Whether you swim, fish, sail, or simply rest on its shores, you’ll be wowed by the overwhelming beauty of Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. Famous for its cobalt-blue water and surrounding snowcapped peaks, Lake Tahoe straddles the state line between California and Nevada. The border gives this popular Sierra Nevada resort region a split personality. About half its visitors are intent on low-key sightseeing, hiking, camping, and boating. The rest head directly to the Nevada side, where bargain dining, big-name entertainment, and the lure of a jackpot draw them into the glittering casinos. Lake Tahoe, the clear, cobalt blue lake tucked into the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range, welcomes athletes, adventurers and casual travelers to its easygoing and pine-scented atmosphere. A long sought-after vacation destination, Lake Tahoe keeps everyone’s interests piqued and their vacations active throughout the year. Lake Tahoe is the nation’s second deepest lake, and the area previously served as a transcontinental route for first the railroad and later highways. As roadside stops increased in the area, so did the bustle, attracting travelers who were taken by Lake Tahoe’s beauty and wealth of activities. Over the course of the 20th century, Lake Tahoe blossomed into a scenic locale adored by visitors and locals alike.
Exploring Tahoe’s towns that surround the lake might make you feel like you’re swaggering through a modernized downtown from the Old West or freeing yourself of life’s unnecessary pressures by embracing the chill West Coast vibe that permeates throughout the area. Visit Lake Tahoe in the summer where you can paddleboard on the sparkling lake during the day and gaze at the numerous constellations illuminating the sky at night. Or if the idea of careening down a mountain slope on skis quickens your heartbeat, pay Tahoe a visit in the winter. You’ll find peak conditions for snowboarding and skiing, and the weather puts you in the perfect mood for curling up with a mug of hot cocoa next to a roaring fire in your log resort.
To explore the lake area and get a feel for its many differing communities, drive the 72-mile road that follows the shore through wooded flatlands and past beaches, climbing to vistas on the rugged southwest side of the lake and passing through busy commercial developments and casinos on its northeastern and southeastern edges. Another option is to actually go out on the 22-mile-long, 12-mile-wide lake on a sightseeing cruise or kayaking trip.
The lake, the communities around it, the state parks, national forests, and protected tracts of wilderness are the region’s main draws, but other nearby destinations are gaining in popularity. Truckee, with an Old West feel and innovative restaurants, entices visitors looking for a relaxed pace and easy access to Tahoe’s north shore and Olympic Valley ski parks. And today Reno, once known only for its casinos, attracts tourists with its buzzing arts scene, revitalized downtown riverfront, and campus events at the University of Nevada.
Tahoe embodies the American Dream’s concept of “having it all” – it quite literally has it all. Hike mountains trails in picturesque Tahoe City. Bask on sunny beaches in South Lake Tahoe. Shred the gnarr out on the snow-covered slopes of Squaw Valley. Explore the niche boutiques in Truckee. Sample gourmet cuisine as you watch the setting sun seemingly sink into the lake in Incline Village . . . ahhh, we could go on for pages about Tahoe’s offerings. And we do! This section of Tahoe.com features every place to stay, every vacation rental company, attraction, activity, restaurant, casino and wedding venue you’ll find in Tahoe’s towns. Lake Tahoe is strikingly beautiful when seen from afar, but those seeking peace and solitude will not be immediately impressed with much of the area around the shore as it contains innumerable shops, marinas, campsites, and especially holiday homes and lodges. Thousands of these wooden dwellings are scattered through the dense pine and cedar forest around the lake, and many of the adjacent beaches are privately owned. Still, there are plenty of publicly accessible, secluded places close to the waters edge and vast unspoilt wilderness away from the lake, especially to the north and west – Lake Tahoe is surrounded on most sides by high granite mountains with peaks well above the treeline, some covered by patches of snow that persist all year.
The mountains are a very popular skiing destination during winter, with 14 ski centers that start to open in late October and some continue until May. Tahoe is the largest lake in California, and is notable for being particularly deep, cold, and clear, and for having dramatic Alpine surroundings. It lies across the California/Nevada border, and the most spectacular approach is from Carson City on the Nevada side, via US 50 which climbs up a steep winding valley to 7,300 feet. After 10 miles, the road reaches a small, tree-lined lake at Spooner Junction, where US 50 turns south and NV 28 joins from the north. The two other main entry routes are from the north along CA 267 from Truckee on I-80, or from the south via US 50 from Sacramento. The hills rise steeply around most parts of Lake Tahoe, so there are few side roads into the national forests that comprise much of the surrounding mountains, and hence not many opportunities for free camping. One of the few paved routes is just north of Idlewild, half way along the west shore, on land of the Tahoe National Forest – this follows a small stream, Blackwood Creek, for 2 miles along a forested valley, and does pass a few places suitable for camping. The end of the road is also a popular starting point for trips into the backcountry, with the Pacific Crest Trail six miles further up the valley. Official campsites can be found at intervals around the lake, including at Tahoe Vista, Incline Village, Zephyr Cove, Meeks Bay, South Lake Tahoe, Camp Richardson and Tahoe City. Ever been in two states at the same time? The California/Nevada state line carves a line through Crystal Bay and you can actually swim from one state to the other in the Cal-Neva Resort’s swimming pool. The Lake Tahoe neighborhood of Crystal Bay surveys its namesake and sits upon a magnificent granite boulder spread peninsula.
This is where Frank Sinatra, Jack Kennedy , Marilyn Monroe and Sam Giancana stayed and played here in the ’60s. There are four lively casinos with an extensive quantity of Lake Tahoe lodging and dining, plus an incredible amount of live entertainment.