By Pamela Sievers
The smell of fresh cedar. The brilliance of the sun’s reflection off the water. A gentle coolness against my face reminding me that I’m at an altitude of 6800 feet. This is what I think of when someone mentions Lake Tahoe. I’m not a skier, golfer or boater, but an appreciator of pristine scenery? You bet! And the Lake Tahoe area offers plenty of that.
When someone says they’re going to Lake Tahoe, do you know exactly where they’re talking about? In some respects, saying you’re visiting Lake Tahoe is like saying you’re going to Lake Michigan. Except on a much smaller scale, of course.
Lake Tahoe straddles California and Nevada. The two communities that anchor it at the southern end are South Lake Tahoe, California and adjacent to that, Stateline, Nevada. But numerous smaller towns line the shore around the lake – a 72-mile drive that is easily a day-long trip, once you include a lunch stop at Incline Village on the north end, dip your toes in the lake at any of the public beaches, or stop and lose yourself in the gorgeous views high about the crystal-blue lake at Emerald Bay State Park.
Lake Tahoe itself is at 6200 feet, and is home to Heavenly Ski Resort, one of our country’s most popular ski areas. I recently spent 10 days with a friend who has lived and skied there for 35 years and knows every switch-back and hairpin turn on the mountainous roads. That, in and of itself, was an adventure for me, but that’s what it also took to get to our condo, which like so many other rentals, was built into the side of a mountain.
There are plenty of great hotel options in town, but this area is time-share rental heaven, and the ski resort makes numerous shuttle runs picking up skiers along the routes including the hotels. If you choose to stay in a rental, be prepared for lots of steep steps, but don’t worry – you’ll likely have your own private hot tub as a reward. The condo we stayed in was 39 steps down from where we parked, and the deck hung over the mountain. We were at 7800 feet, and yes, it took me a day to adjust to the thin air.
In the summer, the lake is filled with boaters and other water enthusiasts. There are numerous hiking trails with varying levels of ease. For the more ambitious, mountain biking trails await with plenty of bike rental options. Golf is a popular draw. But what else calls people to Lake Tahoe? The casinos! Harrah’s, Harvey’s and Mont Blue sit just inside Stateline, Nevada.
A visit to Lake Tahoe is time well spent, but to get the full flavor, treat yourself to excursions beyond the lake. Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 winter Olympics is an hour away. Virginia City, a tricked-out tourist view of what life was like during the silver-mining rush is a bit more than an hour. And Donner Summit, a true story of western survival, is about an hour and a half away.
Lastly, on everyone’s must-do visit is a chairlift or gondola ride up the mountain (and back down again!) that you can take from the downtown commercial area AND a boat ride around the lake. Both offer spectacular views.
Final word: The Lake Tahoe area is expensive. And with COVID restrictions placed on restaurants, lines were very long. We found it easiest to visit grocery store deli-departments to provide our own meals. As an area, the Tahoe Basin is struggling with how to manage tourism and the environment. Something will have to give to maintain its natural beauty.