The glitz and glamour of Reno are legendary. The excitement and adventure of "The biggest little city in the world" have long attracted visitors from around the world. I've always found Reno's bright lights, casino sounds, and nights aglow infectious. However, after a couple of days I begin to long for some solitude, natural beauty, and relaxation. Fortunately, both environments are within close proximity and a leisurely drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains quickly brings a traveler in sight of sapphire-colored Lake Tahoe.
To reach Lake Tahoe from Reno, drive south on U.S. Highway 395 and turn west onto Mount Rose Highway to Incline Village, a scenic and leisurely mannered resort community on the lake's north shore. En route to the village, stop at the vista point on Mount Rose for an introduction to the first of many spectacular lake views.
No trip to Lake Tahoe is complete without experiencing the lake's 72-mile shoreline drive. It's a journey filled with pristine scenic beauty, old-growth stands of Ponderosa, Sugar, and Jeffery Pine forests, a lake so large that its shoreline is in two states, and enough recreation and entertainment to provide a summer of memories. If you want to leisurely enjoy it all, plan to take at least a minimum of two or three days.
Although you can begin a Tahoe trip from several locations around the lake, my lakeside journey began at Incline Village after picking up plenty of valuable (but free!) area travel information at the Incline Village & Crystal Bay Visitors & Convention Bureau, 969 Tahoe Boulevard.
Here are a few of my personal favorite stops along Lake Tahoe's scenic shoreline:
The neighboring towns of Incline Village and Crystal Bay offer an upscale, family oriented environment. "You literally can't see the town for the trees," said actor Tom Celiac, who was married at the village in 1987. You'll soon discover the area's diverse recreational activities, top-notch accommodations, and fine dining establishments. Outdoor enthusiasts may enjoy waterskiing, sailing, hiking, bicycling, and stretching out on a white sandy beach. Your stop at the Visitors Bureau will begin your shopping bag full of places to visit and things to do.
Nevada's Sand Harbor State Park located on Highway 28, is one of Lake Tahoe's most popular destinations. With its sandy beach and translucent blue water, it's a perfect spot for swimming, boating, and walking a well-liked and self- guided nature trail. The park's the site of the annual Shakespear festival and other summer events and celebrations.
Just south of the village, you'll discover the Ponderosa Ranch, a popular family attraction. Hey, I'm no youngster, but I managed to keep up with the best of them as we toured the site made famous by the well-known television series, Bonanza. Sure it's touristy, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the famous Cartwright Ranch House, a petting farm, shooting gallery, antique automobile and ranch equipment exhibits, and a TV-authentic western town complete with roving ranch hands and carriage rides. If you're traveling during the summer months, be sure to take the Hagen all-you-can-eat breakfast ride to Wagon Camp. If you make it past the outlaws, you'll end up feasting on flapjacks, eggs, and sausage. Beware of high noon. That's when the bad guys meet the good guys for the staging of an old-fashioned gunfight.
Further south, and still on the Nevada side of the lake, Zephyr Cove is the perfect place to spend as much summer time as possible. The "Cove" has been a spot for visitors and locals to enjoy Lake Tahoe since 1862. With nearly a mile of shoreline, sandy beach, and one heck of a boat ride, you'll never have time to do it all in only one trip. A few of the summer amenities include volleyball, picnicking, pedal boats, canoes, fishing for trout, kokanee salmon or mackinaw, and some of the "hardest working cocktail servers anywhere"--they'll deliver your order to you on the beach.
While in the Zephyr Cove area, enjoy the award-winning M.S.Dixie ll boat cruise that travels the lake and around scenic Emerald Bay. A summer schedule of five cruises daily includes a breakfast or brunch cruise each morning, two Emerald Bay sightseeing cruises each afternoon, the Emerald Bay dinner cruise in early evening, and a Sunset Dinner & Dance cruise every night. A word to the wise, be sure you take along the camera and plenty of film. The cruises are a photographer's delight.
Across the street from the beach and Dixie II paddleboat landing, about 105 full-hookup RV sites and 80 tent sites await you, so pick a spot and stay awhile. The campground contains restrooms, showers, laundry, and sanitary disposal station.
If you're in the mood to gamble one last time, do it now. Soon you'll be crossing the line into California where gambling's a no-no. I found it kind of fun to stop in casino-filled Stateline and have the feeling half of me is in California and the other half in Nevada. A great place to stop for information is the Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce located at 195 Highway 50. They'll gladly provide you information about where you've been as well as where you're headed.
South Lake Tahoe summer's are filled with exciting recreational opportunities. Once you're in California, the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce is located about mid- way through the city at 3066 Lake Tahoe Boulevard. Stop there for suggestions regarding accommodations, dining, camping, attractions, and recreational opportunities. Another stop should be the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Visitors Center. Plan to stay awhile and enjoy the beautiful setting where you can take a self-guided tour on the "Rainbow Trail." By all means venture into the exciting underground viewing chamber. I found it fascinating to watch trout, kokanee salmon, and other river creatures up close and personal through the stream's chamber windows.
If you've visited the Heavenly Ski Resort during the winter, you may want to check out the short Heavenly Aerial Tram ride during the summer season. It's a chance to experience a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe from 2,000 feet in the air. The restaurant at the top serves a casual lunch and dinner high above the valley floor.
You'll definitely want to stop at the Vikingsholm Castle, part of Emerald Bay State Park. This fine example of Scandinavian architecture offers tours every half hour in the summer. It's a moderately steep hike to reach the Castle, but you'll marvel at the spectacular building and an unbelievable view of the bay. If you've seen the Castle from waterside aboard the Dixie ll, you'll get an entirely different perspective from this stop along Highway 89.
Out of South Lake Tahoe you can choose to head west into California via Highway 50 or continue the lake loop along Highway 89. If you choose the northern highway, you'll travel past Desolation Wilderness, Meeks Bay, and into Tahoe City. From there it's a short drive into Crystal Bay and you've completed a journey through some of nature's most glorious and magnificent scenery.
Desolation Wilderness is a heavily visited region that's popular with hikers and backpackers. If you feel the urge to hike through some of the regions most awesome country, check with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit at 870 Emerald Bay Road in South Lake Tahoe regarding requirements, restrictions, reservations, and permits.
The 2,000-acre Sugar Pine Point State Park, one mile north of Meeks Bay, is the largest California state park in the Lake Tahoe area. It contains 150 developed campsites and offers picnic areas, hiking trails, fishing, and swimming. Rangers at both Sugar Pine Point and D.L.Bliss State Park, with 168 developed campsites, offer a variety of interpretive walks, hikes, and tours. These unique parks boast terrain which includes white, sandy beaches, craggy cliffs, heavily wooded forests, and brilliant seasonal wildflowers. Built at the turn of the century, Ehrman Mansion, a three-story, stately summer home which sits on meticulously- manicured grounds is open for public tours from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Less than 20 miles north of Sugar Pine and D.L. Bliss, lies Tahoe City. Attractive beaches, the Gatekeeper's Museum, an authentic 19th-century cabin once used by the dam's gatekeepers, and Fanny Bridge, appropriately named to honor the thousands of visitors who bend over and view gigantic trout in the Truckee River, are just a few of the attractions that highlight this busy community during the summer.
From Tahoe City, travel north east on Highway 28 and you'll soon return to Crystal Bay and the trek is nearly over. I hope you had as much excitement and fun as I did. You must admit, you've experienced a region that's truly special. I know that I did!
A warning: This article barely skims the surface of all that awaits you in Lake Tahoe. Whether you want to gamble away a summer evening, fish in a pristine stream, try your hand at skipping rocks across a lake, or hike to the top of a mountain, Lake Tahoe in summer is where you want to be.
Article by Bob Carter, an award-winning travel writer and author. COPYRIGHT 1998 by Bob Carter. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.
Photo credits: Kids at the lake by Deb Arborgast; Sand Harbor play, courtesy of the Shakespeare Festival; Ponderosa postcard - Don Davis; tour boat, Vikingsholm, boats at Sugar Pine by Jill Beede
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