Lake Tahoe Travel Guide
Lake Tahoe is the premier lake resort of America, and the largest alpine lake in all of North America. It is an absolutely stunning lake, which 19th-century American writer Mark Twain described as "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," adding that "it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords." But besides its natural beauty, Lake Tahoe offers an astonishing array of year-round recreational possibilities – from Las Vegas-style casinos to paddlewheeler lake cruises, mountain biking trails, wilderness hiking areas, all the watersports you can think of, live Shakespeare performances and outdoor music concerts on the lake shore, antique boat shows, fabulous shopping and dining, and, in the wintertime, skiing and snowboarding venues all around, in what is arguably the largest concentration of ski areas in the United States – more than 20 at last count!
Lake Tahoe is situated 193 miles east of San Francisco, or roughly 50 miles west of Reno, Nevada. The lake itself is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide and 1,645 feet deep at its deepest point, with 71 miles of shoreline. It lies in the Sierra Nevada mountains, at an elevation of 6,229 feet, with roughly a third of it lying in the State of Nevada and two-thirds in California. The majority of its population lives on the south shore in South Lake Tahoe and a string of smaller, wooded communities on the north and west shores, such as Tahoma, Tahoe City, Tahoe Vista, Kings Beach and Incline Village. In addition, the resort communities of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows and the historic town of Truckee lie just to the northwest of the lake.
Lake Tahoe can be reached directly on I-80 (which leads to Truckee and North Tahoe), or I-80 to Sacramento, then Highway 50 to South Tahoe. There is also a small commericial airport at South Lake Tahoe, and a larger international airport at nearby Reno. And for those journeying by train, Amtrak links San Francisco and Sacramento (120 miles) to Truckee, and so to North Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe's principal draws are the Stateline in South Tahoe, where a majority of the five-star casinos are; Heavenly Valley, the largest ski area at the lake, which spills over into both Nevada and California and offers superb, panoramic views of the lake from its north-face gondola; Emerald Bay, along the southwest corner of the lake, which has an island at the center of it and a replica of a 1,200-year-old viking castle, Vikingsholm, at the head of it; the Bliss and Sugar Pine state parks on the west shore where you can visit the opulent, early-1900s, lakeside Ehrman Mansion; the colorful little community of Tahoe City at the northwest corner of the lake; Sand Harbor on the northeast shore, with its idyllic sandy coves; and world-famous winter sports mecca Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. There are, besides, endless choices for dining and lodging, with a smattering of art galleries and an assortment of events throughout the year.
TART (Tahoe Area Regional Transport) runs a bus service around the lake to all Lake Tahoe communities and is a cost-effective and efficient way of getting around.
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