Filled with over 39 trillion gallons of pure Sierra snowmelt and pusheda mile into the Californian and Nevada skies, Lake Tahoe is the USA’s largest alpine lake, and one of the country’s oldest, year-round vacation playgrounds. Lake Tahoe has forever drawn travellers to its shores, from the Native Americans who call this place Big Water, to the trappers, timber cutters and pioneers who followed. In the 1870s, an awestruck Mark Twain wrote,“ to breathe the same air as angels, you must go to Tahoe”. By the time the 20th century rolled ‘round, lodges, taverns and casinos had sprung up all around Tahoe’s shorelinecatering to legions of weary city folk, keen to experience that heavenly air for themselves.
When you’re ready for a little alpine magic, take the four-hour drive from San Francisco to the sunlit shores of Kings Beach. Set on Tahoe’s northern end, this beach was named after local card shark, Joe King, who used his winnings to develop some of the lake’s earliest lodgings. On the lake’s southern shore, is Pope Beach, where you’ll find another Tahoe institution. At historic Camp Richardson, generations of families return year after year to create life-longvacation memories under the towering pines. From Pope Beach, saddle up, and follow the bike path to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. An open-air classroom for the entire family, the center features fabulous interpretative walks, such as the Rainbow Trail.
This wetland loop even features an underground chamber, giving visitors a unique salmon-eye view of this incredible environment. Once you’ve warmed up your legs at Taylor Creek, take in the majesty of the surrounding state parks. Nearby, at DL Bliss State Park, follow the spectacular Rubicon Trail, which runs high above Tahoe’s deepest waters and dips down to quiet, secluded coves. The six and a half-mile trail twists through forests of aspen, cedar and mountain dogwood,…past the country’s highest lighthouse, before crossing into neighboring Emerald Bay State Park. This park is home to the Eagle Falls Trail, a moderate two-mile hike that takes in some of the Sierra high country’s finest views.
Down by the shore, visit Tahoe’s hidden castle. Inspired by the legends and architecture of Scandinavia, in 1929, heiress Lora J. Knight, brought in an army of 200 craftsmen to build this 38-room summer home from the lake’s timber and stone. Today, Viking sholm is cared for by the Sierra State Parks Foundation, and operates as a museum and fairy-tale window into Tahoe’s past. Emerald Bay is also home to the lake’s only island, once the abode of another local character, Captain Dick, who delighted in showing visitors a wooden box containing, his toes. The old sea dog lost his toes to frostbite after capsizing his boat one dark winter night, on a long row home from a far-off tavern. These days, Tahoe’s 72-mile ring road makes getting around the lake far less perilous.
And even if you’re not up to paddling or hiking, you can still enjoy the breathtaking vistas from its many roadside stops, like Inspiration Point. Just 10-miles east of Emerald Bay is the lake’s largest town, South Lake Tahoe. Hang out on the beaches, enjoy the creature comforts, then rise above it all on Heavenly Mountain, a world-class ski resort in winter, and adventure playground throughout the summer months. Lake Tahoe is a place of ever-shifting moods. When you’re ready to experience this raw beauty, take a drive up the eastern shoreline, which is wilder and less developed than her other shores. When the ponderosa pines bend with the season’s first snow, Tahoe transforms into a winter wonderland. Towns like Tahoe City and nearby Truckee become the perfect snow-bound escapes, while the lake’s ski resorts turn Tahoe into the nation’s favorite winter playground.
As far back as 1856,mountain men like Snowshoe Thompson were traversing these slopes on wooden skis, but it was the Winter Olympics that really put Tahoe’s runs on the map. In 1960, skeptical teams and officials from 30 countriesdescended on a fledgling resort called Squaw Valley, and they were soon won over. In the decades since, over 20 world-class downhill and cross country resorts have opened,taking advantage of the region’s 300 days of sunshine per year,450 inches of annual snowfall,and that incredible Tahoe scenery. Whether you’re looking for snow-capped peaks or crystal clear coves, places to bond with loved ones or pockets of pure solitude, The Lake in the Sky, has it all. As naturalist John Muir wrote over a century ago,“ Tahoe is surely not one, but many,…I am reminded of all the mountain lakes I ever knew, as if this were a kind of water heaven to which they all had come.”