November 30, 2017 - By Beau Flemister --
Outside of the casinos, odds are 100 percent in your favor to find the adventure that suits your soul in Tahoe.
Mankind’s always been obsessed with gold. Perhaps it’s the basic instinct in all of us — it’s so shiny! Whatever it is, various empires searched far and wide for it. Half a millennium ago, conquistadors sailed to the New World and mowed over native cultures clawing for the rock.
By the mid-1800s, gold miners made their way to California as word spread of gold in the rivers. And wouldn’t you know it, many of those rivers found their source in a nearby crystal-blue body of water that the indigenous Washoe Indians of the area called “dá’aw,” or "The Lake of the Sky." That very lake, with land and water and countless snow-capped peaks, since divided between California and Nevada, is Lake Tahoe.
Whatever outdoor activity you’re into, Tahoe’s got you covered 365 days of the year. With dozens of world-class resorts, terrain parks and backcountry for skiers, snowboarders and winter-lovers, take your pick (North Lake or South). Then, of course, there’s the dozens of hiking trails shooting off the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) for trekkers, mountain bikers, motocross zones and we haven’t even gotten to the actual lake yet. Boat, sail, wakeboard, SUP, surf (yeah, we said surf), Tahoe’s azure waters have the goods.
Sure, gold’s still a commodity to this day, but also, mankind has evolved. Gold mining’s horrible for lakes! So if adventure is your precious mineral of choice, yank Tahoe’s metaphorical slot lever of outdoors to-dos. You’re sure to strike gold in these parts.
What you come for
If it’s snow … where to start? Toward the northern end of Lake Tahoe, the award-winning Northstar California Resort has a mental terrain park, halfpipe (of course) and huge collection of jumps and jibs. Oh, and a Ritz-Carlton that zips you right into the powder, practically from the lobby. Surrounding resorts in the area like Squaw Valley (with the fabled KT-22 peak), Alpine Meadows, Boreal, Heavenly and the Sugar Bowl all have runs and backcountry zones for skiers and snowboarders that are uttered with reverence.
There’s also a Woodward training facility in Boreal with trampolines and foam pits to get those inverted rotations and grabs down before hitting the slopes.
Pedaling your poison of choice? Lake Tahoe’s got a plethora of paved and unpaved paths and trails for cyclists and mountain bikers. If you’re gnarly, for instance, you’re gunning for the Flume Ride, or expert sections of the world-renowned TRT. That, or other routes near Tahoe City like Paige Meadows, Glass Mountain, Thunder Cliffs and the Missing Link to name a few. Of course, you can also stick to the asphalt and challenge yourself to cycle right around the lake (72 miles). For motocross, the dirt bikers head to a potent system of trails called The Sandpit.
Tahoe has the most amazingly translucent (with a tint of sapphire) lake. So boating, sailing, SCUBA diving, SUPing and — wait for it — surfing is a thing (when a psycho storm or wind kicks up small waves).
There are also world-class beaches, coves and shoreline abounding if you wanna just kick it with your friends in the summer. There’s even whitewater rafting on the Truckee, American and Yuba Rivers surrounding Tahoe.
Then there’s the hiking. While some might ride the TRT — or horseback ride it, which is also a thing — you can hoof it (the human kind) too. Eagle Falls, Cascade Falls and Rubicon trails are top of the list, while Five Lakes Trail and Secret Cove/Chimney Beach Loop are absolute stunners. Whether it’s hour walks or multi-day camping trips, Tahoe’s got it all. There’s also a few epic state parks (D.L. Bliss, Emerald Bay and Sugar Pine Point) to cruise around and wildlife watch.
Went too hard in the snow (or on the trail) and need a breather? Gambling’s legal a quick walk over the border.
Psst … psst …
Sure, the advice sounds cliché by now, but as far as the slopes, trails, lake waters and secret coves: The early bird gets the worm. Wake up early, and be parked by 7:30 a.m. for the mountain resorts, if you don’t want to be sharing the pow with crowds.
A few other crowd hacks? For dinner, call in and make reservations. Just do it. Stock up on groceries at the Safeways in Truckee, Tahoe City or King’s Beach during off-hours (early morning or late night). You’ll thank us later. That, or try Save Mart. It’s cheaper there anyways.
Trying to decide whether to go North Lake or South? Probably want to ask yourself what you’re really into. If you want more stimulation, a younger crowd and more socializing, go south. You want a little more peace and quiet, more mature and independent crowd, go north. Both sides still have some great restaurant options, so not to worry.
Looking for some peeps to do a group cycling ride around the famously awesome 72-mile-long Lake Tahoe route? Go to Olympic Bike Shop in Tahoe City, or any bike shop, really, and they’ll give you all the info you need. Road-traffic-wise, mid-week, early-start and riding clockwise is the call.
If you’re more of a water person, and you’ve come to SCUBA, take heed. SCUBA diving in Lake Tahoe is actually considered advanced due to the increased risk of decompression sickness since you’re diving at such a high altitude.
If you’re looking for a romantic chill-spot for a picnic date, Thunderbird Cove and Chimney Beach are spicy little spots. And, of course, if you’re aiming to hit it big (or throw it all away) casinos on the Nevada side (walkable from South Lake Tahoe) are always there for the gambler inside of us all.
“I just love Tahoe because it’s outdoorsy all year round. There’s always something to do and there’s an incredible trail network for mountain biking, hiking, dual sport motorcycle riding, horseback riding … And then you’ve got the rim trail which goes the entire rim of Lake Tahoe. Obviously, in the winter there’s tons of ski resorts in North Lake and South Lake — Tahoe just has everything an outdoors person wants at anytime of the year. That’s not to mention the actual lake. So, if you’re a boater or wakeboarder, you’re psyched too. It’s crazy how clear the water is, how fresh the air is with all the pines; you take it all in up there immediately.” — Cody Webb, Professional EnduroX Motocross Rider.
With dozens of resorts and resort-like towns surrounding the lake, there’s no shortage of options. But here are a few recommendations that are tried and true. Rubicon Pizza at Northstar is friggin’ delicious (especially after a long, hard day in the snow). So is Fireside Pizza Company at Squaw Valley. T’s Mesquite Rotisserie in Incline Village is pretty much an institution, too, for core adventurists. Coffeebar in the town of Truckee is a gem for a cup of Joe and so is I.V. Coffee Lab in Incline Village (spot the pun?).
The Beacon Bar in South Lake is a sick spot right on the water’s edge where you can pull up in a boat and have some drinks. Rude Brothers Bagels and Coffee in South Lake is a great breakfast joint. Looking for something a little fancier? Lone Eagle Grille is amazing and worth every cent. Down the snowy woods behind South Lake is a trippy little Italian spot called Café Fiore, straight out of a Godfather film. There are just 7 tables, so call in for a rez.
Single and wanna mingle? Of course there are bars at every resort, but if you really wanna send it, Opal Nightclub in MontBleu Resort (Nevada-side, baby!) can be fun if you embrace the fist-pumping music vibe. Their New Year’s Eve program is pretty epic[cally packed].
Festival-wise, the yearly Wanderlust event at Squaw Valley is a pretty chill mind-body-soul experience. And during the winter, there’s SnowGlobe, a fun annual (fairly young) electronic music festival in South Lake. Also, the North Lake Tahoe Snowfest for eskimo-wannabes and the WinterWonderGrass Bluegrass music festival in Squaw Valley.
Then, of course, there’s 4th of July on the lake — something you want to post up (by 6 a.m.) and party for, or completely and utterly avoid if you’re not into people drinking together and loving America. Regardless, it’s a HUGE deal and easily the biggest 4th party and fireworks show in Northern California/Nevada.
But be aware of
While the alpine environment surrounding Lake Tahoes face the normal threats of natural spaces in Northern California — over-development, pollution, forest fires, erosion, etc — it’s the lake itself that most residents strive fiercely to protect.
Strict measures and regulations for boating have been passed so new species (like mussels, for instance) aren’t introduced and take over the present aquatic organisms. The Nevada side of Lake Tahoe has done a particularly good job of quelling coastal development, which once caused ground sediment from construction to leak into the notoriously translucent Lake Tahoe, turning parts murky and brown.
But perhaps no initiative in the area has been as protective and successful as the Keep Tahoe Blue league, a 60-year-old organization that’s fought to protect Lake Tahoe. (If you’ve been to Tahoe, you’ve seen the bumper stickers). Keep Tahoe Blue has literally stopped urban development into the area’s forests, creates annual campaigns to combat pollution, restore forests, tackle invasive species and protect the shoreline of the lake. With numerous current outreach and volunteer programs, it’s easy to be a part of their great work.