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Lake Tahoe


California

The Park in a nutshell

Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States and the tenth deepest in the world, with a maximum depth measured at 1,645 ft (501 m), average depth of 1,000 ft (305 m). Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake (1,949 ft or 594 m) in the United States. Please Note that the depth of Lake Tahoe changes every day as the lake level changes. The deepest measurement from the 1998 bathymetric survey was 1,637 ft (499 m) deep. The depth of Lake Tahoe depends on the height it is measured from; some measurements use sea level as a base reference, others use different points of reference. The appropriate reference, or datum, for Lake Tahoe's depth is still being debated. Therefore the measured depth of a lake is only preliminary data and may change.

Lake Tahoe is about 22 mi (57 km) long and l2 mi (31 km) wide and has 72 mi (116 km) of shoreline and a surface area of 191 mi2 (495 km2). The floor of the Lake Tahoe Basin is at an elevation of about 4,580 ft (1,396 m), which is lower than the surface of the Carson Valley to the east! With an average surface elevation of 6,225 ft (1,897 m) above sea level, Lake Tahoe is t he highest lake of its size in the United States.

The water in Lake Tahoe could cover a flat area the size of California 14 in (36 cm) deep. This amount of water is enough to supply everyone in the United States with 50 gallons of water per day for 5 years. The amount of water that evaporates from the surface of Lake Tahoe every year could supply a city the size of Los Angeles for 5 years. The water temperature near the surface generally cools to 40 to 50oF (4.5 to 10oC) during February and March and warms to 65 to 70oF (18 to 21oC) during August and September. Below a depth of 600 to 700 ft (183 to 213 m), the water temperature remains a constant 39oF (4.0oC). Lake Tahoe has a water clarity of about 100 ft (30 m) deep. Factors contributing to its clarity include the following:

40 percent of the precipitation that falls into the Lake Tahoe Basin lands directly on the lake. Remaining precipitation drains through granitic soils, which are relatively sterile and create a good filtering system. Lake Tahoe is admired for its great depth and clarity and beautiful alpine surroundings. Most of the terrain is mountainous, limiting development mainly to relatively flat lying areas along tributary streams. Lake Tahoe is located along the border of California and Nevada. About one-third of the basin is in Nevada and two-thirds is in California. The basin is bounded by the Sierra Nevada to the west and the Carson Range to the east.

The Lake Tahoe Basin was formed by geologic block (normal) faulting about 2 to 3 million years ago. The down-dropping of the Lake Tahoe Basin and the uplifting of the adjacent mountains resulted in dramatic topographic relief in the region. Mountain peaks rise to more than 10,000 ft (3,048 m) above sea level. The surface of Lake Tahoe has an average elevation of about 6,225 ft (1,897 m).

The Lake Tahoe Basin was formed by geologic block faulting about 2 to 3 million years ago. A geologic block fault is a fracture in the Earth's crust causing blocks of land to move up or down. Uplifted blocks created the Carson Range on the east and the Sierra Nevada on the west. Down-dropped blocks created the Lake Tahoe Basin in between.

Lake Tahoe was occupied by the Washoe Tribe for many centuries. The Washoe Indians were hunting and fishing in the area long before General John C. Fremont encountered it in 1844 during his exploration of the Far West. Since then, public appreciation of Lake Tahoe has grown. Efforts were made during the 1912, 1913, and 1918 congressional sessions to designate the basin as a national park but were unsuccessful.

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Horseback riding on one of the many trails at Lake Tahoe
Horseback riding on one of the many trails at Lake Tahoe

View of Emerald Bay and Fanette Island
View of Emerald Bay and Fanette Island

   
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Document Information
Source: USGS; USDA Forest Service - Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
Other information courtesy of: North Lake Tahoe Resort Association Visitors and Convention Bureau; Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center; South Lake Tahoe CVB; Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (LTVA)
Last modified: 20070415
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