Fall Fish Festival

Animated Kokanee Salmon


Forest Service issues closure order for Taylor Creek

October 1, 2020 - Due to continued public health safety concerns related to COVID-19, trail improvement work, the risk of bear-human encounters and in order to discourage large groups from gathering, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has issued a Forest Order that temporarily closes Taylor Creek and the surrounding area from Oct. 3 through Nov. 2, 2020. Read more and view the closure map at https://go.usa.gov/xGATc.

Forest Service cancels Taylor Creek Visitor Center programs

July 30, 2020. -- After much discussion and deliberation, the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has made the difficult decision to cancel planned interpretive programs and visitor services at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center through the end of October, including second- and third-grade conservation education field trips. In addition, we have made the decision to cancel the Fall Fish Festival this year, an event that typically draws up to 12,000 visitors over the weekend. Read more at https://go.usa.gov/xfPen.

The Fall Fish Festival focuses on a variety of fish species that live in Lake Tahoe and its rivers. In addition to the Kokanee, these species include the federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout and little-know smaller fish, such as speckled dace.

The Taylor Creek Visitor Center is located three miles northwest of the City of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89. Join the fun and participate in this free family event which has become one of the most fascinating educational and wildlife viewing events in Northern California!

The festival encourages participation by children and their parents in a wide variety of educational and entertaining activities, that over the years has included:

  • Fish Painting
  • Educational Booths
  • Streamside Information
  • Mascots - Lulu the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout and Sandy and Rocky Salmon
  • A visit from Smokey Bear!
  • Giant inflatable Lahontan Cutthtroat Trout (sponsored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

What to Expect

Color photo of visitors as they view the red Kokanee Salmon within a few feet of their own feet along the creek bed of Taylor Creek, a 5-10 minute walk from the visitor center.

From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, visitors can learn about the natural wonders of Taylor Creek from Forest Service Rangers, as they stroll along the accessible, one-half mile loop Rainbow Trail. This peaceful walk meanders through forests, meadows and marsh lands to the creek where the Kokanee salmon spawn within a few feet of your own feet. A close-up view of this natural event is available in the underground Stream Profile Chamber located along the Rainbow Trail path.


The weekend events feature children's activities, and educational and streamside programs. Not to be missed is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's giant inflatable fish - the fish's tail serves as the gateway to fun activity stations for kids. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 40-foot inflatable fish.


Kokanee Trail Runs

The 30th Annual Kokanee Trail Runs, sponsored by the Tahoe Mountain Milers, will take place on Sunday. For information on the trail runs, visit https://www.tahoemtnmilers.org/kokanee-5k--10k--half-marathon.html.


With the popularity of the Fall Fish Festival at the Visitor Center and the Octoberfest at Historic Camp Richardson Resort the parking lot at the Visitor Center fills quickly. Some free parking is available at Camp Richardson where visitors can walk back and forth between the Fall Fish Fest and Octoberfest. Visitors are encouraged to ride a bike along the bike path between Camp Richardson and the Visitor Center or take public transportation from South Lake Tahoe. 

Class Visits and Field Trips

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit offers field trips to see the Kokanee salmon at Taylor Creek.

  • Educators may call the Taylor Creek Visitor Center (530) 543-2674, beginning in September to reserve a ranger-led conservation education program and field trip. 
  • Programs and field trips are designed for third grade classes, Monday through Friday during the month of October.
  • All other grades are welcome to take a self-guided tour to see the spawning salmon. 
  • We offer additional information to assist educators including the Educator’s Pre-visit Packet Portable Document File format links require the Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.  You may download the reader for free by following this link to the Adobe web site. and the Kokanee Cycle Club Coloring Book Portable Document File format links require the Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.  You may download the reader for free by following this link to the Adobe web site.


Black bears are omnivores and opportunistic eaters.  Salmon are a natural food source and feeding on the spawning salmon is a positive behavior for bears.  Biologists and wildlife managers prefer bears forage on natural food sources instead of seeking out human food sources from picnic tables and unsecured garbage cans.

The Forest Service does not encourage visits to see bears and advises the public to stay away from bears, as they are wild animals and dangerous.  When in bear country it is important to stay on trails, and if you do spot a bear, keep your distance and never approach the bear for any reason, including a photo opportunity.  

For more information on living in and visiting bear country, visit TahoeBears.org.  

Background Information the Kokanee Salmon of Lake Tahoe

The Fall Fish Festival celebrates the dramatic and colorful spawning behaviors of the Kokanee Salmon, where a close-up look at this natural display is available in Taylor Creek and the Stream Profile Chamber.

The Kokanee, landlocked cousins of the sea-going Sockeye Salmon, were introduced to Lake Tahoe in 1944 by biologists working on the lake's north shore. These predecessors of today's inhabitants quickly adapted to the alpine environment, joining brown trout, rainbow trout and Mackinaw among the most prominent game fish in Lake Tahoe. However, no other species in Lake Tahoe offers such a spectacular show during their mating season.

Each autumn, nature calls mature Kokanee to return to the streams from which they were hatched, select a mate, spawn and die.  As that time approaches, adult males develop a humped back and a heavy, hooked jaw, equipping them for the inevitable battles over both mates and territory, and both sexes turn from their usual silver/blue color to a brilliant red.  Then, en masse, the fish make one mad dash to their mating grounds, fighting their way up the shallow stream, displaying their colors to attract a mate, then battling to protect the small patch of gravel stream bed where they make their "redds" or nests.

Along the stream banks, the autumn aspens, willows and grasses will be as brilliant as the display in the creek below.  Almost as dramatic as the story of life and death being played out in the water are the colorful combinations of orange, gold and red as the vegetation prepares to shed their foliage in anticipation of winter.  Throughout the Festival, Interpretive-Naturalists will be on hand to explain the forces of nature that cause these annual displays.

Whereas most Forest Service wildlife programs focus on land animals or birds, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has created a unique educational program to view the Kokanee Salmon in their natural habitat.  For those that cannot make it to the festival the Kokanee Salmon can typically be seen in Taylor Creek throughout the month of October.

For more information on the Fall Fish Festival, contact the Taylor Creek Visitor Center at 530-543-2674.