Washoe Lake State Park

Nestled in the spectacularly scenic Washoe Valley, Washoe Lake State Park is a great destination—or even outdoor basecamp—when exploring Nevada’s capital city, Virginia City, or Reno. Diverse outdoor adventure surrounding Washoe Lake abounds, especially for windsurfing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, camping, and wildlife watching. Washoe Valley is also home to a band of Nevada’s iconic wild horses who roam freely throughout the region surrounding the Virginia City and Lake Tahoe foothills. Keep an eye out for migrating birds and raptors of all kinds who have made these lakes near Reno a pitstop along their flyways for thousands of years. 

Be sure to pack your camera and binoculars: You can’t take a bad picture of this sweeping, high desert valley where the pine-studded Sierra Nevada spills into the Great Basin.

Early Days In Washoe Valley

“Washoe,” the namesake of this valley and state park, derives from the Washoe American Indians—the first occupants of the area. Retreating to higher, cooler elevations at nearby Lake Tahoe in the summer months, the tribe moved down into lower elevations at Washoe Valley during wintertime. As European explorers made their way West, mining establishments popped up throughout the region, particularly after the discovery of gold in nearby Dayton and the unparalleled Comstock Lode silver strike in Virginia City. Still-standing remnants can still be seen of the 1872-built ophir mill that processed some of these discoveries on Washoe Lake’s west shoreline, not far from where the famed Virginia & Truckee Railroad lines closed the gap between Reno and Carson City.

Once the mining boom subsided and prospectors had moved on to the next opportunity, those who stuck around turned to ranching and farming, taking full advantage of the lush, marshy landscape this part of Washoe County has delivered for centuries.

Washoe Lake Picnic
Washoe Lake Picnic
Washoe Lake Windsurfers
Washoe Lake Windsurfers

Visiting Washoe Lake State Park Today

In an effort to preserve this spectacularly unique wetland in the middle of Nevada’s Great Basin, Washoe Lake State Park was established in 1977, protecting the area for generations to come. When visiting the park today, explore the wetlands, sand dunes, and boundless wildlife spotting opportunities—particularly wild horses and a vast diversity of raptors. The protected Virginia Herd of wild horses is known to linger in the valley, and countless songbirds, hawks and other large birds of prey depend on the lake as a resting place along their migration routes. Be sure to also keep your eyes peeled for deer, reptiles, and even a coyote or two.

Washoe Lake Fishing
Washoe Lake Fishing

Hiking trails can be found throughout the park. For anglers, the lake is home to a mixture of naturally reproducing and stocked bullhead catfish, wipers, brown trout, white bass, and Sacramento Perch. Little Washoe Lake—a smaller, separate body of water (except in heavy rain years) to the north of Washoe Lake State Park—delivers amazing shore fishing opportunities, too. Equestrian areas can be found throughout the park, and for a taste of what Mark Twain detailed in his Nevada-centric tome, Roughing It, head for the sand dunes to watch windsurfers and paragliders who come from all over to ride the now-legendary winds known as “Washoe Zephyrs.” Just don’t bring your cows (read the book and you’ll get it).

Washoe Lake State Park also hosts numerous special events throughout the year. View their calendar for the latest and greatest opportunities to learn about regional wildlife, enjoy stellar stargazing, and more. For details on hunting at Washoe Lake, visit Nevada State Park’s website.

Washoe Lake State Park Campgrounds

Get the most out of a visit to Washoe Lake State Park by staying on-site, ensuring easy access to the amenities and getting those early bites on the lake. The park has a total of 45 campsites across two campgrounds, and each comes with a table, grill, and fire ring. Some campsites include shade structures, and several can welcome RVs up to 45 feet long. Two comfort stations (one with shower) are available as well. Campground A has water and utility hookups at all of its sites, while Campground B is open seasonally and without utilities. Reservations for campsites can be made in advance but aren’t required.

Washoe Lake State Park also has a group day-use area that can be reserved through Reserve Nevada for both day and overnight use. Enjoy a covered pavilion, 20 picnic tables, grills, power, lighting, a sink, and counters, plus a sandy volleyball court, horseshoe pits, and restrooms. On-site equestrian facilities offer an arena, corrals, horse washing station, and a covered barbecue area with all the amenities. Tent and RV camping is permitted here, and a large parking area provides easy horse trailer access. This area can be reserved for groups up to 200 people.


Washoe Lake State Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


Day-use admission to Washoe Lake State Park is $5 for Nevada residents and $10 for out-of-state vehicles. Those on bicycles can enter for $2 per bike. Boat launching is $10 for Nevadans and $15 for non-residents.


Campsites are $15 per night for Nevada residents and $20 per night for out-of-state vehicles. Camping with a boat is $20 per night for Nevada residents and $25 per night for out-of-state vehicles. Any campsite with utility hookups is an extra $10 per night.

This Location:

Northwestern, Nevada