Every spring people wait eagerly for the Truckee River to fill with runoff from the snow-covered mountains. Once the river is healthy, it’s rafting season!
The Truckee River is much more than a place of recreation, though. It is the only outlet from Lake Tahoe. The lake is more than 70 miles around and is about 1,000 feet deep in places, yet there’s only one way any water flows out.
This single outflow contrasts with dozens of creeks and waterfalls going into the lake as snow melts. The largest and most picturesque of these is Eagle Falls, above Emerald Bay. Healthy snowfall the last 2 years makes for tumbling, roaring falls.
The Lake Tahoe Dam
The Truckee River owes its water to the Lake Tahoe Dam. Opened in 1913, the dam controls the top six feet of water in Lake Tahoe. It’s 17 gates are opened to let water out, and this is what forms the Truckee River. A Gatekeeper lived here for decades, but now the operation is controlled remotely by computer. You will see a differing number of these gates open if you come by on more than one visit.
In front of the dam in Tahoe City is a bridge where people often stop and lean over to look at this fascinating river. Picture the people leaning and looking down to water and you’ll see how the name “Fanny Bridge” came about!
In back of the dam is a forest area where you can picnic or rest after your walk along the trail. We were there on a hot day, so a sit-down in the shade was welcome. The views from here are so peaceful.
You can also walk along the back of the concrete dam, where the Bureau of Reclamation helpfully provides old photos and a written history of the dam. You can compare water levels year by year. The last two years have boasted a stellar amount of snowfall and water, coming after a year of extreme drought. We were at the Truckee River 3 years ago and walked across a totally dry riverbed. It’s heartwarming to see the river flowing along again.
This winding path along the river is paved-over railway tracks on the train route between the town of Truckee and Tahoe City, which is on the northern edge of Lake Tahoe. The path is open to bikers and walkers. You can ride for about 8 miles round trip with no steep mountain hills to battle. You’ll be afforded constant views of the flowing river while riding among the tall pines. We packed a lunch and then enjoyed a picnic sitting on rocks about a foot from the rushing water.
If you have time, also plan a visit to the charming old town of Truckee, with its railway depot, bookstores, and cafes.
How about you? What’s your favorite lake or river getaway?