Tahoe and Vicinity November 1, 2023

The Lake Up There

Researching the history of Marlette Lake leads to many articles and write-ups about the flume and pipeline system that was built to service Virginia City and the Comstock Lode.

Most of the online information is about the ingenuity of the engineers, the hard work and efficiency of the men, equipped with only mules and shovels, who built the water system, and the staggering amounts of water transported down mountains, across valleys, and up hills to supply the mines, the miners and their families.

Marlette Lake, named after Nevada’s first Surveyor General, Seneca H. Marlette, was originally a glaciated basin, which naturally drained into Lake Tahoe. When the lake was dammed as part of the water project for the Comstock Lode, and its natural drainage was forever changed.

In 1873, water from Marlette Lake finally reached thirsty Virginia City and the Comstock. The water traveled by 45 miles of flume, then flowed through 21.5 miles of pipeline, and an almost 4,000 foot long tunnel before reaching its final destination. When completed the system had the capacity to deliver about 6 million gallons of Sierra water per day. Another water carrying flume and more pipeline was added in 1875.

All very impressive. But what about the pretty lake sitting high above Lake Tahoe? A simple Google search brings up more than a few intriguing pictures of Marlette along with some shots of the maintained trail leading to it.

The not so little lake covers 381 surface acres, and runs as deep as 45 feet. It is stocked with brook trout, and Tahoe-strain rainbow trout. In 1964, Lahontan cutthroat trout were also stocked.

This backcountry lake is closed to vehicles, so visitors must walk, or mountain bike, or even horseback ride the 5 or so miles from Spooner Lake.

No camping is allowed around Marlette Lake, though a primitive campground is available at Marlette Peak, about 2 miles from the lake. The campground, maintained by Nevada State Parks, has water, a restroom, tables, fire rings and bear resistant storage boxes.

Arriving at the lake, you’ll be reminded by posted signs that motorized vessels are not allowed. However, if somehow, you manage to portage a canoe or kayak, you are welcome launch it.

Fishing is catch and release only between July 15, and September 30. Barbed hooks are not allowed, but some lucky anglers have caught trout as long as 20 inches by fishing with Nevada Park’s suggested lures.

For those avid walkers curious enough to want to explore Marlette Lake, it’s important to remember that round trip takes anywhere from 4 to 5 hours to complete.

Though the trail to the lake is maintained, it is mostly an up-hill walk, so being acclimated to this area’s altitude is crucial.

On the way back, it’s all downhill — but take that literally, not figuratively. After all, there are few things better, for body or soul, than a brisk hike through a quiet wood.