Tahoe National Forest | Nevada

The Tahoe National Forest is one of eighteen National Forests in California. The forest is located in eastern California, straddling the north central Sierra Nevada mountains, between Reno, Nevada and Sacramento, California. Interstate 80 bisects the Forest. The Tahoe National Forest straddles the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern California and encompasses a vast territory, from the golden foothills on the western slope to the high peaks of the Sierra crest. The forest is bordered on the north by the Plumas National Forest, on the south by the Eldorado National Forest, on the east by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. On the western border are the foothills above the great Sacramento Valley. The Forest Headquarters is located in Nevada City, California, with District Offices in Foresthill, Camptonville, Sierraville and Truckee. During the summer months and during part of the winter, a Visitor Center is open at Big Bend, 20 miles west of Truckee on Interstate 80.

The Tahoe National Forest lands range from an elevation of 1,500 feet in the American River canyon on the western edge of the forest to over 9,400 feet on top of Mt. Lola, along the Sierra Crest. The forest is renowned for its rugged beauty, outstanding downhill and cross country ski opportunities, historic sites and exceptionally productive timber lands.

History & Culture

Transportation routes and development are major factors in the cultural history of the Tahoe National Forest. To some people, the history of the area begins with the wagons of pioneer emigrants, crossing Donner Pass on their way to California. However, human use and occupancy of what is now the Tahoe National Forest goes back many thousands of years. Peoples of the Washoe and Nisenan tribes and their predecessors utilized these lands for food, water and recreation. Many of the routes we travel today across the Forest have been used for thousands of years. The first large influx of emigrants from the United States came into the area began in the 1840’s, crossing the mountains in covered wagons toward a better life in Mexican California. Donner Pass, the main emigrant route, was named after the ill-fated Donner Party, who wintered in 1846-47 at camps near the present day Truckee.

The Gold Rush of 1849 resulted in a veritable flood of emigrants seeking their fortunes in California and many of them prospected the lands of the Tahoe. Many of the foothill towns, such as Foresthill, Nevada City, Downieville, Sierra City and others, date from Gold Rush days and there are many reminders of those times throughout the Forest. All historic and archaeological sites are protected under federal and state law.

Between 1862 and 1868, the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad was constructed over the Sierra Nevada at Donner Pass by the Central Pacific Railroad, meeting the tracks of the Union Pacific on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point Utah. The trans-Sierra route remains a remarkable engineering feat, with roadbed built into granite walls, bridges that cross deep gorges and tracks that pass through a series of tunnels and snow sheds as they cross the mountains. This rail link with the rest of the United States enabled gold and agricultural products from California to be easily shipped east, as well as bringing manufactured goods and even more settlers west, which fueled the rapid growth of the Golden State. Products such as lumber, agricultural goods, automobiles, imports from overseas and products destined for export continue to be shipped over this route today.

The rugged beauty of this route makes it one of the most scenic passenger routes in the United States and the towns of Truckee and Colfax have Amtrak stops adjacent to the National Forest. Today’s Interstate 80 is roughly parallel to the railroad and travels the same basic route that people have taken for thousands of years.

The first coast to coast highway, the Lincoln Highway, crossed the Sierra Nevada on its way from New York City to San Francisco, roughly following the route of today’s Interstate 80. In this area, the Lincoln Highway was actively maintained between approximately 1913 and 1930, when it was replaced by US 40. This highway was, in turn, replaced by today’s Interstate 80 in the mid-1960’s. Portions of old 40 and the Lincoln Highway in the Big Bend-Donner Lake area are still open as a scenic route during the summer months.

Timber harvest and mineral extraction began on these lands along with the first influx of settlers and continue to be important parts of the local economy; however, outdoor recreation and ecotourism has become another one of the major economic influences across the forest and visitors from all over the world travel to this area for camping, hiking, fishing, skiing, sightseeing and other recreation opportunities.

Traveler Facts

Contact Information
Tahoe National Forest
631 Coyote Street
Nevada City, CA 95959
Phone: 530-265-4531

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