107 miles E of Sacramento; 192 miles E of San Francisco; 45 miles SW of Reno, NV
Lake Tahoe is an American treasure. It's stunningly beautiful, the air is crisp and clear, and the sun shines 80% of the time. In summer, you can partake of boating and watersports, sandy beaches, bicycling, golf, tennis, hiking, camping, ballooning, horseback riding, rock climbing, bungee jumping, parasailing, skating, and so on, with seemingly endless possibilities. In winter, with an average snowfall of 409 inches, Lake Tahoe is one of the nation's premier ski destinations, with 15 downhill resorts, 10 cross-country ski centers, and facilities for snowboarding, ice-skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sleigh riding, sledding, and snow play as well. Year-round diversions include fishing, Vegas-style gambling, and big-name entertainment in the casinos.
Then there's the lake; it's hard to imagine one as captivating. When Mark Twain first saw it, he declared it "the fairest picture the whole earth affords." It's famed for its crystal-clear water (a white dinner plate at the depth of 75 ft. would be visible from the surface) and its size (at 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, it's the largest alpine lake in North America). Its average depth is 989 feet, with the deepest point being 1,645 feet, containing enough water to cover the entire state of California to a depth of 15 inches. Surrounded by the imperious peaks of the Sierra Nevada, its waters soak up the colors of the sky and the mountains, creating a kaleidoscope of sparkling blues, greens, and purples -- a sight that will lure you back year after year.
A Tale of Two Shores
Before you visit Tahoe, it's important to understand the distinction between the North and the South shores. Don't let the "City" in the North Shore's "Tahoe City" fool you; you can drive through it in a couple of minutes. To the contrary, South Lake Tahoe brims with high-rise casinos, motels, and minimalls. Where you choose to stay is important because driving from one end of the lake to the other takes an hour or more in summer and can be treacherous in winter.
So which side is for you? If you're here for gambling or entertainment, go south: The selection of casinos is better, with more action and more lodgings, often at better rates. If you seek a relaxing, outdoor retreat, head to the North Shore, which has a better selection of high-quality resorts and vacation rentals. The woodsy West Shore has the most camping spots, and the East Shore, protected from development, has no commercial activity.
Wherever you stay, you'll find plenty of water and mountain sports. The lake is crowded during summer and ski season, so plan far ahead. It's much easier to get reservations for the spring and fall, and rates drop significantly. Many vacation homes and condominiums are rentable; call the visitor-center bureaus.
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