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Lake Tahoe

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Sierra Nevada : Lake Tahoe
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Lake Tahoe is a popular vacation and recreation region straddling the border between California and Nevada. The closest large city is Reno, Nevada.

Skiing in Tahoe

Cities

  • Tahoe City - Situated on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe. One of the two main towns on the lake (along with South Lake) this is a smaller more relaxed town with a slight, mountain hippy feel to it. Tahoe City is considerably less crowded and more relaxed than South Lake Tahoe.
  • Truckee - Historic western rail road town locate of highway 80 between Route 89 and 237 northwest of the lake.
  • South Lake Tahoe - Located near the border between California and Nevada, you can sleep in California and head up the road to gamble in Nevada.
  • Stateline is just north of South Lake Tahoe and spans the border of both states and gives you 'walk-to' access for the casinos.
  • Tahoe Vista- A beautiful Lake Tahoe city on the North Shore.

Understand

Lake Tahoe is a beautiful, crystal-clear blue lake nestled among mountain peaks. During the summer, boating, camping, and hiking are popular activities. Winter sports are popular during the colder months (December-April).

Lake Tahoe has been a tourist destination since the turn of the 20th century, when steam trains and improving roads made it possible to visit with ease. The 1960 Winter Olympics, held at Squaw Valley, popularized winter sports at Tahoe.

Get in

By plane

Fly to Reno airport, about an hour drive to Tahoe on highway 80 West. Major airports are also located in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 4 hours away, and Sacramento, about 2 hours away.

By car

Getting into the Lake Tahoe region by car is perhaps the most popular method of transportation, but it is not without its hassles and headaches, especially for the first-time visitor. Be aware that you're driving into a mountainous region that can receive heavy snowfall during certain parts of the winter season. Always carry snow chains in your car. If roads are slick with snow or ice, chain control will be implemented, which usually means you need chains installed on your tires for the affected stretch of highway unless you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Before planning your trip, check local weather reports as well as the California Highway Information Network (CHIN) (call +1 800 427-7623 in California or +1 916 445-7623 from elsewhere) for traffic conditions. The State of California also provides helpful winter driving tips.

If you are already near or in the Lake Tahoe region without snow chains in your car, but you find that you will need them, try to buy it where the locals might, such as a grocery store. Prices for chains at gas stations visible from the highway will often be twice as expensive!

During chain control, men in orange jumpsuits will be on hand to install chains for you for a hefty fee of $30 USD (sometimes a little more if they need to cut your chains to fit). If you've never installed chains, the convenience of paying an expert do the job in less than five minutes may outweigh the amount of money you save while shuddering in the cold, hunched over the instructions for half an hour. The choice is entirely yours; a good method of learning how to install chains is to watch someone do it the first time so that you know how it to do it yourself the next time---just consider the $30-$35 your lesson fee. (Or better yet, have an experienced friend teach you before you even leave.)

Four-wheel drive with snow tires almost never need chains.

Front-wheel drive cars with snow tires on the drive wheels under the weight of the engine do very well.

Rear-wheel drive trucks with no weight in the back do the worst.

Cars with bald tires with chains may still slip and be a major road hazzard.

Big rig trucks, the 18 wheelers, can jackknife, and spin and crash, and often are the cause of road closures.

Windshield wipers during showfall: It's best to find and use special windshield wipers for the snow, where the joints in the wipers are covered up and protected, otherwise, they may freeze, and be useless.

To North Lake Tahoe: From the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento, take interstate highway I-80 East toward Reno and exit highway 89 South to Tahoe City. From Reno, take I-80 West toward Sacramento and exit Truckee taking Highway 267 south to the Lake.

To South Lake Tahoe: From the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento, take US Highway 50 East toward South Lake Tahoe.

By bus or shuttle

Many ski resorts offer bus and shuttle rides from certain pick-up locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Reno, Truckee or from hotels in the Lake Tahoe region. Availability, pick-up locations, schedules and rates vary widely depending on the resort you want to go to. See the Do section below for a list of ski resorts, and check their website or call their office to see what your options are.

By train

Amtrak operates the California Zephyr Train, which goes from Emeryville, CA in the San Francisco Bay Area to Chicago, IL and makes a stop in Truckee.

Get around

In North Lake Tahoe there is a Bus service called TART (Tahoe area rapid transit) it does not have the most robust schedule and as cabs can be scarce, a rental car is a necessity.

See

See the views of the Lake from the Homewood Chairlifts.

See the mountain valley on the hike up the Emerald bay hiking trail.

Do

Ski Resorts

There are many resorts in the Tahoe region for skiers and snowboarders. Lifts are open whenever the snows begin (usually around mid-November) and close when the weather becomes too warm and the snow stops (usually around mid to late-April, though resorts have sometimes closed as late as July 4th). Conditions will vary depending on the resort, and not all mountains are the same.

For an instant overview of the conditions of a number of ski resorts, see Ski Bonk's resort map.

North Shore

  • Alpine Meadows, [1]. On highway 89 between Tahoe City and interstate 80; Alpine is one of the most well established resorts in Lake Tahoe, it boasts an large network of new high speed lifts and enough veriety in its terrain to satisfy any level of skier. Alpine also features ticket prices significantly lower than its competitors, while regulating the number of skiers on the mountain to limit crowds.
  • Homewood, [2]. On highway 89/West lake boulevard Homewood is a large resort covering two mountains with variable terrain and many different ski runs, located directly on the lake and producing some of the best views of the lake, 6 miles south of Tahoe City. Typically, Homewood is the least busy resort, has cheaper tickets than most (including a $99 senior season pass). The smaller crowds mean better skiing longer after storms, and more relaxed attitude than some Tahoe areas. Its main downside is that it has no detachable high speed chairlifts, although they have just replaced their oldest and slowest main double chair with a modern triple chair.
  • Northstar, Northstar Dr. (off Highway 267, near Truckee), +1 800 GO-NORTH, [3]. Lifts open daily from 8:30AM-4PM (weather permitting). A popular, beginner and family-friendly resort, with slopes much less steep than at most other major resorts. Currently building "The Village" at the base of the mountain with shops, restaurants, living spaces and an outdoor ice skating rink. Expect large crowds on major holiday weekends.
  • Squaw Valley, +1 530 583-6985 [4]. On highway 89 between Tahoe City and interstate 80; Squaw is ossibly the most well known resort in California, and the setting for the recent book Squawllywood. A complete skier's paradise- magazine favorite for its varied terrain, huge size and massive high speed lift system; and a former Olympic village. Its oversized reputation also presents a downside: crowds that even a on mountain the size of Squaw can swamp the intermediate lifts and result in lines.

South Shore

  • Heavenly - [5] Owned by Vail Resorts, located on the state line (so half casinos, half not)and half the skiing in Calif. and half in Nevada. Beginner, and family-friendly with considerably more terrain than many area resorts, has hosted World Cup ski races.
  • Kirkwood - [6] Located about 45 minutes from South Lake Tahoe, features one of the highest base elevations and most consistent snow packs in the Sierra. Off the beaten path, but not as crowded as Sierra at Tahoe or Heavenly with a larger variety of terrain than either.
  • Sierra at Tahoe, 1111 Sierra-at-Tahoe Road, +1 530 659-7453, [7]. Under the same management as Northstar, so a season pass will work at both locations. Slopes are steeper than at Northstar and less well maintained, more of an adventurous place to ski than northstar is usually not quite as crowded.

Nevada

  • Diamond Peak - [8] Family-friendly resort with slopes for all ski levels.
  • Mount Rose - [9] Highest base elevation in the Tahoe Basin, and the closest major ski area to Reno it is a favorite of locals, and the site of some of the best chute skiing in Tahoe.

Beyond Donner Pass

If you are heading east from the Bay Area, you have some skiing choices. These resorts are all on Highway 80 going East, before you hit Donner Pass.

  • Boreal Ridge - [10] At the peak on the highway at about 7000 feet, usually one of the first areas to open every year, with extensive night skiing and snow making coverage, this area was one of the first to market with a snowboard terrain Park.
  • Royal Gorge - [11] A cross-country ski area.
  • Sugar Bowl - [12] A resort that consistently among the resorts with the highest annual snow falls in the US, good varied terrain and an extensive network of high speed lifts.

Hiking

There are several parks along the shore and nearby, including Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay.

There are many trail in the nearby Desolation Wilderness including Mount Tallac Trail.

Beaches

[Sand Harbor], northeast shore.

Chamber's, west shore, south of Tahoe City.

Meek's Bay, west shore, south of Tahoe City.

Tahoe City, North shore, in Tahoe City.

Emerald Bay, west shore, south of Homewood on 89.

Boat trips

Several charter services offer boat tours to the mansions that dot the lake shore.

Year-Round Activities

Gambling is a popular activity year-round, many other activities are seasonal. In the winter the skiing in the area is world class and spread across many varied resorts, other winter activities are snow shoeing and snowmobiling. During the summer months boat rentals are available in most towns on the lake. Other activities that draw people to the area are: golf, hiking, mountain biking, and 4-wheeling.

Buy

You can rent skiing or snowboarding equipment directly at the mountain. However, to save money and increase your available choices, you might want to rent from one of the many Ski Shops in the Tahoe Area. You can also rent from REI, Any Mountain, and Marmot Mountain Works in the Bay Area (and probably other places too).

Eat

In North Lake/Tahoe City:

  • The Bridgetender Traditional bar food and burgers with dozens of beers on tap.
  • Lake House Pizza Pizza, Pasta and other bar food, located on the water behind Christy's, recently remodeled after a fire.
  • Garwoods Named after the wooden boats occasionally seen on the lake this is a year round favorite that has its own pier and adjacent marina. It houses a full bar, gourmet restaurant and its famous "wet woodies" a frozen house cocktail known for it's potency.
  • Rosie's Cafe Located in Tahoe city a year round local favorite for breakfast and casual meals.
  • Christy Hill: High end (for Tahoe) restaurant located directly on the lake in Tahoe City. Good food, nice ambiance, great views if you go before it gets dark

Squaw Valley Area:

  • Graham's: located in Squaw near the mountain parking lot, delicious food, extensive wine list, ambiance is a little more staid, but recommended none-the-less.

Truckee:

  • Dragonfly: located in Truckee. tasty Asian fusion food

In West Shore:

  • West Shore Cafe In Homewood.
  • Swiss Lakewood Located in Tahoma just north of Homewood, this is one of the best restaurants in the Lake Tahoe area it features traditional European alpine foods.
  • Sunny Side Located on the west shore on the water this is a popular summer lunch spot that you can boat up to.

In South Lake Tahoe:

  • Cafe Fiore
  • Bert's
  • Carina's
  • The Divided Sky
  • Heidi's Restaurant, 3485 Lake Tahoe Boulevard

Drink

  • Pierce Street Annex -- The largest nightclub in Tahoe City, features a busy and crowded dance floor on Saturday nights, depending on the season. Located behind Safeway in Tahoe City.
  • Pete and Peter's -- Also in Tahoe City, more of a local bar feel with shuffle board and weekly drink specials.
  • Rosie's Cafe -- Located in Tahoe City, this is a local restaurant and breakfast spot with a separate bar that is open every night.
  • The Bridgetender -- Located just south of Fanny Bridge this is an longstanding Tahoe favorite with a full bar and restaurant serving great burgers and other bar food.
  • Garwoods -- Located east of Tahoe City on state route 22 in Carnelian Bay
  • Sunny Side -- Located south of Tahoe City on state route 89, more relaxed and upscale atmosphere than the bars in Tahoe City.

Sleep

Hotels are, of course, an option. Book in advance, especially in the winter or summer seasons. You can get a room for as cheap as $30/night in South Lake Tahoe, or spend several hundred dollars a night for a large cabin that can hold a dozen people.

Homeowners in the area do a brisk business renting/leasing out their cabins for the winter and summer seasons. They vary in price from $800/mo for a 1-room condo, to $3,000/mo and up for 4 bedroom houses with hot tubs and other amenities. Leases are advertised with real estate agencies as well as in the local papers.

Budget

  • Packard Realty Resorts, [13], Three resorts to choose from right on Lake Tahoe. Prices from $29 USD per person per night.
  • Tahoe City Travel Lodge, [14], Member of a large budget chain this is located in the heart of down town Tahoe City, as plus it has a Lake View hot tub.

Mid-Range

  • First Accommodations, Inc., 888-486-3143, [15]. Provides vacation rental lodging in the North and West Shores of Lake Tahoe. Features many condo rentals in resort communities and private residences.

Splurge

  • The resort at Squaw Creek [16] This luxury hotel features multiple pools, extensive summer golfing, and its own dedicated chairlift.
  • Coldwell Banker Lake Tahoe Vacations, (800) 748-6857, rentals@cbmckinney.com, [17]. Offering over 100 rentals in the South Lake Tahoe area including homes, condominiums, and cabins. Some of our vacation rentals come with pools, tennis courts, spas and boat slips. Prices range from as little as $75 per night for a condo in the low season to $1300 per night for a four bedroom house during the Christmas holiday.
  • Hyatt High Sierra Lodge, 989 Incline Way, Incline Village, Nevada, +1 775 832-0220, [18]. This is a "Hyatt Vacation Club Resort," which is the fanciest of the fancy; you get a 2-bedroom condo with its own balcony, a fireplace and a whirlpool spa. Price per condo is around $350 USD per night.
  • Soda Springs Rentals, 21719 Donner Pass Rd., Soda Springs, California (office location), +1 866 679 8300 (email: megan@sodaspringsrentals.com), [19]. Homey two to four bedroom cabins in Soda Springs, just west of Truckee in the North Lake Tahoe area.

Stay safe

Beware of Bears. Do not feed the bears. Do not leave food or food wrappers in your car.

Snowstorms can often cause power outages that may last days or even up to a week or more depending on the remoteness of your location, as well as block off roads with several feet of snow that may fall in a single night. Bring enough food, just in case.

Get out

Some stay and become ski bums.



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