Numbers Game: Visitors and Parking Lots


In the spirit of our featured news story this month, Yes, Tahoe Has a Tourism Problem, we wanted to take a closer look at how exactly visitation numbers for the Tahoe Basin are calculated. This is especially interesting in the wake of the June 2023 reveal that, while one-third the size of Yosemite National Park, the Tahoe Basin received approximately three times the visitors in 2022, according to the Lake Tahoe Stewardship Plan. The report was developed in collaboration with 17 regional organizations, including counties, and destination management, land management, and nonprofit organizations.

Of note is that 2022 had the third-largest number of visitor days over the past five years, second to 2019, then 2018. Below, I reviewed the document to find what went into the calculation of 17 million visitor days last year.

Another question we received was regarding the off-season plans for a parking lot expansion on the East Shore. ~ AH



The Lake Tahoe Stewardship Plan, released June 2023, estimates 2 million unique visitors spent nearly 13 million visitor days in the Tahoe Basin in 2022. What is the difference between visitors and visitor days?

New data compiled for this plan, in the form of the Tourism Impact Model (TIM), finds that in 2022, 2 million unique tourists collectively spent almost 13 million visitor days in the region. The number that people have been citing has typically been “15 million visitors.” Using the word visitors is a misnomer because it is not total visitors — it is the total amount of days spent in the region. (Lake Tahoe Stewardship Plan, p. 21)

Does adding day visitors to that 13 million number change anything?

An additional four million visitor days can be attributed to day visitors that have been defined as “untethered” — those that pass through or use trails and beaches without reserving or purchasing services. Thus, the total number of visitor days in 2022 was almost 17 million. (p. 15)

How did the study authors come up with that 17 million number?

Total visitation, including non-paid overnight visits and day tourists, are extrapolated from the results of various surveys collected in recent years. (p. 109)

The thin lines among the visitors, residents, second homeowners, and workers whose collective presence makes up the Tahoe community were blurred in part by the fact that higher lodging rates and revenues in 2022 masked lower occupancy rates and lower visitor numbers.

For paid overnight visits, the primary sources are monthly Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) remittance reports. (p. 64)

PUTTING NUMBERS TO IT: This graph, taken from the June 2023 Lake Tahoe Stewardship Plan, shows the average number of visitors to the Tahoe Basin monthly from January 2018 through November 2022. Courtesy graph

To calculate the elusive day visitors, the plan authors looked to previously done studies. Here’s what the report says about estimating “untethered” visitors:

To estimate the number of visitors staying in non-paid accommodations, including those who stay with friends or family or in their own seasonal homes, visitor ratios were calculated based on findings of the project’s 2022 Visitor Study and other Tahoe Regional Planning Agency surveys. Findings were further adjusted for relative length of stay and refined for each of the six geographic regions. Assumptions were also pressure-tested against outside sources, including Visit Lake Tahoe’s 2021 Visitor Profile, developed by Omnitrak, an independent research firm.

For our Tourism Impact Model (TIM), day visitors are defined as those saying they visited for a day, did not stay overnight, and participated in an activity, such as hiking or biking. Day visitors may include people who visit from communities near the Tahoe region as well as travelers who stop only long enough for a meal, raft a river, purchase souvenirs, and/or attend a concert. Those who stop for gas or food while passing through are not considered day visitors, nor are workers commuting into the Basin from outlying areas. The TIM estimates day visitors in the same manner as visitors who stay in non-paid accommodations.

A finding that approximately 15% of Tahoe’s individual visitors are day visitors is validated by the similar 15% to 16% findings in the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority’s Omnitrak study and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency surveys.

We refer to visitors who are either passing through or using a “facility,” such as a beach or a trail, without making a reservation or making a purchase, such as a concert ticket, as “untethered day visitors.”

While visitor spending on lodging comes directly from the region’s TOT reports, other spending — including spending on food, transportation, activities, retail, and other categories — is based on survey data and estimated visitor numbers. (p. 65)

~ Lake Tahoe Stewardship Plan, linked online

FREE PARKING: The parking area at Chimney Beach Trailhead on Highway 28 closed for construction beginning Aug. 14 and is expected to remain closed through the end of October in order to accommodate parking space expansion. When completed, nearly 160 spaces will improve recreation access. Whether it’ll be accessible in winter remains to be seen. Courtesy map


The USFS Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is currently expanding parking at the East Shore’s Chimney Beach by adding 130 spaces to existing availability. According to a press release, partner agencies will remove an equivalent amount of roadside and shoulder parking, which will “improve recreation access.” Will the newly expanded lot and the existing lot across the road be plowed and opened year-round?

The Forest Service is currently assessing appropriate winter use for these areas including potential use and impacts to recreational access on the East Shore.

~ Lisa Herron, public affairs specialist, USDA Forest Service, LTBMU


  • Alex Hoeft

    Alex Hoeft joined Moonshine staff in May 2019, happy to return to the world of journalism after a few years in community outreach. She has both her bachelor's and Master's in journalism, from Brigham Young University and University of Nevada, Reno, respectively. When she's not journalism-ing, she's wrangling her toddler or reading a book — or doing both at the same time.

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