Like most things in life worth doing, the steep climb up Eagle Rock Trail’s volcanic outcrop is demanding. Situated in Homewood, on Lake Tahoe’s western rim, the path is dotted with rocky terrain, and the mile-long ascent will probably take your breath away. The panoramic scene at the summit is breathtaking, too, and best viewed at dawn while sunlight stretches out across North America’s largest alpine lake.
Formed two million years ago, the 191-square-mile freshwater lake is known today for its stunning cobalt color and clarity owing to factors such as elevation, temperature and steep geology. Mountains cradle the lake at every bend, and they’re the reason North Tahoe’s population of 20,000 year-round residents multiplies to more than 100 times its size in the winter, when skiers and snowboarders storm the epic terrain between Incline Village and Homewood.
But fresh powder is just the beginning. “Tahoe is known for everything,” says Briitni Kern, marketing manager for Resort at Squaw Creek. From golfing, hiking and biking to award-winning spas and restaurants, Caribbean-caliber beaches and scuba diving – yes, scuba diving – travelers can rack up as many kinds of vacations as they have days while exploring Tahoe. The key is timing. “Fall is our secret season,” Kern says, adding that summer crowds die off by early September, but warm weather activities – water recreation included – can be enjoyed into October.
Make North Tahoe your home base, and stay at one of the area’s three luxury properties: Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, or – our pick – Resort at Squaw Creek, where you’ll get a taste of authentic Tahoe hospitality plus the added bonus of patio seating at Six Peaks Grille, private helicopter tours, the top-rated Spa at Squaw Creek and the Links at Squaw Creek, a championship Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course resting at the base of Squaw Valley, host of the 1960's Olympics. We recommend hitting the links at Northstar California Golf Course, too, and Championship Golf Course.
Down south, there’s Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, the site of the annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, a worthwhile daytrip from North Tahoe. We know it sounds silly – hello, 2017! – but a map is a good thing to buy. A California Gazetteer, to be precise, available at outdoor stores and Best Buy, and filled with every trailhead, natural feature and peak wrapping the lake, including Emerald Bay – one of the most photographed places in the world and a popular port for scuba diving – along with Eagle Falls and the downhill footpath leading to the historic Vikingsholm mansion (bring $5 cash for parking). These are all smart layovers on your 35-mile drive to South Tahoe, a youthful city with a hearty lineup of marina activities. For the full millennial experience, rent stand-up paddleboards from South Tahoe Standup Paddle before trying the Southern smokehouse fare at Ten Crows, the farm-to-fork joint attached to Hotel Becket. The tasting room at South Lake Brewing Company is open daily, but, really, their craft beers are best consumed beachside, from the can. If you’re traveling with kids or grandkids, don’t miss the Frisbee golf and dirt biking courses at Bijou Community Park.
North Tahoe’s beaches are unique from those down south. Staring into the green water and oceanic waves pushing up onto Kings Beach, for example, you might wonder if you’ve been transported to the Caribbean. Go ahead and try the St. Louis-style ribs at Char-Pit – a no-frills burger stop with outdoor seating – before traveling five miles east to Incline Village, where you can spy celebrity homes, swim at Sand Harbor and lose some change at the rustic Grand Lodge Casino.
Commons Beach in Tahoe City is another small treasure with sand, a sprawling playground, a monument for the town’s first jail, and a farmers market posted up in the parking lot Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., through mid-October. Let chef Douglas Dale – owner of Wolfdale's Cuisine Unique – guide you through the Tahoe City Farmers Market and teach you how to cook your produce at his Farmers Market Workshop.
Tahoe City’s Gatekeeper’s Museum – open Thursdays through Sundays – houses an eclectic collection of Tahoe history. Historic Downtown Truckee, though, is the best place to get a sense of the region’s quirky pioneer spirit. The captivating, dusty and colorful main street has good food (try Moody’s or Bar of America), good java (Coffeebar), too many cute shops to list, and, to be expected, a haunted hotel. Phew! We’re exhausted just thinking about an action-packed trip to Lake Tahoe.