By David King – Lake Tahoe is one of the Bay area’s top vacation jaunts, and even though masking mandates and travel restrictions are in place, there is still plenty to do to safely enjoy this extraordinary retreat.
Every July, our family group of 10 stay at the Marriot Timber Lodge, splitting two 2-room villas overlooking the pool and whirlpool spas. While these are sold as timeshares, they do have availability for non-owner stays. However, there are many room availabilities at far lesser rates elsewhere. Harvey’s Casino advertises rooms as low as $59 per night.
What you can expect, as with the rest of California, is that masks are required for all permitted indoor activities. Indoor dining, gyms, salons, indoor performances, theaters, bowling, etc. are not permitted. Even some of our preferred restaurants were closed despite having outdoor seating.
On the Nevada side, Casinos are open, and enforcing safety protocols of distancing between slots, and card tables, with continuous sanitizing, but masks are required over mouth and nose at all times.
Because of strict masking, we asked ourselves, “Can we enjoy a week in Lake Tahoe wearing masks as little as possible?” The answer is, “yes.”
Avoiding mask wearing forced us to seek new ventures in entertainment throughout the week. We found plenty of ways to enjoy Lake Tahoe outside of shopping and casinos. Here’s is what we discovered.
There are plenty of restaurants offering limited seating outdoors. We enjoyed one evening dining in McP’s Taphouse and Grill’s beer garden while listening to their live blues performer.
We also ordered pizza to our rooms from the resort’s Base Camp Pizza Co. But mostly, we opted to cook in our rooms or grill by the pool. The Timber Lodge rooms have fabulous full kitchens and the pool area have several industrial grade grills. We prepared themed dinners parties such as Hawaiian night serving pulled pork and grilled pineapple, and Mexican night with home-cooked tacos and sides. Other nights included grilled tri-tip, chicken, and pork chops. Some nights, we capped with s’mores by the large poolside, gas campfire.
Hiking: Eagle Falls Trail at Emerald Bay State Park.
I went on two hikes and both are relatively easy, even for an infrequent hiker like me; perhaps consider it a moderate hike for the more senior folks. The Eagle Falls and Van Sickle Bi-State Park trails are both wonderful options to please the hiking novice of any age.
Eagle Falls is on California State Route 89, a few miles outside of the town of South Lake Tahoe. This is an exceedingly popular sight, so go early if you wish to find space in a parking lot. By 9:30am, I had to park on Route 89 overlooking Emerald Bay, about 1.5 miles from the trail head.
At the Eagle Falls trail head, you can enjoy a rather large waterfall cascading down from your vantage point. The Eagle Falls hike is approximately two miles round trip from the trail head and can be completed under an hour depending on the pace of the hiker. The hike includes 430 ft of elevation gain. The beaten path starts off easily as you slowly ascend from the parking lot. After about a ¼ mile, you will head up a path of lovely stone stairs cut right into the rock wall itself. After about another ¼ mile, you will come upon the falls themselves. Don your mask when passing other hiker groups.
When it comes to scenery, the Eagle Falls trail offers up some of the most beautiful landscape the Lake Tahoe Basin has to offer. Waterfalls, large granite peaks, lush vegetation, and most of all, lots of evergreens.
Several hikers opted to take a refreshing dip in the falls’ cool basin waters.
To continue to Eagle Lake, follow the trail gradually uphill another half mile or so until you reach a fork. Take a swim in the cold Eagle Lake waters, or keep going further to reach Velmas, Dicks, and Fontanillis lakes. The trail offers a great workout and good places to picnic near Eagle Lake on big boulders.
Hiking: Van Sickle Bi-State Park The Van Sickle trail head is right behind the Timber Lodge beneath the Heavenly Resort Gondolas zipping above.
This is one the most accessible parks in the Tahoe Basin, open to hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians. A short climb into the serenity of the forest, the trails are studded with rock outcroppings that present grand views of the lake and the surrounding peaks. The Rim Trail Connector provides a tie-in to the famed Tahoe Rim Trail, designated by National Geographic Adventure magazine as one of the nation’s top ten trails.
There are a few trail options. We chose the path to the scenic vista point, the shortest trail of the bunch. My wife and I weren’t geared up for a serious hike. It was an easy 2.5-mile, round trip trek of only 200 feet of elevation gain. Another .7 miles and 400 feet gain would have taken us to the waterfalls. Along the way, my wife and I enjoyed rock outcroppings, caverns, and the forest. We took lots of scenic photos plus staged a few to exaggerate the hike’s difficulty to impress the rest of the family back relaxing in their rooms. However, they were more impressed with my wife finding $15 on the trail!
Nevada Beach & Campgrounds.
This is a grand sandy beach. Parking was $10 with spaces filling up by noon. So go early. After that, you can park on the road and save $10. It is an easy walk to the beach from the road unless you are carrying lots of beach gear/food/toys. This beach offers tall trees providing natural shading, picnic tables, endless sand, spectacular views of the lightly snow-capped range, and of course swimming and other water play.
We brought food for a picnic, “Frisbees,” a football, beach bocce, books, games, and whiffle golf to play interspersed with our sunbathing and swimming. There’s a lot of space; safe distancing is not a problem here. We have been to many of the area beaches over the years and have determined this to be our favorite. We came here twice during the week. Nevada beach is about two miles north of South Lake Tahoe.
Relaxing by the Pool
Masks were required walking though the lodge and to your room, and generally around the Courtyard of restaurants, shops, and to the pool. To lay by the pool, you simply let the attendant know how many in your group, they provide the lounge chairs separated from other groups so you can remove the masks. There was a two-hour time limit, unless no one wanted your chairs after that time. The saltwater pool is large, clean, and a perfect spot to read or take an afternoon nap under newly installed umbrellas.
Bijou Community Disc Golf
None of us have ever played disc golf, except on Wii Games. Nor do any of us toss a Frisbee around. We bought 10 off brand “Frisbees” (which is not the regulation disc golf equipment), one for each of us. The 10 of us went to Bijou Community Golf Park. We split up into three groups. It was a fun experience trying to navigate these disc through the forested course.
The Grandparents were good for nine holes. The rest of us decided to play the full 18-hole course. After the 18th hole, we noted there was a 19th hole, and a 20th. Bijou Disco Golf course is a 27-hole Pro-Am course! We gave up after 18 holes and two hours of play. I might mention, it is free to play there.
Spontaneous Fun – Wiffle Golf
We also commandeered the large grassy lawn of neighboring Lake Tahoe Resort and set up a 9-hole course with cones for some wiffle golf one evening for about an hour. While it caught the attention and admiration of onlookers, we were done before their maintenance discovered us and perhaps chase us away.
A wonderful week it was, masks need not be a deterrent.