Tahoe, From Lake to Peak

A local highlights what’s best in the region for a Lake Tahoe vacation in any season.

Crystal waters, turquoise skies and fresh, mountain air—the very essence of beautiful Lake Tahoe. In living color, you’ll find yourself immersed in a wonderland of blue, no matter what the season. Moreover, you’ll meet two distinct personalities, one for each end of Lake Tahoe with one foot in California and another in Nevada. There’s South Lake Tahoe with its high-voltage energy. The North Shore, where a pure Tahoe experience is only an adventure away, retains its old Tahoe charm. Regardless of where your compass directs you, you’ll discover that Lake Tahoe isn’t just a mere destination, but also an experience you’ll always remember.

Lake Tahoe Musts

A memorable trip to Lake Tahoe depends only on one thing—the season. As someone who grew up in and lives in Tahoe with her family, it is the perfect place for families at any time of the year, whether you’re following family tradition or beginning a new one.

People who visit Lake Tahoe come from every corner of the earth. It’s not surprising to see and meet a melting pot of locals and tourists alike, all in awe of the sheer beauty of the mountains and water. It’s also about the people. We’re very friendly here, and it shows. Being surrounded with like-minded locals and travelers truly makes a difference when you’re on vacation.

Tahoe is a national jewel of crystal-clear mountain water. In the summer it shines with water sports, hiking, bicycling, hot-air ballooning and beautiful championship golf courses. In winter it’s a wonderland of skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and sleigh rides. No matter what time of year, Tahoe always serves up luxurious spas, adventure sports, great casino nightlife and stunning views that are never to be forgotten.

Winter Activities: Ski and Stay

Heavenly Valley, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Squaw Creek and Sierra-at-Tahoe are the big winter ski resorts. [Read our Where to Stay in Tahoe article for more options.] However, if you have the sudden urge to be more daring and adventurous on the slopes this season, click into your bindings and get set to ski the killer back country on the North Shore. North Lake Tahoe is home to some of the freshest, most challenging and breathtakingly beautiful backcountry skiing in the entire country.

If you’re looking for the steepest and deepest stashes in the area, I suggest making friends at one of Tahoe Dave’s four locations or saddling up at a bar and listening to tales of the locals. Once you decide which slopes you want to hit—there are a lot of people in Tahoe who would call themselves “guides”—but if you are looking for a certified, knowledgeable leader to take you into North Lake Tahoe’s backcountry, contact Alpine Skills International, 11400 Donner Pass Road, Truckee. Tel. 530-582-9170; www.alpineskills.com.

Kirkwood Ski Resort

Capturing the beauty of crisp white snow and its awesome, serrated mountain peaks, Kirkwood Ski Resort just might be the most visually impressive resort in the Tahoe region. If you want full access to an entire mountain, look no further. The resort offers 65 runs with the longest at two and one-half miles along 2,300 acres. Unbelievable!

You’re close to 8,000 feet at the base and nearly 10,000 feet high at the summit, so don’t be surprised if you get a little breathless and dizzy. Most snowboarders here are at the intermediate level. Kirkwood is easy to find, located off Hwy 88 at the Carson Pass, 30 miles southwest of the South Shore. Call Kirkwood’s Snowphone for up-to-date snowboarding conditions: tel. 209-258-3000.

Heavenly Valley

How about taking a trip you won’t forget? It all starts at Heavenly Valley. The first part of the adventure is simply getting there—gondola-style! It’s a fun ride for kids and grown-ups alike. As is the new Heavenly Flyer (read more in the Adventure Rush article). Located just half a block west of Stateline, the Gondola is mere steps from most major lodging facilities, and puts the serenity of an alpine mountain within minutes of six casinos and nearly 5,000 hotel rooms. The eight-passenger gondola cabins take you almost two and one-half miles up the mountain in 12 minutes while you enjoy breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe.

Just when it seems the ride can't get any better, you’ll arrive at The Deck—a 14,000-square-foot mid-station observation platform. Located at 9,123 feet, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the Carson Valley, Desolation Wilderness and shore-to-shore views of true-blue Lake Tahoe. Next, the gondola takes you up the valley to the top of Adventure Peak, where Stage 3 of this adventure is the park itself, complete with restaurant, terrain parks, cross-country ski rentals and trails, snowshoe rentals, snowbike rentals, wall-climbing and hiking trails.

When you come back down from the mountain in your gondola cabin, exit stage right and head for all the shopping at the fairly new 44-store shopping mall for even more fun and games. They’ve got it all, and eateries, too. Heavenly Mountain Resort, tel. 775-586-7000; www.skiheavenly.com.

Summer Fun

Hot Air Ballooning 

Time to slap on some sunscreen and get your movie star glasses on. You’re about to embark on the ride of your life—in a hot-air balloon over Lake Tahoe! You’ll hook-up with the Lake Tahoe Hot-Air Balloon patrol early in the morning, usually around 5 a.m. The staff picks you up at your hotel, and transports you to the launch site. You will meet your group and guide in Carson Valley, a few miles east of the South Shore. Soon, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of this valley, which National Geographic rated as one of the most picturesque in North America.

You will be involved during the balloon inflation process and will receive a deluxe continental breakfast. Once launched, the flight will last an hour, with views of the ranchlands, rivers, wildlife and Lake Tahoe. Weather permitting, you will reach elevations of about 10,000 feet making it possible to look over the Sierras to Lake Tahoe. These lake views are truly breathtaking from this vantage point. At your landing destination, to celebrate this once in a lifetime experience, the pilot, crew and your guests will all enjoy a traditional champagne toast with plenty of champagne, mimosas and snacks while the crew deflates and packs up the balloon. You also get a souvenir as a memento of this special day. I have personally experienced it, and it feels like you are floating on a cloud; it is serene and peaceful. Allow four hours for the trip. $250 per person. Tel. 800-872-9294. www.laketahoeballoons.com


Lake Tahoe isn’t known for its fishing, but really, it’s an awesome place to fish. In fact, sport fishermen flock to the Lake Tahoe region of the Sierras for the area’s wealth of choice fishing spots and prize fish. Practically name it and the lake has it: rainbow trout, brown trout, mackinaw and kokanee salmon. There are plenty of fishing outfits who can show you some of Lake Tahoe’s best fishing holes. Check out Mile High Fishing Charters, tel. 866-752–FISH; Blue Ribbon Fishing Charters tel. 530-544-6552; Tahoe Sportsfishing Company, tel. 530-541-5448. For additional on-the-water options, read our Tahoe boating article.

Year-Round Activities


Get in on the gaming action at the casino resorts and hotels in the area of South Lake Tahoe that's in Nevada. With the likes of Harvey’s, Harrah’s, Horizon, Bill’s Lakeside Inn and the all-new MontBleu (formerly Caesars), you’ve got your pick of the best gaming ever. Blackjack, roulette, craps—they’ve got it all. But the action doesn’t stop there. Lake Tahoe’s casinos and resorts continuously roll out award-winning restaurants and superstar live entertainment from top-name comedians and bands.


There are several boutiques at Heavenly for some of the best shopping in the area. You’ll also find a few outlet stores as you drive into the South Shore. The best of the bunch? My favorite is Sidestreet Boutique, which has been enticing locals and visitors alike for more than 35 years. This is the place for upscale, fun-yet-elegant men’s and women’s clothing. 4000 South Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe. Tel. 530-544-3315; www.sidestreetboutique.com

Day Spas

When you need a break from the casinos and when your muscles ache from skiing, relax and immerse yourself into a state of bliss. Body Essentials offers two locations, one next to the Heavenly Gondola and one inside the Marriott, to help you get those kinks out. Tel. 866-545-4SPA; www.tahoespa.com.

At the new Stillwater Spa at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa & Casino, there’s more than 20,000 square feet of relaxation to welcome you. My favorite is their special ashiatsu barefoot massage—a combination of tranquil techniques from Buddhist monks, Thai massage, and Japan's shiatsu massage. The spa facility also features a fully-equipped fitness center and the Loran Loran Salon, a beauty salon. Tel. 775-832-1234; www.laketahoe.hyatt.com.

Tranquility Massage is intimate and cozy. Here you will get your money’s worth. Experience the ultimate in indulgence and pampering by blending Swedish, sports and deep tissue massage techniques along hot stone and raindrop therapy. Finish your experience with a rejuvenating hand and foot pamper, spa facial or an aromatherapy body polish. I just love their warm algae and mud wrap, which will detoxify and re-mineralize your skin with warm protein-rich sea algae. There’s no other place like it. Tel. 530-542-3906; www.tahoetranquility.com

Local tips: Dress in layers no matter the weather. In the winter, when the sun goes down over the mountain, it cools off and it cools off quickly. In the summer, things heat up to the 80s and you’ll want a quick change into shorts and a swimsuit.

Additional resources:
North Lake Tahoe Visitors' Bureau, www.gotahoenorth.com
Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, www.bluelaketahoe.com

Destinations: Nevada, Reno, California, Lake Tahoe

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Hiking, Camping, Fishing, Kayaking, Skiing, Snowboarding, Rock Climbing, Swimming, Hot Air Ballooning

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