Summer In Lake Tahoe – How To Make The Most Of Your Vacation

stand up paddle sunset tahoe

Alright, so you’ve skied the resorts in winter. Have you enjoyed time in Tahoe during summer? As the saying goes in many mountain towns, “Come for winter, stay for summer.” And that’s literally how a good portion, if not the majority of Tahoe residents, landed in these mountains. Snow sports originally attracted most Tahoe locals, but under the white blanket that coats the Eastern Sierras in winter there lies an even more vibrant, valuable treasure. When the snow melts and the trails dry out, the wildflowers bloom and the water warms up. With more daylight to take advantage of, people come out of the woodwork and flock to the beaches and summits surrounding the lake, live music plays into the night, and believe it or not, there is much more to do during summer in Tahoe than there is in the winter. Let me put some ideas on the drawing board for you. From there, it’s up to you to make the most of your time in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

galena falls hiking trail
Taken during a run to Galena Falls near Mt. Rose

Hmm…With so many options, where do I begin? Wondering where to take a hike or bike? Well, just look at a trail map of Tahoe and you’ll quickly realize you not only have countless choices, but that a decision needs to be made. There are so many Tahoe trails for hiking, running or biking that you’ll have to just pick one and stick with it. Chances are you’ll enjoy it, and if for some reason you don’t, you can always pick another! That’s the beauty of living in a place where your neighbors share your passions; a communal, reciprocal relationship between locals helps to keep trails maintained and litter-free. I’m personally a big fan of trail running, and being in Tahoe definitely has it’s advantages. If I jog from my front door I’m rarely on pavement more than a half-mile. From there, it’s all singletrack or 4WD roads leading to gorgeous views, refreshing creek crossings and solitude in the mountains. If I do encounter others on a trail it’s usually a pleasant experience, and I sometimes catch myself smiling as I’m reminded of how friendly people are here. After all, we’re all out to have fun and enjoy the area, and even in passing I can often sense that common-ground. Regardless of the reasoning, whether it be the clean air that replenishes the spirit or the magnificent natural beauty in everything around us, it’s reassuring to know we all share similar ideals.

mountain biking trails lake tahoe
Yep, TMS carries adventure medical kits!

Since we’re talkin’ trails here, I can’t neglect all the classic mountain bike trails in the area. For those who are into downhill mountain biking and want lift-accessed trails, Northstar Resort will take you to the top so you can ride down without the uphill exercise. I can’t blame you – downhill bikes are heavy! For cross-country riders, there are so many trails I don’t even know where to begin. Most of the singletrack trails in the region are for both hikers and bikers, but if you’re hiking uphill be sure to keep your eyes and ears peeled for downhill racers. ‘Right of way’ can be an ambiguous term on multi-use trails. The Flume Trail is probably the most popular bike ride in the area, and for good reason. It combines all features of the Tahoe Basin in one ride – winding through pine forests, climbing over dirt and granite, majestic views of the lake and mountains, and a killer workout. Oh, and a dip in the water at Chimney Beach! You can venture off the trail when you reach the east side of Lake Tahoe and hike down to Chimney Beach, a beautiful place to enjoy lunch and take a dip in the lake to cool off before returning to the saddle.

speedboat beach summer
Speedboat Beach, North Shore
kayak north lake tahoe

Ahh, the beach. The beautiful beach. A white-sand beach surrounds a monstrous lake nestled in the Eastern Sierra Mountains, and you can find your own private stretch of lakefront shoreline depending on how hard you search. On a weekday this can be an easy feat. Weekends, think again. But that’s not to say it feels too crowded! So much fun can be had on the beach in Tahoe, and much of that can be credited to the people sharing your strip of sand. Moon Dunes is a popular local hang out, but only for convenience. Kings Beach has a long stretch of sand that fills up fast come mid-day, but I often find myself alone on morning jogs, even as late as 9 a.m.! One of the most beautiful beaches in North Lake is Speedboat Beach (pictured here), so be sure to hang there if you get the chance. On the eastern shore, the most recommended beach is Sand Harbor. Many people recognize the boulders that line the shore, and there is a great park and facilities to accommodate visitors. You can even catch a Tahoe Shakespeare performance right on the beach – sure beats the usual stadium. It’s also easy to get away from the crowds on busy days, believe it or not. This just requires a little more effort. I recommend you rent a stand up paddleboard or a kayak and take a self-guided tour of the Tahoe coastline. Pack a lunch and take a cruise on the water, pull into a quiet cove for a private picnic, go for a swim and cool off from the summer heat, and enjoy a very mellow workout in a tranquil environment. Since we’re on the subject of water activities in Tahoe, let’s not forget one of the locals’ favorite things to do in summer: float the Truckee River! Come mid-summer it’s not unusual to count several hundred bodies floating down the Truckee, which parallels Hwy 89 from the Alpine Meadows junction and ends in in Tahoe City. It’s perfect for shuttling ‘floaters’ by car and can take anywhere from one to two hours – plenty of time to enjoy a few cold ones on a hot day while half-submerged in refreshing snow melt. A ha! I mentioned refreshing libations. I guess it’s time to party! The 4th of July in Tahoe is awesome and attracts vacationers from all over, especially the nearby San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and Reno communities. Music can be found almost everywhere from casinos to the beaches, restaurants, car windows and house parties. On July 3rd there is a big party right on the water in Kings Beach, just west of the CA/NV border on the north shore of the lake – live band, beer garden and singles-galore. This a great idea for anyone that doesn’t already have a big backyard or beach-barbecue planned. Kings Beach also sets off fireworks on July 3, so be sure to come out for those too, especially if you think you may miss the show at Donner Lake on July 4, or wherever else you may plan to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day.

squaw valley fireworks
Sorry, I don’t have a summer fireworks shot yet – this was taken at Squaw Valley on New Years. Pic: AdamIsStoked

Since you’ll of course ‘shoot for the stars’ while you’re in Tahoe, why not climb a mountain? Mt. Tallac, at 9,738′, is a prominent peak that shines from all sides of the lake and makes a great trip for visitors who want breathtaking views and a moderate-to-strenuous day hike. This is probably the most popular of summit hikes in the area, due to it’s proximity to South Lake Tahoe and the fact that you can drive straight to the trailhead at the mountain’s base. There are many mountains to climb and hike in the greater Tahoe area, some requiring overnight camping because they’re so desolate, and others that necessitate only a short drive in a two-wheel-drive sedan. Either way, it gets hot out there so be sure to pack plenty of water. I recommend saving both space and weight by either taking a reusable hard water bottle or a soft water bottle, or getting a hydration backpack with a water reservoir. Bonus: Save the environment by not wasting plastic water bottles! If you plan to go overnight camping, you’ll either want to boil fresh water to kill all the microorganisms and bacteria and make it safe to drink, or bring a lightweight water filter so you can refill at different water sources along your journey.

mount tallac desolation wilderness
A hiker takes in the beauty of Desolation Wilderness from a vantage point on Mt. Tallac

Like fishing? Lake Tahoe won’t give you much luck, unless you’re a really lucky person in general or you spend lots of time trolling from a boat. The bodies of water to the north of the lake however, like Prosser Dam or Boca Reservoir, can offer good lake fishing. And the Truckee River and Little Truckee River…well, if you’re a fisherman in the United States you’ve probably read about them. Still, one of my favorite mountain pastimes is fishing during backpacking treks. I like to pack a lightweight creek rod and a few barb-less lures so I can stop at the countless alpine lakes and creeks when I want a break from walking or just some quiet time. You’d be surprised with the fish in these parts – we’ve even got some endangered California natives, which are a tricky yet rewarding catch. Please return them to the water without harm and help us continue to preserve our wonderful wilderness.

tahoe alpine trout fishing
On the prowl for trout in the Tahoe backcountry. Pic: AdamIsStoked
custom disc golf design
Custom Tahoe Disc – click image to get yours now!

Sure, there are a number of well-ranked golf courses and country clubs in the area, but that’s not the type of golf that dominates the mountains. Disc Golf is a fast-growing sport that’s easy to learn but takes lots and lots of practice to master. Similar to “golf” golf, the slightest alteration in your disc’s angle upon release or a sudden change of wind direction can effect your score and elicit swear words from even the most relaxed and introverted individual. There are a number of great courses all around the lake – follow the links for details – Lake of the Sky in Tahoe Vista, Zephyr Cove, Bijou in South Lake, Kirkwood, Truckee River Regional Park, Incline Village, Turtle Rock .

Discs come in a wide variety of weights and textures, and advanced players are often seen with over a dozen different discs in their disc golf bag, all used for different purposes. Distance Drivers are constructed from the toughest, most solid plastics and go the furthest so they’re used to tee off. Fairway Drivers are the mid-range discs (or substituted for Distance Drivers on shorter holes, and are more flexible. Putt & Approach discs, or ‘putters’, are meant for closer range and are the softest, most flexible discs. Tahoe Mountain Sports has a humongous selection of discs in all styles and weights for players of every skill level. Check out the sweet new custom discs we had made (pictured above), so you can represent your favorite ‘neck of the woods’ whenever you play, wherever you play.

Since we’re in a world of granite up here in the Sierras, why not climb a rock? These mountains are littered with excellent rock climbing, from expert big-wall and sport climbing to bouldering for all skill levels and beginner routes. A couple of the more popular local spots to climb are Lover’s Leap, probably the best free climbing selection in California, and Donner Pass (Hwy 80) or D.L. Bliss State Park on the West Shore for bouldering. You can find rocks to practice on just off the road, or hike back a ways and find something more desolate. TMS has climbing shoes, harnesses and ropes for rock-junkies and rookies alike, as well as chalk bags, ATCs, and more.

trad climbing lake tahoe
“Climb on!” Athlete: Matt Kornke, Australia. Pic: AdamIsStoked

That’s Tahoe during summer in a nutshell, but there are an infinite number of combinations of activities for everyone that enjoys nature and a good time. If you’ve got ideas that I neglected to mention, please leave suggestions via comments below. You never know who could be reading this! We could all use some local advice, no matter how long we’ve been residents. I myself have been here less than two years, and still have a ton of local knowledge to soak up. I look forward to having as much fun as possible both in, on and around Lake Tahoe this summer, and I wish the same for everyone who gets a chance to stay here with us. And remember, if you ever need anything to help make your outdoor adventures more pleasurable (including summer gear rentals), stop by Tahoe Mountain Sports at 8331 N. Lake Blvd and let us style you out! From men’s and women’s swimwear, beach chairs and volleyballs to camping stoves, hiking shoes, and the best backpacking packs and tents, TMS has the outdoor gear to help you make the most of a summer vacation in Tahoe.

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