A few weeks ago, we left the little guy and dog with family and took off for a long weekend at Lake Tahoe. While we have plenty of skiing near Bend, it’s fun to get out and explore different terrain.
If you’ve never been down to the Tahoe basin, figure out a way to get there. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada on the California-Nevada border, this alpine lake is a hub for all types of outdoor adventures. Not only is it the sixth largest lake in the United States, but the entire area is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and their ski resorts.
As long as road conditions cooperate, it’s a little under an eight hour drive from Bend, Oregon. There are a few different routes, but we prefer skipping the I-5 route for lesser-travelled back-roads. It’s a scenic and happily lonely drive between Klamath Falls and Reno, giving you plenty of time to chat with your car companions and just settle into the road trip rhythm.
Once you reach Susanville, your next big thoroughfare is directly through Reno. If you hit any traffic, it will be between here and Tahoe. The highway climbs out of Reno, gradually gaining elevation and getting consistently snowier in the wintertime. Give yourself plenty of time to travel safely.
WHERE TO STAY
We used Tahoe City as our base for the trip. This scenic town is located on the California side of the lake’s northern shore, where most of the ski resorts are. The town itself is also super fun, with plenty of restaurants and activities to keep you busy.
Most of the big-name resorts have lodges and hotels, although they tend to be on the pricey side. Because we like the flexibility of having a kitchen and washer/dryer, we typically rent a condo or house through VRBO.com or airbnb.com. We’ve found awesome deals just outside Tahoe City, which isn’t a big deal if you’ve driven down anyway. It’s just a quick drive into town.
WHAT TO DO
In winter, snow sports are the way to go. When it comes to alpine skiing, there’s a lot to choose from, but use the weather and your own skill level to narrow things down. While we haven’t skied them all, so far our favorite resorts are Squaw Valley and Homewood.
Squaw Valley is a complete resort experience. Host of the 1960 Olympics, Squaw has all the amenities you’d every need, plus access to top-level terrain. With 30 chairlifts, a tram, and the United States’ only funitel, it’s easy to explore every snowy nook and cranny. “The Village” at the base of the mountain features plenty of places to eat and shop. For a quick pick-me-up, grab a warm Belgian waffle at the Euro Shack. We were having too much fun at Squaw Valley to do so, but your ticket does offer you access to the nearby Alpine Meadows Resort as well.
Homewood Resort is one of our favorites for an entirely different reason. While the skiing is a bit milder than Squaw Valley, Homewood has the best Lake Tahoe view of any resort in the area. You’ll feel like you’re skiing directly into the lake. When you need a break, check out the Big Blue View Bar half-way down the hill. Grab a beer inside the big dome, then head out and take a seat on the blue lounge chairs propped in the snow. With music cranking, it’s a super fun spot to sit and admire the lake with your ski buddies. Head here on a sunny clear day, maybe after your legs are wiped out from a big day at Squaw the day before.
If you know where you want to ski ahead of time, check the resort’s website to book tickets in advance. You can usually save 20% or so! In addition to alpine skiing/snowboarding, you’ll find plenty of space for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding.
WHERE TO EAT
Because we usually have access to a kitchen, we like to do a combination of cooking in and eating out. Here are a few of our favorites:
Breakfast – Fire Sign Café – firesigncafe.com
This is the best breakfast in Tahoe City! We always plan on visiting this little establishment, located just outside town. The fresh-squeezed orange juice, daily pastry specialty, and long-list of “from scratch” items are just some of the reasons this has been a local favorite since 1978. Servings are huge, creative, and incredibly delicious. Go here.
Lunch – Tahoe Mountain Brewing – tahoebrewing.com
Not super shocking that the couple from Bend, the country’s craft brew capitol, enjoyed the local brewery. The beer is brewed in nearby Truckee, but the brewpub in Tahoe City also features a full pub menu. The sandwiches and burgers are filling, and the beer is delicious. A great lunch option for an off-day or half-day on the mountain.
Dinner – Blue Agave – tahoeblueagave.com
If you’re looking for a fancy steakhouse dinner, this isn’t it. But, if you’re looking for flavorful and hearty food after a long ski day, check out Blue Agave. Built on top of the original Tahoe House in 1976, the Blue Agave occupies one of the oldest still-standing buildings in the basin – the Tahoe Inn. Enjoy taking in the history while you admire the views and sip on tasty margaritas.
While a ski-trip is your best bet for wintertime, a summer visit would be outstanding. Once the snow melts, the hiking and mountain biking trails open up. Explore miles of wilderness all around the lake, or even hike a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. The lake will still be chilly, although significantly less so with summer sun hitting it daily. We still haven’t visited in the summer, but you can bet it’s on our list.