Costco Connection: Lake Tahoe
Spilling across both sides of the Nevada–California border and surrounded by national forest, Lake Tahoe — the largest alpine lake in North America — has reigned for decades as one of the most popular year-round destinations in the U.S.
A road trip destination or a quick drive from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Lake Tahoe offers winter skiing, summer water sports, biking and hiking trails, golf courses, resorts and casinos. Here are some of my favorite activities.
On the ground
One of the easiest ways to see the lake is by bicycle, thanks to miles of surrounding bike paths.
The 3.5-mile Pope Baldwin Bike Path takes you near the Tallac Historic Site, home to several historic mansions and other buildings.
The Cascade Falls Trail in South Lake Tahoe offers views of Cascade Lake, Emerald Bay and, of course, Lake Tahoe, all in a manageable 1-mile-out, 1-mile-back route.
Want a bigger challenge? Try parts of the 165-mile-long Tahoe Rim Trail (check to see which parts are OK for hiking and biking or just hiking), which circumnavigates the lake. With access from nine trailheads, the trail passes through dense forest, meadows, waterfalls, ancient lava formations and more.
In the air
Unlike any other balloon ride in the world, the balloon rides at Lake Tahoe actually launch from the lake, off the Tahoe Flyer, the world’s only balloon aircraft recovery vessel. The sunrise flight offers great views of the Sierra Nevada, Emerald Bay and the entirety of Lake Tahoe, from north to south.
On the water
Emerald Bay is home to the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail, California’s first underwater trail, which allows people to explore the marine life of Lake Tahoe. The trail opened in October 2018, and visitors are able to go scuba diving and snorkeling to visit several shipwreck sites and sunken barges at the Historic Barge Dive Site.
At the center of Emerald Bay is Vikingsholm, a 38-room Scandinavian-style mansion built in 1929 by an eccentric millionaire. Tours of the mansion are offered from May 29 to September 30.
When you’re finished biking or hiking, head for the Tahoe City Farmers Market (social distancing and masking protocols are in place), at Commons Beach in Tahoe City.
Local artisans and farmers sell their goods; produce includes artichokes, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. On the first Thursday of each month look for McClaughry Farms Honey. They produce a variety of different honeys from Sierra foothills bees, ranging from classic clover to more unusual flavors, including blackberry and hot pepper.
For dinner, I like Cafe Fiore. It is—literally—an intimate experience: It currently holds only four tables (down from the usual seven, due to social distancing requirements). But while the restaurant is small, at only 200 square feet, the menu isn’t. Check out the eggplant crepes, a wide range of pasta dishes and, my favorite, a nightly swordfish special that is not on the menu (you need to ask).
Virginia City day trip
About an hour northeast of South Lake Tahoe is Virginia City, Nevada, one of the best preserved examples of the American West.
A National Historic Landmark District, filled with museums and dozens of homes and businesses listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the town has a rich history of mining and offers tours and the option to pan for gold.
The Red Dog Saloon serves excellent pizza, and you can grab a drink at the Ponderosa, where you can visit a mine underneath a bar. You’ll find tunnels, crosscuts, drifts, stopes, raises, winzes and shafts, as well as an old walk-in bank vault.—PG