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South Lake Tahoe - A Full Day Of Activities
By Lynn Upthagrove

Centered on Yosemite as we are with the Hotel Charlotte in Groveland, California, we often feature routes and itineraries that cover areas where Travelers tend go when they leave Groveland, or are on their way to Groveland. We find that Lake Tahoe is one such destination that many of our guests are coming from or going to. We have traveled to Tahoe from all of the Sierra Nevada crossings including Highways 80, 50, 88 and 89, 4, 108, 120 and then North on 395 and offer up our favorite stops along the way.

Our last trip was a 2-night sojourn to South Lake Tahoe. For our route there we took 49 to 50 into South Lake Tahoe. This took us 4 hours. Our return trip we took highway 89 out of South Lake Tahoe to Highway 88 into Jackson, passing Kirkwood ski area and several scenic alpinesque lakes. From Jackson, we caught 49 south. This route was only 3 hours and 15 minutes and very scenic, far fewer towns and less traffic. Each of these routes is open year-round, plowed throughout the snow season. Alternative summer routes include Highway 4 which has some wonderful stops including Murphys (a wine tasting town), Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and the Scenic Byway section from Alpine Lake to Highway 89 near Markleevile that twists itself over the mountain (A slow and often narrow route, but very photographic.) Highway 108 is another option through the Sierras and rivals Yosemite's Tioga Pass for incredible scenery.

Once in South Lake Tahoe we usually chose to stay at the smallest and friendliest casino hotel, Lakeside Lodge, (not actually on the lake!) for convenience to the town with fair room rates, excellent menu choices and a small and comfortable casino. We also recommend a stay at the Zephyr Cove Resort, also on the Nevada side for the myriad of activities. One can ride horses, rent speed boats, canoes, kayak and sailboats from Zephyr Cove. In the winter there are oodles of snow activities that start from here.

A drive around the lake is a must do! Depending on the number of stops you make this scenic loop will take at least 2 hours and is roughly 95 miles. We tend to drive counter clockwise, although driving clockwise keeps you on the coastal side of the highway, Stop at every view point, all the little parks and take photos, splash in the water and talk to the fishermen about their successes; each enclave is unique.

One of our favorite stops has always been the Ponderosa Ranch. For Bonanza fans, this was always a marvelous memory jogger. Sadly, the ranch sold and is now closed to the public. The ranch sported several age-old crafts men from the smithy to the glass blower. Crowd pleasers included a lassoer plying the audience with his artistry.

Tahoe City and several other places along the Western short offer bicycle rentals. The riding trail borders both the lake and the road. Watch for traffic as the trail crosses the highway in several points. This is a beautiful route on a paved bike path and is well used by families and sport riders alike.

Just before returning to South Lake Tahoe is Emerald Bay where you will see the castle and the island-topped tea house. Both remote and lonely looking places, but stunning in that they even exist.

Once back in South Lake Tahoe jump aboard the gondola to the top of Heavenly Mountain. This might be a bit uncomfortable for those with a weakness for heights and that awful falling feeling, but is well worth the few minutes with no ground below your feet. Victor enjoyed my reaction when he tried to rock our climbing cocoon. There are dozens of hikes that originate from the pinnacle and follow the ski trails. Take care to return to the Gondola before closing, it is a long walk down if you don't!

Consider an even cruise on the paddle wheel boat, MS Dixie II that departs from Zephyr Cove. On our trip we opted for the dinner service, and while the meal was fair and we met some pleasant travelers at our table, if we were to do it again, we would just do the sight-seeing tour, skip the meal, save $20 per person and have a wonderful dinner landside after debarking! The cruise takes you across the lake to Emerald Bay where we re-saw the sights of earlier in the day, but from a new vantage point. This cove is noted as one of the most photographed spots in the world;a well deserved title!

Additional activities for a prolonged stay include an over-lake hotair ballon ride, white water rafting on the Truckee river, Horse back riding, a side trip to Virginia City or Reno in Nevada and more! Look for valuable coupons at strategic hotel locations throughout the area.

For additional photos and ideas on things to do in the Tahoe area, gives additional stops along the way, links and photographs.

Options for a meandering return route to Groveland from Tahoe include cutting east over to 395 and heading south where you might take the time to visit Bodie along the Eastern Sierras, an authentic Ghost Town.

Lynn Upthagrove, along with her husband Victor, own the Hotel Charlotte, in Groveland, on the way to Yosemite.