Summer at the Lake
In the summer, Lake Tahoe turns into a playground for people around the world. Surrounded by vast hiking and camping opportunities, the lake is often scattered with sailboats, paddle boarders, swimmers, and beach goers during the day. At night, there are outdoor concerts, plays, and plenty of other nightlife at the local casinos that offer lodging and entertainment. Beyond the casinos, Tahoe boasts an active and eclectic community living around its shores, from shopping boutiques to family-owned diners. Farther from civilization, tent and trailer camping abound, as well as cabin and vacation rentals. Summers at Tahoe are a quintessential part of the lives of locals and visitors alike.
“On the lake enjoying, there is boating, sailing, paddle boating…just the reactions around shores, just…the scenery, hiking…it’s just a beautiful lake.”
“The water in Lake Tahoe could cover a flat area the size of California to a depth of 14 inches. This is enough to supply everyone in the United States with 50 gallons of water per day for 5 years; the amount of water that evaporates from the surface of Lake Tahoe every year could supply a city the size of Los Angeles for 5 years….There are 63 streams that flow into Lake Tahoe and only one, the Truckee River that flows out into Pyramid Lake. Unlike most bodies of water in North America, Tahoe’s water never reaches the ocean.”
-Keep Tahoe Blue
Lake Tahoe has a rich history of boating. Sailboats and motorboats are an important part of Tahoe’s past and culture, and there is a large community of boat racers who frequented Tahoe while it hosted world-renowned boat races. When these motorized boats were found to be contributing to the pollution of the lake, many races were retired, and carbureted two-stroke engines were banned in order to preserve the clarity of the lake. This greatly changed the boat racing community in Lake Tahoe. According to David Breuner, “So, the biggest change in the boating scene in Lake Tahoe has to do with the outlaw of two-cycle motors, two-stroke motors, which occurred, I want to say, around ten or fifteen years ago. And now you can only have a four-cycle engine, which burns cleaner: it causes less pollution.” To read more about environmental issues associated with boating, visit our Environment Page.
“In the mid-1890’s a flotilla of raised bow double-enders, arrow nosed, pencil beamed, tassel tops, high windowed marine barouches, low-lying fantailed speedsters and palatial, multi-crewed yachts, made their debut on Tahoe. Designed by a barrel maker and qualified marine architect alike, they were powered with slow-turning gasoline burning monstrosities, storage batteries and naphthene ‘Coughers’.” –Edward B. Scott
The technologies of early racing boats were groundbreaking advancements during the time the boats were built. Mostly made of wood, particularly mohagony, and with basic internal combustion engines, these vehicles were impressive at the time, reaching speeds up to 70 mph. These earlier racing boats were replaced with Aluminum when racing began to gain traction in Tahoe during the early 20th Century.
“Speedboat drivers, familiar with Tahoe racing, said it [Hornet II’s 6-mile course time] was the fastest time ever recorded in the Tahoe regatta. Kaiser’s wife was co-pilot in the new 600-hp streamlined Hornet II.”
-Tahoe Tattler, page 1, August 11, 1939
According to the Tahoe Maritime Museum, boat racing in Lake Tahoe exploded during the 1920s and its popularity grew through the later twentieth century: “the Tahoe Yacht Club [was] formed in 1925 to ‘promote sociability, power boating and other aquatic sports and good sportsmanship on Lake Tahoe,’ and [was] one of the original organizations to formally sponsor boat racing on the Lake.” Along with popularity came the explosion of technological advancements in both material and engines. Aluminum came into popularity as an industrial tool during the early 1930s and was used as the primary material to construct the racing boats because of the increased strength, as well as the decreased weight it provided the boat. Before World War II, boats were desperately trying to reach and maintain 100 mph. After, boats were focusing more on safety and the protection of the racer since they could easily reach speeds over 180 mph. One of the earliest legends of Tahoe racing is the Hornet II, a Gar Wood designed racing boat that was at its prime in the 1930’s where it often dominated the Tahoe races. Its supremacy at Lake Tahoe was only overshadowed by its owner, a very wealthy American industrialist named Henry J. Kaiser, who had a desire to dominate Tahoe racing and a deep passion for boat engineering. Kaiser and his Hornet II are extremely decorated in the Tahoe racing scene, acquiring 30 trophies and 18 Lake Championships Series in Lake Tahoe races. As well as a decorated winner outside of Lake Tahoe, Hornet II came in first 4 years in a row at Chambers Championship racing.
As boat racing became more accessible, it became a popular pastime of families. Junior boat racing leagues were popular, as well as adult boat racing leagues. Many of our interviewees experienced this boat racing culture during the 1960s and 1970s, and look back fondly on their memories in boat racing.
“I can remember standing on the edge of the pier when a 1940’s Chris Craft wooden boat might come along and I would look so longingly and bogglingly I’d probably get offered a ride. I was boat crazy, I was born that way I think. Racing was something I would look forward to every year. It was just again, in my blood.” -Marshall Kraus, original owner of Orange Crate
“There are Tahoe boat legends, which were known and famous around the region; one of the more popular and cherished legends is the Orange Crate. Marshall Kraus dreamed of a boat and he made it a reality when he ordered, as well as designed, Orange Crate to his particular needs and specifications. “Orange Crate is a 1964 Besotes single cockpit 21- foot custom built race boat. It is powered by the original 425 HP 8 cylinder Ford engine, a rare Hi-Riser NASCAR edition. Specially built for racing in Lake Tahoe, it is one of only three single cockpit 21’s built by Besotes in Stockton, California. It is uniquely different with its lower profile, 9½ foot front deck and V-drive configuration….Along with its technological prowess, Orange Crate is one of the most decorated boats in Tahoe history and remains remembered by boat racing enthusiasts. Orange Crate earned 19 trophies from 1964 through 1975 in the annual Tahoe Yacht Club Regatta. She was retired in 1976 and returned to Lake Tahoe in 1993. She has spent every summer of her active life at Lake Tahoe and has never raced in any other waters.” -Edward Scott, current owner of Orange Crate
“That’s why it has become a little bit legendary if I may say…people would always marvel at the way it came through turns and the way it handled, the way it looked and all of that stuff. Really! I think I belonged to Orange Crate more than Orange Crate belonged to me.” -Marshall Kraus, original owner of Orange Crate
Junior Outboard League
“Everybody had a little boat with an outboard motor. And it was decided, boy it sure would be fun if the kids could have a structured event and we could get little trophies like a ribbon or something like that. So I held up my hand, I guess that’s the way it started.”
Marshall Kraus helped organize the Junior Outboard Racing Program in order to give the children of the community a fun venue to race boats and compete; according to David Breuner, “the Junior Outboard Racing Program was designed to appeal to kids of all ages,” and Clay Breuner remembers this program as also inclusive of girls and young women: “my little baby sisters, they raced 5 horse outboards in dinghies. And that was pretty cute. So they weren’t going too fast, but they were pretty little. And they did the same course [as the boys], for quite a while. But girls were included….So it wasn’t just a boy’s club.” Young boys and girls growing up in and around a boating community in Tahoe had the opportunity to become acclimated to a boating lifestyle: David Breuner remembers that “kids that spent their summers in Tahoe learned to operate the little dinghies at an early age,” and these experiences likely inspired more interest in the Junior Outboard Racing Program. This kind of inclusion and community-based sport gave children growing up around Lake Tahoe an exciting, family-based organization in which to participate.
“I loved the boat, I loved the speed, I loved the fun of it, and I loved the camaraderie with all of us. And it was really a fun thing to do with my parents—with my dad—he was really a terrific supporter of us.”
David and Clay Breuner were participants in this program, and in their interviews they recall their experiences fondly. David Breuner remembers his feelings of excitement before racing: “The night before every race, I’d get those butterflies in my stomach. And it would be like Christmas Eve trying to go to sleep at night and it’d be hard to go to sleep because you’re thinking about your race the next morning.”
“And just being able to have that experience and that freedom on the most beautiful lake in the world, I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than that. ”
Beyond recreational opportunities surrounding its water, Tahoe is known to locals and visitors alike for its hiking and camping experiences. With over 20 campgrounds in the Lake Tahoe Basin including municipal, state, federal and privately run facilities, there are countless options for families to explore the area and enjoy the scenery and hiking trails.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.”
-John Muir, The Mountains of California
The Tahoe Rim Trail is one of the most famous hiking trails in the United States. It is 165 miles long, and is open to hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. It crosses six counties and two states, and has camping spots along the trail.
“When I was younger, like seven, we’d go to the beach — you know mom and dad would be at the beach and we’d take off and go hike in the hills.”
Hiking trails are maintained and have recently been repaired; locals and Forest Service officials take the preservation of Tahoe’s trails very seriously. “Forest Service trail crews have located and rehabbed a number of user-created trails in the last few months, and individuals have received notices of violation for constructing trails without a permit. This Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 6 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Trail builders can also be held responsible for the costs of rehabbing their damage.” -SoCal Trail Riders
“Three months of camp life on Lake Tahoe would restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor, and give him an appetite like an alligator. I do not mean the oldest and driest mummies, of course, but the fresher ones.”
-Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872
Lake Tahoe has opportunities for tent and trailer camping in abundance. Many of our interviewees recalled their early and recent experiences of camping at Tahoe with their families.
“Large numbers of campers have pitched their tents in the vicinity of Yank’s and McKinney’s” –Reno Evening Gazette, “Brevities,” August 1, 1887
On tent camping: “It’s cozy without being in a giant metal box, you’re closer to nature.” -Gabrielle Smith
On trailer camping: “Sure beats sleeping on the ground, let the kids use the tents, I’ll keep my nice foam bed.” -David Williams