Driving from Carson City, NV up to Lake Tahoe is quite the experience. As Carson City sits at over 4000 feet in elevation it is already quite high compared to many towns in the USA. Lake Tahoe however sits at over 6,200 feet of elevation. On the Nevada side there is only one main route to take, route 50….so up and over we went!
As it is a four-lane road the road is not as treacherous as some that we had driven in high alpine regions although, as this was early September it was still tourist season which meant a high volume of traffic. The road weaved up and up into the Sierra Nevada mountains with the small shrubs of the desert slowly being replaced by tall high desert and alpine pine trees. Eventually we reached the top and started down the other end. After coming around a corner we caught our first glimpse of the lake.
Our first glimpse of Lake Tahoe
Much like Crater Lake in Oregon, Lake Tahoe had an intense blue color. This is due to Lake Tahoe being the highest, largest alpine lake in the USA (and 2nd deepest after Crater Lake). There aren’t too many lakes that Julie and I have seen for the first time and just said……wow. There really aren’t too many other words for it. It’s just spectacular. Coming over the crest of the mountain on Nevada route 50 we could see a good portion of the lake. From here the road dips down toward the lake with switchbacks until it reaches the lake. Within a few miles we had reached our campground for the next two days; the Zephyr Cove RV Park.
Zephyr Cove RV Park & Resort
We don’t generally do much research into the campground/RV park that we stay at. Our main concern is that we want to be close to a town, park or attraction that we are trying to see. As it turned out the Zephyr Cove RV Park and Resort turned out to be an attraction in itself. After checking in we made our way to our parking site. These turned out to be fully paved sites with huge pine and spruce trees between them. We then set up Bubbles; changing her around from driving mode to camping/living mode. We then made our way to the lake.
When we booked this RV park, we thought that it was just that; an RV park that happened to have lake access. What we didn’t realize was that it also had an old cottage style hotel on premises complete with a restaurant, its own beach with beach bar and snack hut and the largest tourist tour boat on the lake. We crossed the street, stepped out onto the beach looking at the crystal-clear water. We then walked over to the tourist boat reservation house and made a booking for the next morning. From there we walked over to the beach bar and got two rum runners which we then drank while standing ankle high in the lake. It was 80 degrees, as the sun was setting on a cloudless day over the mountains. It was a good day!
M.S. Dixie II – Lake Tahoe’s largest tour boat
The next day we woke up ready to go. We love days where we don’t have to drive the RV as it means we don’t have to organize and repack before we go. We just pack a backpack and go. This morning we had booked a ride on the M.S. Dixie II paddle wheeler. It was the largest tour boat on the lake and only a 5 min walk from Bubbles. After packing a backpack and hitting the lock button on the door we were off. After a short wait in line, we handed our tickets over and we were on the boat!
The M.S. Dixie II as it turned out was no small tour boat. This was the largest boat on Lake Tahoe and could carry over 500 passengers. I’m not sure if 500 people were on the boat that day but it sure seemed pretty full. Julie and I made our way to the top deck and found a pair of seats and within a few minutes we were off. The boat trip was one of the shorter routes that it was going to take for the day, only 3 hours. On this it went from Zephyr Cove directly across the lake to Emerald Bay; one of the prettiest spots on the lake. As there were a few bars on board we got one of their specialty cocktails and enjoyed the voyage across the lake.
Lake Tahoe’s Castle – Vikingsholm
As we rode a guide spoke over a loudspeaker giving us facts about the lake; depth of the lake, fish species as well as information about the surrounding mountains. Anything that was unique about Lake Tahoe was mentioned. As we entered Emerald Bay, the guide focused on one particular thing…Lake Tahoe’s “Castle” called Vikingsholm. Vikingsholm was built in 1929 by Lora Knight (she is not only famous for Vikingsholm but as well as being the primary financier of Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean). Vikingsholm was Lora’s summer home for the last 15 years of her life. It was a 38-room residence built in a Scandinavian style. It was extremely impressive to say the least even from a distance. The entire property is now part of the California state parks system and tours are given of the “castle”.
In addition to the Scandinavian castle, Emerald Bay boasted Lake Tahoe’s only island in which a small teahouse that was part of Vikingsholm was built. As the water in the bay was shallow compared to the middle of the lake it really did look a greenish emerald color. It was pretty neat. The boat then exited the bay and headed back across the lake to Zephyr Cove.
Rain & Hail coming for us
After we got off the boat Julie and I headed back to the van. Our plan was to change into our swimming trunks and go for a swim. Mother nature had other ideas, however. We had grabbed our camp chair, towels and something to drink and about halfway to the lake on our walk it started to rain. We turned around and just after we got back into the van the rain turned into hail. All we could think about was months prior when we were driving across the Texas panhandle in a hailstorm and how frightening it was. This time we were in different situation; parked in a campground under the cover of trees. Luckily the hail did not get as big as it did in Texas and didn’t leave any marks on Bubbles.
Once we were confident that the hail was gone, we picked up our chairs once again. While the sun had vanished the rain and the hail were gone. We walked down the beach and put our chairs just a few feet from the water’s edge. Once we got there, we just had to jump right on in. One of the most amazing things about Lake Tahoe is just how clear the water is. The reason for this is that 40% of the water comes directly from the sky with the other 60% coming through marshes and meadows which filter the water. The lake is just insanely clear.
Last night at the lake
After playing around in the water, relaxing and taking in the views we headed back up to Bubbles to dry off and get changed. As we are generally not in walking distance of restaurants, we wanted to take full advantage tonight and ate at the Zephyr Cove Resort Restaurant. The dining room was historic as the lodge and restaurant had been around in some form or fashion since 1862. The current dining room looked like you were in a huge old log cabin. It had a nice-looking bar and some great views of the lake. Julie opted to get the halibut while I went for the Ruben sandwich. Both were absolutely delicious. After dinner we walked around and checked out the lodge for a while.
Coming to Lake Tahoe we knew that the lake would be stunning. We had no idea that we were going to like the resort and beach as much as we did. This turned out to be one of our all-time favorite stops and one that we cannot wait to come back to again in the future.
Next up…..We finally head east! Our drive through Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.