Truckee was named after a Paiute chief. His assumed Paiute name was Tru-ki-zo. He was the father of Chief Winnemucca and grandfather of Sarah Winnemucca. The first people who came to cross the Sierra Nevada encountered his tribe. The friendly Chief rode toward them yelling "Tro-kay!", which is Paiute for "Everything is all right". The settlers assumed he was yelling his name. Chief Truckee later served as a guide for John C. Frémont.
Truckee is located along Interstate 80 at (39.342163, -120.203568).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 33.8 square miles (87.7 km²), of which, 32.5 square miles (84.3 km²) of it is land and 1.3 square miles (3.4 km²) of it (3.87%) is water, mostly the Truckee River, the only outlet of Lake Tahoe.
The National Weather Service reports that Truckee's warmest month is July with an average maximum temperature of 82.7 °F (28.2 °C) and an average minimum temperature of 42.4 °F (5.8 °C). January is the coldest month with an average maximum temperature of 40.9 °F (4.9 °C) and an average minimum temperature of 16.3 °F (-8.7 °C). The record maximum temperature of 104 °F (40 °C) was on July 6, 2007. The record minimum temperature of -23 °F (-30.6 °C) was on February 27, 1962. Annually, there are an average of 8.4 days with highs of 90 °F (32.2 °C) or higher; there an average of 228.4 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower and 6.0 days with lows of 0 °F (-17.8 °C) or lower. Freezing temperatures have been observed in every month of the year.
Normal annual precipitation in Truckee is 30.85 inches (784 mm); measurable precipitation (0.01 inch (0.25 mm) or more) occurs on an average of 87.0 days annually. The most precipitation in one month was 19.02 inches (483 mm) in February 1986. The most precipitation in 24 hours was 5.21 inches (132 mm) on February 1, 1963.
Truckee has an average of 198.3 inches (503.7 cm) of snow annually. The most snow in one month was 113.0 inches (287.0 cm) in December 1992. The maximum 24-hour snowfall was 34.0 inches (86.4 cm) on February 17, 1990.
As of the census of 2008, there were 15,864 people, 5,149 households, and 3,563 families residing in the town. The population density was 426.1 people per square mile (164.5/km²). There were 9,757 housing units at an average density of 299.8/sq mi (115.8/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 88.39% White, 0.25% African American, 0.59% Native American, 0.87% Asian, 0.17% Pacific Islander, 7.57% from other races, and 2.16% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 12.79% of the population.
There were 5,149 households out of which 37.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.2% were married couples living together, 6.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.8% were non-families. 18.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 3.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.68 and the average family size was 3.09.
In the town, the population was spread out with 26.7% under the age of 18, 7.0% from 18 to 24, 36.8% from 25 to 44, 24.0% from 45 to 64, and 5.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 112.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 112.0 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $58,848, and the median income for a family was $62,746. Males had a median income of $38,631 versus $29,536 for females. The per capita income for the town was $26,786. About 2.8% of families and 4.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.3% of those under age 18 and 2.0% of those age 65 or over. Recent land clearing outside town limits may affect the population.
Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to Truckee. The city's passenger rail station is centrally located at 10000 East River Street in the heart of the historic downtown. Amtrak Train 5, the westbound California Zephyr, departs Truckee daily with service to Colfax, Roseville, Sacramento, Davis, Martinez, and Emeryville across the bay from San Francisco. Amtrak Train 6, the eastbound California Zephyr, departs Truckee daily with service to Reno, Sparks, Winnemucca, Elko, Salt Lake City, Provo, Helper, Green River, Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, Denver, Omaha, Galesburg, and Chicago.
In the state legislature, Truckee is located in the 1st Senate District, represented by Republican Dave Cox, and in the 3rd Assembly District, represented by Republican Dan Logue. Federally, Truckee is located in California's 4th congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of R +11 and is represented by Republican Tom McClintock.
There are no four-year universities in Truckee. The closest large universities are in Reno, Nevada and Sacramento, California. The two-year Sierra College, headquartered in Rocklin, has its Tahoe-Truckee campus in town.
The Tahoe-Truckee Joint Unified School District provides K-12 education to Truckee and the Lake Tahoe area with nine traditional schools, of which two elementary schools, a middle school, elementary school and Truckee High School are in the town itself. A newer middle school recently built as well. In interscholastic athletics, Truckee High competes in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, even though the school is in California. Isolated from the rest of California by the Sierra Nevada crest, Truckee and four other California high schools compete as full NIAA members with mostly Nevada-based high schools. Truckee's success in the NIAA has not gone unnoticed; with every state championship they win, calls to remove the California schools from the NIAA are renewed, but these efforts have so far been met with no success.
The Truckee River flows from Lake Tahoe for approximately 100 miles northeast to the border of the arid Great Basin of Nevada and Utah and into Pyramid Lake. This water source formed a natural, seasonal route for Native Americans. Although no particular tribe is considered to have inhabited Truckee year-round, the Washoe Tribe occupied a large territory roughly centered in the modern day Carson City area, but Shoshone and Paiute Tribes were also present (the Paiute Tribe Reservation now encompasses Pyramid Lake). These peoples are considered to be the primary source of Native American travelers in the area. Hobart Mills, just north of Truckee on Highway 89, has a large, horizontal, circular petroglyph of the type common to travel routes in Nevada. The date of that petroglyph, as well as several etched into granite slabs on the summit west of Truckee, are not agreed upon. But those artifacts, as well as the abundance of arrowheads throughout the Truckee region, attest to a minimum of hundreds of years of Native American presence. It is possible that, like the Shoshone, Ute and earlier Fremont tribes of Utah and Eastern Nevada, the nearby Native American populations fluctuated over the course of millennia as a result of weather cycles, food changes, and possibly disease or war. Some historians date the pre-Fremont Indian culture of Eastern Nevada to as early as 10,000 B.C. and it's likely that the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains next to Truckee, since it faces the Great Basin, had native Americans of a hunter-gatherer culture visit at least as early as 3,000 B.C. These people were probably of a purely nomadic group since datable housing structures like those found in Nevada and Utah are not present. Like most of the modern history of the West, as the European settlers' population increased, the Native American population decreased. The Gold Rush of 1849 caused a surge in fortune-seeking settlers (although Truckee itself wasn't settled until later). It is not known exactly when the last Native Americans passed naturally through Truckee, but they were visually recorded in the 1850s.
Both a source of settler pride and an example of hubris, The Donner Party ordeal is Truckee's most famous historical event. In 1846, a group of settlers from Illinois, originally known as the Donner-Reed Party but now usually referred to as The Donner Party, became snowbound in early fall as a result of several trail and decision mishaps. Choosing multiple times on shortcuts to save distance compared to the traditional Oregon Trail, coupled with infighting, a disastrous crossing of the Utah salt flats, and the attempt to use the pass near the Truckee River (now Donner Pass) all caused delays in their journey. Finally, a massive, early blizzard brought the remaining settlers to a halt at the edge of what is now Donner Lake - about 1,200 feet below the steep granite summit of the Sierra Nevada mountains and 90 miles east of their destination, Sutter's Fort near Sacramento. Several attempts at carting their few remaining wagons, oxen, and supplies - sometimes by pulling them up by rope - over the summit proved impossible due to freezing conditions and a lack of any pre-existing trail. The party returned, broken in spirit and supplies, to the edge of Donner Lake. A portion of the camp also returned to the Alder Creek campsite a few miles to the east. What followed during the course of the brutal winter is a miserable story of starvation and an infamous resorting to cannibalism. Although 15 members had constructed makeshift snowshoes and set out for Sutter's Fort in the late fall, they were also thwarted by freezing weather and disorientation. Of them, only 7 survived with 6 having been cannabilized and 2 being lost or having escaped. The Truckee camps survivors were saved by a Reed Party member who had set out ahead as a result of being ejected from the party months earlier after killing a man in a fit of jealous rage. Seeing that his group never arrived at Sutter's Fort, he initiated several relief parties. Of the original 87 settlers, 48 remarkably survived the ordeal. The Donner Memorial State Park is dedicated to the settlers and is located at the East End of Donner Lake.
Truckee grew as a railroad town originally named Colburn Station, starting with the Transcontinental Railroad. The railroad goes into downtown Truckee and the Amtrak passenger lines still stop there on the services from Chicago to San Francisco.
In 1891, Truckee's famous lawman, Jacob Teeter, was killed in a violent gunfight with fellow lawman, James Reed (no relation to James Frazier Reed of the Donner Party).