Road Trip; Lake Tahoe’s western shore in age of pandemics

Take a Road Trip to Lake Tahoe’s western shore

Months into the Covid19 pandemic and a month into summer, Lake Tahoe lies resplendent, as always under a hot July sun.  Winter’s snows can only be spotted at the highest Sierra elevations, melting into shady crevices, and motels, hotels and restaurants are running at reduced capacity and shortened hours (some are closed). 

Suffering cabin fever, we decided upon a one-day road trip. Our advice, take your face masks, gloves and hand-sanitizer, hiking shoes, hiking poles, sunglasses (and bikes if a cyclist)! Plan to physically distance from others, take your own food and drink, and enjoy this stunning portion of the world with less-than-normal tourists.

We were in search of hiking and beach opportunities and drove up on Highway 50 into South Lake Tahoe, bright with sunshine and light crowds.  We turned north on Highway 89, running up the magnificent lake’s west shore. Just beyond the S. Lake Tahoe city limits, you will find a lovely bike trail paralleling the highway, running north about 10 miles. Our destination was the Mt. Tallac trailhead, a few miles off Highway 89, starting at 6400 feet and climbing to near the Tallac summit at 9,437.

Departing early to beat the summer heat, we arrived at the trailhead parking area just after 8 AM, found the last space in the 20 car parking lot and were soon on the trail. The first ¾ mile is steepest, and then we began to climb a bit less dramatically on a breezy ridge high above Fallen Leaf Lake.

Author’s spouse Susan with Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe below.
Purple lupine frames Mt. Tallac above Fallen Leaf Lake.

Our journey led us up a long, steady slope on an exposed breezy ridge, with views of both Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. Plenty of wildflowers, from purple Lupine and Indian paintbrush, enliven the trail. As we got closer to Mt. Tallac’s summit, the views became even more dramatic. The thinning air and our relative lack of fitness precluded continuing on – but even this portion of the trail ranked high in our hiking experiences.

Tahoe offers many dedicated bike (and hiking) trails, throughout South Lake Tahoe, just north heading up Highway 89, further north along 89 starting at Homewood and along both the Truckee River and Tahoe’s north shore. Hardy cyclists can tackle the entire 72 mile loop around Lake Tahoe, though it has its share of narrow, twisty turns and several steep vertical climbs – not for the faint of heart.

Don’t miss a stop at the Tallac Historic Site, located just north of Camp Richardson on Highway 89. Stop first at the Forest Service Visitor Center, get details on these three historic former luxury waterfront estates, the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate and Valhalla, then walk the paved trail to view what life was like for Tahoe’s glitterati in the 1920s and 30s. The remnants of the former Tallac Resort are just north of the old palatial homes; harkening to lively times in the Roaring 20s.

The stately Baldwin House is part of the Tallac Historic Site.

From the Tallac site, walk to Baldwin Beach, a half-mile sandy crescent right on Lake Tahoe. On this Monday, we found quite a few people enjoying Tahoe’s azure waters, but easy to stay 40 feet away from the nearest visitor enjoying the lofty views looking to the east. Paddle boards and kayaks for rent, right off the sandy spit.

Stop at the Forest Service Visitor Center, get details on these three historic former luxury waterfront estates, the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate and Valhalla, then walk the paved trail to view what life was like for Tahoe’s glitterati in the 1920s and 30s.

Baldwin Beach catches more than a few sun-worshipers on a Monday afternoon.

Further north on Hwy. 89 is Emerald Bay, perhaps the most photographed place on the lake. On the bay is the lovely Vikingsholm estate, built in 1929. A steep hike down to the bay allows closeup views of the old mansion and this highly-visited portion of the lake. Eagle Creek thunders into the bay nearby, still brisk with snow-melt; hike up Eagle Creek for access to an extensive trail system into the wilderness area, again, offering memorable views of the lake and Sierra.

We usually breakfast at our campsite, and occasionally pack a lunch for our daily tours. For dining out, our favorite restaurants in this part of Tahoe include The Beacon, and, though we did not get up to Tahoe City, our favorite breakfast place in the entire Tahoe area, Rosie’s – try it! Tahoe City and Squaw Valley Resort (home to the 1960 Olympics) are lovely destinations; they will have to await another road trip!

Eagle Creek tumbles towards Emerald Bay.

For more information: visitinglaketahoe.com, or tahoesouth.com. Since the Covid pandemic causes frequent geographical variations in visitor policies, check before traveling.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; visit his archive,  recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in the west!

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