Lake Tahoe Escape

Sometimes it is fun to take a bottle (or several) of great Sonoma wine and escape to other locales in our magnificent state.  So as a departure from our wine country surroundings, Linda and I decided that to commemorate our wedding anniversary (not telling you which one!) we would take some wine and spend a few days around Lake Tahoe.  Depending upon your origin point (northern Sonoma County for us) it will take you 3  to 4 hours to arrive in Truckee from anywhere in the Bay Area. It took us 3¾ hours and because it was a Sunday afternoon the traffic was light….a condition rarely experienced during ski season.  
In contrast to the crowds and snow of the Tahoe Basin in winter, and this past one was a record producing one, the Truckee-Tahoe area in summer is relatively uncrowded and the weather is just delightful with cool mountain nights and warm sunny and mostly cloudless days.   Although the traffic close to the lake can be a consideration on weekends, mid-week it seems like Tahoe is the best kept summer secret in California.  The mountain air is clean and fragrant with the smell of pine and wildflowers.  Lake Tahoe, itself, is magical and breathtaking with its amazing blue colors surrounded by majestic mountains, which, this year, are still crowned with snow waiting to melt.
There are many lodges, hotels, motels, time shares, private residences and camp sites that can be obtained for reasonable rates during the spring, summer and fall in the Tahoe Basin, especially compared to these same accommodations during the most heavily traveled time, ski season.  We were fortunate to avail ourselves of a private residence of friends at Alpine Meadows, one of the areas premier ski resorts.  The setting is stupendous in the shadow of massive granite mountains with pine trees standing like sentinels guarding the peaks up to the tree line.  Words can hardly describe the dramatic and regal setting. 
We spent our first day hiking from the base camp (about 6200 feet in elevation) at Squaw Valley to Shirley Lake (approximately 7500 feet elevation). 

Shirley Lake Hike View - Aimie H

Shirley Lake Hike View - Aimie H

Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, has a broad range of skiing terrain from Expert to Beginner and also offers wilderness and backcountry ski areas.  Shirley Lake is at the bottom of one of the intermediate level runs in the winter when it is totally concealed with the snow pack. 

Shirley Lake Hike - Aimie H.

Shirley Lake Hike - Aimie H.

Hiking up to it in mid summer gives you a chance to enjoy the wonderful cascades generated by the melting snow pack and you can actually see the lake. Besides the lake and the cascades, water falls and swimming holes along the trail there are thousands of wild flowers that provide brilliant color and dazzling sites to see. The trails are pretty clearly marked by the National Parks Service and the hike is moderate to difficult in some areas with climbing over some rocks required. The round trip is about 5 miles and we took about 4 hours with several water breaks and a lingering lunch break in the shade along a roaring series of water falls on pure granite. The experience is almost spiritual as the mammoth nature of your surroundings helps you recognize how small and inconsequential you are in the grand scheme of things. This same realization just enhances the sense of awe and wonder as you ‘conquer’ the rock formations, wooded areas and snow pack along the route.
Pool at Squaw Valley High Camp 8200' El - Linda C
Pool at Squaw Valley High Camp 8200′ El – Linda C

If you continue to High Camp the rewards can be significant as there is a beautiful heated pool, hot tub, bar and restaurant offering all the conveniences you sublimated to commune with nature during the previous 5 hours.

Restauarant and Pool at High Camp 822' El - Linda C
Restauarant and Pool at High Camp 822′ El – Linda C
Capping that elixir for your spirit and body is the fact that the ride back down on the Squaw Valley aerial tram is free ($29 for adults from the bottom up) with truly breathtaking views of the ski area as it descends the 2000 feet vertical from High Camp to Base Camp with Lake Tahoe in the distance.  Worth the drive if you do nothing else but ride the Tram.
Check back for our next adventures in our mid-summer Tahoe escape.

About John Compisi

John Compisi is a freelance travel, adventure and lifestyle writer focusing on California, Italy, France or where ever life takes him. He is a published member of the SF Bay Area Travel Writers and the Redwood Writers Club. John, and photographer wife Linda, reside in Sonoma County and love nothing more than getting out there and experiencing the world, no matter if it’s a destination close to home, a road trip, or a journey to romantic international destinations.
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