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Washoe Lake, along with the smaller Little Washoe Lakes, is located in western Nevada between Carson City and Reno. Nestled in peaceful Washoe Valley, the lake has stunning views of both the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Carson Range. The 8,053 acre Washoe Lake State Park was established in 1977 to preserve this scenic area from development, and today the park provides numerous recreational and educational opportunities at the lake.
Washoe Lake is named for some of the area's earliest inhabitants, the Washoe Indians. The tribe typically spent the winter in Washoe Valley, using willows and cattails from the wetlands of Washoe Lake to weave baskets and other useful items. They then migrated to the "Big Lake," Lake Tahoe, for the summer. But life in the area changed forever in 1859 with the discovery of silver in Virginia City to the east of the lake. That same year, Mormons established a settlement near Franktown on the west side of the lake, and thousands of newcomers came to Washoe Valley. Mills were built on the shores of Washoe Lake and Little Washoe Lake, the remnants of which can still be seen today. By the late 1870s the mines had run out, and the mining towns faded away. But many settlers remained to work the land of Washoe Valley, eventually replacing the Washoe Indians.
Washoe Lake receives water from Carson Range snowmelt and from several small creeks north and west of the basin. Lake waters drain into Steamboat Creek, which runs north into the Truckee River. The Marlette Water System diverts some of the water flowing into Big Washoe Lake to Carson City and Virginia City. A small dam at the north end of Little Washoe Lake controls the outflow to Steamboat Creek for downstream irrigation. Therefore, the surface area of Washoe Lake can vary considerably from year to year, depending on snowfall and rainfall.
The warm waters of Lake Washoe provide year-round fishing opportunities for anglers. The lake is stocked with channel catfish, bullhead, white bass, wipers, and Sacramento perch. Boat launches are available at the Main Area and North Ramp. Shore fishing is also popular, with the best access being at Little Washoe Lake, South Beach, and North Ramp. Anglers should be aware that there is currently a fish consumption advisory on white bass and carp, and the Nevada Division of Wildlife recommends not eating white bass caught from Washoe Lake or Little Washoe Lake, and limiting the consumption of carp caught at the lakes to no more than one meal per month.
Recreational boating is another favorite activity at the lake. Windsurfing, sailing, and kiteboarding are especially popular, as strong winds often blow down from the nearby mountains. The warm weather, wide beaches, and shallow waters all help to make Washoe Lake an ideal place for catching some waves. Power boats are also welcome at Washoe Lake, providing the opportunity for water skiing or jet skiing. Motor boats are not recommended at Little Washoe Lake.
Nature lovers will find plenty of ways to hit the trails at Washoe Lake State Park. Separate marked trails are designated for both motorized and non-motorized uses, making the park accessible for hiking, biking, horseback riding, or motorcycling. Equestrian areas are available at both the Main Area and North Ramp. When you are ready for a break from exploring, several day-use areas provide a place to picnic and relax. The largest of these, Main Area, has shade trees and sandy beaches as well as a campground with 49 campsites, each equipped with tables, grills, and fire rings.
There is a variety of wildlife to observe at Washoe Lake State Park. Deer, coyote, hawks, and eagles can all be spotted in the park, and hundreds of species of birds frequent the lake, including mountain bluebirds, red winged blackbirds, magpies, rufous sided towhees, and killdeer. At the southern edge of the park is a woodland area that is home to waterfowl. A viewing platform provides spectacular views of Washoe Lake, as well as nearby Slide Mountain, a 9,600 foot peak that is usually capped with snow. A pay-telescope mounted on the platform provides an up-close view of the marsh's wildlife; cranes, herons, pelicans, and egrets can often be spotted here.
No matter how you choose to enjoy the great outdoors, Washoe Lake is sure to please. Just as scenic as its larger cousin, Lake Tahoe--but much less crowded--Washoe Lake is the perfect place to plan your next outdoor adventure.
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