Largest Alpine Lake in North America

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Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Lake Tahoe is a freshwater lake that straddles the border between California and Nevada. Lake Tahoe is found at an elevation of  6,225 ft (1,897 m) and has a surface area of 191 square miles (490 square kilometers), making it the largest Alpine lake in North America.

Second Deepest Lake in North America

Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in North America with a depth of 1,645 feet (501 meters) deep. Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake with a depth of 1,949 feet (594 meters). The bottom of Lake Tahoe is 4,580 feet in elevation.

Location

The shoreline of Lake Tahoe is 72 miles (116 kilometers) in length. About two-thirds of the shoreline is found in California and one-third in Nevada. Much of Lake Tahoe’s geography is surrounded by scenic mountains and forest land.

View of Lake Tahoe from Emerald Bay.  Photo: NASA/JPL.
View of Lake Tahoe from Emerald Bay. Photo: NASA/JPL

The lake’s largest city is South Lake Tahoe in California. On the Nevada side, Tahoe City is situated on the lake’s northwest shore.

Lake Tahoe’s Tributaries and Outlet

63 tributaries feed water into Lake Tahoe. The only outlet flows from Truckee River northeast through Reno, Nevada into Pyramid Lake.

Map of Lake Tahoe showing the 83 input tributaries and the one output (Truckee River). Map: Sahoo et al., 2011.
Map of Lake Tahoe showing the 83 input tributaries and the one output (Truckee River). Map: Sahoo et al., 2011.

More Geography Facts About Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is about two million years old and is known for its deep blue and clear water. The lake was designated  an “Outstanding National Resource Water” under the Clean Water Act.

Lake Tahoe’s surface temperature usually stays between 4.5 and 10 degrees Celsius (40-50 degrees Fahrenheit) during the winter and 18-21 degrees Celsius (65-70 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer.  The lake does not freeze over during the winter.

An astronaut onboard the International Space Station captured a view of Lake Tahoe, Walker Lake, and Mono Lake on December 3, 2020.

View of Lake Tahoe, Walker Lake, and Mono Lake.  Image: International Space Station/NASA.
View of Lake Tahoe, Walker Lake, and Mono Lake. Image: International Space Station/NASA.

References

Facts about Lake Tahoe. (2008, January 3). USGS. https://www.webcitation.org/5yfL00HSt?url=tahoe.usgs.gov/facts.html

Lake Tahoe basin Mgt unit – Learning center. (n.d.). US Forest Service. https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ltbmu/learning/?cid=stelprdb5109570

Less algae, not clearer water, keeps Tahoe blue. (2015, July 23). NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – Robotic Space Exploration. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/less-algae-not-clearer-water-keeps-tahoe-blue

Sahoo, G. B., Schladow, S. G., Reuter, J. E., & Coats, R. (2011). Effects of climate change on thermal properties of lakes and reservoirs, and possible implications. Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment25(4), 445-456. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00477-010-0414-z

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