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Is Lake Tahoe Drying Up?

Is Lake Tahoe Drying Up?

Lake Tahoe has long been a popular year-round destination in the United States. Known for its mesmerizing natural beaches in the summer and alpine ski resorts in the winter, over 15 million tourists visit the lake each year. It also has some of the clearest waters in the world, serving as a lifeline to local communities.

However, the droughts in recent years have affected the lake’s water levels. Even though residents and environmental experts have become more concerned, is Lake Tahoe seriously at risk of disappearing soon? Let’s take a look.

Where Is Lake Tahoe?

Lake Tahoe sits high up in the Sierra Nevada, between California and Nevada. Located at 6,225 feet above historical sea level, it’s one of the highest lakes in the world. The area is roughly a half-hour drive from Carson City, Nevada’s state capital. Dozens of smaller communities surround the lake’s shores. Given Tahoe’s popularity, you can find many accommodation options, from primitive camping sites to five-star resorts.

Why Lake Tahoe Makes Our List of Top Places to RV in the U.S.

Is Lake Tahoe Drying Up?

Is the idyllic destination everyone loves at the risk of disappearing? Droughts have affected the region for the past few years, slowly changing the lake’s water levels. In fact, Lake Tahoe has experienced some of its driest years in over a century. So technically, yes the lake is drying, but only by a few feet. Fall 2022 saw some of the lowest water levels; however, the snowpack of winter 22/23 has helped the lake recover to almost full levels.

However, Scientists expect the global temperature to rise in the coming decades, worsening the problem. They predict the drought to persist in the western part of the United States until at least the end of the decade. If this is the case, expect the lake’s water levels to fall even further in the near future.

It is not expected that lake Tahoe will dry up or disappear like lake Mead or Powell. This is because the lake is not a reservoir and is not used as such. While there has been talk of using the water for the cities in California, it’s unlikely the lake will ever be drained this way as it would destroy an invaluable piece of nature.

graph of lake Tahoe water levels
As you can see from this graph lake Tahoe saw a many year drop until winter 22/23

Pro Tip: Does size matter? Uncover How Big Is Lake Tahoe before you visit.

What’s So Special About Lake Tahoe? 

Lake Tahoe is one of the most iconic destinations in the country, from its pure waters to its ecosystem. The area has 23 ski resorts and 11 state parks full of opportunities for you to enjoy the great outdoors. Nature lovers will also love that the Tahoe basin is home to almost 17 million trees, including pine, cedar, and fir species.

Furthermore, Tahoe’s rich history sets it apart from other places. For starters, it’s almost 2 million years old, making it one of the oldest lakes globally. The Washoe Native Americans were the first to settle near it and its surrounding lands, establishing fishing villages and mills. In fact, the name Tahoe originates from the Washoe word Da ow ga, meaning “lake.” 

Mom with baby in swaddle hiking
For hiking and camping enthusiasts, a trip to Lake Tahoe is a must.

Why Is the Lake So Blue?

Part of Tahoe’s charm is its transparent, deep blue waters. But why is the lake so blue in the first place? The clear waters absorb red light and reflect the blue color. But that’s not all.

According to researchers, the lake’s blue water comes from the low concentration of algae, especially in warmer seasons or droughts. During winter, algae have more precipitation and nutrients available, which might explain why the lake looks less blue.

Scenic view looking out over Lake Tahoe
Unfortunately, Lake Tahoe is losing more and more water each year due to droughts.

What Are the Effects of Lake Tahoe Losing Water?

Lake Tahoe losing more water would devastate thousands of species and local communities that need it to survive. Neighboring rivers get their water from the lake. But with droughts lowering Tahoe’s water levels, many of these tributaries aren’t being refilled. This issue has prevented salmon from spawning in previous years and signifies that the ecosystem is changing fast. 

Aside from the changing landscape, Lake Tahoe running out of water will hurt the local tourism industry that relies on the lake. You can already start to see certain boat ramps that couldn’t open last summer because of the low water levels. If this continues, many resorts and other recreational businesses may close in the future. 

Pro Tip: Thinking about boat camping on Lake Tahoe? Check out our guide Boat Camping 101: How to Enjoy the Best Campsite on the Lake.

Can You Swim in Lake Tahoe?

Yes, you can swim in Lake Tahoe’s crisp waters. You’ll find countless other water activities to enjoy on the lake, too, such as waterskiing, boating, and sailing. However, the water can be chilly. If the colder water isn’t your thing, you can pick one of the many resorts offering indoor and outdoor pools for year-round swimming. 

Woman doing yoga on a rock in front of Lake Tahoe
Soak up the natural beauty and picturesque surroundings of Lake Tahoe.

Is It Always Cold?

Lake Tahoe is always cold, but the water’s surface temperature does rise during summer. Temperatures range from roughly 40 degrees in the winter to a more pleasant 70 degrees in the summer. Since many visitors aren’t used to cold water, their bodies may experience shock when going in for the first time. If this is you, always follow basic safety precautions if you decide to swim.   

What Is the Best Month to Go to Lake Tahoe? 

Lake Tahoe is accessible and full of things to do year-round. It ultimately comes down to what you want to do during your visit. June through August are the most popular times to swim in the lake, but most places will be packed with visitors.

Always book your accommodations early if you plan to visit during the high season. You’ll find perfect hiking weather and fewer crowds during spring and fall. Winter enthusiasts should visit from November to March, when ski resorts come alive and offer plenty of winter activities.

A Road Trip to Lake Tahoe, California, in an RV

Is Lake Tahoe Worth Visiting?

There is no doubt that droughts and climate change are affecting Lake Tahoe’s landscape. But this destination is a place that still offers endless natural beauty, history, and plenty of activities to keep you busy. Enjoy its ski slopes in the winter or swim in its deep blue waters in summer. If you want to see even more of the picturesque surroundings, you can trek one of the numerous trails in the nearby area. 

After your trip to Lake Tahoe, take your RV south and explore Yosemite National Park. Start with these 7 Easy Hikes in Yosemite That Anyone Can Enjoy.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Steve H

Tuesday 27th of June 2023

The surface elevation of natural Lake San Cristobal in SW Colorado is 9,003'. It was formed ~700 years ago by the huge Slumgullion Earthflow blocking the channel of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. The Gunnison is Cklorado's largest tributary of the Colorado River.

Connie

Monday 26th of June 2023

It's so beautiful and amazing to travel through it. Would love to visit it one day

Christine

Sunday 25th of June 2023

Lake Tahoe is beautiful,but the drought over the years is destroying lakes.

Davjd

Sunday 20th of August 2023

@Christine, why do you say things you have no idea what you are talking about??? In fact right now the lake is the fullest it has been in many many years. More than I can remember and I have lived here 35 years. Don’t believe the media.