There’s a picture on my computer that pops up randomly as part of my screensaver — a stock photograph of a sparkly blue lake surrounded by beautiful autumn scenery. Though it’s a mesmerizing shot, I always assumed the picture was taken in some far-off place and photoshopped beyond reality. Surely no place was that beautiful.
Turns out it’s a real place. It’s a day’s drive from my home in Phoenix. And it’s that beautiful.
This summer, thanks to several assignments surrounding Ironman Lake Tahoe, I ended up spending a significant amount of time in North Lake Tahoe, a popular destination for summer watersports and winter thrills. As I learned, however, the area is so much more than “just” skiing and sailing — it’s the ideal place for active adventures. Whether you’re an ultrarunner tackling the Western States Endurance Run or a yogi participating in the famed Wanderlust Festival, there’s something for everyone in North Lake Tahoe.
8 Must-Visits in North Lake Tahoe
1. Best trail to walk, run, or mountain bike: Tahoe Rim Trail. On the Tahoe Rim Trail there are 165 miles of trail solely dedicated to hiking, running and mountain biking — it’s an athlete’s dream! The best part is the variation of the scenery as the trail loops around Lake Tahoe. Every mile offers different terrain, from packed dirt to paved gravel, prairie trails to lush forest. The one constant on the Tahoe Rim Trail, of course, is a perfect view of the pristine blue waters of Lake Tahoe.
2. Best Breakfast: Firesign Cafe. This small café on the West Shore dishes up fresh ingredients in its breakfast and lunch specials. The Firesign Café is a popular place with locals and tourists alike for their omelets, Benedicts and melt-in-your-mouth crepes. Because of its popularity, you’ll want to get there early — the café’s seats fill up before you can say “Veggie Benedict”!
3. Best Group Run: Alpenglow Sports. Want the lowdown on the best trails in the area? Need some company for your five-miler? Have a hankering to drink beer in a parking lot with sweaty people? Go to Alpenglow Sports. Their group runs, held on Tuesdays, are a great way to meet members of the local running community. After tackling a 5- to 7-mile trail run, runners congregate in the Alpenglow Sports parking lot to drink beer and test gear — manufacturers like Hoka often stop by with new products and freebies.
4. Best Place for a Post-Workout Treat: Sugar Pine Cakery. I’ve developed a Pavlovian reaction to this place: You say “Sugar Pine,” I start drooling. Its pineapple upside-down cupcakes with brown sugar frosting are AMAZING. So are its dark chocolate cupcakes. And its gallettes. And its cookies. And its … you know what, just go there and eat all the things. Everything there is organic, so that makes it healthier … ish. Right?
5. Best Race: Big Blue Adventures Lake Tahoe Swim. There really is no such thing as a bad swim race in Lake Tahoe. You could tie a swimmer’s ankles together, release piranhas into her water space and throw rocks at her head … I guarantee she’d still come out with a smile on her face. That alpine lake is magical.
Though there are multiple open-water swim races in Lake Tahoe (Sharkfest Swim and Trans Tahoe Relay, for example), I have a soft spot in my heart for races organized by small, locally owned race companies. The annual Big Blue Adventures Swim doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the corporate-owned swim races, but it does have a lot of Tahoe Pride. Even if you’re not a local, you’ll feel like a member of the community by the time you leave a Big Blue race.
6. Best Training Ride: The “Tahoe Triangle.” Though there are many, many great routes for cycling in North Tahoe, the 45-mile “Tahoe Triangle” is a classic, loved for its wide bike lanes, varied scenery, challenging climbs and fast descents. Start at lakeside coffeehouse Java Hut in King’s Beach, and head west on Highway 28, taking in short rolling climbs and beautiful lake views. Once you hit Tahoe City, follow Highway 89 along the rolling Truckee River. You will enjoy a long, gradual descent into Truckee. Once you hit the third and final “side” of the triangle, Highway 267, it’s all uphill through North Tahoe Regional Park and Brockway Summit, an unrelenting 3-mile climb. Though it’s a hard ride, don’t give up — the descent down Brockway to King’s Beach will leave a smile on your face for days.
7. Best Summer Cross-Training Activity: Tahoe WaterWoman Workout at Waterman’s Landing. Stand Up Paddleboarding is a workout in and of itself, but when combined with swimming, running, core work and yoga, you’ve got the makings of an ass-kicker! Don’t worry — though it sounds hard, the Tahoe WaterWoman workout is a lot of fun, thanks to an enthusiastic instructor, amazing camaraderie between the women in the group, and the breathtaking surroundings of Carnelian Bay.
8. Best Winter Cross-Training Activity: Snow Fun at Granlibakken. Granlibakken, a charming European-style resort on the Sunnyside shore of the lake, provides easy access to multiple trailheads for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Their rental rates for skis and snowshoes are very reasonable — $20 a day is a steal compared to the larger resorts in the area! Young’uns in tow? Get fit as a family with hill repeats: climb to the top of their fun sledding hills, race toboggans to the bottom and drink hot cocoa in the warming hut. Repeat.
For more ideas to plan your trip to North Lake Tahoe, visit gotahoenorth.com! Have you visited North Lake Tahoe? What are your North Lake loves? —Susan