Places We Protect

Independence Lake Preserve

Nevada and California

A young child wearing a hat and a life vest sits in a yellow kayak in blue water.
Boy enjoying Independence Lake Boy enjoying kayak on Independence Lake in the Sierra Nevada © Simon Williams/The Nature Conservancy

A jewel of the Sierra conserved for nature and people—now and in the future!



Independence Lake is one of the most pristine alpine lakes west of the Rockies. The lake and surrounding alpine forests offer exceptional recreation, including hiking, fishing, kayaking and bird watching in the beautiful Sierra Nevada.

About Independence Lake Preserve

Independence Lake's beauty and rustic nature are matched only by the amazing biodiversity that it supports. Independence Lake is home to one of only two wild, self-sustaining lake populations of Lahontan cutthroat trout in the world—a fish that has been lost from 99% of its historic range. Independence Lake also plays an important role in providing clean drinking water to western Nevada by acting as storage for water needed during drought.

In addition to the Lahontan cutthroat trout, Independence Lake hosts populations of six other native Lahontan fishes that have lived here since glaciers disappeared some 10,000 years ago. Because of its pristine nature and intact ecosystem, Independence Lake has become a unique refuge for rare fish.

The surrounding pine forest is home to black bear, mountain lion and mule deer. Bald eagles and osprey can be seen from the shorelines, hunting fish. A wolverine has also been spotted near the lake. The region is also home to rare species like the willow flycatcher, mountain yellow-legged frog and Sierra Nevada mountain beaver.

Independence Lake also plays an important role in supporting human communities. As a part of the Truckee River watershed, the lake is a crucial part of the system that supplies clean drinking water to northern Nevada, including Reno and Sparks—particularly during drought.

Independence Lake at Risk

The pristine status of Independence Lake still faces threats. If aquatic invasive species such as quagga mussels, New Zealand mud snails and Eurasian water-milfoil find their way to Independence Lake, they could severely disrupt recreation, the lake's healthy ecosystem and the delivery of clean drinking water. In addition, these invasives could affect the lake's unique assemblage of native fish. 

Aquatic invasive species can clog water pipes and valves; they can cover beaches with sharp shells; and they can fill calm waters with thick mats of smelly aquatic plants. If we are to enjoy Independence Lake's unspoiled beauty in the future, it is critical that we keep out these unwanted species. Boat movement between lakes has been identified as the primary means for these aquatic invaders to get established in previously unaffected lakes. 

We have also been working to thin the forest and reintroduce low-intensity fire safely through controlled burning around the lake to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, which destroys habitat and can cause serious erosion into the lake and stream, compromising water quality. 

The Vision for Independence Lake

The Nature Conservancy acquired property around Independence Lake in late April 2010, and now we are working with partners to:  

  • Preserve critical habitat for native fish and wildlife
  • Reduce the risk of introduction of aquatic invasive plants and animals
  • Implement forest management strategies to decrease the risk of wildfire and subsequent erosion into the lake
  • Allow visitors to enjoy the lake in ways that are compatible with the conservation of this precious resource


Independence Lake is a priority for the Northern Sierra Partnership, an alliance dedicated to cooperative action that will conserve the lands and waters of the Northern Sierra, and enhance its communities and local economies, for future generations.

The Nature Conservancy will continue to manage Independence Lake with the help of partners like the Truckee Donner Land Trust, who will jointly provide for public access and recreation at Independence Lake. The lake and forests will be managed to sustain fish and wildlife and to provide a continuing supply of clean water to communities downstream.

Other partners include:

  • Bella Vista Foundation
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • California Natural Resources Agency
  • California Trout
  • California Wildlife Conservation Board
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • National Forest Foundation
  • Northern Sierra Partnership
  • NV Energy
  • David and Lucile Packard Foundation
  • Patagonia
  • Sierra Business Council
  • Sierra Nevada Conservancy
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Truckee Donner Land Trust
  • Truckee Meadows Water Authority
  • Truckee River Fund of the Community Foundation of Western Nevada
  • Truckee River Watershed Council
  • U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • U.S. Senator Harry Reid 



No outside watercraft allowed; see visit tab for more about use of in-basin fleet.


Hiking, fishing, kayaking and bird watching in the beautiful Sierra Nevada

Explore our work in this region

Independence Lake Preserve is open year-round for walk-in day-use. Preserve staff are on-site daily from May through October and irregularly the remainder of the year. Recreational activities include hiking, fishing, motor-boating, kayaking, picnicking, wildlife viewing and more. 

Preserve Use Information

Watercraft are available June through September on a first-come, first-served basis.* Motor boats are available every other week; kayaks are available every week.

Plan to arrive early for the best chance at using available watercraft—before 9:00 a.m. for motor boats and before 12:00 p.m. for kayaks, especially on weekends.

The parking lot for the preserve does fill up, especially on holiday weekends. It is best to arrive early. Overflow parking is available but requires a further walk to visit the lake.

All footgear used in the lake must be washed at our wash station—before you enter the lake. No felt-soled waders are permitted.

Weather, especially high winds, may cause boats to be unavailable. It is recommended that you check the weather before your visit. Check the weather here.

Please pack out what you pack in, and leave no trash behind.

Please observe all trail signage to help us protect this beautiful place. There are some sensitive habitat areas that are particularly important for our native fish, and we appreciate your help in keeping them healthy.

The following are NOT permitted at the Independence Lake Preserve:

  • Motorized vehicles of any kind, except as authorized
  • Fires
  • Smoking
  • Hunting or discharge of firearms
  • Camping
  • Boats and other watercraft (all watercraft provided on-site)
  • Felt-soled waders or bait
  • Horseback riding
  • Dogs not on leashes
  • Firewood cutting
  • Removal of plants, animals, artifacts or rocks
  • Littering

Fishing Regulations

Independence Lake is open to fishing the Saturday preceding Memorial Day through September 30. Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (LCT) are protected under state and federal law and are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Illegal possession of LCT will result in state and federal penalties. All LCT taken shall be immediately returned to the water. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used, and no scented or live bait allowed. All creeks flowing into Independence Lake are closed to fishing. No fishing allowed within 300 feet of where creeks enter the lake. Fishing limit: 0 trout. Five kokanee salmon per day with a total of 10 in possession, no size limit.

For more information, view our informational poster.

Boats and Watercraft Information

All watercraft available to the public at no charge will be part of an “in-basin” fleet that The Nature Conservancy has purchased strictly for use on Independence Lake. As watercraft are one of the primary ways aquatic invasive species are introduced into waterways, providing a strictly in-basin fleet gives the public watercraft recreation options while drastically reducing this risk. No boats, float tubes or paddlecraft from outside the preserve are permitted except as authorized.

Watercraft are available for use on Independence Lake from June through September on a first-come, first-served basis at no charge. Motor boats are available every other week; kayaks are available every week (see a schedule of boat availability dates). No motorized or non-motorized watercraft from outside the preserve are permitted. Download the boat use agreement.

Non-motorized watercraft are available throughout the summer season beginning Memorial Day weekend. Motor boats will be available every other week starting Memorial Day weekend. In-basin watercraft must be maintained annually; therefore, donations are appreciated.

Watercraft are often all checked-out early in the day (especially on weekends). It is best to arrive before 9:00 a.m. if you want to use a motor boat (on weeks when motor boats are available) and before 12:00 p.m. if you want to use a kayak. There is no guarantee either will be available.

Effective May 1, 2022, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Truckee Donner Land Trust (TDLT) will require users of land trust motorboats at Independence Lake to show a California Boater Card. This policy is meant to ensure public safety and ongoing availability of the motorboats. Please visit for information about how to apply for and obtain a California Boater Card. Those who wish to use motorboats but do not have a valid Boater Card are welcome to use one of the free kayaks on site.

Types of watercraft available:

  • 3  14-ft aluminum boats with 9.9 hp outboard motors
  • 22 kayaks—mostly single and a few tandem kayaks

First come, first served—no reservations.

Still have questions? Contact us at 775-322-4990 or email us at The preserve is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, and the watercraft program is managed by the Truckee Donner Land Trust.

Getting to Independence Lake from Interstate-80/Truckee, CA:

View a map of the driving directions to Independence Lake.

  • Exit I-80 to Route 89 North—Sierraville.
  • Travel approximately 15 miles north on Highway 89 to Independence Lake/Webber Lake/Jackson Meadow Reservoir turn-off.
  • Turn Left/West off of Route 89 toward Independence Lake/Webber Lake/Jackson Meadow Reservoir.
  • Stay on paved road for 1.5 miles. Turn Left/South at sign for “Independence Lake—5 miles.”
  • Continue approximately 5 miles to Independence Lake. The road becomes a rough dirt road. High clearance vehicle advised. After roughly 2 miles you reach a fork in the road and a sign for “Independence Lake—3 miles.” Take the RIGHT fork of the road. After approx. ½ mile there is another fork, follow the LEFT fork across a stream. If you do not drive across a stream soon after taking this left fork, you have made a wrong turn. Continue along this road going roughly south. 
  • Follow the directional signs to the parking area.