Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations

Lake Tahoe and "The Big Water"

"as it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords." Mark Twain on seeing Lake Tahoe for the first time in 1861

Lake Tahoe First impressions last forever. In 1844, when John Fremont and Kit Carson were leading the U.S. Army's first expedition across the Sierra Nevada in search of a new route to California, they came upon a lake in the mountains. Fremont wanted to call this expanse of crystal clear blue water "Bonpland," in honor of a French botanist because of the natural beauty surrounding the lake. Others wanted to name it "Bigler," after the Governor of California. But soon there was agreement to call this remarkable place "Tahoe." It was the word the Washoe Indians used when talking about "the big water" that could be found in the mountains.

Today, more than a century later, Lake Tahoe continues to make a good first impression. For thousands of people every year, it is a destination for terrific fishing, boating, sightseeing and, of course, gambling.

Because the area receives more than 40 feet of snow every year, skiing is a way of life around Tahoe. The 1960 Winter Olympics were held in nearby Squaw Valley and today plans are underway to reconstruct some of the ski trails that were used in the international competition. Among the more than a dozen ski areas around Lake Tahoe is Heavenly Valley, the largest ski resort in America which has undergone a $20 million renovation (it has a new lift in the shape of a gondola) over the past year.

Fishermen come to "the big water" seeking bass, salmon or Kokanee and Mackinaw trout. But trailer boaters and fishermen need to be aware Lake Tahoe has some of the most strict environmental regulations in the country regarding engines (see box). Fishermen need to keep in mind the only live bait that is allowed in Lake Tahoe is what comes from the lake itself. And some of the nearby lakes (Spooner) have catch and release regulations for all fish, require the use of only barbless hooks and forbid the use of motors.

Lake Tahoe has been a summer home for a number of wealthy and, somewhat eccentric individuals. Henry Kaiser took time off from his aluminum company to build an estate called Fleur du Lac in 1939. It was used as the backdrop for a number of scenes in Godfather II before becoming the site of new condos with big price tags on Tahoe's western shore. On the eastern shore is the Whittel Estate built by real estate developer George Whittel Jr. It's a stone structure complete with a man made waterfall, a place to house his elephants and a tunnel to connect the main house to a 7,000 square-foot boathouse where he kept his 56 foot, four-engine cigar shaped Thunderbird. The area is being transferred to the University of Nevada for research purposes. And at the northern tip of Lake Tahoe, near Incline Village is the Ponderosa Ranch, made famous by the TV series Bonanza.

By this time next year, a 150-mile multi-use trail around Lake Tahoe will be in place for hikers, bicyclists and horseback riding (no motorized vehicles). The Tahoe Rim Trail Park was built by volunteers beginning in 1984 and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Boaters on Tahoe's southeastern shore will pass Cave Rock, a sacred area for the Washoe Indians where religious ceremonies were held inside one of the many nearby caves. Today, Cave Rock is a popular gathering place to view "the lady of the lake," where a woman's face is clearly profiled when seen from a particular angle. There is a boat ramp near Cave Rock. It is also a popular climbing area and boaters will usually see a few people making their way up the side of a cliff. Because Cave Rock is an Indian landmark, climbers are only allowed in specific areas.

Another popular way to reach new heights over Lake Tahoe is in a hot air balloon. The three-hour trip includes an hour soaring above the water and then landing on board a 40-ft. trimaran powerboat where a champagne breakfast is served while the boat returns to shore. It is not uncommon for weddings to take place in the balloons that soar across Tahoe.

There are numerous casinos scattered around Lake Tahoe, many of which have been designed as resorts with spas, shopping, luxury suites and, of course, the never-ending buffet. In addition, some of the casinos bring in big name entertainment as well. More gambling and nightlife is found in Reno, just an hour away on highway 267 north and Interstate 80 east.

Lake Tahoe Facts
Highest lake in the United States (6,229 feet) 3rd deepest lake in the United States (1,645 feet) and the 10th deepest in the world. 22 miles long and 12 miles wide 71 mile shoreline (42 in California, 29 in Nevada)

More Information Tahoe Regional Planning Agency 775-588-4547
South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce 530-541-5255
The Ponderosa 775-831-0691
William F. Harrah National Automobile Museum (Reno) 775-333-9300

Tahoe Boat Ramps
Tahoe City at Lake Forest: $7 per day parking fee or $65 for a season pass, (530) 583-3796 ext. 29.
Ski Beach in Incline Village (restrictions apply), call Incline Village General Improvement District Parks and Recreation Department for information at (775) 832-1310.
Sand Harbor has a boat ramp available for $12, and can be reached at (775) 831-0494.
Kings Beach, Coon Street boat ramp has no fee for launching boats, but a $5 a day parking fee, for information call the North Tahoe Public Utility District at (530) 546-4212.
Tahoe Vista, National Avenue Marina also has a no fee boat ramp and charges $4 for parking for the day. The ramp is also owned by the public utility district at (530) 546-4212.
Cave Rock Boat Ramp, 775-831-0494

Lake Tahoe Restrictions There is a 600-foot-no-wake zone around Lake Tahoe to minimize noise of motorized watercraft on residents, visitors and wildlife.
The speed limit for all vessels is 5 miles per hour or less between the shoreline and 600 feet offshore.
As of today carbureted two-stroke engines of 10 horsepower or less are legal until October, 2001.
Sterndrive/inboard engines and four-stroke engines are legal until October 2001.
After October 1, 2001: Any engine that does not meet the U.S. EPA 2006 or the California Air Resources Board (CARB) 2001 emissions standard, including:
Electronically Fuel Injected (EFI) two-stroke engines
Rotax Fuel Injected (RFI) two-stroke engines (the only two-stroke engines that meet either standard are direct fuel injected and are labled with either a Ficht or Optimx logo) .