By Charlie Johnston
To say that Lake Tahoe offers an abundance of recreational possibilities is an understatement as colossal as the impossibly blue lake itself. The largest alpine lake in North America, Tahoe’s 72 miles of shoreline and hundreds of thousands of acres of unspoiled forested mountain wilderness make it a strong contender for largest outdoor playground as well.
The granddaddy of all Lake Tahoe outdoor adventures is the Tahoe Rim Trail. In its 165 miles, the route circumambulates the lake through pristine wilderness and along mountain crests as high as 10,338 feet. Ultra-running superhuman Kilian Jornet completed the route in a mere 38 hours and 32 minutes, but us mortals should budget about 12 days. The Tahoe Rim Trail recently opened a new section along the Galena Waterfall, and, in late 2010, work started on the Rim to Reno Trail System, which connects the TRT to Reno and provides 20 additional miles of trails in the Mount Rose Wilderness vicinity.
Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park occupies much of the lake’s northeastern shore and adjacent backcountry between Incline Village and U.S. Highway 50. Sand Harbor is the park’s most popular stop, with sandy beaches, a boat ramp, and picnic and group-use areas. A beachside stage hosts the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in July and August. The shoreline north and south of Sand Harbor along State Route 28 offers myriad secluded—but popular—stretches of sand including Chimney and Hidden Beaches. Spooner Lake in the southern part of the park is popular for fishing and hiking and is the embarkation point for many trails leading into the 13,000-acre Marlette-Hobart Backcountry.
Fabled hiking, biking, and horseback routes such as the Marlette Flume and Tahoe Rim Trails combine for more than 50 miles of paths within the park and provide access to Marlette Lake and Hobart Reservoir. Hobart, Marlette Peak, and North Canyon Campgrounds provide primitive overnight options for backpackers, and the Spooner Lake Outdoor Company offers two rustic cabins near Spooner Lake. Cave Rock at the southern tip of the park is a sacred site among the area’s native Washoe people and overlooks a small day-use area with a boat ramp, beach, and picnic sites just south of the Cave Rock tunnels on U.S. 50. Outside of the state park, the eastern shore of the lake between Incline Village and Stateline is strewn with popular beaches, resorts, campgrounds, and other lakeside attractions.
Van Sickle Bi-State Park straddles the Nevada-California border just steps from Stateline and South Lake Tahoe. The nation’s first bi-state park offers hiking and equestrian trails and nature study.
Roughly two-thirds of Lake Tahoe is in California, where cozy lakeside towns, four state parks, and endless wilderness are the perfect complement to the offerings on the Nevada side. Burton Creek, D.L. Bliss, Emerald Bay, and Sugar Pine Point State Parks offer countless trails to suit any fitness level, and all but Burton Creek offer camping as well. All told, the California side of Lake Tahoe is home to more than 1,000 campsites—all with restrooms and most with access to showers.
Emerald Bay State Park ranks among the most popular attractions at Lake Tahoe thanks to the unparalleled beauty of its languid waters and picturesque setting amid grand alpine forests, cascading waterfalls, and towering granite crags. In addition to a variety of trails and access to Desolation Wilderness, Vikingsholm Castle is a big draw to the park. Built in the late 1920s, Vikingsholm is considered the best example of Scandinavian architecture in the Western Hemisphere. Fannette Island—the lake’s only island—in Emerald Bay, is home to the castle’s companion, the Tea House. Beaches on the lake’s western shore include those within D.L. Bliss, Emerald Bay, and Sugar Pine Point, as well as popular spots such as Pope Beach near Camp Richardson, Tahoe City’s Commons Beach, and Meeks Bay.
A challenging way to take in all the scenery of Tahoe is during one of the lake’s many endurance sports events, including the 72-mile circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe via America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, June 3, 2012, and the Lake Tahoe Marathon, which follows California State Route 89 from Tahoe City 26.2 miles to Pope Beach, September 30, 2012.
Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park
PO Box 6116, Incline Village, NV 89450
Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
169 U.S. Hwy 50, Stateline, NV 89449
Lake Tahoe Incline Village & Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau
969 Tahoe Blvd, Incline Village, NV 89451
Tahoe Rim Trail Association
948 Incline Way, Incline Village, NV 89451