Truckee & Donner Lake
Cradled by mountains and the Tahoe National Forest, Truckee is a thriving town steeped in Old West history. It was put on the map by the railroad, grew rich on logging and ice harvesting, and even had its brush with Hollywood during the 1924 filming of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush.
The north shore’s commercial hub, Tahoe City straddles the junction of Hwys 89 and 28, making it almost inevitable that you’ll find yourself breezing through here at least once during your round-the-lake sojourn. The town is handy for grabbing food and supplies and renting sports gear. It’s also the closest lake town to Squaw Valley.
Lake Tahoe’s densely forested western shore, between Emerald Bay and Tahoe City, is idyllic. Hwy 89 sinuously wends past gorgeous state parks with swimming beaches, hiking trails, pine-shaded campgrounds and historic mansions. Several trailheads also access the rugged splendor of the Desolation Wilderness.
The nirvana of the north shore, Squaw Valley played host to the 1960 Olympic Winter Games and still ranks among the world’s top ski resorts. The stunning setting amid granite peaks, though, makes it a superb destination in any season, and this deluxe family-friendly resort stays almost as busy in summer as in winter.
The utilitarian character of fetchingly picturesque Kings Beach lies in its smattering of back-to-basics retro motels all lined up along the highway. But in summer all eyes are on Kings Beach State Recreation Area, a seductive 700ft-long beach that often gets deluged with sun-seekers and leashed dogs.
Lake Tahoe Eastern Shore
Lake Tahoe’s eastern shore lies entirely within Nevada. Much of it is relatively undeveloped thanks to George Whittell Jr, an eccentric San Franciscan playboy who once owned a lot of this land, including 27 miles of shoreline. Upon his death in 1969, it was sold off to a private investor, who later wheeled and dealed most of it to the US Forest Service and Nevada State Parks.
One of Lake Tahoe’s ritziest communities, Incline Village is the gateway to Diamond Peak and Mt Rose ski resorts. The latter is a 12-mile drive northeast via Hwy 431 (Mt Rose Hwy). During summer, the nearby Mt Rose Wilderness offers miles of unspoiled terrain, including a strenuous 10-mile round-trip to the summit of majestic Mt Rose (10,776ft).
Sunnyside is yet another lakeshore hamlet that may be just a dot on the map, but that has a couple of detour-worthy restaurants. To work off all that dang-good eating, rent a bicycle from another outpost of West Shore Sports, where you can get the scoop on all sorts of local outdoor information.
Crossing into Nevada, the neon starts to flash and old-school gambling palaces pant after your hard-earned cash. Though closed at research time for a multimillion-dollar remodel, historic Cal-Neva Resort literally straddles the California–Nevada border and has a colorful history involving ghosts, mobsters and Frank Sinatra, who once owned the joint.
Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lakeside outpost, Tahoma has a post office and a handful of places to stay and eat. Cute but not too kitschy, the red cabins of Tahoma Meadows Bed & Breakfast Cottages dot a pine grove. Each has classy country decor, thick down comforters, a small TV, and bathrooms with clawfoot tubs.