Explore Tahoe: Not into skiing? Check out these 6 fun winter ideas
Once the snow flies, Tahoe folks primarily focus on having fun sliding on the white stuff, and our big beautiful lake goes into slumber in the minds of many people.
Instead of being the center of our recreational activities like it is most of the year, Tahoe becomes a view in the distance for a Diamond Peak, Squaw Valley or Tahoe XC skier. It becomes a big patch of blue that contrasts nicely with the wide expanse of white snow under our feet.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Not only are there still lots of fun things to do on or next to Lake Tahoe in the winter, but the lake takes on a new splendor and beauty when only a few boats ply her waters. It’s as if you are going back to the time before our modern society arrived at the lake.
I’ve compiled six wonderful things to do in the winter that will keep you closely connected to Lake Tahoe. I pass these on with one big caveat: All of these activities are weather-dependent.
They are meant for the time between the big winter storms that define Tahoe winters — those periods when the sun is out, the sky is impossibly blue, and the lake is calm.
They are not meant for when the snow is pounding and the wind is blowing. In fact, most of these activities can be downright dangerous under those conditions.
While Tahoe summers are almost guaranteed good weather, in the winter, you need to be an amateur meteorologist and keep close tabs on the weather conditions.
HEAD TO THE BEACH
Pick a sunny day when the sky is blue. Maybe right after a storm when the rest of the world is packed to the gills at Squaw Valley, and sit yourself down along the shoreline and enjoy Tahoe’s splendor.
If you don’t want to walk too far, try the Commons Beach in the middle of Tahoe City, Hurricane Bay along the West Shore, Waterman’s Landing in Carnelian Bay, or Kings Beach’s expansive sandy beach.
Plus, the South Shore has lots of accessible beach areas right in town. Or to get a bit more walking in, head to the east shore’s beaches — it’s an area that gets a lot less snow then the west side and might be dry as a bone when folks are still skiing on the west slope mountains.
Bundle up and enjoy a quiet winter morning on Mickey’s Big Mack II heading out from Carnelian Bay’s Sierra Boat Company. You will ostensibly be hunting for the giants of the deep of Tahoe, the mackinaw trout, but you will also be enjoying a Tahoe morning and being entertained by long time local Mickey Daniels and his crew.
“Usually, the winter for Mackinaw trout is best; they get through spawning in the fall, then they feed real good,” says Daniels. “I got a big boat, a warm cabin and coffee waiting for you.”
In addition to the mackinaw, Daniels can fish closer to shore for rainbow trout in the winter, because almost all of the boats of summer are gone. For information on the trip, go to mickeysbigmack.com, and to make a reservation, call Mickey at 530-546-4444.
GO FOR A PADDLE
In-between storms, Lake Tahoe is often calm and, while not warm by summer standards, the air temperature is often in the ‘40s. Those days you can paddle on a kayak, paddleboard or canoe, and find an amazingly quiet and peaceful experience on the lake with no boats — and just as importantly, no boat wakes.
Whichever means of transport you choose, be sure to stay on your boat and out of the water, as it can be a bone-chilling, instantly-hypothermia-inducing experience if you go in. If you have your own craft, then Hurricane Bay, Kings Beach, Tahoe Park, Lake Forest and Waterman’s Landing in Carnelian Bay make for relatively easy access options.
Want to rent a boat? Waterman’s Landing can rent you one by reservation in the winter. Contact them at watermanslanding.com or 530-546-3590.
CLIMB ABOARD THE DIXIE
To truly experience Lake Tahoe, you need to get out on the lake. If the thought of paddling on a cold morning doesn’t float your boat, a warmer way to get on the water is to hop aboard the iconic MS Dixie paddle wheeler in Zephyr Cove.
With the snow-capped peaks in the background, and no other boats in the bay, Emerald Bay is especially beautiful in the winter. The MS Dixie runs daily cruises, with dinner cruises on weekends. For the full schedule and to reserve a spot, visit zephyrcove.com.
DRIVE AROUND THE LAKE
Before you begin your grand auto tour of Lake Tahoe, check the weather forecast for clear weather, be sure the roads are clear of chain restrictions, and perhaps most importantly, make sure Emerald Bay is open so you can make the complete loop.
Once these conditions are met, a winter carpool around Lake Tahoe is an awesome way to enjoy all that Lake Tahoe has to offer. The lake is just as beautiful as it is in the summer, perhaps more so, since the peaks are covered in snow, but most importantly, the crowds are absent.
As long as road pullouts and parking areas are plowed, you can enjoy views of the lake in peace, with no shortage of parking. Beginning in Tahoe City and going clockwise, you will see special views of the lake at: Waterman’s Landing in Carnelian Bay, Tahoe Vista, Kings Beach, all along the road from Incline Village to well past Sand Harbor, Cave Rock, Zephyr Cove, Stateline, South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, Rubicon Bay, Meeks Bay, Homewood and Hurricane Bay, before crossing over the Truckee River to where you began.
Don’t forget to stop, get out of the car, take some pictures, and visit some of the local businesses for food and coffee. If the snow is not too deep, a hike down to the Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay may also be in order.
Sugar Pine Point State Park on the West Shore provides winter camping in the forest, near the groomed cross-country ski trails where Olympians once skied in the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Camping is on a first come, first served basis with 20 available sites near a heated restroom. Enjoy a quiet, although perhaps cold, night in the woods, then stroll, ski or snowshoe across the highway to the Ehrman Mansion and the shore of the lake.
You might get a bit lonely though, because it is usually not a very busy place. Winter is also a time at Sugar Pine for events revolving around the Nordic trails including full moon snowshoe tours, snowshoe through history hikes, and biathlon events.
Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at email@example.com.