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What’s at the Bottom of Lake Tahoe?

Have you heard the rumors about the strange things people have found at the bottom of Lake Tahoe? According to stories, it’s an underwater graveyard for mobsters and may be the hiding place for an elusive sea monster.

Are these tall tales, or does this deep, scenic lake hold dark secrets? Thankfully, teams of divers have gone to great depths to get to the bottom of these and other mysteries.

Let’s see what they found!

Where Is Lake Tahoe? 

One of the world’s deepest lakes, Lake Tahoe straddles the shared boundary of California and Nevada.

It’s on the eastern edge of Tahoe National Forest in the northern part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It’s about 37 miles south of Reno, Nevada.

How Was Lake Tahoe Formed?

One of the many misconceptions surrounding Lake Tahoe is its origin. Many people assume that, like many other alpine lakes, glaciers formed it. Others believe the deep lake bed is a volcanic crater.

In truth, according to the U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe is a result of shifting faults.  The same movements of the earth that gave rise to the Sierra Nevada mountains created a vast basin. Lava flow from volcano eruptions blocked one end, eventually filling it with rainfall and snowmelt.

Clear view of Lake Tahoe
Many visitors love splashing about the clear waters of Lake Tahoe.

What’s So Special About Lake Tahoe?

Besides being so deep, Lake Tahoe is unusually cold and is one of the clearest lakes in the world.

In fact, the lake’s clarity is something of a marvel and is the subject of frequent study. Experts say the geological makeup and soil types play a big part, but so do the low temperatures. Algae don’t grow easily in frigid waters, so you don’t find the greenish hue you see in many other lakes.

At one time, the Forest Service says, you could see an object up to 100 feet underwater in Lake Tahoe. Sadly, the clarity has diminished because of pollution, but you can still see about 80 feet down.

How Deep Is the Bottom of Lake Tahoe? 

Nobody knows how deep Lake Tahoe is, but its lowest measured depth is 1,645 feet. The average depth for the 191-square-mile lake is about a thousand feet.

According to the Forest Service, it’s the third-deepest lake in the U.S. and the 10th-deepest worldwide.

Pro Tip: Get the inside scoop on The Dirty Truth of Lake Tahoe Camping.

Family walking around Lake Tahoe
From bodies to a possible shipwreck, there are many spooky sites at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.

What’s at the Bottom of Lake Tahoe?

A common belief about Lake Tahoe is that the Mafia used it as a burial ground for unfortunate rivals. This happened, presumably, in the area’s early days as a casino destination. Another story involves alleged sightings of a large aquatic creature that locals christened Tahoe Tessie.

So far, no concrete evidence supports either of these lingering rumors. Divers exploring the depths have found some exciting things, however. Besides the typical cans and bottles and lost fishing gear, here are a few of their other findings.


Maybe it’s simply big fish that explain Tahoe’s version of the Loch Ness Monster. The lake is home to many game fish species, including bass, perch, catfish, and several kinds of trout. Another underwater creature is the bottom-dwelling sturgeon, which can reach up to 12 feet long.


While there’s no evidence of foul play, divers have found human remains over the years. One memorable incident happened in September 2020 when authorities recovered the body of a 29-year-old drowning victim. With the aid of sonar, they located the body on the lake’s bottom, more than 1,500 feet below the surface.


Sadly, there’s lots of pollution, too, including plastics and many other kinds of trash. To study the effects of plastics and other pollutants, cleanup crews have gathered nearly 25,000 pounds of trash. Rather than immediately hauling it to a landfill, they’ve carefully logged it. They separated it according to the type of material and the exact location they found it.

Possible Shipwreck

The bottom of Lake Tahoe is also the last resting place for old ships. While some may have sunk accidentally, most sank deliberately after falling into disrepair. (This is a practice called scuttling.) A 19th Century steamship, the SS Tahoe, is probably the most famous of these underwater vessels.

Springtime in Lake Tahoe
The waters of Lake Tahoe store many secrets below the surface.

Do Bodies Stay Preserved in Lake Tahoe?

On those few occasions when authorities recovered bodies, they were struck by their almost pristine condition. In one case, the body of a drowned diver showed no signs of decomposition after being underwater for 17 years.

Experts say the cold water temperatures are the main reason bodies are preserved underwater in Lake Tahoe. They eventually deteriorate, but more slowly than in warmer waters. This is because the bacteria that accelerate composition are more active at higher temperatures.

Pro Tip: Learn more about how Bodies Really Sink in Lake Tahoe.

How Cold Is Lake Tahoe?

Lake Tahoe isn’t freezing, but it’s close to it in places for parts of the year.

Historically, average water temperatures dip as low as 39 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. They only rise as high as 73 in the summer.

However, these are averages. The deeper you go, the colder it gets, and temperatures drop quickly and dramatically.

Can You Swim in Lake Tahoe?

You might think you love taking a plunge in chilly waters, but you must be careful in Lake Tahoe. It can be dangerous, making breathing hard or even causing a heart attack in extreme cases.

The safest, most comfortable conditions for swimming are at the peak of summer when the waters are warmest. Remember that the temperatures are usually warmer in shallower waters close to the shore. If you want to brave these chilly waters, shoot for late July to the end of August.

Is Lake Tahoe Worth Visiting? 

Thankfully, there’s plenty to do in Lake Tahoe besides going for a swim. This has been a popular resort area for over a century for many good reasons.

The mountain lake has breathtaking beauty. While the waters are usually quite cold, the area has nearly 300 days of sunshine a year.

Besides year-round recreation opportunities, Lake Tahoe is a worthy destination for dining and shopping. It’s a place where you can enjoy a luxurious vacation while still being closely connected to nature.

Do you believe any of the rumors about Lake Tahoe? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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