Only a four-hour drive from Marin, beautiful Lake Tahoe offers it all when it comes to getting out there and being active. Four of my favorite activities—kayaking, twilight golf, mountain biking and vista hiking—offer awesome scenery and easy escape from the spring and summer crowds.
Touring Tahoe by kayak
Lake Tahoe is a boater’s paradise. But for kayakers, the 190-square-mile mountain lake approaches nirvana. Portable and easy to use, kayaks allow you to lose the tourist hordes and explore the lake’s miles of quiet and secluded shoreline.
I recently spent a weekend kayaking Lake Tahoe, joining two guided day tours and squeezing in an overnight stay at a boat-in campground. The first tour, run by Kayak Tahoe (kayaktahoe.com), started on the beach at D. L. Bliss State Park on the lake’s southwestern shore. After a brief orientation and safety talk, we slid our kayaks into the lake and paddled south along the shoreline past car-size boulders, forests of fir and sugar pine and a pair of ospreys nesting atop a huge snag. The crystal-clear waters beneath my boat plunged from sandy-bottomed shallows to darker depths, changing hue from ethereal green to sapphire blue.
During a midday lunch stop at a sandy beach on Emerald Bay, we watched two elegant stern-wheelers churn by. Our afternoon route brought us around the bay beyond tiny Fannette Island, past Vikingsholm (a historic Scandinavian-style mansion) and to Eagle Point at the mouth of the bay, where a mama merganser and her obedient brood weaved between shoreline rocks. Our 7.5-mile-long paddle ended at lively Camp Richardson amid sunbathers and swimmers.
Later that afternoon, I packed up rental kayaks with camping supplies and paddled back to Emerald Bay. We camped at Emerald Bay State Park’s boat-in campground, under whistling yellow pines and cedars.
The following day, I headed up to the north shore to join a tour run by Tahoe Paddle and Oar (tahoepaddle.com), based at the North Tahoe Beach Center in Kings Beach. Setting out from the wide beach behind the center, we paddled toward the California-Nevada border at Brockway Point, where we explored a jumbled maze of giant, half-submerged granite boulders along a sandy beach. We continued on to another rocky promontory before returning to Kings Beach—a 2.5-mile paddle in all.
Then it was back to the “real world.” I took with me a pleasant soreness in my paddling muscles and memories of pristine shoreline as mementos of my brief but heavenly escape on the water.
In the High Sierra, the elevation makes lowland duffers like me tee off like champions (golf balls travel more than 10 percent farther in the mountains than at sea level).
There’s a tantalizing array of upland courses in Tahoe, from poky nine-holers to challenging 18-hole championship layouts. At some, mule deer and Canada geese graze the fairways; at others, raptors take in airborne views of the player’s birdies and eagles.
One of my favorite places to tee off is Northstar-at-Tahoe, near Truckee, on a beautiful 18-hole, par-72 course designed by legendary landscape architect Robert Muir Graves. Especially enticing is Northstar’s “twilight” golf special. From May 1 through June 14, you can get on the greens after 1 p.m. for just $39 (includes cart); June 15 through September 16, the rate jumps to $69.
Mountain Bike Mania
Avid mountain bikers will love Northstar Resort’s lift-accessed mountain bike park (northstarattahoe.com), the largest in North America, with over 100 miles of trails. The park has added five new trail segments and two new full trails, including a beginners’ trail from the top of Vista Chair to the Tahoe Zephyr six-seater lift. Trails range from easy (green circle) to very difficult (double black diamond) and include a skills development area where bikers can practice tricks on smaller features before heading to a brand-new jump park.
For a challenging but highly rewarding mountain bike ride, check out the north shore’s Flume Trail, which begins at 7,080 feet elevation at the Spooner Lake day use area in the beautiful Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. You start on North Canyon road, heading through rolling uphill terrain through beautiful aspen groves. A gradual 1,100-foot climb is capped by a steep half-mile section, then followed by a short descent to pristine Marlette Lake. A ride along the shore of Marlette Lake leads to the incredible Flume Trail and over four miles of single-track riding. This trail, perched some 1,600 feet above Lake Tahoe’s east shore, is nearly flat and features spectacular views of the lake and Tahoe Basin. The end of the Flume Trail is a three-mile, 1,500-foot descent to Highway 28, or you can ride back the way you came.
One of the easiest ways to quickly access Tahoe’s awesome hiking terrain is to catch a ride on Heavenly Resort’s gondola, which whisks you up to 9,136 feet elevation. At the top, you can head out on one of three hiking routes, which range from ambling to more challenging. The trails meander through the High Sierra forest with awesome views of Lake Tahoe en route. The East Peak Trail gently climbs almost 400 vertical feet over 1.6 miles and meanders through the forest to a vantage point with spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley. Or choose the Sky Meadows trail, a 2.2-mile round-trip hike that takes you downhill almost 500 vertical feet, where you will find meadows full of wildflowers including the vibrant colors of Indian paintbrush, purple lupine and yellow mule ears. The 3.8-mile round-trip East Peak Lake Trail starts off with a gradual uphill climb, continues with a hike along a picturesque ridgeline, and then descends to East Peak Lake. During the summer season Heavenly also offers rock climbing at Adventure Peak at the top of the gondola. And in August, Heavenly will open the only zip line in the Tahoe Basin—a great way to make your heart pound even faster!
Another favorite view hike near the south shore is the Rubicon Trail, which you can join at Calawee Cove Beach at D. L. Bliss State Park and follow to Rubicon Point for stunning views of Tahoe’s emerald and sapphire waters. Continue following the trail to Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm Castle at the water’s edge. It’s Tahoe at its breathtaking best.
The Resort at Squaw Creek It will be hard to leave the room; each features a residential-style kitchen, flat-screen television and fireplace (Squaw Valley). 530.583.6300, squawcreek.com
Northstar Resort When not relaxing in a luxury condominium or a five-bedroom home at the resort, families can take advantage of golf clinics, tennis camps and pony rides (Truckee). 800.466.6784, northstarattahoe.com
The Deerfield Lodge at Heavenly Within walking distance of the beaches of Lake Tahoe, this boutique hotel offers en-suite massages and concierge services (South Lake Tahoe). 888.757.3337, tahoedeerfieldlodge.com
Lakeland Village Beach and Mountain Resort Situated on 19 wooded, lakefront acres, the family resort features a private sandy beach with a pier and boat moorings, tennis courts and outdoor heated pools (South Lake Tahoe). 530.544.1685,
Marriott’s Timber Lodge Boasting villas that can accommodate up to ten guests, the modern lodge is set at the edge of the Heavenly gondola and near many restaurants (South Lake Tahoe). 530.542.6600, marriott.com
The Forest Suites Within walking distance of the Tahoe casinos and Heavenly gondola, these condo-style accommodations are some of the largest in the area. Private beach access and swimming pools make it an ideal getaway (South Lake Tahoe). 530.541.6655, forestsuites.com
For the ultimate Lake Tahoe beach experience, check into the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort Spa and Casino. Whether you’re going for a family vacation or a romantic getaway, this property has it all. Situated at the tip of Tahoe’s north shore in Incline Village, Nevada, and recently renovated to the tune of $60 million, the hotel exudes a sense of rustic mountain elegance.
Within the confines of the property are a brand-new health spa and fitness club, mountain bike rentals, heated pool, private beach, summer water sports center (including waterskiing and catamaran sailing on the 55-foot Sierra Cloud) and, of course, because it is in Nevada, a 24-hour casino. Camp Hyatt’s babysitting program is available for children ages 3 to 12 with planned activities, video games, a playground and a wading pool.
Dining choices vary from a casual menu in Cutthroats Saloon to Ciao Mein Trattoria, serving a blend of Italian and Pacific Rim cuisines, to the Lone Eagle Grille with traditional fare and the best sunset lake view around. At the end of an
active day, there is no better place in the Lake Tahoe region, than on the Lone Eagle Grille patio to view the sunset. Adjacent to the grill is the Lakeside Lodge, with several meeting rooms—a popular venue for weddings, corporate functions and
The 26-acre property also boasts 24 lakeside cottages—a charming contrast to the high-rise Hyatt across the street. Seasoned and knowledgeable returning guests book these accommodations early, as they are in high demand.
Late spring/early summer room rates start at $205, with lakeside cottages starting at $555. For more information and to make reservations call 800.492.8804 or visit laketahoe.hyatt.com. —N.W.