Washoe Lake, Nevada, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Nevada - Renoe-Tahoe Territory -

Washoe Lake, along with the smaller Little Washoe Lakes, is located in western Nevada between Carson City and Reno. Nestled in peaceful Washoe Valley, the lake has stunning views of both the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Carson Range. The 8,053 acre Washoe Lake State Park was established in 1977 to preserve this scenic area from development, and today the park provides numerous recreational and educational opportunities at the lake.

Washoe Lake is named for some of the area’s earliest inhabitants, the Washoe Indians. The tribe typically spent the winter in Washoe Valley, using willows and cattails from the wetlands of Washoe Lake to weave baskets and other useful items. They then migrated to the “Big Lake,” Lake Tahoe, for the summer. But life in the area changed forever in 1859 with the discovery of silver in Virginia City to the east of the lake. That same year, Mormons established a settlement near Franktown on the west side of the lake, and thousands of newcomers came to Washoe Valley. Mills were built on the shores of Washoe Lake and Little Washoe Lake, the remnants of which can still be seen today. By the late 1870s the mines had run out, and the mining towns faded away. But many settlers remained to work the land of Washoe Valley, eventually replacing the Washoe Indians.

Washoe Lake receives water from Carson Range snowmelt and from several small creeks north and west of the basin. Lake waters drain into Steamboat Creek, which runs north into the Truckee River. The Marlette Water System diverts some of the water flowing into Big Washoe Lake to Carson City and Virginia City. A small dam at the north end of Little Washoe Lake controls the outflow to Steamboat Creek for downstream irrigation. Therefore, the surface area of Washoe Lake can vary considerably from year to year, depending on snowfall and rainfall.

The warm waters of Lake Washoe provide year-round fishing opportunities for anglers. The lake is stocked with channel catfish, bullhead, white bass, wipers, and Sacramento perch. Boat launches are available at the Main Area and North Ramp. Shore fishing is also popular, with the best access being at Little Washoe Lake, South Beach, and North Ramp. Anglers should be aware that there is currently a fish consumption advisory on white bass and carp, and the Nevada Division of Wildlife recommends not eating white bass caught from Washoe Lake or Little Washoe Lake, and limiting the consumption of carp caught at the lakes to no more than one meal per month.

Recreational boating is another favorite activity at the lake. Windsurfing, sailing, and kiteboarding are especially popular, as strong winds often blow down from the nearby mountains. The warm weather, wide beaches, and shallow waters all help to make Washoe Lake an ideal place for catching some waves. Power boats are also welcome at Washoe Lake, providing the opportunity for water skiing or jet skiing. Motor boats are not recommended at Little Washoe Lake.

Nature lovers will find plenty of ways to hit the trails at Washoe Lake State Park. Separate marked trails are designated for both motorized and non-motorized uses, making the park accessible for hiking, biking, horseback riding, or motorcycling. Equestrian areas are available at both the Main Area and North Ramp. When you are ready for a break from exploring, several day-use areas provide a place to picnic and relax. The largest of these, Main Area, has shade trees and sandy beaches as well as a campground with 49 campsites, each equipped with tables, grills, and fire rings.

There is a variety of wildlife to observe at Washoe Lake State Park. Deer, coyote, hawks, and eagles can all be spotted in the park, and hundreds of species of birds frequent the lake, including mountain bluebirds, red winged blackbirds, magpies, rufous sided towhees, and killdeer. At the southern edge of the park is a woodland area that is home to waterfowl. A viewing platform provides spectacular views of Washoe Lake, as well as nearby Slide Mountain, a 9,600 foot peak that is usually capped with snow. A pay-telescope mounted on the platform provides an up-close view of the marsh’s wildlife; cranes, herons, pelicans, and egrets can often be spotted here.

No matter how you choose to enjoy the great outdoors, Washoe Lake is sure to please. Just as scenic as its larger cousin, Lake Tahoe–but much less crowded–Washoe Lake is the perfect place to plan your next outdoor adventure.

Things to do at Washoe Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park

Fish species found at Washoe Lake

  • Bass
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Perch
  • Sacramento Perch
  • White Bass

Washoe Lake Photo Gallery

Washoe Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Surface Area: 5,800 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,029 feet

Average Depth: 7 feet

Maximum Depth: 12 feet

Water Volume: 38,000 acre-feet

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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