While Lake Tahoe is one of the premier lakes in the Sierra, it is far from the only one. The Sierra Nevada is filled with hundreds of lakes and reservoirs that make boating and other water activities a popular pastime throughout the vast mountain range.
Locally, among the most visited bodies of water outside of Lake Tahoe are Donner Lake and Boca, Stampede and Prosser Creek Reservoirs.
Donner Lake is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, and can get crowded on the weekends. But, you’ll find it a fantastic spot to put in for a glorious day of cruising. Donner Lake is less than 3 miles long and about three-quarters of a mile wide, giving boaters, kayakers, water skiers and wake boarders lots of room to spread out and have fun.
Donner Lake is mostly residential area with a mix of locals, vacationers and second homeowners. The north shore is home to Donner State Memorial Park, the boat launch, Donner Lake Marina and what few services there are.
From Truckee, take Donner Pass Road, which runs along the north shore. You’ll find the public boat launch near the west end of the lake. If you want to stock up before hitting the water, stop at Sticks Market or enjoy breakfast or lunch at one of the area’s best eateries – Donner Lake Kitchen (I’m addicted to the Hot Flour Tortilla, which is Huevos Rancheros without the eggs and the Bloody Marys). You’ll also want to stop at the Little Truckee Ice Creamery across from the boat launch for artisan ice creams.
All boat traffic on Donner Lake is counter-clockwise and the speed limit on the lake is 35 mph from sunrise to sunset; it drops to 10 mph from sunset to sunrise. The speed is 5 mph near beaches and swimming areas. There are no fuel or pump services on the lake.
What the lake does have in abundance is public piers – there are 37 public piers on the north shore. You can use them to sunbath or picnic, but be courteous of private piers. Also, the only restrooms are at the boat launch or Shoreline Park, which is about midway on the north shore and can be reached from the beach. And, there are no public piers on the other shores.
Boca, Stampede and Prosser Creek reservoirs are great places to visit for a day on the water just outside Truckee. They also offer many camping options, so you can plan a prolonged trip to these area waterways. And, there are no launch fees on any of the reservoirs. However, there are no services near the reservoirs, so stock up in Truckee.
Prosser Creek Reservoir, the smallest of the three, is closed to powerboats and personal watercraft. The speed limit is 10 mph, making it a great spot for fishermen. From Truckee, take Highway 89 to Prosser Dam Road. You can launch from several unimproved locations.
“The Sierra Nevada is filled with hundreds of lakes and reservoirs.”
Boca Reservoir is the most easily and quickly accessible from Interstate 80. You can take the Hirschdale exit or continue on the dirt road from Prosser Dam Road off Highway 89 North.
The Boca area was once a booming industrial area providing ice to railcars carrying goods to the east and lumber to the gold and silver mines from the mid-1860s. There was also a former town near the present-day reservoir and the area was home to the Boca Brewery.
Today, Boca is a favorite spot for personal watercraft and ski boats. There are about 14 miles of shoreline with the depth ranging from 50 to 80 feet, with the deepest part near the dam. You can reach the paved boat ramp by taking Boca Lake Road off Hirschdale Road and crossing the dam.
There’s a 45 mph speed limit on Boca from sunrise to sunset, and only 10 mph from sunset to sunrise. In the coves, the speed limit is 5 mph.
The largest of the trio is Stampede Reservoir, located a few miles north on Hirschdale/Stampede Road. With about 25 miles of shoreline, the amoeba-shaped reservoir has lots of coves, inlets and spots to get away from the crowds. Stampede averages 90 to 120 feet of depth.
There’s a 45 mph speed limit on Stampede from sunrise to sunset, and only 10 mph from sunset to sunrise. There’s a 5 mph limit within 200 feet of the boat ramp, near moored boats, swimmers and the swimming beach.
Access is limited to Stampede while the dam is being raised, so public access is along Hobart Mills and Dog Valley Road through October 2018.
Editor’s Note: The Tahoe Weekly is exploring Lake Tahoe and other area waterways from a boater’s perspective throughout the summer. Find other boating features at TheTahoeWeekly.com. Click on Boating & Sailing under the Out & About tab.