Driving from San Francisco to Reno I was using the mobile app navmii, a free app which doesn’t require 3G, but which if you have (as I do) updates traffic. The app is almost perfect, but where it seriously fails is when the road splits, until you are actually at the split, you don’t actually know which lane to take. So, as I was driving through Napa Valey, I was in the wrong lane and realizing at the last minute, quickly snuck into the correct lane (which happened to be jammed with traffic). Instantly, and out of no where are the police telling me to stop. To cut a long story short, it is apparently a traffic violation to cut into traffic in California. Thankfully I was let off as a dumb tourist after a short lecture.
We had decided to stay in Reno, the biggest little city in the world, according to itself. And really it is like Las Vegas without mass investment. And though we did venture into casinos and find a street rave in town, we were in Reno for 2 reasons; Sorting the rest of the America trip out, and Lake Tahoe. The trip would now take a relaxing turn and the kids would become the focus of everything that we would do from now on. Starting with buying a BBQ, meats and heading to Washoe Lake State Park.
Washoe Lake State Park is about 2/3 of the way to Carson City and is initially worth every cent of the $7 out of state fee for entrance. With picnic areas and complete solitude I had the BBQ fired up in no time and was smoking burgers with Mesquite wood chips. The kids went exploring in the undergrowth, climbed trees, played tig and unanimously agreed that their bacon cheeseburger was the best they had ever tasted. For me I just loved seeing the kids having an uncensored type of fun, the sort where for the moment nothing mattered to them, and to me, well, not much mattered to me either. The state park is separated into two places, the picnic area where we were, and the Lake where you can go swim. Midafternoon we felt it was time to go cool off and so hunted out the lake. Which sounds daft, as you would think a lake would be easy to find. Turns out, after a lot of searching that it had dried up. Literally, there was just sand where we expected the lake to be. Gutted we headed to Carson City and the Nevada State museum, which, had the kids not been free I would have felt seriously ripped off.
It is difficult to not love Lake Tahoe, I was there last year and attracted yet again by its beauty. It is a huge blue lake, surrounded by mountains and lush greenery, it is by all accounts one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. Fair enough, the traffic from north to south is awful, a mixture between constant roadworks (which were still there last year) and ridiculous drivers that hog the one lane highway driving 20mph despite it being 45mph for the most part. Recreation areas around the Lake fill up quickly, and this is no less true for the jewel of the north – Sand Harbour. Accessed through Incline village, it is a gorgeous beach licked by opal blue waters and dotted with picturesque rocks, as though it was designed for perfection. Facing South the beach gets plenty of sun and has a picnic area for BBQ’s (where we naturally fired one up) and has all the modern amenities one would expect such as toilets, showers and even a bar. Chipmunks curiously roam around and the kids had the time of their lives, the lake is no deeper than 3ft for at least 50m, the rocks are all rounded off meaning the kids could climb without shredding their feet and the sandy beach was perfect for some hardcore sun bathing. Having been to a great many beaches on the West coast of the USA, I have to say that in my opinion, Sand harbor is the best beach in the western United States, it ticks every single box and the $12 out of state fee was worth every cent.
Around the south of the Lake we headed to the typical tourist fest of Emerald bay and was naturally bowled over by its beauty, but for us, the best recreation area around the lake remains firmly, Sand Harbor.
Mt Tallac Trailhead
Height: 9739ft (2968m)
Total Climb: 3255ft (993m)
Distance: 10 miles roundtrip
Time Taken: 6 hours
The trailhead is found easily, as it is very well marked. Keep driving either past, or towards Emerald bay and you will see the sign indicating a 10 minute drive through the forest to the large car park. We arrived at 8am and it was completely empty, by the time we returned to the car at 2pm it was full and overflowing some 20 or so cars down the road. Even then, we saw spaces as parking is allowed much of the way down the road (on the right only). Once at the trailhead to must write out a permit (free) and then can head off along the clearly marked trail.
Sitting ominously at the southwestern corner of Lake Tahoe, Mt Tallac is renowned as being not just the best hike, but the best thing to do in the Lake Tahoe area. Every single report I had read when researching the hike had pointed to it being a grueling day hike with little shade from the searing heat. Now, I know the kids and I are experienced hikers and reasonably fit, but if I was to grade the whole hike on a scale of 1 – 10, it would surely be around a level 3. It was not difficult, at all. In fact, I had taken 3 litres of water each, and we all came back with water left. Even Jack, who due to his tiny legs has a high work-rate in keeping up with me powering tabbing.
From the trailhead, you first hike up through a forest and will likely pass a load of Chinese who thought it was a good idea at the time, but have very quickly exchanged Mt Tallac for a 100m walk in the woods. After about 20 minutes you are on a ridge above a gorgeous lake (Fallen Leaf) to your left and can clearly see Tallac to the right. It suddenly doesn’t appear too high anymore. After a little while you come to some switch backs, these are pretty tame, but I imagine at 2pm in searing heat may be a little harder. After the switch backs you are pretty much at Floating Island Lake, a stunning lake (in the UK we would call it a tarn) that reflects everything around it.
Continue on past Floating Island Lake and suddenly the views open up before becoming obstructed again by trees. The trail continues on and you eventually come to Cathedral Lake. Here is a good time to refuel, as from then comes the most difficult part of the trail – The trail for the summit, which is a mixture of switch backs and steep climbs.
Eventually you reach the summit of Tallac and will be momentarily blown away by the 360 degree panorama around you. This is no exaggeration, the views are nothing short of spectacular, unrivalled anywhere for miles. I wish, in hindsight I had planned longer for the day and fired up a snide BBQ on the summit, we could’ve stayed there for hours, the view was just so amazing.
The descent is exactly the same way as the ascent, but if you haven’t driven there are a couple of alternative routes you could take. None of which we did.
On completion of the hike I asked the kids if they felt it was hard. Here are their responses:
Charlie, aged 13 – Not at all. 1 out of 10.
Abi, aged 10 – Not really, not as hard as I expected.
Jack, aged 8 – A bit, but not really, probably a 4 out of 10.
Personally, I feel that if you are in the Lake Tahoe area, and you don’t summit Mt Tallac, you have seriously screwed yourself out of a great hike topped off with a spectacular vista.