Independence Lake Preserve

Hiking, bird watching, kayaking and more in the Sierra Nevada

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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.

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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.

Supporting Fish, Wildlife, and People

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 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. 

Help us protect Independence Lake by making a donation today >

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 



Wildlife Cam

Remote wildlife viewing cameras at our Independence Lake Preserve showcase wildlife 'round the clock.

Fall at Independence Lake

These images on Flickr capture the beauty of a day at Independence Lake Preserve amid the fall colors.

Fish Tagging at Independence Lake

Tagging Lathontan cutthroat trout is an important part of ongoing research at the preserve.

Forest Management Slideshow

See how our forest thinning at Independence Lake Preserve is making a difference.


Rob on the Road visits Independence Lake

KVIE's Rob on the Road visits Independence Lake and talks with Conservancy scientists about our work there.

Welcome to the visitor information page for the Independence Lake Preserve.  

The Independence Lake Preserve is open year-round for walk-in day-use. Also:

  • 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.
  • In-basin watercraft only (more details below); no outside watercraft (motorized or non-motorized) allowed.
  • Watercraft are available Memorial Day weekend through October 1st on a first-come, first-served basis. Motor boats are available every other week (see schedule for dates motor boats are available); kayaks are available every week. Click here to download the boat use agreement >
  • 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 stationbefore you enter the lake.
  • No felt-soled waders are permitted.
  • All Lahontan cutthroat trout shall be immediately returned to the lake (see more fishing regulations below).
  • Pets must be leashed at all times; please pick up after your pet.
  • Weather, especially high winds, may cause boats to be unavailable. It is recommended that you check the weather before your visit. Click here to check the weather >
  • Please pack out what you pack in, and leave no trash behind.
  • 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.

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

All Lahontan cutthroat trout shall be immediately returned to the water. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. No bait allowed. Limit: Five fish per day with a total of 10 in possession; can be a combination of Brook Trout, Brown Trout, or Kokanee Salmon. Independence Lake except Independence Lake within 300 feet of the mouths of all tributaries is open to fishing all year. Tributaries to Independence Lake and Independence Lake within 300 feet of the mouths of all tributaries are closed to fishing all year. For more information, view our informational poster.

Information on Boats and Watercraft: 

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 October 1st on a first-come, first-served basis at no charge (see a schedule of boat availability dates). No motorized or non-motorized watercraft from outside the preserve are permitted.  

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.

Types of watercraft available:

  • 3  14-ft aluminum boats with 9.9 hp outboard motors
  • 12  kayaks – 9 single and 3 tandem kayaks
  • 3  pontoon float tubes

First come, first served – no reservations


Click here to see a map of the driving route to Independence Lake >

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

  • 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.

Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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