The Bodies of Water in Nevada

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

While much of Nevada consists of desert, the Silver State also features some of the largest natural and man-made lakes in the western United States. Many of these bodies of water are the primary water supply for Nevada's largest cities; the Gallinas River helps support Las Vegas' water needs, while Reno's major water source is the Truckee River. Most of Nevada's lakes and rivers are available for fishing and boating; though all fishermen must have a Nevada state-issued fishing license.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Located in southern Nevada, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, or LMNRA, is approximately 1.5 million acres and expands into Northeast Arizona. The largest body of water in the LMNRA, Lake Mead, is a 162,700-acre lake in the center of the park. The lake was created by the Hoover Dam, one of the largest such structures in the United States. The lake has several bay inlets on the Nevada side of the park, including Las Vegas Bay, Echo Bay and South Cove.

Reno Area

The northwest region of Nevada is home to large lakes, most notably Lake Tahoe. This lake has a surface area of 191 square miles, making it the largest alpine lake in North America. Lake Tahoe is at an elevation of over 6,200 feet, and is one of the deepest in the United States with a depth of ,645 feet. Other lakes in northwest Nevada include Pyramid Lake–a 125,000-acre natural lake less than an hour north of Reno–and Lahontan Reservoir, a 11,200-acre man-made lake. Lahontan Reservoir is in Lahontan State Recreation Area, located within two hours of Reno.


The longest river that flows through Nevada is the Colorado River. This 1,400-mile river passes through Lake Mead National Recreation Area at the southern tip of the state and marks the Nevada-Arizona border from Las Vegas Bay to near Laughlin, Nevada.

Three rivers in the Columbia River watershed–the Owyhee, Bruneau and Salmon Creek rivers–are in the northwest region of the state. These rivers are tributaries of the Snake River in southern Idaho.

The Great Basin, a large series of watersheds that spread throughout much of north and central Nevada, is home to the Truckee, Walker, Quinn, Humboldt and Carson rivers.

Other Bodies of Water

In north Nevada, tourists will find two natural lakes--Swan Lake and New Year Lake--near the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge. The Humboldt National Forest is home to the man-made Wild Horse Reservoir. The Ruby Mountains in northeast Nevada feature two wildlife refuges with lakes: the Franklin Lake Wildlife Management Area and Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Within 30 minutes of this area is the South Fork Reservoir at the South Fork State Recreation Area. Walker Lake–a 50-square-mile natural body of water–and Carson Lake are in central Nevada.

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