Lake Tahoe: A look through the lens at California’s winter throwback
Tahoe, an off-grid tourist attraction which acts as a supreme winter holiday destination for the city dwellers of California in need of a nature-filled escape, continues to maintain the core elements of local life with unique and breathtaking natural beauty.
The location has famously become the home to winter sports and summer outdoor activities in recent years, offering a slower pace of life while immersed deep within some of the finest nature North America has to offer. With varying weather conditions throughout the year, Tahoe’s reputation has been elevated by the snow and ski resorts which have now become an established and deeply significant part of the local economy and reputation.
While more modern activities dominate the landscape of Tahoe today, the idyllic setting is built on a culturally significant history and the local authorities are passionately defending. Take, for example, the repeated and much-celebrated guide to Mark Twain’s Tahoe, a chance to explore ‘The Flume Trail’, ‘David Walley’s Resort’ and more to walk in the iconic writer’s footsteps. “The Lake burst upon us—a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still,” Twain once wrote about Tahoe and his words still ring true today.
“As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords,” he added. “The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be?—it is the same the angels breathe,” he continued, in poetic musings which act as all the promotion Tahoe really requires.
The lake itself joins California with the state of Nevada and, as mentioned in the featured Far Out road trip article, the pair have managed to strike a stringent and tight deal that enforces the exceptional management of the water quality and the cleanliness of the surrounding area—it feels like walking through a postcard, the water is bizarrely clear, it’s glass-like. Upon arrival, after being on the road for three-and-a-half hours after a drive from San Francisco, we checked in at the Cedar Glen Lodge in North Lake Tahoe with Twain’s words of description feeling supremely justified.
Tahoe is a big place and it’d be easy to get lost in the area. While the region almost urges you pack your bag with water and supplies, lace up your best hiking boots and head off valiantly into the trees in search of more landmarks, it would be ill-advised to do so if you’re not experienced in such activities—which, as a disclaimer, I am most certainly not. However, the local tourist board has gone to great lengths to ensure the area can be enjoyed by all and the ‘Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau’ will be able to guide you through. Given our time constraints, I met up with local expert Bart Peterson and informed him, quite predictably, of my flimsy but excitable research into Mark Twain. Almost predicting my words, Bart took us out over a portion of the Flume Trail, which sits over Lake Tahoe, and on a short hike across a path called the ‘Ale Trail’ and allowed us the opportunity to experience a hike in the Tahoe hills in a safe and spectacular manner.
While nightlife isn’t exactly bustling in Tahoe, the area does have multiple different options. A short venture out to the neighbouring town of Truckee for some beers and food is a strong option and offers a glimpse into the ‘small town America’ feeling with locals more than willing to chew the fat. Between both North and South Lake Tahoe, restaurants are located in varying locations each with their own idyllic setting and, it’s worth mentioning, almost any international cuisine is available. The north, in truth, is a quieter spot and, if you’re looking for more choice in restaurants, the south is certainly your spot.
However, the main tourist draw to Tahoe is undoubtedly the winter sports. The area somehow, against all the odds, managed to land the 1960 Olympic games and propelled its name to the masses. It would become a building block for the next 50 years of income for the area but, it has to be said, Tahoe is not singularly defined by that one aspect alone. Speaking to the local residents and the people who regularly frequent there, it does appear to be more of a place to get involved with outdoor activities, a location to bring the family for outside time—something that feels strangely endearing in this day and age.
There’s more than a few incredible views to check out, our favourite happened to be Emerald Bay so make sure you stop off and enjoy the view. Local photographer Keoki, who has a gallery in the area, has a number of striking photographs there and told us that the best time to visit Emerald Bay is sunrise—it didn’t get that name for no reason.
Travertine Hot Springs
So, as we’re on the first edition of Far Out’s road trip series, it feels like now is a great time to discuss the wonder of hot springs. Naively, hot springs were not high on our agenda as we mapped out a route around California. That is, however, until a Tahoe local insisted we shoehorn a stop off at Travertine while out on the road—and that is what we did.
Heading down from Tahoe in the direction of Death Valley, we checked ourselves into a cheap motel in Lee Vining and dug out our swimming gear and headed down the dirt road to the hot springs. For those unaware, it should be noted that many visitors enjoy Travertine in the nude but don’t let you put that off.
With stunning Sierra views, you’ll be able to relax in incredibly warm and tranquil pools like these…
Directions – Take Route 395 south of Bridgeport half a mile. Turn left at Jack Sawyer Road, just before the Ranger Station. Follow Jack Sawyer Road approximately one mile.