Lake Tahoe, California & Nevada, USA
Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Lake Tahoe.
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Lake Tahoe visitor and community guide
Tucked into the Sierra Nevada Mountains and straddling the California-Nevada state line, Lake Tahoe is one of the most famous lakes in the United States. It’s the second deepest lake in the country (only Crater Lake in Oregon is deeper), and was home to the area’s 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics. Now a major recreational attraction, this 122,000-acre lake inspires with its beauty and entertains with its aquatic diversity.
Although Lake Tahoe is a freshwater lake formed about two million years ago, it is also a multi-purpose reservoir for hydropower generation, water storage for agriculture, fish and wildlife protection, drought protection, and recreational opportunities. Lake Tahoe’s only outflow is the Truckee River, and this outflow has been regulated by a dam at Tahoe City, California since 1874. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built a modern concrete dam in 1913, and a federal district court ruling awarded the Bureau control of the dam from the Truckee River General Electric Company in 1915. The U.S. District Court Water Master manages Lake Tahoe’s water levels at an elevation around 6,225 feet above sea level. The Water Master is required to release water from Lake Tahoe when elevations reach 6,229 feet. The lowest lake level on record was 6,220 feet, three feet below the lake’s natural rim.
An area truly rich in natural beauty and outside diversions, there is no challenge to which Lake Tahoe won’t rise. Fantastic restaurants, breathtaking views, crackling fires in the hearth, world class snow skiing, adrenaline-pumping boating, peaceful stargazing, exciting fishing, and casino nightlife are just a few of the activities within your reach at this California-Nevada lake. Lake Tahoe’s North Shore and South Shore are divided between the states, though two-thirds of its total area belongs to California. When visiting Tahoe for the first time, it’s usually best to choose an area to concentrate on, as the lake’s size makes it difficult to explore all in one trip. In fact, Lake Tahoe is so large that if you were to pour it out into a California-sized basin, the entire state would be covered in 14 inches of water!
More than 80% of the Lake Tahoe Basin is under public ownership through the U.S. Forest Service and the State Parks of California and Nevada, providing an incredible array of outdoor activities. If your favorite weather is warm and sunny, then summer at Lake Tahoe is the season for you with mountain biking, swimming, golfing, boating, hiking, and camping. Start your lake vacation by getting a lay of the land. Hundreds of miles of trails surround the lake, providing hikers and bikers of all skill sets with nature walks and rides, steep and challenging climbs, and high-altitude mountain paths that seem to lead to heaven, with views to match! As you meander along your chosen trail, you may glimpse sparkling lakes in the distance, rushing waterfalls so close that you can feel their spray, and the soaring peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains that surround you. No matter your choice, you are guaranteed absolutely spectacular scenery and many photo ops.
Make sure to spend time at D.L. Bliss and Emerald Bay State Parks with six miles of spectacular Lake Tahoe shoreline and panoramic views. Fannette Island, located in lovely Emerald Bay, is the only island on Lake Tahoe. In 1969, the bay was designated a National Natural Landmark and in 1994, became an underwater state park. Beautiful hikes within the park lead to Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm Castle, a 38-room mansion that is one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture in the western hemisphere. Sand Harbor State Park on the Nevada side of the lake features long sandy beaches, rocky coves, a scuba diving cove, and panoramic views.
There are few things that work up a sweat more than hiking or biking a challenging trail, and there are still fewer things that refresh a tired naturist like a dip in Lake Tahoe. With sandy beaches lining its shores, the lake is the perfect place to take a dip in some of the bluest water you’ve ever seen, followed up by a relaxing, rejuvenating nap in the sun. In the spirit of offering something for every taste, Lake Tahoe has diverse beach offerings: Active vacationers will appreciate those with lakeside walking trails, families will enjoy those with picnic areas and live music, and romance-seeking couples will gravitate towards hike-in, secluded wedges of waterfront. Whatever your beach need, Tahoe delivers.
After you’ve tried the water out with a swim, it’s time to get a bit more involved and take a boat ride. Bring your own or rent from a local marina, because seeing Lake Tahoe from the inside out is something every visitor must do. If you prefer a more low-key ride, grab a kayak or canoe and head out to explore the shoreline and watch for birds. If you care to test your sailing skills, you’ll find yourself in good company with the colorful sailboats that dot the lake’s surface on a warm summer day. And if you want a bit of a thrill, take a powerboat out for a spin, pull a water skier behind you, or go for a ride on a zippy jet ski. And if you love the idea of scenic boating infused with an adrenaline rush, give parasailing a shot.
Of course, Lake Tahoe’s diverse offerings don’t stop at hiking, biking, swimming, sailing, waterskiing, parasailing, and boating. Indeed, whatever it is that you want to do, you’ll be sure to find it at the lake. Anglers rave about Lake Tahoe’s eight varieties of trout (brook trout, brown trout, camloop trout, cutthroat trout, German trout, golden trout, lake trout/mackinaw, paiute trout, and rainbow trout), catfish, kokanee salmon, largemouth bass, perch, smallmouth bass, and mountain whitefish. Golfers rave about the 20+ courses, some championship, within an hour of the lakefront. Spa lovers are relaxed and pampered by the time they step out of any of Lake Tahoe’s first class health spas. After just a few days here, you’ll already know that anything you crave is right at your fingertips.
As summer fades to winter, the incredible recreational options don’t diminish, only change. Instead of sunning yourself on a beach or refreshing yourself in cool, blue waters, you’ll find yourself racing down a mountaintop or sipping a mug of hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire. Lake Tahoe is a premier destination for winter vacation fun, and it’s easy to see why. With over 600 inches of snow each year, 12 world class alpine ski resorts, and some of the most spectacular snow-covered views in the world, it’s time you experience a wintry white Lake Tahoe. Major ski resorts include Heavenly Mountain Resort, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Diamond Peak, Northstar at Tahoe, Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Boreal Mountain Resort, Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, Donner Ski Ranch, Homewood Ski Resort, and Mount Rose Ski Resort.
Lake Tahoe’s top-class slopes are skied and boarded by many professionals. You don’t need to be a pro to know how great the Tahoe mountains are, though, as any ski-lover will soon find out. The twelve nationally-known ski resorts will test your skills, your courage, and your endurance. Perhaps best of all, a Ski Tahoe North Interchangeable Lift Ticket gives you access to seven of these fantastic resorts.
If speed and adrenaline aren’t your cup of tea, the Tahoe area offers excellent cross-country skiing, with many miles of trails. Glide along the powdery white snow, and drink in the snow capped mountains, icicles dripping from tree branches, and intense scenery that will grace your view. And if you prefer a bit of speed to you country wanderings, grab a sled or a snowmobile and infuse excitement into your winter fun.
Lake Tahoe is a four season wonderland, complete with boats, ski lifts, picnics, and delicious hot cocoa. All it needs to be complete is you!
Custom Lake Tahoe house decor
Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.
Things to do at Lake Tahoe
- Vacation Rentals
- Jet Skiing
- Water Skiing
- Scuba Diving
- Downhill Skiing
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Wildlife Viewing
- State Park
- Casino Gambling
Fish species found at Lake Tahoe
- Black Bass
- Brook Trout
- Brown Trout
- Cutthroat Trout
- Golden Trout
- Kokanee Salmon
- Lake Trout
- Largemouth Bass
- Rainbow Trout
- Smallmouth Bass
Best hotels and vacation rentals at Lake Tahoe
The Lake Tahoe map shown above is a simple and stress-free way to search for trip accommodations. But if you want to take a deeper dive to find the ideal waterfront home, cabin, condo, hotel or resort, visit our favorite lodging partners by clicking the buttons below.
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Lake Tahoe photo gallery
New photos coming soon!
Lake Tahoe statistics & helpful links
Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed
Water Level Control: U.S. District Court Water Master
Surface Area: 122,000 acres
Shoreline Length: 75 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 6,225 feet
Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 6,220 feet
Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 6,229 feet
Average Depth: 989 feet
Maximum Depth: 1,645 feet
Water Volume: 122,160,280 acre-feet
Water Residence Time: 650 years
Drainage Area: 325 sq. miles
Trophic State: Oligotrophic
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