Extend your Lake Tahoe vacation with ultra-scenic drives to three off-the-radar finds. Find a treasure trove of Gold Rush history, alpine beauty, and endless excuses to pull over, get out, and play.
1. Hope Valley
A half hour south of the lake, the alpine valley might be best known for what it doesn’t have than what it does. Here, pristine grassy meadows, edged by aspens and high peaks, have miraculously dodged development. The one hub of activity is Sorenson’s Resort, an off-the-charts-charming cluster of cozy cabins. Make a point to pull over for a meal in the homey cafe – especially for weekend brunch on the sunny deck.
Cresting Kingsbury Grade on Tahoe’s east side, the view transforms from Sierra alpine to the sweeping high desert of Nevada’s Carson Valley. Here sits tiny, preserved-in-amber Genoa, once an Old West way station for 1850s emigrants heading west in search of gold and a new life. Belly up for a cold one at Nevada’s oldest “thirst parlor” still in operation, the Genoa Bar. Then follow the lead of Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain and take a dip at retro-fun David Walley’s Hot Springs, with naturally heated mineral pools.
3. Lakes Basin
Discover a secret cluster of alpine lakes an hour norther of Lake Tahoe. At lovely Lower Sardine Lake (shown above), rent a blissfully silent electric boat. Or link icy alpine lakes on 4-mile-long, wildflower-trimmed Round Lake Loop Trail (start at Gold Lake Lodge). Don’t be surprised if you get one of the region’s picture-perfect lakes to yourself, so whoop as much as you want when you take the plunge. At dusk, tuck into homemade soup at Mountain Creek Restaurant, then drive back to Tahoe under a sky-full of stars.
4. Squaw Valley
You can pretty much live in Squaw Valley in the summer. You can see the mountains from the village – they peek in through the buildings, so it gives you some sense of magnitude of the surrounding granite. A popular summer activity is to hike to Shirley Canyon. There’s lots of little spots to dip into the stream, plus wide-open granite rock areas for picnics. If you hike to the top, you can use the pool or the hot tub, and you can always take the aerial tram down.
5. Baldwin Beach
Baldwin Beach is a favorite among the locals. It’s wide and golden, with a little river inlet where kids catch frogs and catfish. On the opposite side is what locals call Ski Beach. If you live in South Shore and have a boat, this is where you hand out.