Tahoe’s Tropical Side

Looking out across Lake Tahoe for the first time — its blue-green waters, mountains and beaches — was a moment of pure infatuation. I’d heard all about the water and the mountains, but who knew that Tahoe is surrounded by such beautiful beaches? I mean, it’s an alpine lake that’s at about the same altitude and latitude as Carbondale, but its attitude is more like California. It would be hard to imagine the concentration of golden sand and beach babes being any denser in Malibu or Big Sur.

I may have been the only person to live their entire adult life in the American West never having visited Tahoe before our trip. But after finally checking that box off my bucket list, I’m now wondering what took me so long, and I can’t wait to go back.

We drove the scenic route there — Highway 50 through the heart of Nevada, which has been labeled “The Loneliest Highway in America” for good reason. It’s the kind of place where you would not be surprised to see the skeletons of unlucky travelers lying beside the road, picked clean by buzzards. The route features some beautiful mountain ranges, but only about four small towns over its 500 miles, so you want to make sure your car is gassed up and running well before attempting it.

My fiancé lived in Tahoe for several years, so she knows the place like a local, and led me to and through some gorgeous places during our week there.

The lake is split into a California side and a Nevada side. The California side is sparsely populated, and features some awe-inspiring vistas. Hiking trails run all the way from the lake to the summits of the surrounding mountains. We hiked the Rubicon trail that traverses the lake’s western edge one afternoon. The trail meanders in and out of the forest, and gave us new and amazing views around every corner.

The Nevada side of the lake is much more developed, featuring the casinos, of course, but also some great restaurants and hotels, and most of Tahoe’s best beaches.

Our hotel room featured a large stone fireplace and kitchenette, and was only two blocks from the beach where we sat on our first night and watched the sun set beyond the distant mountains.

On another day we took a lunch cruise on a paddleboat across the lake and back, and sat at a window seat where we toasted our good fortune while contemplating the icy depths. Then we took a side trip to Virginia City — a real old west town with real (staged) gunfights and fake cowboys.

Back at the beach, I stepped into the cold water and gritted my teeth as I waded out until I was waist-deep. I took a moment to gather my courage, then dove in and swam like Michael Phelps until my body adjusted to the temperature. The crisp, clean Tahoe waters were so exhilarating that I decided to float there for a while, looking around at one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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