Lake Tahoe’s hidden gems along Highway 89 and the western shore

Find hidden gems along Highway 89 and Lake Tahoe’s western shore

After the sampling the casinos and night life of South Lake Tahoe, head north on Highway 89 for some of the unsung delights hugging Tahoe’s west shore.

Within a few miles, you’ll drive through historic Camp Richardson, with stately hotel, cabins, big campground, bikes, kayaks and SUPs for rent, an ice cream shop and the nearby Beacon Restaurant on the beach. The Beacon is our first choice for both tasty fish and chips, salads and people watching along the lake’s lovely waterfront.

Crowd on the deck of the Beacon Restaurant enjoys music and the Tahoe beach scene.

Just north is the venerable Tallac Historic site, with Kiva Beach parking and access to Baldwin Beach’s Tallac Point where Taylor Creek enters the lake. The Tallac Historic Site offers a glimpse into the fabulous summer retreats of the very rich! Take the time to tour three wonderfully preserved grand estates, the former lake-front summer homes of the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate and Valhalla.

Just to the north of these huge homes the “Grand Resort of Tahoe” once stood, with hotel, casino, cabins and more. The resort and beautiful old homes anchored the entertainment capital of the Tahoe area, with well-heeled guests staying over for grand parties, fine food, bands, dancing and the like. The Tahoe Heritage Foundation along with the US Forest Service operate programs and events at both the Baldwin and Pope Estates. The Valhalla property, used regularly as the site for many Tahoe organizations’ events, is run by the Tahoe Tallac Association.

The historic Baldwin House, home to rich and famous family, is now a museum
at the lovely Tallic Historic Site on Lake Tahoe’s western shore.

The Baldwin Museum is the place to start your tour. Here you’ll find docents eager to share how life was enjoyed 100 years ago, explanatory videos, the Baldwin Room, the Washoe Room and a recreated 1930’s kitchen. A gift shop sells books and merchandise specific to the history of the home, as well as tickets to events and programs.

The many paved walkways are handicapped-accessible, and offer marvelous opportunities for easy, flat and scenic bicycling. The attractions all offer year-round access, though Tahoe snows may require cross-country skis or snowshoes in winter. Just beyond Camp Richardson, turn left to access beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake, and our favorite US Forest Service campground of the same name, less than a mile off Tahoe’s shore.

Good hiking abounds throughout this area, including the hike up to Mount Tallac, with snow still clinging to elevations above 9000 feet. A recent trek found spectacular snow plants at lower, shady elevations, and purple lupine just below remnants of snowfields still hanging on from the big winter. The views of Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake make this hike particularly rewarding.

Lupine frames Mt. Tallac and its remaining snow fields from the big winter.

Highway 89 soon heads up a series of switchbacks to reach Emerald Bay, probably the focus of more photos taken on the lake than any other site. One can park and hike down to Vikingsholm, an historic estate right on the shores of Emerald Bay.

Or, cross the highway for a hike that follows Eagle Creek up to Eagle lake, a 3.8 mile round trip that climbs about 500 vertical feet to the lovely lake, with snow melt still cascading down from higher elevations (go early to beat the crowds on this busy and scenic hiking route into the Desolation Wilderness).

Lovely Eagle Lake is the reward for a 3.8 mile round-trip hike into the Desolation Wilderness.

Continuing north, go past DL Bliss State Park, and onto Sugar Pine Point State Park, another fine campground and site of the cross country ski races and biathalon (skiing and target shooting) of the 1960 Winter Olympics. The cross country/biathlon venues ended at McKinney Creek Stadium (a 1,000 seat temporary arena where races started and finished, as well as the biathlon event, a 20 km skiing/shooting event, making its Olympic debut). Make a note early in your 2020 calendar and return for ranger-led hikes along the lake shore and tours of old Olympic trails.

Tahoe’s west shore is laced by bike trails and hiking opportunities, with plenty of bike rental shops along the way. Marinas and resorts all along Highway 89 rent kayaks and standup paddleboards, so fans of water sports won’t be disappointed.

Tahoe City is located on Tahoe’s north east shore, featuring Rosie’s Restaurant, our favorite for breakfast or lunch. Visit nearby Squaw Valley resort, Plump Jack Restaurant in the resort area is one of the finer restaurants in the region. At Squaw Valley, find memories and a few of the buildings remaining from the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Squaw Valley offered 2,850 vertical feet of elevation for the Olympics; American Olympian Penny Pitou took two silver medals on KT22 Peak, Squaw Peak and Little Papoose Peak. The men’s normal ski jump hill was built on Little Papoose Peak, opposite the Blyth Memorial Skating Arena and adjacent to the Olympic Village (both the jump hill and arena have since been removed). The US men’s hockey team would improbably beat the Canadians and Russians for the gold medal.

A compact Olympic Village was constructed at the north end of Squaw Valley, consisting of athlete dormitories, the Blyth Memorial Ice Arena, three outdoor skating rinks and a 400 meter outdoor speed-skating rink. Many of these facilities are gone, though a few of the 1960s buildings remain. Take the tram to the top of Squaw Peak and bask in memories of US skating gold medal winners David Jenkins and Carol Heiss, with stunning views of the Sierra.

This building at Squaw Valley is one of the survivors of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

For more info: Squaw Valley, squawalpine.com; Tahoe’s west shore, tahoewestshoreassoc.com; Tahoe Heritage Foundation, tahoeheritage.org; Valhalla and the Tahoe Tallac Association, valhallatahoe.com.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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