Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series spotlighting North Lake Tahoe, California. Most trail runners may be familiar with this region as home to the start of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and the start and finish line for the Broken Arrow Skyrace, but did you know there’s so much more to explore? For this article we got some tips from our friends at Go Tahoe North. Photo above by Ryan Salm Photography.
The North Lake Tahoe region is a truly unique location with stunning 180-degree panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, the crown jewel of the Sierra. Formed approximately two million years ago, it is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest in the United States. North Lake Tahoe spans two states and boasts two dozen beaches, twelve world-class ski resorts, hundreds of miles of biking trails, 12 individual mountain communities, and a growing number of nationally recognized human-powered events, races and festivals.
As one of the most treasured regions on the west coast, North Lake Tahoe has fast-risen to the top of mind of adventurers worldwide. The region’s unmatched year-round activities make it ideal for visitors from around the globe. There are plenty of exhilarating, rejuvenating and breathtaking things to do in North Lake Tahoe, 365 days out of the year, and at least 365 reasons to love this treasured mountain getaway.
In many ways, North Lake Tahoe is the perfect playground and high-altitude training ground. With its high elevation, varied terrain and endless opportunity for human-powered sports, athletes of every fitness level can improve their overall physical fitness at the heart of the Sierra.
The best North Lake Tahoe trails range from easy strolls to steep switchbacks leading into the clouds. Epic scenery on the Tahoe Rim Trail is a bucket-list adventure, the 165-mile trail forms a loop around the Lake Tahoe Basin and ranges in elevation from 6,240 feet. Hop on the Thunder Mountain Trail, which offers 3.2 miles of running, 2,000 feet of elevation gains and losses, and incredible views of Squaw Valley from the Village base to High Camp. Also, check out North Lake Tahoe’s other trail running spots with epic lake views, including the Rubicon Trail from Emerald Bay to D.L. Bliss State Park, Tahoe Rim Trail, Tahoe Flume Trail and Burton Creek State Park.
Did you know the Western States Trail starts in Olympic Valley and runs 100 miles West to Auburn? You can explore the trail virtually with Google Street-view thanks to ATRA’s 2016 Western States Trekker project. Below you’ll find street-view imagery of Watson’s Monument – entry point into the Granite Chief Wilderness.
Parking and Transit
Using public transit is one of the most effective ways to Keep Tahoe Blue. There are options for free public buses and night shuttles, express shuttles to and from Reno, ski shuttles, and a micro transit option launching in summer ‘21 to ensure easy connectivity across the north shore.
Did you know you can get to Truckee in the North Lake Tahoe area on the train from San Francisco or Reno? Skip the stress and traffic on Interstate 80 by leaving in the morning and you’ll be running trails by afternoon. Book tickets on amtrak.com.
Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transportation (TART) provides public transportation for the Truckee – North Lake Tahoe region.
From the famous Tahoe Rim Trail and Desolation Wilderness to Granite Chief Wilderness and Mt. Rose, North Lake Tahoe should be on every runner’s bucket list. Trails range from small to large loops that feature panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Lake Tahoe, and other alpine lakes. North Lake Tahoe’s established trail runners are always excited to share their love of the sport with beginners. A variety of human powered races and organizations like ATRA member Broken Arrow Skyrace and Donner Party Mountain Runners host elite athletes from around the world and continue to convert novices to passionate trail runners. While in the region, runners have the opportunity to cross train with North Lake Tahoe’s bounty of high-altitude activities like mountain biking, rock climbing and stand-up paddle boarding.
Home to twelve communities, North Lake Tahoe stays true to its humble mountain town roots even as it continues to grow into a sought after alpine destination. Inspired by the Sierra Nevada mountain range and crystal blue alpine lake, locals and visitors alike can’t help but embrace the signature laid back, friendly attitude of the region. Human powered sports, sunny beaches, world class skiing, and apres opportunities abound, making it simple for people of all abilities to experience an alpine adventure. A popular high-altitude training location, North Lake Tahoe is home to professional rock climbers, Emily Harington and Adrian Ballinger who use their North Lake Tahoe backyard to train before setting out on global mountaineering expeditions. No matter what level of outdoor adventure you’re looking for, welcoming locals are always excited to share information and tips about their favorite trail, beach, restaurant or human powered sport.
Fuel your alpine adventure and discuss the trails with locals at one of North Lake Tahoe’s coffee shops. A popular hub for hikers and bikers, the Tunnel Creek Cafe sits at the base of the famous Flume Trail and offers healthy on-the-go snacks and caffeinated beverages to prepare for your trek. Located in the Village at Squaw Valley, Coffee Bar Squaw offers an Italian inspired experience with an Olympic flair, and makes a perfect stop before a stint in the Granite Chief Wilderness. For a lakeside experience, head to Waterman’s Landing. Located on the dog friendly Patton Beach, Waterman’s Landing features a full coffee bar, healthy menu items, and paddle craft rentals.
A cold beer following outdoor adventure is a must!
If you’re in Incline Village, consider stopping by Alibi Ale Works. This local craft brewery is responsible for the production of Alibi’s suite of ales, which include a wide range of frequently rotating beers with pure Lake Tahoe water, guaranteed to keep your taste buds intrigued with delicious and well-executed flavors.
Or try the Tahoe Tap Haus, the family-friendly, community gathering spot for both visitors and locals in downtown Tahoe City. Tahoe Tap Haus has 16 rotating beers and cider on tap, and offers a fresh spin on California pub fare.
No matter where you are on the north shore, complement your mountain adventure with a cold brew utilizing North Lake Tahoe’s Ale Trail. Whether you are looking for a Tahoe-brewed craft beer or a refreshing organic cocktail, check out the map to find your perfectly paired adventure.
North Lake Tahoe has a wide variety of dining options from fine dining to cozy and casual.
If you’re looking for breakfast or lunch, make the drive over to Fire Sign Café, located on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. Consistently named as one of the top spots to eat in North Lake Tahoe, their fresh, delicious, homemade meals are a favorite to locals and visitors alike. Other breakfast favorites include The Dam Cafe in Tahoe City, the Sierra Café at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, and Martis Valley Grill at Northstar California.
If you’re looking for a hearty meal and a view of the majestic Lake Tahoe, then visit Moe’s Original BBQ located in Tahoe City. They serve Alabama-style barbecue featuring meats smoked daily, fresh seafood, rotating southern soul food sides and desserts. You’ll find a wide variety of draft beers, wine, and outdoor seating available.
No trip to North Lake Tahoe is complete without a burger and beer from the Bridgetender Tavern & Grill, nestled among the trees along the Truckee River. The inside feels like a cozy cabin where you’ll brush shoulders with locals who have been frequenting the restaurant since it opened in 1977. In summer months, sit outside on their tree-lined patio, a perfect setting to enjoy warm Tahoe summers.
If fine dining is what you crave, the north shore offers a wide variety including Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique. One of North Lake Tahoe’s premier restaurants, this chef-owned restaurant overlooks the shores of Lake Tahoe in the heart of Tahoe City. The impressive menu features East-West cuisine where Asian and European culinary fundamentals meet the spirit of California. Other indulgent dinner options include PlumpJack Café at the base of Squaw Valley, Manzanita at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe and Big Water Grille which sits in Incline Village above the trees with spectacular views of the lake.
North Lake Tahoe’s local shops are brimming with expert knowledge, maps, and outdoor equipment. Alpenglow Sports is a world-class recreation shop featuring outdoor equipment and maps of the region. Staff members are trail enthusiasts and ready to help you prepare for the perfect trail run. The North Lake Tahoe Visitor Centers in Tahoe City and Incline Village are well equipped with seasoned staff and trail maps to help recommend trails from moderate to extreme.
With hundreds of miles of pristine mountain trails, North Lake Tahoe relies on many trail building organizations and hard working volunteers to ensure the trails are preserved for generations to come. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association works to enhance and protect the famed 160 mile loop of the region through trail building and educational outreach. The Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association also works to build new trails while carrying out improvements on existing trails. Alpenglow Sports encourages more people to embrace the sport of trail running through community outreach and financial contributions to local trail running organizations.
North Lake Tahoe is home to a growing number of nationally recognized trail running events most notably the historic Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. The Broken Arrow Skyrace kicks adventure, and endurance, up a notch with a trail running course to match the serrated peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Starting at the Village at Squaw Valley and traversing multiple peaks, the race includes scrambling and steep uphill climbs. Entrants to the 52-kilometer race will climb over 10,500 vertical feet during the course of the event, but the three–day race event from June 21-23 also includes a 26-kilometer, 11-kilometer, vertical kilometer and less than one kilometer-long kids race, offering options for runners of all abilities in a running festival setting.
The Tahoe 200 Endurance Run loops around Lake Tahoe and detours onto the Tahoe Rim Trail, featuring aspen meadows, rock gardens, alpine lakes, and panoramic views. From ultra marathons to kid friendly races, the Tahoe Trail Running Series features a summer long series of race events for all abilities. The Running Festival takes place at Homewood Mountain Resort on the picturesque West Shore and invites runners of all abilities to participate in a variety of different race lengths.
The trail running fun doesn’t end when the snow falls in the Sierra. There are several snowshoe races including the “Fresh Tracks” 5K race which has been held in nearby South Lake Tahoe for over 20 years. In April try out the Billy Dutton uphill snowshoe race in the Olympic Valley.
[Editor’s Note] Regarding its namesake, Squaw Valley Resort writes: “After extensive research into the etymology and history of the term “squaw,” both generally and specifically with respect to Squaw Valley, outreach to Native American groups, including the local Washoe Tribe, and outreach to the local and extended community, company leadership has decided it is time to drop the derogatory and offensive term “squaw” from the destination’s name. Work to determine a new name will begin immediately and will culminate with an announcement of a new name in early 2021. Implementation of the name change will occur after the winter season concludes in 2021.”