Take the road less traveled in North Lake Tahoe
The sapphire waters, boulder-bespeckled coastline, crisp clean air and serene Sierra Nevada backdrop of North Lake Tahoe have an appeal that calls to travelers in any season.
Still, there are certain times of year when more travelers heed the call. When the summer sun glistens on the pristine lake, the 12 towns that make up the North Lake Tahoe region buzz with activity as visitors explore the local shops, restaurants and attractions. And the exceptional skiing in winter is all the explanation one needs to see why the snowy months draw in so many adventurers.
So what goes on in North Lake Tahoe during the less-talked-about fall and spring months? Every bit as much beauty (case in point, fall’s changing foliage), enchanting wildlife and outdoor activity as you’ll find in high season, but with more elbow room on the trails, in the towns, and, well, on the road.
With fall upon us, here are five reasons this is an excellent time to recharge in North Lake Tahoe, and enjoy even wider open spaces.
1. You might have the trail to yourself
Hiking in North Lake Tahoe opens up worlds of possibility — whether you'd prefer meandering trails along the shore of the lake or higher-octane adventures at 10,000 feet in the sky. Either way, you're just about guaranteed to enjoy sweeping views of the landscape blanketed fall's vibrant hues, with the sapphire lake as the show-stopping centerpiece.
See a diverse array of landscapes — including old-pine forest, marshland and yes, meadows — on the Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail loop. Though it's short on duration at 1.3 miles, it's big on scenery. A local guidebook would be a great accompaniment to help identify the wildflowers, masses of trees, stones and critters you might spot along the way. The well-marked trail has even been designated as wheelchair- and stroller-accessible, making it a great choice for an inclusive, multigenerational hike.
You might also be treated to sightings of local bird species on the trail, so keep watch for the blue bodies and ebony heads of steller's jays, white-headed woodpeckers and many others.
But if you're the type who's not satisfied with a hike unless your hamstrings are sore the next day, the Mount Rose Trail may be for you. Set out early on this 10.7-mile loop to savor views of alpine lakes, waterfalls and autumnal forests, capped off with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe upon completion of the 2,000-foot ascent.
2. You can relax longer — and for less
Whether or not you're a downhill aficionado, you can enjoy the changing leaves, first flakes and serene lake views from the coziness of your hotel room or vacation rental, or head outside for lakeside snowshoeing and s'more roasting by a warm fire pit. And you can do all this while saving big on mid-winter rates. Score even better prices (and enjoy even more elbow room) by booking a stay mid-week. We're talking as much as 30% off weekend rates.
And if you're running low on vacation days, consider that North Lake Tahoe is also an ideal destination for what's increasingly known as a "bleasure" trip (business + pleasure), as remote workers can take a hike in the morning before logging on; steal scenic views through the window of their temporary home; enjoy lunch in a mountainside cafe; and catch the sunset over the lake after close of business. It's just about the epitome of work-life balance.
3. You’ll be spoiled for choice, without waiting in line
Just as thrilling as saving on your stay is the chance to enjoy North Lake Tahoe attractions in the laidback fall season. Savor lake views and stroll the tranquil trails at North Tahoe Regional Park (there's also a great sledding hill should your visit coincide with an early snow), or sidle up to a home-brewed chocolate porter at Incline Village's Alibi Ale Works & Brewery. (Their pretzels are also a must-try — especially when slathered with the housemade beer mustard.)
Eco-curious travelers can pay a visit to the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center to dive deep into the famous lake's ecosystem, as well as how we can preserve it. The center also hosts interactive exhibits, a 3-D movie titled "Lake Tahoe In Depth" and occasional evening lectures from scientists.
Chickadee Art Collective in Kings Beach is an intriguing stop for art lovers, as the combined art collective and makers shop showcases work from dozens of local artists. The one-of-a-kind decorative, functional and fun art and craft pieces here would make exceptionally good gifts for the holiday season ahead.
The restaurant scene in North Lake Tahoe is a smorgasbord for diners — whether haute cuisine or comfort food is the craving du jour. Koi Sushi in Incline Village is well known for its inventive rolls, fresh-as-can-be fish and hot dishes like panko-crusted chicken katsu to warm your bones on chilly nights. And Lone Eagle Grille is a cozy place (complete with a two-story stone fireplace) for enjoying hearty entrees like pan-seared duck with beluga lentils and grilled peaches.
In addition to the aforementioned Alibi Ale Works, celebrity chef Michael Mina's Bourbon Pub Northstar is an exceptional choice for enjoying frosty beers from around the world. You'll also find barrel-aged cocktails, sumptuous burgers and vegan options like roasted cauliflower with toasted pistachios on the menu. As a bonus, the pub offers scenic views of the slopes at Northstar California Resort.
4. Green travel is easy in fall
Preserving the gorgeous North Lake Tahoe environment is a top priority for residents and visitors alike, and traveling in the quieter season aligns with this aim. By heading to North Lake Tahoe in fall, you'll be putting less strain on the local water supply and waste services. And there's another layer to traveling responsibly in the fall: You'll support local businesses when they need it most.
Compound this helpful effect on the local economy by purchasing the North Lake Tahoe Gift Card, which can be spent at your choice of 46 participating local businesses, from cafes, to toy stores, to wineries. Travelers are also encouraged to express their commitment to traveling with reverence for North Lake Tahoe's natural beauty by taking the Traveler Responsibility Pledge.
5. There’s no shortage of events to plan your visit around
While certainly a mellower travel season in North Lake Tahoe, fall is anything but uneventful here. From farmers markets on Commons Beach (through Oct. 20), to suds-studded beer fests (Achieve Tahoe Foam Fest, Oct. 1-31), to the delectable Tahoe Chocolate & Wine Festival (Nov. 6), there are goings-on for all kinds of interests. And cinema buffs won't want to miss the film festivals coming to the area on Nov. 18 and Dec. 1-4.
Whether you join the beer extravaganza or catch an award-winning feature at a film festival, odds are your trip to North Lake Tahoe will be the star of the season.