Complete Nevada Traveler Contents

Pyramid Travel Info
Book a Room Near

The Pyramid adds to the mysterious quality of this broad desert lake on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation.
The Nevada
Travel Network
Description and History of
Pyramid Lake
by David W. Toll

The Pyramid on the lake's east shore.
From The Complete Nevada Traveler, the Affectionate and Intimately Detailed Guidebook to the Most Interesting State in America. Buy the Book Here

The Pyramid Lake Marina & Visitor Center is at Sutcliffe on the west side of the lake.
PYRAMID LAKE is 33 miles northeast of Sparks via Nevada Route 445 (Pyramid Way); 16 miles north of I-80 at Wadsworth via Nevada Route 447.

The drive to Pyramid Lake from Reno carries you through a succession of shallow depressions between low, brush-stubbled hills. It is a pleasant drive, but long enough to create an awareness of the desert's monotony. To those whose tolerance of the desert is low, the half-hour drive may be enough to permit that monotony to become oppressive. But when the last rise is topped, the eyesearing expanse of Pyramid Lake stretched out before you is a stunning, staggering sight: a sheet of electric blue cupped between pastel mountains of chalky pinks and greys.

The Fremont expedition paused at the Pyramid in 1844.
John C. Fremont was the first American to gaze down at Pyramid Lake, and his journal entry of 10 January 1844 records his impressions of the lake: ". . . we continued our way up the hollow, intending to see what lay beyond the mountain. The hollow was several miles long, forming a good pass; the snow deepening to about a foot as we neared the summit. Beyond, a defile between the mountains descended rapidly about two thousand feet; and, filling up all the lower space, was a sheet of green water, some twenty miles broad. It broke upon our eyes like the ocean."

Despite the enormous changes which have overtaken the world since Fremont's visit in 1844, Pyramid Lake (which he named for a tufa rock formation on the eastern shore) remains as strikingly beautiful and as enchanting as it was before he came.

Waders at the north shore near the Pinnacles.
Pyramid Lake is not like Tahoe. It is shallower, warmer, and substantially more alkaline than Tahoe, lower in elevation, and not so easily accessible. But these differences are not the decisive ones. Tahoe is charmingly beautiful. Pyramid is a shock; in addition to its primitive, challenging beauty, it projects a profound sense of antiquity. Gazing out across its surface is an experience almost four-dimensional. To enter the enchanted realm completely, proceed around the west side of the lake to the distinctive sawtooth formation at the lake's northwestern corner: the needles. There is a steam-sputtering hot spring here, but because of damage caused by heedless visitors access to this magnificent bathing spot is limited.

Shore fishermen take cut-throat trout.
Pyramid is a favorite hunting ground for the fishermen who wade out deep and cast for trout even in wintry weather. In ancient times this fishery was a magnificent survival resource. For a while, when the first wave of white settlers came, it was big business. Commercial fishermen harvested 100 tons of trout between winter 1888 and spring 1889, for shipment all over the U.S. By 1912 a local entrepreneur was hiring as many as 50 Paiute fishermen to catch and ship from ten to fifteen tons of trout a week for sale in the southern Nevada mining camps.

In 1925 a Paiute named Johnny Skimmerhorn caught the world's record cutthroat here; a 41-pounder. Photographs taken in the twenties and thirties show celebrities like Clark Gable struggling manfully to show off a pair of enormous cutthroat, or a group of Nevadans peeking out from behind a curtain of silvery fish that stretches eight feet long: a day's catch. But in the 1940s the cutthroats were gone. Restocking began in the early 1950s, and today five to ten pounders are not uncommon at Pyramid.

Tours are given at the fish hatcheries at Sutcliffe. Your guide will probably be a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe. A marina is operating, as is a visitor center with a well-stocked store and an impressive photographic exhibit devoted to the life of the lake.

Buy the Book

A Service of NevadaWeb

Contact Us