We loved our time in South Lake Tahoe the last time we were there, which was nearly two years ago for some Spring Skiing at Heavenly, a lovely time to be in Tahoe — there are also plenty of adventurous things to do outside of skiing. Here’s a fun guide for exploring South Lake Tahoe in the summer, although I include one activity you’d not quite expect in Tahoe over the summer, which was held in North Lake Tahoe. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it will give you some fun options to do whether there as a family or a romantic getaway from the foggy San Francisco Bay Area in the summer.
This goes without saying I suppose, since Lake Tahoe is most known for….well, it’s lake, at least in the summer when there’s no snow on the mountains. It’s no ordinary lake however, and if you do a little digging, you’ll soon discover there’s quite a bit of history and mystery around the lake. The lake is the second deepest lake in America extending to 1,644 feet and it’s also extremely cold. While the temperature at the surface of the lake varies, from a low of about 40 degrees in February or March to a high of about 75 degrees towards the end of the summer, you’ll note that even in the winter, it’s not cold enough to freeze over completely. Below the surface, the temperature is a chilly 39 degrees.
Located along the border between California and Nevada, west of Carson City, it is apparently also the largest alpine lake in North America, and as noted above, the second in the states after Crater Lake (1,945 feet) which I’ve also had a chance to visit. I also learned for the first time that the lake was formed about 2 million years ago and is a part of the Lake Tahoe Basin with the modern lake being shaped during the ice ages. It is known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides which you can easily see when you’re out on any kind of boat.
How and why did we learn so many facts about Tahoe this time around? We rented a boat at the Ski Run Marina from Tahoe Sports, which has a number of options to choose from, from Class A to G and Bronze (Patio Pontoon which is around $600 a half day), Silver (Patio Tritoon, which is around $660 a day) and Gold, which gets you a larger Patio Tritoon at roughly $720 a day. We had a speed boat and Chad drove since we didn’t want to think about it – you can drive yourself or opt to have one of their staff show you the lake. This was easier for us to get great photography and of course, just relax on the boat.
Chad (below, on the left) is a born storyteller from Virginia who shared with us a legend we somehow missed — the mystery behind Cousteau who apparently saw something he preferred not to share at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. Rumor has it that it could have been bodies of gamblers who crossed the Mafia in 1950s Reno or Tahoe Tessie, the Loch Ness likeness of the lake. But, other sources say that he never actually visited Tahoe so whether it’s a myth or not, it has added to the allure of the lake.
The rock underneath the lake sank down to form a flat-bottomed basin called a graben, which is the word is German for “grave” and refers to the lake’s low-lying nature—and perhaps also lending to the mysterious myth about what really could lie at the bottom of the lake’s 1,000+ feet. We drove into the infamous Emerald Bay — see below, our view on the left as we drifted into the Bay.
Emerald Bay warrants its own description since it’s a famous bay, not just for Lake Tahoe but in the country. It is a renowned bay for photography lovers and is one of the most photographed bays given its raw and pure beauty in America. Below, a shot from within the boat.
Below, a wider view from land, just so you can get an idea of its stunning views and what makes it so magical. In 1969, Emerald Bay was designated a National Natural Landmark for its brilliant panorama of mountain-building processes and glacier carved granite. The natural beauty, geology and history of this unique island make it one of the highlights of any visit to the Lake Tahoe area regardless of any time of year.
Emerald Bay State Park includes 2 campgrounds: Boat-In Camp (accessible by boat or foot only) and Eagle Point Campground (closed through 2015). The scenic Rubicon foot trail wraps around Emerald Bay, with trailheads at Eagle Point campground, Vikingsholm, and DL Bliss State Park. The park features Vikingsholm, one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the western hemisphere and the “Tea House” on Fannette Island, the only island to be found in all of Lake Tahoe.
There is no vehicle access to the lakeshore of Emerald Bay or Vikingsholm. Visitors walk to the lake from the Vikingsholm Parking Lot (1 mile walk) or via the Rubicon Trail. Some visitors arrive by kayak or private boat, which is what we opted to do. People lounged around, jumped off rocks into the water or simply sunbathed on the top of their boats.
Emerald Bay was designated an underwater state park in 1994. It is the resting place for many boats, launches and barges used in the lake before the turn of the century, during the heyday of Emerald Bay Resort and used in the construction of Vikingsholm. We noticed quite a few swimmers and kayakers when we were there on a Sunday afternoon as well as other boaters. Ahhh yes, bliss!
Below is a shot of us cruising the boat into the dock at the end of our afternoon.
There are a number of cruise lines where you can take short cruises out onto the lake, such as Lake Tahoe Cruises in the Ski Run Marina, which tout time on the lake on the Tahoe Queen and the Princess. You can also take the M.S. Dixie II or the Tahoe Queen out to Emerald Bay with Lake Tahoe Cruises, which also has dinner cruises. These tend to be the larger paddle boats, similar to what we did in Lake George New York a couple summers back.
While the paddle boats are fun, we’re fans of smaller more intimate experiences. Year round, Zephyr Cove Resort & Marina cruises out to the pristine waters of Emerald Bay to the impressive homes on the East shore, and even provide a day package to Homewood Ski Resort!
Photo from the website.
They have wedding packages, lunch cruises, sunset cruises and private cruise charters. This is a better option if you want a more secluded and less crowded experience on the lake since the boats are smaller and there’s a cap on how many people they take out to keep the experience a l’il more refined and comfortable. Oh, tres romantic. In the summer months, the lunch cruises are a lovely option since they’re buffet style and include a free drink for only $65, which is a great deal for a leisurely 2’ish hour cruise.
Photo from the website.
Tahoe and around Tahoe is known to be one of the most scenic drives in America. At 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, you can circle around its 99 percent pure waters. You can begin anywhere along the lake and take in a 72-mile (not including side trips), so count on a few hours to allow for stopping, pondering and photo taking.
A few suggestions. If you follow Highway 50 west to Highway 89 north, which we did, you’ll pass Emerald Bay, Meeks Bay, scenic beaches and state parks. There’s also a great Emerald Bay Lookout area and you can trail to Vikingsholm Castle in the summer.
If you head north on 89 between Tahoe City and Truckee, you’ll hit Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and from here, you can take a side trip along the Donner Pass Road. If you return to Tahoe City via Highway 89, you can go on Highway 28 east to visit Watson Cabin, a historical cabin with 1900-era furnishings, a historic fish hatchery, Kings Beach and Crystal Bay. Sand Harbor is also nearby, where there’s an outdoor amphitheater, which is home of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.
If you take Highway 50 south from Highway 28, you’ll hit Spooner Lake, Cave Rock Vista Point, which is the sacred site of the native Washoe Indians, and Zephry Cove, which is where the Bleu Wave cruises leave from. You can also go out on paddleboats from here, go out on a sailboat and horseback ride.
With no shortage of hikes in the Tahoe area, I could in fact, do a separate article alone on hiking. We did a short hike to the beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake, which every local told us to do. It’s a little easier to see its beauty from above however. Located one mile south of Lake Tahoe near the California and Nevada border, Fallen Leaf Lake is at 6,377 feet and is oval in shape. Fallen Leaf Lake has an average depth of 240 feet with the deepest point at 415 feet deep, so not quite the depth of Lake Tahoe but Tahoe is unique in its depth and character.
Photo credit: www.stanfordsierra.com.
It’s a lovely short hike to get to it however and has water activities in the summer, such as kayaking, waterskiing, wake boarding and rowing to name a few. You can also fish for brook and rainbow trout. Glaciers flowing down the Glen Alpine Valley created Fallen Leaf Lake. An excellent example of the lake’s glacial formation is the terminal moraine visible along the northern end of the lake. Cathedral Peak and Mount Tallac are at the Southern end of Fallen Leaf and are popular hiking destinations.
Other great hikes include the following:
- Rubicon Trail, Lighthouse Trail and Balancing Rock Nature Travel (6.3 miles one way)
- Vikingsholm Castle (there’s a tea house on Fannette Island, which is the only island in Lake Tahoe). It’s a one mile walk to get to the castle, beach and visitor’s center.
- Cascade Lake, Cascade Falls and Bayview Trail: It’s one mile one way and at the end of the trail, you’ll walk over large boulders to view the streams that flow into the 200 foot high Cascade Falls.
- Angora Lakes: This is an easy .5 mile one way which you can get to from Fallen Leaf Lake Road, then up 2.4 miles to Angora Ridge Road and turn right. It’s a narrow road, but at the end of this 2.7 mile road, the trail begins.
- Floating Island Lake, Cathedral Lake and Mount Tallac: The trailhead sign is on Highway 89, which is across the entrance to Baldwin Beach where we spent an afternoon. Beyond Cathedral Lake, the trail becomes steep and strenuous as it continues up the peak of Mount Tallac (5 miles one way from the trailhead).
- Glen Alpine Trail and Falls: Trails lead to Grass Lake on the Half Moon Bay Trail, Gilmore Lake (3.9 miles one way) and Mount Tallac (5.7 miles one way). Lily Lake and Glen Alpine Falls are an easy walk from the parking lot.
SummerFest Classical Concerts
We were lucky to be there on opening night of the Summerfest Classical Concerts, which takes place on the other side of the lake in Incline Village in North Tahoe. While this is technically a South Lake Tahoe guide, it was only a 45 minute drive to get to the venue and well worth the effort.
We loved the energy of Joel Revzen, the artist director and conductor, who led the orchestra. He has held prestigious positions at the MET and other symphonies including NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and Vancouver. BRAVO!
It is now in its fourth season, and this year, the “Passport to a World of Music” featured Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn to our ears on opening night. The series runs across three weekends where they have nine concerts in total. The orchestra has 40 players and different guests throughout the concert series.
Some of those guests include guitarist Ana Vidovic, cellist Paul Watkins and pianist Joseph Kalichstein, who blew us away with his performances of Mendelssohn: Sinfonia No. 10 in B minor, Mozart Symphony No. 36, Linz and Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor.” Let’s just say that he got a standing ovation. Joseph made his debut with the London Symphony under Andre Previn and attended Julliard, where he teaches and also, he performs regularly with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.
There are plenty of great beaches in the Lake Tahoe area. We did a lovely drive north around the lake, which took us past Zephyr Cove and up towards Spooner Summit, which is right before the turn off to Carson City. If you head the other way around the lake, you’ll ultimately hit Emerald Bay as you’ll read about in this article and be hit with plenty of great photography. Before you make it to Emerald Bay, you’ll hit a few great beaches worth hanging your hat in the summer.
Right along the water as you leave Stateline and Heavenly Village, you’ll hit Regan Beach and El Dorado Beach, but if you keep going, you’ll hit Pope Beach which is nice. Next up is Camp Richardson, which is a viable option if you have kids in tow. Warning: in the summer, it’s very crowded, so the traffic can be fierce on weekends. That said, it has a ton of options if you are there with a family, such as horseback riding, and bike rentals. There’s also a quaint community store and an ice cream shop that is fabulous.
Just beyond Camp Richardson is Baldwin Beach (pictured above and below), which is where we ended up on the last afternoon.
Further north, beyond Emerald Bay, you’ll hit D.L. Bliss St. Park, which is a secluded beach and picnic area with great views, Rubicon Point which has fabulous views and Meeks Bay, which is the former home of the Washoe Indians. There’s also a beach and campground here and the Sugar Pine Pt. State Park is nearby.
We hadn’t thought of rock climbing in the area before we arrived and nor did we try it, however our waitress at Getaway Cafe, where we had lunch on our way out of town, is a heavy duty rock climber and was beaming ear-to-ear as she recounted some of her rock climbing moments in the area. An avid climber herself, she recommended climbing 90 Foot Wall in the Tahoe area at Whiskey Creek.
The wall has a solid, compact rock, steep to overhanging routes, and a variety of difficulty all in a 200 foot section of wall. This, combined with the easy approach and south facing exposure that allows early spring and late fall climbing combine to make this an enjoyable place to climb. While it is possible to lead here, most climbers top rope. Anchors are available on the top of the cliff which is accessible via a gully to the left of the cliff.
Photo credit: Mountain Project.
The difficulty of the climbing increases as you move right on the wall which is largely due to the steepness and length increasing to the right. The climbing is on dark, solid metamorphic rock with lots of angular blocks and holds and there is both crack and face climbing available. Most people top rope here, using the bolt anchors provided along the top of the cliff. It is advisable to bring lots of webbing to back up the existing anchors.
The 90 Foot Wall is a terrific place to take novice climbers and there are often many first time climbers trying out the sport. It brought back memories of my early experiences with rock climbing in of all places Dorset England, which was a lovely weekend jaunt from Surrey which is where I lived for a few years in my early twenties.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Need I say more? There are plenty of viewing options along the way leading in and out of Lake Tahoe on Route 50. The views are breathtaking and even on a summer weekend, it wasn’t so busy that we couldn’t get a l’il quiet time on a rock overlooking some of the most spectacular views in this part of California.
While we didn’t have time to go parasailing, we saw some boats on the lake pulling people who were having a blast. This is SO on the list for our next trip to Tahoe! How can you go wrong seeing the views of Emerald Bay and the surrounding mountains from above? It is so freeing and a must do if you have the time and are an adventure traveler. And, if you’re not, isn’t it time to step outside your comfort zone?
Photo credit: www.markzak.com.
Note, you can parasail from both North and South Tahoe.
The ski run gondola is open for summer and this year, Heavenly added a second zip line that holds up to four people. You can race your family down the mountain before heading over to the ropes course. This is also an add-on for our must do list next time we’re in Tahoe.
Photo credit: Heavenly Mountain Resort.
While we’re not huge golfers (although truth be told, I used to go to the driving range often when I lived back east), there’s plenty of golfing options in the Lake Tahoe area. The Tahoe South region has six distinctive golf courses, each with its own vibe and views. Whether you’re a fan of argyle or tie-dye, you’ll likely find a green where you feel at home. Who knows, you may find yourself on the putting green right behind a celebrity.
Photo credit: TahoeSouth.
For more information on the golf courses and their features, visit the http://tahoesouth.com/explore/golf/ website.
Spa & Massage
If you STAY luxury, you can opt for a massage on-site, however if you’re in Tahoe for a family getaway and are staying at a lodge or villa, a suite resort which is what we did this time around, or opt for camping, and you want a l’il pampering, a day spa is the thing to do in Tahoe. We discovered a funky and quaint little day spa in central South Lake Tahoe called BIO SPIRIT. We loved the name and here you can get a variety of massages, facials or other body treatments.
While it’s small and they don’t have a hot tub, they do have a dry sauna and a steam room, which I took full advantage of before my massage. Since I had such a great hot stone massage at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain recently, I decided to go for another hot stone massage and thanks to Cocoa, I left feeling rejuvenated and at peace. You can also get a couples massage in a private room if you want to go the romantic route.
Their body treatments are divine, from a body glow where you exfoliate and remove all those dead cells to a luscious hydrating and detoxifying wrap. I love creative body wraps since you always feel so renewed afterwards. They use chlorophyll and essential fatty acids to detoxify and improve elasticity and a scalp or foot massage is included in their body glow wrap. Speaking of feet, they have a great foot treatment as well with reflexology, which is followed by essential oils for moisture and massage. Also, warm stones are used for warmth and relaxation, which of course was also used for my hot stone massage — so divine!
They use the Demalogica skin care line, which are non-comedogenic and contain no occlusive mineral oil or lanolin, no irritating artificial colors or fragrance, and no drying S.D. alcohol. They’re located at 1116 Ski Run Boulevard in South Lake Tahoe and you can find out more on their website or by calling 530.542.4095, where you can also book an appointment before your trip to Lake Tahoe. While they have around 10 therapists on-site, it’s smart to book in advance during summer months as it tends to get busy.
You all know we love food and wine here at We Blog the World if you read us often enough. There are so many fine and casual dining possibilities in the area, be sure to read my write-up on 6 Fun Foodie Spots in South Lake Tahoe for what we sampled during our last trip. Below, is a shot of the ever so delicious buffalo appetizer with mozzarella and tomatoes at ECHO Restaurant in the main part of town.
Also see our write up on a family resort stay at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, which boasts all suites and is centrally located along one of the main drags in South Lake Tahoe.