Lake Tahoe’s history involves a volcano, the Ice Age, and 101 years of not being called Tahoe

Dare we say it, Keep Tahoe Blue might be the most successful sticker branding ever. Not only do you see the sticker all across the state/country/world/universe, but there have been so many spin-offs we can’t keep track — Keep Truckee Green, Keep Squaw True, Keep Tahoe Smart, etc.

Lake Tahoe is famous world-wide, known for its clarity and ~iconic~ views. Folks living in the surrounding areas are extremely lucky to have regular access to this beauty.

When something is right in our backyards, we often forget or ignore its history. So we decided to scrounge some up for you. We did it for Pyramid Lake, and now we’re tuning in to Tahoe.

Tahoe, a History:

Did you know that Lake Tahoe was partially formed thanks to a volcano?! Yup, Mount Pluto, now extinct, erupted two million years ago, and its lava and mud flows dammed up the northern part of the lake. Other naturally occurring events, like shifting fault lines and passing glaciers (one of which mothered Emerald Bay!), also helped form the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The first people to live in the area were Native Americans of the Washoe tribe, still an important stronghold in the Truckee Meadows area today. The name Lake Tahoe itself comes from the Washoe language (known as Washo) word “dá’aw,” or “The Lake.”

John C. Fremont was the first recorded European-American to discover the lake, in early 1844. It wouldn’t be until 101 years later that Tahoe would be officially named Tahoe. During that time, the lake was dubbed Lake Bigler, after California’s third governor. (The lake was always known as Tahoe to the locals, though.)

Savage Silver Mining Works in Virginia City, 1867-1868. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

When silver was discovered in 1858 in nearby Virginia City, Tahoe became a transportation hub for the next 30ish years. Tahoe City, in fact, was created in 1864 as a resort community for those in VC.

Population really picked up after World War II, and Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960. Between 1960 and 1980, the residents around Tahoe picked up from 10,000 to over 50,000, with summer residents to approximately 90,000. Tahoe was in business.

And it has been in business ever since. Today, the lake and its surrounding forests and mountains provide recreational opportunities all year long.

Tahoe & the Truckee

Photo by Barbarajo Bloomquist

Tahoe is really special, and that means the Truckee River, its sole outlet, is just as important. About one-third of Tahoe’s water leaves via the river. The rest of the water flowing into the Truckee (and thus providing water to Reno, Sparks, and beyond) comes from tributaries and reservoirs.

The Truckee River outlet is at the northwest part of the lake, at Tahoe City, and passes through the Lake Tahoe Dam, constructed in 1913.

Love the Lake

Numerous organizations and agencies dedicated a large amount of time to loving and protecting Lake Tahoe. Most notable is Keep Tahoe Blue AKA the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

The League formed in 1957 when a plan to build a four-lane highway around the lake, plus a bridge over the Emerald Bay entrance was proposed. (It never happened, thank goodness.) The League has four main goals: combating pollution, promoting restoration, tackling invasive species, and protecting the shoreline.

Take Care Tahoe is another organization dedicated to keeping Tahoe clean.

There are a ton more organizations working to celebrate the majesty Lake Tahoe is. Make sure whenever you go, you’re using good etiquette both in the water and along its shores (these blog posts may talk about the Truckee River, but the takeaways are worldwide!).

Mystify Your Friends

Lastly, a few tidbits for you to chew on. Lake Tahoe is…

  • Among the world’s 20 oldest lakes
  • Deeper than the Empire State Building is tall
  • The largest alpine lake in North America
  • The second-deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake)
  • Many celebrities live or have lived around the shores (‘sup Aaron Rodgers?)
  • Home to a monster?
  • Unable to freeze over


Featured photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons