48 Hours of Adventure in Tahoe/Truckee During the Shoulder Season

Any stress from the workweek will melt away with views like these.
Any stress from the workweek will melt away with views like these. Laurent Goujon
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November is an idyllic time to be in Lake Tahoe. Gone are the bumper to bumper lines of traffic that congest the highways between North Tahoe communities and Truckee, the crowded trailhead parking lots and hour long waits for a simple meal, and the mercilessly packed aisles of the grocery store. November is what locals refer to as "shoulder season" and it is glorious.

With shoulder season comes cooler temperatures, sunny days, and the perfect opportunity to lace up those hiking boots for one last weekend of adventure before the snow falls. Sure, some ski resorts may be open already, but who wants to ski on that crusty man-made stuff anyway? While you’re waiting for the first real powder day of the season to strike, the North Tahoe and Truckee region has a plethora of adventure waiting to fill your days.

Here, a guide to an adventure filled weekend in North Tahoe and Truckee during the shoulder season.

Friday

There is plenty to do in Lake Tahoe during the shoulder season.
There is plenty to do in Lake Tahoe during the shoulder season. David Spencer

Shake off the workweek by taking a walk amongst the towering pines of 64 Acres Park in Tahoe City. Follow the Truckee River upstream to the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe, lapping at the shoreline of Commons Beach. You’ll be greeted with stunning views of legendary alpenglow turning the ridges on the horizon brilliant hues of pink and orange. Last light is a few minutes after five in November.

After taking in the early sunset down at Commons Beach, head back down the Truckee River to grab drinks and food at the iconic Bridgetender bar, a landmark operating in Tahoe City since 1977. Warm up with a Hot Toddy or fill your belly with one of their gourmet burgers, including bison, elk, and veggie burgers. Then head down the street to The Haus Art Haus & Cinema for a unique cinematic experience. This independent theater serves up craft beer and a DIY popcorn spice bar that you can enjoy while sinking into their insanely comfortable leather seats.

At the end of the evening you can cozy up by the fire at Tahoe City’s Basecamp Hotel, sister to the increasingly popular South Shore location, for a hot tea or one more delicious craft beer before bed.

Saturday

Start your day early by catching the sunrise from Kings Beach while you make your way to the Nevada side of Tahoe for the start of a full day of adventure. Get the right fuel in you by dropping in for a loaded breakfast burrito or protein bowl at the Tunnel Creek Cafe, like a delicious Veggie Breakfast Bowl. They might even throw it in a burrito for you if you ask nicely.

To avoid the breakfast coma afterward, take a short hike up the Flume Trail via Tunnel Creek Road from the parking lot of Tunnel Creek Cafe. You can opt for a few minutes of warmup hiking and a bit of elevation gain, or tackle the ridgeline for a 5.8-mile roundtrip hike with 1,400 feet of gail. Either option will reward you with gorgeous views of the calm waters of Crystal Bay.

It doesn’t matter if you take the short route or the long route, as long as you end up at Crystal Bay.
    Aaron Hussmann
It doesn’t matter if you take the short route or the long route, as long as you end up at Crystal Bay. Aaron Hussmann

Once your legs are warmed up, take the short, 20-minute drive back to the California side for a day on the Tahoe Rim Trail at Brockway Summit. Conditions in the fall can be vastly different from year to year, so depending on the year’s snow cover you have a few options to choose from:

  • Hike or mountain bike along the Tahoe Rim Trail. If you head east, you start to gain immediate elevation toward Martis Peak Fire Lookout where the hillside drops away beneath your feet to stunning views of Lake Tahoe below. This nine-mile out-and-back hike should be started before noon if you plan to avoid night hiking. If you hike west toward Tahoe City, you’ll get the feeling of complete solitude as you weave through dense forest and meadows dormant for the winter. On this route, the 6.8-mile hike to Watson Lake may not be possible, but the trail offers several vistas approximately 2 to 4 miles into the hike.

  • Cross-country ski or snowshoe the Tahoe Rim Trail. If winter’s grip has returned to the relatively low elevation of Brockway Summit, you can also strap on a pair of snowshoes for a full day of adventure. Seeing Tahoe covered in a blanket of white from the ridges of the Rim Trail will be a highlight of any Tahoe trip.

When the adventure is done for the day, head back over to Incline Village a delicious Tahoe-brewed craft beer from Alibi Ale Works. Those looking to splurge a little will enjoy tasty tapas from Bite (local tip: try the gnocci).

Sunday

End your jam-packed weekend in Tahoe with an early morning breakfast at Truckee’s Squeeze In. Here you’ll find the proclaimed "best omelettes on the planet" with some seriously quirky combinations (the peanut butter and banana omelette is surprisingly delicious). Then spend a mellow morning cruising the historic streets of Downtown Truckee. A can’t miss shop is Atelier, an artist collective and gallery featuring unique workshops like metal stamping and wool spinning.

The fall colors are especially beautiful around Donner Lake.
The fall colors are especially beautiful around Donner Lake. Tom Hilton

Once you’re feeling ready for some adventure, lace up your hiking boots and spend the rest of the morning hiking or trail running the 4.1-mile Martis Loop, or head up the hill a bit to Donner Lake’s awesome trail system that includes access to the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail system is an ongoing project that will be 23 miles when it’s finished, connecting downtown Truckee with Donner Summit.

To wrap up yet another incredible weekend in the jewel of the Sierra, treat yourself to some farm-to-table appetizers and libations at Moody’s Bistro.

When the weekend is all said and done you can look back at this little slice of shoulder season confident that you squeezed the most out of it.

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