Pedaling Leisure in Lake Tahoe
A travel guide to lodging, bike rentals, beaches, and more
“The noble sheet of blue water,” as Mark Twain called it, Lake Tahoe is arguably one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, known for its crystal-clear water often described as deep blue, cobalt and turquoise. Created from a fault, the lake straddles the border between California and Nevada. Called the “beach in the mountains,” it stretches 21.2 miles under an annual 274 days of sunshine. It can truly be considered paradise—except for the traffic.
Distracted by the lake and the 21 hamlets, towns and villages around its perimeter, travelers stop to admire the view, causing frequent traffic jams. For those who prefer to spend their vacation outside of their car, the town of South Lake Tahoe serves as an ideal home base for exploring the area by two wheels instead of four. Part Nevada grittiness, part California dreamin’, this town offers big-name concerts and gaming alongside world-ranked golf courses and beaches reachable on designated bike paths and bike lanes—plus miles of mountain biking trails.
Photo: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
South Lake Tahoe’s story is one of boom and bust, with gambling arriving in 1944 at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Saloon Hall on the Nevada side—then more casinos opening through the years. The 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley brought additional development, and over time many of these casinos, hotels and resorts became outdated. South Lake Tahoe was in serious need of a makeover.
A renaissance occurred with Vail Resort’s purchase of Heavenly Resort for $99.2 million in 2002. Since then, a number of new properties have opened, breathing new life into the community and providing convenient access for visitors to walk or bike to casinos, concerts, beaches and golf courses.
“We like to recommend riding to Camp Richardson, about a 30-minute ride (depending on how hard you push the pedal),” says Gary Bell, owner of Sierra Ski & Cycle Works, about one of the most popular rides. “It’s a dedicated bike path with scenic areas and a fairly easy ride.” Once at Camp Richardson, riders find a variety of activities on the beach, two restaurants, a general store, a candy store and an ice-cream parlor.
Fallen Leaf Lake, Photo: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
Another popular option is jumping aboard the Lake Tahoe Water Taxi with your bike, cruising to the beautiful West Shore, and then riding the forest bike trail to Fallen Leaf Lake (a little-known locals’ favorite). Cyclists can cool off with a swim in the Fallen Leaf Lake’s remarkably clear waters and then refuel at the Beacon Bar & Grill—renowned for its Rum-Runner cocktails, crispy calamari, lively music and great toes-in-the-sand views of Tahoe—before heading back on the water taxi. A relaxing afternoon awaits back in town, lounging by a hotel pool or indulging in a luxurious treatment at a spa.
According to Bell, “We help our clients figure out what they want to see in South Lake Tahoe and then give them a map to get them there.” Which sure beats sitting in traffic.
South Lake Tahoe hotels offer something for everyone with a range of prices and amenities.
Basecamp Hotel, Photo: Eva Kolenko
HOTEL WITH A BEER GARDEN
Basecamp Hotel Tahoe South—with the tagline “Built for Exploring”—is a 74-room boutique hotel with design reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie set, down to the Trapper blankets, lanterns and binoculars. Located in the heart of South Lake Tahoe, the hotel is designed for adventure and relaxation seekers alike with amenities including a beer garden providing craft beers. Seasonal events include Labor Day BBQ, Summer Concert Series and Oktoberfest. Summer rates from $139/night.
Photo: Courtesy of The Landing Resort & Spa
HOTEL WITH A BIKE
The Landing Resort & Spa: Lake Tahoe’s only five-star boutique lakeside resort was recently named a California’s Best Hotel and a Best U.S. Luxury Hotel by Oyster (known as the world’s most comprehensive reviewer of hotels). Amenities include Jimmy’s Restaurant gourmet dining and the Spa at The Landing. Known for lake views, superb service and even heated/lighted toilet seats, the hotel is within walking distance to the nightlife of South Lake Tahoe and Village Center. Complimentary bicycles are available for cruising around town.
Summer rates start at $450/night.
Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Becket
HOTEL WITH A DOG
Hotel Becket was created by joining two existing properties to create a 167-room inn across the street from the Heavenly ski lift in town. Amenities include an indoor-outdoor barbecue restaurant and access to a private beach. The pet-friendly hotel also offers a loaner four-legged companion for guests to enjoy during their stay: Remington, the hotel’s resident Bernese Mountain Dog, is available to guests for hikes and walks, part of the hotel’s “Borrow a Bernese” program. Summer rates from $179/night.
Lake Tahoe is so deep you could stand the Empire State Building in it and not see the top. It’s the second-deepest lake in the United States (only Crater Lake in Oregon is deeper). With numerous beaches along its shores, from private to popular, Lake Tahoe has something for everyone.
Emerald Bay, Photo: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
Located on the southwestern side of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay is one of Lake Tahoe's most photographed and popular locations. Home to Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm, a 38-room tourable mansion, the park also contains the only island in Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island, where a small teahouse was built by the owner of Vikingsholm Castle.
Pope Beach is the longest of all Tahoe's beaches and typically experiences less wind than the eastern shore. Picnic-friendly with restrooms, tables and standing BBQs, Pope is located on the south side of Lake Tahoe, approximately 3 miles north of the "Y" (intersection of Highways 50 and 89) in South Lake Tahoe.
Known for its great view of Mt. Tallac and for its dog-friendly area, Kiva Beach is located next to Camp Richardson and is close to South Lake Tahoe's "Y." The beach is dissected by Taylor Creek, a popular destination on its own.
Popular Camp Richardson offers a variety of activities, two restaurants, a general store, a candy store and an ice-cream parlor. The full-service marina rents ski boats, jet skis, kayaks and paddleboats, and offers guided tours, cruises and chartered fishing trips.
Several bicycling organizations in Lake Tahoe area offer online maps of trails in the area, including tahoebike.org and tamba.org/trails.
Sierra Ski and Cycle
3430 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
*Free locks and helmets come with your rental, and owner Gary Bell recommends using both.
Edge Mountain Bike Shuttle
3665 Tamarack Ave.
Anderson’s Bicycle Rental Service
645 Emerald Bay Rd.
The seasonal water taxi stops at Camp Richardson Marina to/from Round Hill Pines Resort Marina, located just past the casinos at Round Hill.
Roundtrip cost is $25/adult.
One-way trip is $15/adult and $12/child (age 12 and under).
Bikes are transported free of charge.
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