Dennis Cassinelli: History of Washoe Lake State Park

Washoe Lake State Park is a year-round public recreation area occupying 3,775 acres on the southeast shore of Washoe Lake in Washoe County.

When full, Washoe Lake occupies much of Washoe Valley, a region of historical interest and great scenic beauty. Washoe Lake relies on runoff from the east slope of the Sierra Nevada to maintain a reasonable water level. A few times during periods of drought, the lake has become mostly dry, but the State Park remains open even during dry years. On years when the lake is full of water, the Nevada Department of Wildlife stocks the water with catfish, white bass and other species of fish. When my kids were younger, we caught several catfish at the lake. Fishing is best in late spring, early summer, and early fall. Usually, late afternoon is the best time in the spring and fall, while the best fishing in summer occurs at night when the water temperatures tend to cool.

The park, located at 4855 Eastlake Blvd., has a campground, boat launches, group use area, day-use picnic sites and equestrian trailhead. A wetlands area with a viewing tower and interpretive displays is a new addition to the park. The park is located 10 miles north of Carson City and 15 miles south of Reno. Take U.S. 395 north to the East Lake Boulevard exit, than drive north on East Lake Boulevard approximately 3.1 miles to the park entrance. From Reno, take 395 south to the Eastlake Boulevard intersection, turn left, and drive south on Eastlake Boulevard for 7.1 miles to the park entrance.

The Washoe Indians used Washoe Lake and Washoe Valley for their winter home rather than spending winters at Lake Tahoe, their summer home. During the Comstock mining days, white settlers arrived and established farms ranches, mills and the community of Franktown in the valley. Silver processing mills, logging operations and residences including Bowers Mansion developed on the western side of the valley. A wooden causeway was constructed across Washoe Lake for wagon access to Jumbo Grade and Virginia City. In 1879 the V.&T. Railroad was constructed between Reno and Carson along the west side of the Lake.

Several years ago, an acquaintance of mine was illegally searching for artifacts on the east shore of Washoe Lake, when he discovered a Native American Indian burial. Please be aware that removal or disturbance of any such material from a State Park is strictly prohibited.

Wind surfing is occasionally done on Washoe Lake, due to the constant Washoe Zephyrs. Ice sailing races were a popular sport on the frozen lake in the winter in the early 1900s.

John Wayne and Lauren Bacall starred in the 1976 movie, “The Shootist.” In the movie, which was filmed in Carson City, there’s a scene where John Wayne takes Lauren Bacall on a buggy ride to the nearby north shore of Washoe Lake. It’s in a tree-lined section of the shoreline which is a part of the Washoe Lake State Park.

This article is by Dayton author and historian, Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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