Lake Tahoe, the larger part of which lies in eastern California and the smaller part in the U.S. federal state of Nevada, is considered to be one of the most beautiful of mountain lakes and thanks to its immediate surroundings is one of the favorite winter sports regions. It covers an area of 200sq.mi/518sq.km, lies about 6,200ft/1,900m above sea level and is up to 1,600ft/490m deep.
With a length of 21mi/34.5km, and a width of up to 12mi/19km, it is one of the largest lakes in California.
Situated about 200mi/320km from San Francisco, and 100mi/160km from Sacramento, you can reach it by taking the U.S. 80 as far as Truckee, where you change to the CA 89 or 267 southbound, and in about 15mi/24km you come to the bank of the lake. The CA 28 leads around the north of the lake, and the U.S. 50 around the south. From time to time, both roads offer splendid views of the lake. Lake Tahoe is completely surrounded by mountains, from the Sierra Nevada in the west to the Carson mountains in the east. Many peaks are more than 10,000ft/3,000m high; thousands of mountain streams empty into the lake. The best known is Eagle Creek, which plunges over the waterfall of the same name into Emerald Bay, 1500ft/460m below in the southwest of the lake. A dozen public beaches as well as sailing and motor boats (to be seen in great numbers at weekends in particular) provide the visitor with many opportunities for recreation.
The first white people to set eyes on Lake Tahoe in 1844 were Charles Frémont, later a Civil War general, and his German cartographer Charles Preuss. FrGmont named it Lake Bonpland (in honor of a French botanist who had accompanied Alexander von Humboldt on his Latin-American expeditions). A decade later the name of the lake was changed to Lake Bigler; after a further decade it was changed yet again to Lake Tahoe. This comes from the word "da'au", which means "water" or "lake" in the language of the Washoe Indians. This change of name was not officially recognized until 1945, when a decree to that effect was issued by the Californian parliament.
The climate at Lake Tahoe is moderately warm in summer but extremely cold in the winter months. Average temperatures for the four seasons are: spring 3°C., summer 16°, autumn and winter 7°. While the annual rainfall amounts to about 1in./25mm, the average annual depth of snow is some 16ft/5m.
Banks of the lake
On the north bank of the lake (in the townships of King's Beach, North Tahoe, Crystal Bay and Incline) no high-rise dwellings may be built; North Tahoe possesses an amphitheater, where concerts are held and Shakespeare dramas performed every year in the second half of August.
On the west bank lie the townships of Tahoe City, Sunnyside and Homewood, whilst the south bank is taken up completely by South Lake Tahoe. This thickly populated district has the most motels, hotels and restaurants of all the lake-side places; it is only a stone's throw from here to Nevada.
The town of Stateline, which almost imperceptibly joins South Lake Tahoe, is the site of numerous hotels.
Trips round the lake
Trips can be made round the lake on the "Tahoe Queen" from South Lake Tahoe and the "Dixie" from Zephyr Cove, Nevada; half-day trips in the big motor boats from Sand Harbor, and North Tahoe Cruises from North Tahoe. Cable-car trips from Heavenly Valley also start at South Lake Tahoe (from the U.S. 50, turn into Ski Run Boulevard and look for the sign "Top of the Tram". From a height of 8,300ft/2,540m you can enjoy a panoramic view of the lake, although the viewing platform is very small.
870 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150-6414, United States
Useful tips: The US Forest Visitor Center on SR 89 between Camp Richardson and Emerald Bay offers free orientation programs (530) 573-2674.
Both roads surrounding the lake offer excellent views and interesting drives. However, SR 89 on the west side around Emerald Bay is occasionally closed due to heavy snow.