By Cheryl Ryan
Lake Tahoe has been besieged by fires the last few years, with smoke levels so unsafe that we couldn’t go outside to many days that we couldn’t see much of the lake even when we were outside. I didn’t realize it, but I’d come to dread going. That’s why when the opportunity arose to take an impromptu trip in early July while I knew the air was clear, I jumped at the chance, just in case the smoke moved in during our scheduled August time slot.
Honestly, I’d almost forgotten how spectacular Lake Tahoe could be. The sky and water were vivid blues, and the air so crisp and fresh that I felt like gulping it in. It starkly contrasted the muddy gray – even red – air that persisted when the fires were their worst.
Sitting at 6,224 feet above sea level Lake Tahoe is surrounded by majestic granite cliffs and an alpine forest. The Tahoe basin is a natural lake formed long ago between parallel volcanic faults by glaciation and volcanic activity. Our first recent history of Lake Tahoe was that of Explorer John C. Fremont, who spotted the lake in 1844.
So Much To Do
If you live in California, you’ve probably visited. But for those who haven’t, you might ask what you can do in Lake Tahoe. I think a better question is what can’t you do. From hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, off-roading, biking, lazy beach lounging, camping, river rafting, golf, water skiing, snow skiing, or eating at any number of restaurants along its 72-mile circumference, there is something for everybody. It is a spectacular gem divided in two, with Nevada on one side and California on the other.
Suppose we started a driving tour around the lake, beginning at South Shore. In that case, we’d find 1950’s era gambling casinos, hotels, and restaurants all straddling the California state line on the Nevada side. Once you cross into California there’s Heavenly Ski Resort, more restaurants and sandy beaches with views of Mount Tallac. Then, if you keep driving and start to make the turn you’ll come to Camp Richardson Resort. Made up of a hotel, campgrounds, rental cabins and a marina, it is an excellent option for those that don’t have access to Tahoe houses. Many families have been returning to this historic location for generations. Beyond Camp Richardson, the road winds past Emerald Bay, arguably the most spectacular views of the entire lake.
West Shore is quieter than both South and North shores but has great bike trails, restaurants, hiking, and tucked-away resorts with ample off-road trails that lead into and around desolation wilderness. And if you’re into parasailing over an alpine lake, you might want to check out Sunnyside Marina and Resort.
From the west shore, you’ll roll into Tahoe City, where you can find movie theaters, lake view restaurants, yoga studios, and a beautiful Thursday morning farmers market on Commons Beach from May – October. In addition, you’ll find just about any store you might need for your Tahoe stay.
*Side note* Summer traffic can get crazy in Tahoe City since several highways converge into the Lake Tahoe basin here. But huge kudos to Lake Tahoe’s traffic commission. After years of construction, the planned roundabouts, strategically placed bypass roads, refreshed bike trails and bus stops are truly impressive, managing the needs of many while still mitigating summer log-jams. So, umm, hello, significant cities everywhere, you might take note!
You’ll pass Kings Beach and Cornelian Bay on the California side when heading out of Tahoe City towards North Shore. Then it’s on to Incline Village and Crystal Bay on the Nevada side. Incline Village is sometimes called Lake Tahoe’s country club because residency allows free membership to local golf courses, swimming and skiing. In addition, it is home to restaurants, magnificent lake view homes, Sand Harbor and the Hyatt Regency Resort.
Finishing up our loop is the least populated East Shore, offering more hiking and aqua waters with majestic granite boulders enticing you into the water. But before you dive right in you might want to know that the water in Lake Tahoe is an average temperature of 67.5 degrees, not exactly balmy. In fact, it’s been known to literally take my breath away. Since it’s deep and made up of melted snowpack, it stays chilly (alright downright cold) most of the year. Certain shallow areas can be warmer but if you’re not into a breathless swim you might want a wetsuit.
So Much and Still There’s More
We recently returned from our regularly scheduled August trip and I’m happy to report that, although we had a little hazy smoke, we’ve officially broken the three-year sierra burning spell and I couldn’t be happier. Oh I know we still have some fire season left this year, but I’d started to take this beautiful place for granted and I’m here to say that my appreciation for its outstanding beauty is back on in full!
You might also want to check out – the grandeur of Palisades Tahoe – formerly Squaw Valley. And the old mining town of Truckee has great shopping and restaurants. Next year check out the summer Wednesday night Truckee Music in the Park series. It’s perfectly on trend with all the local breweries springing up there.