PHOTO/BRADLEY NICHOLS: Mornings and evenings are typically calm enough for kayaking, paddleboarding and canoeing—but afternoons can be windy.

We’re in the middle of another record-breaking summer in Northern Nevada. What better way to beat the heat of triple-digit days than to escape to a cool mountain lake? While the crowds head up to Tahoe, find some fun, shade and solitude at the wild-feeling Stampede Reservoir, just outside of Truckee.

Following the signs toward Boca Reservoir, you’ll take Exit 194 off Interstate 80 at Hirschdale Road, and turn northward. To reach Stampede Reservoir, head north along the eastern shore of Boca, which is much smaller and often much busier than Stampede. A narrow paved road stretches about eight miles between the two reservoirs, following the Little Truckee River, which winds northward through coniferous forests.

As you get close to Stampede Reservoir, you’ll see signs for the power plant and dam. The road offers options around this point: Continue straight northward to access the eastern portion and northeastern “fingers” of the lake; or turn left, and head west along the dam for some south-shore access points and additional amenities.

Alternatively, you can reach the western side of Stampede by following Highway 89 north out of Truckee and turning eastward at Sagehen Summit. Not all roads are paved, however, and most of the dirt roads are not maintained, so you’ll need to take a vehicle with higher clearance if you go this way. However you get to Stampede, many of the lake access points are via dirt tracks. You can always park at a pull-out and walk down to the beach if your vehicle has low clearance—or if the tracks are damp after a rain storm.

After the big winter we had, Stampede Reservoir is quite full. This limits the amount of beach space available around the lake, but also provides millions of gallons of additional water for recreation. Located at roughly 6,000 feet in elevation, this alpine body of water is much warmer than Tahoe, making it a pleasant swimming spot. However, the lake has no lifeguards or staffed safety stations, so take appropriate safety precautions.

The Captain Roberts Boat Ramp provides access for clean motorized watercraft to enter the reservoir. Other dirt-road access points allow plenty of opportunities for human-powered craft to get out on the water as well. Mornings and evenings are typically calm enough for kayaking, paddleboarding and canoeing. Afternoons can be windy, even on seemingly calm days, so check the weather before heading up with your boats.

There are limited amenities around Stampede; don’t expect to be able to get gas or a snack. Campgrounds along the south shore are great for a weekend getaway, with potable water and vault toilets to support campsites hidden among the Jeffrey and ponderosa pines along the shore. Be sure to make a reservation at before heading out, though, as space is limited, and dispersed camping in the area is strictly prohibited.


Hiking trails meander through the trees. Fishing in Stampede Reservoir is allowed year-round with a California fishing license. You may find kokanee salmon as well as brown, brook, rainbow and lake trout swimming in the waters. The nearby Truckee River Wildlife Area also provides seasonal opportunities for hunting, with the appropriate permits.

With around 25 miles of shoreline, Stampede Reservoir has plenty of space to explore and stay cool in the shade of the towering pines and gentle waves of alpine waters. Though it’s just a little more than 30 miles from Reno, Stampede Reservoir feels like a different world—offering a slice of wilderness and a welcome respite from the heat of the summer.

Maggie Nichols is an avid outdoor adventurer and a dedicated nature enthusiast. She started leading canoeing and hiking expeditions in her teens and never stopped. While following her love of the environment...

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