Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the US. The only lake deeper than Tahoe is Crater Lake, in Oregon. At 1,644 feet at its maximum depth, it is over 300 feet deeper than the next deepest, massive Lake Superior.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in the US as well as the highest lake of its size in the country. The lake is as long as the English Channel is wide. At its widest point, Lake Tahoe is 12 miles wide. That’s as wide as San Francisco Bay at its widest point and nearly as long as New York City’s Manhattan Island.
Sixty three streams, plus 2 hot springs, feed Lake Tahoe its water. The lake holds 39 trillion gallons of any of the purest water in nature. The water of Lake Tahoe is 99% pure. This purity gives the lake its crystal clear quality and beautiful sky-reflecting appearance. A white 10 inch dinner plate dropped in the lake would be visible up to a depth of 75 feet. If all the water were drained from Lake Tahoe all at once, it could cover the entire state of California to a depth of 14.5 inches. If all that water were drained, it would take around 700 years for the springs and small tributaries, snow melt and rainfall to fill it back up again to its present levels.
An average of 1.4 million gallons of water evaporate from Lake Tahoe mostly all day, yet this only lowers the lake’s water level by 1/10 of an inch. If all that evaporated water could be recovered, it would supply the daily water needs of 3.5 billion people.
Lake Tahoe never freezes completely. Several factors account for this – the relatively small surface area of the lake in relation to its depth, the warmer climate in which it is situated, and the lack of movement of the water caused by only having one outlet, the Truckee River. All combine to keep surface temperatures at roughly 41 degrees at their coldest, in early March. Emerald Bay, on Lake Tahoe’s southwestern tip, and much shallower than the rest of the lake, has frozen over completely 3 times in the 20th century and frequently experience partial freezing.
Lake Tahoe only has one island, little Fannette Island, located in Emerald Bay.
The largest fish ever caught from Lake Tahoe, a Mackinaw lake trout, weighed 37 pounds and 6 ounces.
The sun shines on Lake Tahoe 75% of the year, for an average of 274 sunny days annually.
Annual snowfall at lakeside level is 124 inches. Higher up, on the slopes above Lake Tahoe, averages snowfalls are 300 to 500 inches each year. Donner Summit, north of the lake, holds the country’s record for the snowiest April on record. On April 1, 1880 a storm dumped 4 feet of snow on the west slope in a 24 hour period. Over the course of the month, storm after storm hit the region. By May 1st of that year, 298 inches of snow had fallen, the most April snow anywhere in the US. A snow slide buried the Pacific Central Railroad’s tracks under 75 feet of snow at one point.
Lake Tahoe was named “Dao wa ga” by a Washoe tribe of Native Americans. The name meant “edge of lake.” The early settlers and travelers to the area mispronounced “Dao” as “Da oh” which later became Tahoe. The name was not official, though, until 1945. Prior to this, the lake had been named Lake Bigler after a California governor, Lake Bonpland after a French botanist and Mountain Lake.
The discovery of gold in 1848 initially brought western bound pioneers to the Tahoe area. It was not gold, however, that made its biggest mark on Lake Tahoe. It was timber. From 1858 to 1890, nearly 90% of the surrounding region’s trees were timbered. Most of the timber was used to shore up the underground workings of the Comstock mines. The region is still affected by the massive deforestation of the late 19th century.
During the US Civil War, writer Mark Twain traveled west in an attempt to get away from the fighting. During his trek, he visited Lake Tahoe. He described an episode in which he inadvertently started a forest fire on the shore of the lake in his book “Roughing It.” He writes that he and a friend “stood helplessly and watched the devastation … surging up adjacent ridges.” Other famous visitors include Baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb and eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, whoever used to join Tahoe native, George Whittell at his home, Thunderbird Lodge, in Zephyr Cove, for high stakes poker games.
Hollywood likes the Lake Tahoe region. Not only do stars like Cher, Natalie Cole and Charles Bronson call Tahoe home (or second home) but several movies have been filmed on and around the lake, as well. The first film made there was Indian Love Call, shot in the 1920’s and starring Jeannette Macdonald. A West Shore residence, Fleur du Lac, and other locations in the area were used in the film The Godfather II. Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston’s film The Bodyguard was filmed at Fallen Leaf Lake, one mile south of Lake Tahoe. The long running 1960’s television show “Ponderosa” was filmed right in Alpine Village, on the shores of Lake Tahoe. The Bonanza ranch used as a setting for the show was open to the public until a few years ago.
Olympic firsts were made in Lake Tahoe when it served as the host for the 1960 Winter Games. They were the first games to be held in the western half of the United States. The 1960 Winter Games were the first to be televised. They were the first to use computers to calculate scores. It was the first time all the athletes were housed under one roof in Squaw Valley’s Olympic Village. A woman was chosen to represent all the athletes for the first time in the taking of the Olympic oath. The US won its first gold medal in ice hockey, defeating the Russians at the height of the Cold War in a close victory, 3-2.