Lake Tahoe Facts

Surface Area: 192 Square Miles Average Elevation: 6,225 Feet
Maximum Length: 22 Miles Maximum Width: 12 Miles
Average Depth: 1,000 Feet Maximum Depth: 1,645 Feet
Water Volume: 37 Trillion Gallons Watershed Area: 314 Square Miles
Shoreline: 72 Miles  

Lake Tahoe History

The Washoe Tribe began inhabiting Tahoe as far back as 10,000 years ago. The name Tahoe comes from a mispronunciation of the Washoe word Da ow a ga which means “edge of the lake”. Capt. John Fremont was the first Euro-American to sight the Lake in 1844. Later that year, westward heading pioneers were the first to visit the Lake. The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought many gold seekers through Tahoe, some of whom stayed or returned to start ranches and road houses. In the latter half of the 19th century, Tahoe forests were clear-cut to supply the mines of the Comstock Lode in Virginia City. After plundering the forests, entrepreneurs bought the devastated land cheaply and established exclusive hotels and ornate summer mansions for the wealthy.

Between 1912-1918 efforts to make Lake Tahoe a national park failed because it lacked the pristine qualities required for national park status. Following a period of exclusivity, the automobile and improved roads opened Tahoe to the general populace in the 1920s. Campgrounds and inexpensive hotels became popular during the post-war boom of the 1940s and 50s. The 1960 Winter Olympics catapulted Tahoe into international fame and firmly established Tahoe as a world-class resort with a two season economy. The ensuing 20-year building boom threatened the clarity of the lake and its environment. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was established in 1970 to regulate growth and protect the Lake.

How was Tahoe Lake Formed?

About 2-3 million years ago, the valley that became the Lake Tahoe Basin sank between two parallel fractures in the Earth’s crust as the mountains on either side continued to rise. A shallow lake began to form at the south end of the valley, fed by snowmelt and rainfall. About 1 to 2 million years ago an erupting volcano blocked the outlet forcing the lake to rise. Between 1 million and 20,000 years ago large masses of ice sculpted the land surface into the terrain we see today.

What is the weather like?

Normal air temperatures are moderate, ranging from the high 20s in winter to high 60s in summer. At least seven months per year, daily maximum temperatures reach the outdoor comfort zone. The sky is sunny or partly sunny 84 percent of the time, leaving only 50 days per year of cloudy weather. Between Thanksgiving and Easter, 80 percent of the yearly precipitation occurs, mostly as snowfall. Typically at lake level, 14 feet of snow falls over winter and accumulates to a maximum depth of 2.8 feet.

How clear is the water?

Clarity is determined by measuring the water depth at which a one-foot diameter which a white disk disappears from view. In the center of the Lake, clarity has remained at over 100 feet. Near the shoreline, clarity has ranged from 105 feet in the late 1960s to 72 feet in 2001. Over the past 34 years, Tahoe has lost up to 46 percent of its historic clarity due to increased pollution.

Why is Lake Tahoe so blue?

The lake surface reflects the color of the cobalt blue sky that reigns over Tahoe much of the time. The characteristic turquoise color near the lake shore is a combination of blue sky reflecting on the lake and light reflected from the light colored bottom.

How cold is the Lake?

Below 600-700 feet the water temperature remains steady at 39 degrees F. During July and August, the surface temperature can reach 68-70 degrees. Along the shoreline, shallow enclosed areas can warm even further. In the coldest months, the lake surface drops to 40-50 degrees.