Vagabonding Field Report: Lake Tahoe: Mountain Climbs and Cold Water Plunges

Cost: $20/day

For those unwilling to travel all the way to Scotland to see a famed lake monster, Lake Tahoe should be the top of your end of summer travel plans. Although most come for the hiking and the lake, the rumors of Tahoe Tessie persist around the world’s second deepest lake. I once even commandeered an unattended rowboat and went searching myself, results were inconclusive…

There only constant between all days in Tahoe is that they will revolve around being outdoors. Whether you decide to spend the whole day at the beach, on the water, or in the mountains your morning starts bright and early.

For those opting for the mountains, Tallac is a perennial favorite. Hikers hit the trailhead in Desolation Wilderness early, usually around seven, for the twelve-mile roundtrip to the summit. The early morning affords cooler temperatures, before the beating sun of the afternoon, and protects hikers from lightning storms that can kick up around the summit in the afternoons.

The hike is relatively moderate until the last mile and push for the summit. The final, gasping, heart-pounding steps conclude with a rock scramble and a positively breathtaking panorama of Tahoe. If you don’t dawdle too long on top of the world, a late lunch is in order around 2. The scamper down Mt. Tallac is considerably easier than the trudge up, with most budding mountaineers back at the trailhead in a couple of hours.

The afternoon is an ideal time to enjoy the beach and get your day’s fill of Vitamin D. Temperatures are usually in the low 80’s and there are a bevy of great beaches to choose from, regardless of which side of the lake you’re on. The ubiquitous presence of docks and rafts makes plunging into the lake the ultimate Tahoe diversion. This is after all why everyone is here, correct?

Around five, the sun starts to dip behind the peaks of the Sierras and the beach set trades their swimsuits for khakis and flannels. The bonfires spark to life and twilight in Tahoe sets in. The evenings are reminiscent of mountains everywhere, with strong scents of pine and everyone huddled around the fire grilling dinner on the beach.

The locals are mostly folks who’ve given up the faster-paced life in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved a few hours over to live, “Where the angels come to breathe,” as Mark Twain described his beloved Lake Tahoe. Locals are ecstatic to recommend the best secret hike (not very well-kept secrets) or the cheapest aquatic gas station to fill up a boat.

There’s nothing to dislike about Tahoe if you’re an outdoor-enthusiast or relish the sunshine. However, if what you’re looking for is thumping clubs or lots of nightlife options, Tahoe is not the place to find it.


The challenges in Tahoe are mostly of the physical sort, altitude is certainly a factor for those coming up from sea level, with many hikes finishing around 10,000 feet.

Every time I go to Tahoe, I’m reminded of the same lesson, to slow down and enjoy nature at its finest. Modernity and progress are wonderful in a myriad of respects, but there is something soothing and primal about watching the stars come out over Lake Tahoe with your legs hanging over the dock.


Posted by | Comments (3)  | August 18, 2012
Category: Vagabonding Field Reports

3 Responses to “Vagabonding Field Report: Lake Tahoe: Mountain Climbs and Cold Water Plunges”

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