Frontiersman Kit Carson was guiding General John Frémont’s expedition across the Sierra Nevada in 1844 when he stumbled on an immense, deep-blue body of water, a lake so vast the native Washoe Indians were calling it tahoe (“big lake”). Carson was the first white man to see Tahoe, North America’s largest alpine lake and the eighth-deepest in the world (its deepest point is at 1,685 feet). If completely drained, Tahoe would cover the entire state of California with 14 inches of water.

Despite all its great ski resorts, Tahoe is actually most crowded in the summer, when thousands flock here to cool off at the lake (although what constitutes public shoreline versus private waterfront is still a matter of heated debate between home owners and county supervisors). Warm-weather activities abound: boating, waterskiing, bicycling, hiking, rock climbing, hot-air ballooning, horseback riding… you name it.

Unfortunately, the area pays dearly for its myriad attractions, in the form of tremendous traffic jams, water and air pollution, and a plethora of fast-food joints and condos erected before tough building restrictions were imposed. Despite these glaring scars, Lake Tahoe remains one of the premier outdoor playgrounds of the West, dazzling visitors with its soaring Sierra peaks and twinkling azure waters.

For a grand introduction to the area, take a leisurely 72-mile drive around the lake itself. Highways 50, 89, and 28 hug the shore, providing gorgeous views from the car. Several stellar sights merit pulling over for a closer look, so be prepared to stop and haul out your camera (or camcorder) along the way. Topping the not-to-be-missed list are Emerald Bay (off Hwy 89), one of the most photographed sights in the world; Cave Rock Tunnel, the 200-foot-long, drive-through granite tunnel along Highway 50 on the East Shore; and Sand Harbor State Park (off Hwy 28, on the East Shore), one of the lake’s prettiest—and least visited—beaches.

Allow about three hours to loop around the lake, or longer if you’re traveling on a summer weekend, holiday, or when the road is covered with snow.

~ Matthew Poole

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  • Submitted On : 30 Mar 2016