Pristine sapphire waters lap gently against the steep peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. Dramatic views unfold between pines and you hike along the ridges of the mountains. Perhaps hiking isn’t your thing, you’re more of a beach bum, that’s ok because there are countless nooks and crannies to find hidden patches of beach leading to brilliant blue waters you have to see to believe. Where is this obtainable slice of Shangri-la you ask? Oh, it’s closer than you think, this is Lake Tahoe like a local.
My family lives in Lake Tahoe. I’ve been visiting since I was 15 years old and the sheer pristine beauty of the place never ceases to amaze me. The Tahoe basin’s beauty certainly ins’t a secret. Millions of people flock here every year. If you know me, you know that I have a knack for avoiding crowds in the world’s most beautiful places. Here’s my 2 cents on avoiding crowds and blending in with the local community.
Tahoe Like a Local #1: Avoid South Lake Tahoe
Unless high rise casinos, cheesy shops, and throngs of people pouring out of buses appeal to you don’t stay here. South Lake is difficult to avoid all together, but don’t stay here. The only reason I’m ever down here is to visit a childhood friend who’s parents live in the outskirts of town.
Desolation Wilderness and Emerald Bay are definitely worth seeing. However, over the years I’ve noticed that the place gets more and more clogged with mega tourist buses and people smattered all over the place. To be honest, I stopped visiting for that reason. But if you arrive by boat, arrive in the early morning or evening it usually isn’t nearly as crowded and you can find some solitude.
Visit During the Off-Season
Locals love the off season at Tahoe. Sure you may not be able to ski and maybe the water feels a little more chilling than refreshing, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t fully enjoy the outdoors. The fall is one of my favorite seasons to be in Lake Tahoe because it’s quite and the temps are still pretty warm. It’s the perfect time to go for a hike. The beach is still inviting as ever.
On a calm day it’s a wonderful time to kayak around hidden beaches. Simply rent a kayak and head discover a cove. More often than not there will be a patch of sand to plop down on and enjoy a good book and soak up some rays. The more public beaches are less crowd-ridden. People out and about are typically all locals, as the seasonal crowd dies down this time of year. The towns have a more quaint and laid back feel.
Tahoe Like a Local: Hit the Tougher Terrain
If solitude on the mountains is what you seek, it’s easy to find. Get up early and hit a tough trail. Crowds usually peter out on the tougher routes. One great summit to hit early is Mt Rose. Although we passed a lot of people on the way down, an early start beats the crowds and gives way to an iconic view of the lake and breathtaking scenery of the region.
If backpacking is more your thing hit up the Tahoe Rim Trail. At 165 miles long this trail offers something for everyone. It’s broken into segments offering everything from the entire route to short day hikes.
Getting off the Beaten Path
Pristine vacant beaches are easy to find. You just have to know where to go. Us locals hold our favorite spots as well-kept secrets, so I’m not going to give too much away here. Part of doing Lake Tahoe like a local is finding your own hidden spot.
It’s easy to scramble around trails on the side of the highway to find your own slice of beach. Head into neighborhoods to have a solo summit of Mt Rose Knob. Get out there and take the path less traveled!
Don’t be That Guy: Understand the Unspoken Road Rules
Aside from staying in South Lake I’d ask people to respect the way we drive. Yes we may be a bit crazy, but that’s because these roads are our every day experience. We can do it in our sleep in the blinding snow. Those 12′ high snow poles don’t mean much to us. One thing all locals complain about is tourist drivers. It’s ok if you don’t feel comfortable blasting up a mountain in the snow, but please do everyone a favor and use the pullouts.
You can spot a tourist for miles on the road. Usually there’s a long line of cars behind them. Don’t be that guy – pull over and let the faster driver pass! It’s safer for everyone! If you’re traveling here over the winter months – please come prepared! Snow tires, chains, or 4-wheel drive are often required to travel the roads. Those rules are there for a reason – you will get stuck if you attempt to ride around in a 2-wheel drive vehicle not properly prepared for the weather!
Have you been to Lake Tahoe? Got any hidden gems you’d love to share? Comment below!