Our guide to three perfect days at the West’s greatest lake

Jenni Kayne’s Tahoe
Thomas J. Story
Day one: Play on the lake Day two: Raft the river Day three: Browse around town

You know summer is in full swing in Tahoe when its crystal-clear waters warm to tolerable temps and the Truckee River flows with turquoise tubes. While the area’s most recent development has centered on the increasingly upscale corporate village scene, some things haven’t changed: Diners swarm outdoor decks, motorboats zip every which way ― and, well, State 89, which runs between Truckee, Tahoe City, and the West Shore, is clogged with college kids in open-air Jeeps and station wagons of families on their way to the beach. What’s a little traffic, though, when you’ve got hundreds of miles of breathtaking trails to hike, fleets of brightly colored kayaks waiting for you onshore, and a brand-new eco-European-style inn to call home?

TRAVELING TO TAHOE The North Lake Tahoe-Truckee area is in the Sierra Nevada range, about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, off I-80. Visit www.puretahoenorth.com or www.truckee.com for more info. WHERE TO STAY The Cedar House Sport Hotel. New 42-room European-style inn less than a mile from Historic Downtown Truckee. From $180. www.cedarhousesporthotel.com or 530/582-5655. Resort at Squaw Creek. Fresh off a much-needed $53 million facelift, the resort’s 405 guest rooms are decked in plush beds and flat-screen TVs; suites have fully equipped kitchens. From $214. www.squawcreek.com or 800/327-3353. DAY ONE Play on the lake

Plan ahead for a half- or full-day guided kayak tour of the lake, or even a sunset or full-moon paddle (popular with kiss-y couples). This summer, Tahoe City Kayak owner Andy Laughlin has introduced his favorite route as a three-hour tour that launches at Kings Beach and meanders alongshore to the relatively unknown Speedboat Beach, where you can swim in one of the warmest parts of the lake and sun yourself on massive boulders.

At 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, but it’s still easy to rent a kayak and paddle around on your own. (Grab a copy of the new waterproof Lake Tahoe Water Trail map for ideas on where to go.) Rubicon Bay and Ed Z’berg-Sugar Pine Point State Park are good launching points; en route, stop at Tahoe House for gourmet goodies like smoked trout and giant chocolate-chip cookies for a mid-paddle picnic. Return in time to unwind before heading to Sol y Lago, the most talked-about restaurant Tahoe City has seen in years. Feast on flaky beef empanadas and black bass ceviche from former San Francisco chef Johnny Alamilla, who swapped the city for the Sierra last winter. One glimpse of the lake at sunset from the restaurant’s 8-foot-tall windows, and you might consider doing the same. Details Tahoe City Kayak. Kayaks for rent (from $15 per hour, $55 per day). 1355 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City; www.tahoecitykayak.net or 530/581-4336. Lake Tahoe Water Trail maps. $8.99. Available at area kayak shops or at www.laketahoewatertrail.org Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet. $; breakfast and lunch daily. 625 W. Lake Blvd. (State 89), Tahoe City; 530/583-1377. Ed Z’berg-Sugar Pine Point State Park. 10 miles south of Tahoe City on State 89; www.parks.ca.gov or 530/525-7982. Sol y Lago. $$; lunch and dinner daily. In Boatworks Mall, 760 N. Lake, Tahoe City; 530/583-0358.  DAY TWO Raft the river Go early to beat the wait at the skinny little Squeeze In cafe. A choice from the dizzying list of 62 three-egg omelets should get you through the moderate 3.2-mile (round-trip) Five Lakes Trail. A fairly well-trodden path spans the boulder-strewn, pine-lined Granite Chief Wilderness near Alpine Meadows. By the time you reach the first, and largest, of the alpine lakes, you’ll be dying for a quick dip.

Lunchtime! Pull into the Truckee River Ranch, right at the end of Alpine Meadows Road, for barbecue burgers on the riverside deck and watch the bright blue rafts bumbling below. Rent one of your own ― on the spot, at Truckee River Raft ― and drift lazily along. Or head over to the new Trilogy Spa at the Village at Squaw, and treat yourself to a post-hike pedicure. Or take the scenic Cable Car to 8,200-foot High Camp ― Squaw’s mountaintop hot spot ― where you can hike more or lounge on the deck.

Head back to Truckee for a glass of wine from the Pour House, a closet-size shop with 300 kinds of wine from small, family-owned vineyards. Locals crowd in on Saturday afternoons to mingle and sample whatever’s being poured. For a low-key dinner, grab a margarita and fajitas at Casa Baeza. For something more sophisticated, hit the back patio at Moody’s Bistro & Lounge for a huge Niman Ranch pork chop, followed by make-your-own s’mores and live jazz. Details Squeeze In. $; breakfast and lunch daily. 10060 Donner Pass Rd., Truckee; 530/587-9814. Five Lakes Trail. Unmarked trailhead on Alpine Meadows Road. Off State 89, 4 miles north of Tahoe City, across from the second Deer Park Dr. Truckee River Ranch. $$; lunch and dinner daily. State 89 at Alpine Meadows Rd., Tahoe City; 800/535-9900.

Truckee River Raft. $32 ($25 if you reserve ahead). 185 River Rd., Tahoe City; www.truckeeriverraft.com or 530/583-0123.

Trilogy Spa at the Village at Squaw. 1850 Village South Rd., Olympic Valley; www.trilogyspa.com or 530/584-6125. The Cable Car to Squaw Valley’s High Camp. 9:40 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; $20 ($26 includes access to pool). www.squaw.com or 530/583-6985. The Pour House. 10075 Jibboom St., Truckee; www.thepourhousetruckee.com or 530/550-9664. Casa Baeza. $; lunch and dinner daily. 10004 Bridge St., Truckee; 530/587-2161. Moody’s Bistro & Lounge. $$$$; lunch and dinner daily. 10007 Bridge, Truckee; 530/587-8688.  DAY THREE Browse around town

Head to Piper’s Patisserie for a latte and, if you’re lucky, a still-warm croissant (they’re made only on weekends and some weekdays ― no predicting which ones). Poke around the shops along Commercial Row, where you’ll find everything from locally made jewelry at Jordan’s at the Truckee Mercantile to signed first editions of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring at the new, gallery-like Bryant’s Rare Books and Documents. Then pick up some of Piper’s freshly made salads, sandwiches, berry tarts, and a bottle of wine, and head south on State 89. Your destination, Eagle Falls, is accessible by an easy 1-mile trail above Emerald Bay. With a record snowfall last winter, the falls should still be gushing this month. From here, the adventurous can day-hike into Desolation Wilderness, while others happily picnic among soul-stirring views.

If you still want a vista but are more in the mood for one last sit-down supper before you leave, skip the picnic and head back on State 89, the way you came. Umbrella-topped teak tables on a 120-foot pier await at the West Shore Café, which just opened in June. Linger over chilled cucumber-fennel soup and seared diver scallops, take one long last gaze at the sparkling blue lake looking ever so peaceful against the jagged Sierra peaks, then settle into your car and join the procession home. Details Piper’s Patisserie. $; lunch and take-out dinner daily. 10068 Donner Pass Rd., Truckee; 530/582-2256. Jordan’s at the Truckee Mercantile. 10052 Donner Pass Rd., Truckee; 530/582-1252. Bryant’s Rare Books and Documents. 10156 Donner Pass Rd., Truckee; 530/582-1008. Eagle Falls at Lake Tahoe Basin. 22 miles south of Tahoe City on State 89; www.fs.fed.us/r5/ltbmu or 530/543-2694. Desolation Wilderness. 63,960 acres filled with 100-plus alpine lakes, lots of trout, granite peaks, and miles of trails for day-hiking and backpacking. Day-use pass (free) required; available at the trailhead. 22 miles south of Tahoe City on State 89; www.fs.fed.us/r5 or 530/543-2694. West Shore Café. $$$$; lunch and dinner daily. 5160 W. Lake Blvd., Homewood; 530/525-5200.
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