Lake Tahoe1960 Squaw Valley Rd, Olympic Valley
Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, Lake Tahoe is a bucket-list staple, a place where the air is “very pure and fine...it is the same the angels breathe,” according to author Mark Twain. Lakefront towns, each with their own appeal, dot the shoreline of this High Sierra gem straddling the California-Nevada border. Winter and springtime snow lets you carve it up at world-class alpine resorts. Summer brings out the water toys—sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and almost anything that floats. Fall paints the hills with golden aspen leaves.
Lake Tahoe lays claim to some of the country’s top alpine resorts. On the north shore, near the mountain town of Truckee, Palisades Tahoe and Northstar California ski resorts are top draws, especially on powder days. On Tahoe’s south shore, Heavenly—one of the world’s biggest ski resorts—offers jaw-dropper lake views from runs as wide and bump free as freeways. Heavenly has also bumped up the fun even if you don’t ski or board, with on-mountain zip lines, tube runs, scenic gondola rides, and a party-like atmosphere on and off the mountain. Tahoe is also home to such lower-key resorts as Sugar Bowl Resort, Tahoe Donner, Boreal, Donner Ski Ranch, Homewood Mountain Resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Soda Springs. If downhill isn't your thing, you can head out on groomed cross-country and snowshoe trails at Royal Gorge (the largest cross-country ski area in North America) or Kirkwood. For a real treat, get your mush on with a sled dog ride near Palisades Tahoe, Kirkwood, or in Hope Valley, just south of Lake Tahoe.
In summer, many of these same resorts—especially Northstar California, Heavenly, and Palisades Tahoe, offer summertime fun such as mountain biking, hiking, and scenic tram or gondola rides—a great way to get high up in the mountains without a lot of effort.