
El Dorado National Forest
Information Center
3070 Camino Heights Drive
Camino, CA 97509
West on U.S. HWY 50, 10 minutes east of Placerville

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