Washoe Lake State Park is a popular area for hiking, biking, camping, boating, water sports, picnicking, equestrian activities and enjoying beautiful views of the nearby Sierra Nevada, Carson and Virginia Mountain Ranges. The park provides 8,053 acres divided nearly equally between land and water for year-round recreational use. Washoe Lake State Park is 18 miles south of Reno and five miles north of Carson City. Travel on U.S. 395, take the Eastlake Boulevard Exit and park entrances are on the west side of Eastlake Boulevard.
The name Washoe comes from the original inhabitants, the Washoe Indians. The tribe spent the winters as family groups in the lowlands of what is now Washoe Valley and summers at Lake Tahoe. They used the willows and cattails from the wetlands of Washoe Lake to make their elaborate baskets.
In 1859, the discovery of silver in the nearby Comstock Lode of Virginia City to the east brought thousands of miners, loggers and traders to the Valley. In the same year, Mormon settlers established a permanent settlement near Franktown, west of Washoe Lake.
The Ophir Mill was built on Washoe Lake’s west shore and was reached by an elevated causeway across the then Washoe Marsh. Washoe Valley saw other supply towns such as Washoe City, Ophir and Lakeview spring up in response to the mining activity nearby.
In 1872, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad began service through Washoe Valley, connecting Reno to Carson City. The V&T ran continuously until 1950. By the late 1870s the mining boom was over and the towns around Washoe Lake were all but abandoned. Those who remained behind turned to ranching and farming, gradually displacing the Washoe Indians from the Valley.
Washoe Lake State Park was established in 1977 to preserve a portion of scenic Washoe Valley for future generations to enjoy, with land and water-based recreation for all. In the wake of the rapidly expanding urbanization of nearby Carson City and Reno, the park is a true treasure to be protected.
Wetlands • For thousands of years, large portions of Washoe Lake were marshy areas called “wetlands,” lands where water is present all or part of the year. The Scripps Wildlife Management Area in the northern part of the lake and the Washoe Lake Wetland Project at the southern end make up most of Washoe Valley’s remaining wetlands. Both of these areas provide critical forage and nesting habitat for diverse populations of migratory birds and waterfowl. Bird checklists are available from Park Ranger.
Sand Dunes • The sand dunes of Washoe Lake formed gradually over thousands of years. As sediments eroded from nearby mountain ranges, they were carried by runoff into the lake. In drought years, the exposed sediments were blown by westerly winds across the valley where shoreline vegetation and natural ridges caught the sand. With each successive drought cycle, additional layers were deposited, eventually building the dunes. The dunes are extremely sensitive to human intrusion. Plant root systems that stabilize the dunes can be destroyed from excessive traffic. Please tread lightly and stay on established pathways.
Wildlife • Deer, coyotes, hawks, eagles and many other creatures common in the Great Basin are found throughout the park. The park is a bird watcher’s dream, playing host to migratory and resident species. Pelicans, great blue and night herons and white-faced ibis frequent the shore. Other common birds include mountain bluebirds, red winged blackbirds, magpies, rufous-sided towhees and killdeer. Reptiles are also well represented although rattlesnakes are seldom seen.
Hunting/Fishing • Hunting with shotgun only is permitted in specified areas during the hunting season – October through February. Both lakes contain channel catfish, bullheads, wipers, white bass and Sacramento Perch. Little Washoe, South Beach and North Ramp provide excellent shore fishing opportunities. Hunting zone maps are available at the ranger station. See Health Warning from Department of Wildlife on consumption of fish.
LOCATION & CLIMATE
Washoe Lake sits at an elevation of 5,029 feet just below the tree line in open sagebrush country. Being higher than Reno or Carson City, temperatures are typically five to ten degrees below those reported for the cities. Highs in the summer range from 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit with lows between 40 and 50 degrees. Winters bring freezing temperatures at night with daytime highs in the 30s to low 40s. Snow is possible but roads and facilities are plowed as needed.
Please join the majority of our visitors who maintain this area and preserve the fragile desert environment by observing these rules:
- Fires are permitted only in designated fire rings, barbecues or approved portable stoves. Firewood is available in the campground. Wood collecting is prohibited.
- Boating laws regulations are enforced by Park Rangers and the Nevada Division of Wildlife. Copies of the Nevada Boat Act Handbook are available from park staff.
- The collection of plants, trees, animals, fossils, natural objects and prehistoric and historic artifacts is prohibited. Please do not disturb or remove them.
- Motorized vehicles are permitted only on designated roadways and parking areas.
- Pets are permitted but must remain on a leash in developed areas of the park.
Visitors are responsible for knowing the park rules and regulations. Detailed copies are posted throughout the park and may be obtained at the park offices and entrance stations.
LEAVE NO TRACE
The Nevada Division of State Parks promotes Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
For more information visit www.lnt.org or see a park ranger.
FACILITIES AND SERVICES
- Day-use: Day-use areas are located at the Wetlands, South Beach, Main, North Ramp and Little Washoe. All areas have comfort stations and developed picnic sites. The Main area is the largest with lawns, sandy beach areas and shade trees.
- Camping: Camping is permitted only at the Main Area Campground, which has 49 sites, each with a table, grill and fire ring. The campground is open year around and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some sites are equipped with shade structures. Two comfort stations, one with a shower, are available. Several sites can hold RVs up to 45 feet in length. There are no hookups available, but a dump station is available. The camping limit is seven days in a 30-day period.
- Equestrian facilities: Equestrian areas are found at the Main Area and North Ramp. The Main Area facility includes restrooms and a covered barbecue area with tables, grill, sink, counter space, power, water and lighting. Camping is permitted for both tents and RVs with large parking areas for easy horse trailer access. This area can be reserved for groups of up to 200. The North Ramp facility is day use only and provides restrooms, parking, water and picnic tables.
- Group-use: The Group Area near the Main Day Use Area and Boat Launch can be reserved for both day and overnight use. Facilities include a covered pavilion, restrooms, 20 picnic tables, barbecue grills, power, lighting, sink, counters, a sandy volleyball court and horseshoe pits.
- Boating: Boat launching ramps and docks can be found in the Main Day Use Area and at North Ramp. Boat trailer parking sites are provided. No direct boating access is available at Little Washoe and use by motorized craft is not recommended.
- Hiking: Trails are available throughout the park for motorized and non-motorized uses. Non-motorized trails accommodate hikers, mountain bikers and equestrian riders. Motorized trails are limited to the Virginia Range east of the park. Maps are available at the park office and information kiosks throughout the park.
User fees are required at all times for any use of the park. Separate fees are collected for entrance, boating, camping and group use and are due upon entrance to the park. Posted pay stations can be found at all entrances.
The park headquarters is located off Eastlake Boulevard. just north of the Main Entrance. A Ranger Station is also located at North Ramp. Entrance Stations are at the Main Area, North Ramp and Little Washoe.