To bastardize Mr. Twain/Clemens, the warmest summer I ever spent was a winter in North Lake Tahoe. Okay, that’s stretching facts like a jumping frog’s margin of victory, but it was so sunny up there a few winters ago that a neighborhood ski-and-snowboard rental shop shelved its slats and boards and plucked mountain bikes from storage.
It was then locals regaled me with tales about all the warm-weather activities that thrive along the north shore, promising it would be worth my while to return in the summer. The biggest draw, of course, is the 191.6-square-mile freshwater lake cradled by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it is from the deep-blue-water jewel that most activities originate. You can fish it, boat it, swim it, kayak it, jet ski it, water ski it, stand-up paddleboard it and, if you’re into blind pursuits, scuba dive it.
Since I was born without core strength, I am no fan of stand-up paddleboarding in the local harbors and ocean, but I got talked into trying it on the lake by a SUP-loving travel mate. Shops that will rent you boards ring Lake Tahoe, including Tahoe Adventure Co. (530-913-9212), which is based in Truckee but runs seasonal SUP, kayak and mountain-bike concessions at different locations nearby. Besides rentals, Tahoe Adventure Co. leads guided SUP and kayak tours and SUP yoga instruction to do something about that missing core strength.
On the way to the airport after a North Lake Tahoe ski trip a few months ago, the driver told me I have to come back to raft the Truckee River. He assured me it’s a mostly mellow ride with a few thrills along the way to make it interesting, which sounded an awful lot like parts of the Kern River near Bakersfield. Recommended places to get a raft are Sierra Adventures (866-323-8928), Truckee River Raft (530-583-0123) and Truckee River Rafting (530-583-1111). The best part is you can drop your inflatable into the river right there in Tahoe City.
What I like about North Lake Tahoe in the winter are the multiple ski area choices, from the ritzier Northstar and Squaw Valley to the more middling Alpine Meadows, Diamond Peak and Mt. Rose to the, erm, very rustic Tahoe Donner. In that way, it reminds me of the variety of schussing that is a half-hour or so away from Salt Lake City.
Squaw, which was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, was forever my favorite place to ski. That changed after I skied Davos, Switzerland, and in recent years, I have most often visited Northstar (www.northstarcalifornia.com), which is great because everything you need—food, drink, lodging, shopping, outfitting—is in the base village surrounding the gondolas.
During my last trip, I rode a gondola with an American woman who was born closer to Davos than Tahoe. She went on and on (and on) about how adjacent to Northstar’s downhill slopes is one of the best cross-country ski areas in California. She heads there from the Bay Area every winter weekend to snow shoe, and she credits the maintenance of a thin frame in her 60s to routinely making the 2-mile trek from the attraction’s entrance to the lake’s edge. And here I was bitching about SUP!
Northstar is not a one-season celestial object, however. When the weather warms, the same trails and slopes become prime real estate for hikers and mountain bikers. Golf and roller skating are nearby, and the resort hosts cool outdoor events such as the Beerfest & Bluegrass Festival (scheduled for July 7).
Which reminds me: All that biking and skiing and paddling and snow-shoeing and river-boulder avoiding will leave you plenty thirsty. Fortunately, there is an activity for that, too: a “hike” along the North Lake Tahoe Ale Trail. Type gotahoenorth.com into your smartphone browser, click the Things to Do tab, scroll down to Ale Trail and pull up the interactive map.
Beer-mug icons show you the locations of all the watering holes that will wet your whistle. Interspersed among them are icons for hiking, SUP/kayaking and road- or mountain-biking spots, should that also float your sportboat.
Make sure one stop includes a rendezvous with Alibi Ale Works’ pale ale. Citrusy and tropical, it’s a refreshing capper to an active day. The brew has a reasonable 5.5 percent ABV, so even if you down a couple, you should still have enough wits about you to exit Alibi Ale Works Tahoe Brewery & Public House (530-536-5029) in downtown Truckee without wandering into traffic. Alibi also operates the Incline Brewery and Taproom in Incline Village (775-298-7001).
As Mr. Twain would say, never refuse to take a drink, under any circumstances.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.