Lake Tahoe: An All-Seasons Guide
The breathtaking mountain getaway is a year-round destination for sports and leisure.
When Mark Twain set eyes on Lake Tahoe in the early 1860s he famously said, “It must sure be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.” Nowadays, the best places to see the many shades of Tahoe blue that inspired Twain are from the ski slopes, hiking trails and beaches. No matter what season you visit, Tahoe is a region that serves up modern-day adventure. Here is some local knowledge to help you take in the view in winter, spring, summer or fall.
With more than 100 chairlifts across the ski resorts in the region, winter is perhaps the easiest time of year to reach the mountaintops and take in the full scope of the Tahoe Basin and the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountain range that surrounds it.
Click into your skis just steps from The Ritz-Carlton and make your way to the Comstock Express chairlift, which speeds guests to the 8,610-foot summit of Northstar Ski Resort. Ski freshly groomed corduroy or, if it’s snowing, make fresh powder tracks in the woods near the Backside Express chairlift. If you have lunch at one of Northstar’s on-piste restaurants, you’ll have the energy to ski until last chair. The Summit Smokehouse (5001 Northstar Drive, Truckee, California) serves spice-rubbed tri-tip or warm bowls of chili with high-elevation views of Lake Tahoe.
For après, lace up a pair of skates and take a spin around the ice rink in the heart of the Village at Northstar. Head to Petra (3001 N. Village Drive, Suite 311, Truckee, uncorkedtahoe.com), a locally owned wine bar in the Village with a deep selection of bottles made by California’s craft vintners.
Wind down back at The Ritz-Carlton with a meal at Manzanita (13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court, Truckee), where Executive Chef Mark Jeffers serves seasonally inspired cuisine out of an open kitchen.
In California, ski season stretches into the long days of spring. Rock a pair of vintage Vuarnet sunglasses — Jean Vuarnet won the gold medal in the men’s downhill at Squaw Valley in 1960 — and follow the sun as it warms the slopes.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows (1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, California, squawalpine.com) is well worth a visit in spring because it holds snow better and longer than many other ski resorts in the area. It is also an iconic ski resort that has bred athletes like Olympic gold medal ski racer Julia Mancuso and freeskiing legends Scot Schmidt and Shane McConkey. Ski Squaw’s steeps off KT-22, Headwall and Granite Chief chairlifts, or head to Alpine Meadows for family-friendly terrain. For a picture-perfect view, ride the Lakeview lift.
A good sun deck is mandatory for après in springtime, which is why skiers congregate at Squaw Valley’s Le Chamois Loft Bar (1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, squawchamois.com) until the sun dips behind the mountains. For something sweet, grab a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie from Wildflour Baking Company (1990 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley), where owner Susan Lopez has played the role of cookie monster for some 35 years.
“Came for a winter, stayed for the summer.” That’s what the locals will say when you ask them how a ski bum dream led them to settle in Tahoe for good. After the snow melts, the focus shifts from snowcapped peaks to the lake and its many beaches.
Emerald Bay State Park (138 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe), in the southwest corner of the lake, is a launchpad for history, hiking, boating and swimming. One of the most photographed places in Lake Tahoe, the vantage offers layers of blue waters and green trees with mountains in the distance. The 1.7 mile out-and-back hike to Vikingsholm (vikingsholm.com), a mansion built in 1928 on the shores of Emerald Bay, is popular. To keep hiking, follow the Rubicon Trail past the mouth of the bay. Or rent a boat to see the cathedral of mountains surrounding Emerald Bay from the lake.
For views of white boulders that jut out of Mediterranean teal-colored water, head to Sand Harbor State Park (2005 NV-28, Incline Village, Nevada) on the East Shore, where you can set up a beach chair for the day, rent kayaks or paddle boards, and at sunset, catch a performance of a Shakespeare classic like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “Hamlet.”
Count on at least one snowstorm in September or October. But after the early storm, the second wave of warmth is just as certain, and this time you can enjoy all that Tahoe has to offer, without the crowds.
For leaf peeping, head down the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, where groves of aspens are tucked underneath Mount Tallac. The 5-mile hike to the top of Tallac (elevation 9,738 feet) is bucket-list worthy — though challenging, steep and exposed — for the panoramic views at the summit.
Fall is also a great time in Lake Tahoe for foodies. For 33 years, the Autumn Food and Wine Festival at the Village at Northstar (northstarcalifornia.com) has gathered chefs from across Truckee and North Tahoe for a culinary competition. Stroll the marketplace for live cooking demonstrations, bite-sized delights, locally made crafts and wine tasting. Pull up a chair at the Tahoe Long Table Harvest Dinner at The Ritz-Carlton (ritzcarlton.com) for a family-style meal in the mountains, paired with wines and featuring a harvest-style menu with locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.
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