Swan Lake


Lemmon Valley
Boardwalk at Lemmon Valley Marsh - Photo by Steve Ting

For photographs of species and detailed species information we recommend visiting All About Birds hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Eared Grebe
Eared Grebe - Photo by Steve Ting

Dedicated in April 1999, Swan Lake Nature Study Area (NSA) is a nearly unspoiled wetland in the midst of suburban housing and warehouses. Depending on annual precipitation, the wetland varies from 100 acres to 1,000 acres. Surrounded by sagebrush, greasewood, and other desert vegetation, this large, shallow lake has a marshy habitat on the west side and adjacent sewage treatment ponds on the east. Over 150 species have been recorded here. Burrowing Owls often nest in man-made boxes located at the west and north edges of the nature study area. Swan Lake NSA is a Nevada Important Bird Area.

Best time of year: Year-round

Notable species: Burrowing Owl is present through the breeding season; Tundra Swan, Greater White-fronted Goose, and ducks are common in winter. American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and other shorebirds visit in spring. Check the marshes for Virginia Rail and Sora. Scan the upland areas for sage species.

Precautions: Stay off the alkali mud flats and any muddy roads to avoid becoming mired.


From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, travel approximately 6 miles north on US 395 to Exit 74 Lemmon Drive. Turn right (north) onto Lemmon Drive and, depending on the route chosen, follow the directions below.


Marsh Boardwalk: At the southwest side of the marsh, a floating boardwalk with benches and interpretive signs allows visitors to penetrate the marsh and part of the lake for approximately 300 yards. From Exit 74, follow Lemmon Drive 0.8 mile north to Military Road. Turn left (northwest) and follow Military Road 1.5 miles to Lear Boulevard. (Side Trip A) Turn right (east) onto Lear Boulevard and drive 0.4 mile to its end at a gravel road. Turn left and drive 0.2 mile to the Swan Lake NSA parking lot. Walk to the boardwalk. Trails from the interpretive area preceding the boardwalk also provide birding access around the entire southwestern shore.

After birding the boardwalk area, the water treatment ponds may be reached by returning to Lemmon Drive via Military Road and following the directions below to Patrician Drive (1.6 miles to the left from Military Road). To return to Reno, turn right (southwest) at Lemmon Drive to reach US 395 south.

Lemmon Valley Sewage Treatment Facility ponds: From Exit 74 Lemmon Drive, turn right (north) onto Lemmon Drive. Drive 2.4 miles to Patrician Drive (a well-marked school zone, 1.6 miles beyond Military Road). Turn left on Patrician Drive and make an immediate right turn onto a dirt road, which parallels Lemmon Drive. Proceed 0.4 mile to the Lemmon Valley Sewage Treatment Facility. At the plant bear to the right and follow the 0.3-mile fence line to bird the ponds on the left. At the north end of the fence line, park and walk the fence line or dike. Swan Lake is visible to the north. Walk or drive the 0.3-mile dirt road along the north side of the pond. A good vehicle turnaround is 0.1 mile to the left of the northwest corner of the pond. Return to the treatment facility and to Patrician Drive.

Additional birding areas: Swan Lake may be viewed from several vantage points, described here in a counterclockwise sequence from southeast to southwest. Distances are in short increments through residential areas.

  1. From the sewage treatment ponds, backtrack to Patrician Drive. Turn right and follow Patrician Drive past Lemmon Valley Elementary School to its end at Fleetwood Drive (0.5 mile). Turn right (north) and follow Fleetwood to the end of the pavement. Continue on one of the dirt roads and park at the pump house. Walk west toward the southeast shore of the lake. Backtrack to Lemmon Drive.
  2. Turn left (north) onto Lemmon Drive and drive 1.6 miles to a turnoff to a pump house on the left, across from a church on the right at Nectar Street. Drive to the pump house and park. Walk on a dirt road to the east shore of the lake. Return to Lemmon Drive.
  3. Turn left onto Lemmon Drive and drive 1.3 miles to Pompe Way. Turn left (south) and drive to the end to view the lake from the northwest. Backtrack to Albert Way, the first turn to the left (west). Drive to Ramsey Way, turn left (south), and continue a short distance to a parking area at the beginning of a nature trail. Enter through the gate and walk about 0.5 mile to the northwest shore of the lake.
  4. Return to Albert Way and turn left (west). At about 0.5 mile, check for Burrowing Owl near a cluster of large boulders on the left. Continue another 0.5 mile to a dirt pullout on the left (south) side of the road in front of a locked gate, the entrance to Nevada Military Land. This is accessible on foot and affords a good overview of the entire marsh. Burrowing Owl nest boxes are located along the fence line at the top of the hill to the right (south) of the gate.
  5. Continue driving on Albert Way, which becomes Bravo Avenue, to the top of the hill. Turn left onto Mt. Limbo, across from the entrance to the military base. Follow Mt. Limbo as it turns to the right and becomes Echo Avenue. At the intersection with Military Road, turn left (southeast) and drive 0.8 mile to Lear Boulevard. Turn left (east) to go to the boardwalk as described above, continue straight to Lemmon Drive to return to Reno, or turn right (west) for Side Trip A.

Side Trip A Sky Vista Pond: From the intersection of Military Road and Lear Boulevard, travel west on Lear into the entrance to Sky Vista Estates and turn at Sky Vista Parkway, the first left (south). At 0.1 mile stop beside a small pond on the right side of the street. A paved walk circles the pond which, although used by local residents and dogs, is worth a short visit.