The Myth of the Shoulder Season: 48 Hours of Adventure in South Lake Tahoe

Bring your camera to Emerald Bay.
Bring your camera to Emerald Bay. Aaron Hussmann
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A crisp calm fills the thin mountain air of South Lake Tahoe in early November. The hustle and bustle of summer has long faded, and the surrounding mountains lie in wait of their winter coat to return. This could possibly be the best time of year in Tahoe.

Yet, for what seems like an eternity, we’ve listened to folks complain that the slow season in Tahoe is perhaps the worst time to be here. The water is too cold for swimming, the early season skiing offered by the few resorts with snowmaking capabilities isn’t quite worth the day ticket, and the steady stream of free events and activities has long ended.

For these naysayers who feel miffed by Tahoe’s lack of shoulder season offerings I offer this rebuttal: if you’re bored in Tahoe, you’re doing something wrong. Boredom is a choice in places like Lake Tahoe, and in the case of the shoulder season between summer and winter, it’s time to opt out of this boredom. Here is our guide to an adventure-filled weekend during Tahoe’s shoulder season.

Friday

Whether you’re a local just getting off work or a visitor arriving for the weekend, the first step in your weekend in Tahoe is to get to the lake ASAP. Lake Tahoe’s waters have a mesmerizing effect year-round, and a few minutes spent gazing upon this vast expanse of azure water will immediately melt the stress of the workweek away. Head down to Lakeview Commons in the heart of South Lake Tahoe to watch the sunset on the horizon while you walk the sandy shores of El Dorado Beach or lay back on the steps of the stone amphitheater facing the lake.

When the last sliver of color has faded from the sunset, walk across Lake Tahoe Boulevard to find Sidellis Brewery and Restaurant. This local’s favorite is distinguished by its long, community-style pine tables and ever-fogged windows on fall and winter evenings. Their small-batch, locally crafted beer is some of the best in the region.

For visitors to the region, consider checking out some of the affordable, boutique hotels that have been popping up in the past few years. Basecamp Hotel offers modern hipster-esque rooms with an in-house beer garden downstairs. Other newly renovated options include the Coachman and the eco-friendly 968 Park, which offers 20% off packages through November 30th.

Saturday

Rise and shine on Saturday morning for an early bird breakfast at Ernie’s Coffee Shop. This longtime favorite on the South Shore has been serving up locally roasted coffee and an incredible breakfast menu since 1968. Beat the crowds and get a jump on your day of adventure by getting to Ernie’s sometime before 9:00 am.

Once you’re full on adventure fuel, take a drive over to Emerald Bay, where several morning hiking options await. Those looking for a short jaunt to get the blood flowing will enjoy the 1.8-mile round trip hike to Eagle Lake in Desolation Wilderness. For a longer hike or excellent trail run, descend down the paved path to Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay State Park and join up with the Rubicon Trail. This eight-mile out-and-back trail follows the shoreline of Emerald Bay through forests of old growth pine.

Eagle Lake is a short hike, but with a gorgeous payoff.
    Aaron Hussmann
Eagle Lake is a short hike, but with a gorgeous payoff. Aaron Hussmann

Following your morning dose of adventure in Emerald Bay, head back into town and grab lunch to go from MoonHouse Brewhouse. With a menu that changes daily, the options here are always fresh, creative, and insanely tasty. Then take your lunch over to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. Although the visitor center itself may be closed in the off-season, the trails through the picturesque meadow are open year-round. Families and fans of nature will enjoy the 0.5-mile Rainbow Loop. Those looking for a longer stroll can follow the trails down to Tahoe’s shoreline and walk as far as you please in any direction on the beach. On both of these walks you’ll find stunning groves of golden-leafed Aspen trees against a backdrop of the impressive granite wall of Mt. Tallac.

To wrap up your Saturday, treat yourself to the nightlife in South Lake Tahoe. If you time your trip just right, you might be able to catch the annual Pray for Snow Blizzardfest and Concert. This event is free to the public, held every year in mid-November, and offers entertainment for all ages. Those missing the Blizzardfest can treat themselves to a classy night out at The Loft, an upscale lounge and live theater featuring Magic Fusion, a surprisingly entertaining magic and comedy show.

Sunday

Start your final day of the weekend off right with an energy-packed smoothie and bagel from Free Bird Cafe before hopping in the car down to Hope Valley, just south of Lake Tahoe. Here you’ll find the Carson River winding through a vast expanse of pristine alpine meadow against the craggy outline of volcanic peaks. Hope Valley offers some of the best fall colors in the Lake Tahoe region and has miles of hiking trails weaving across the hillside.

Hope Valley has a variety of hiking and biking trails—all with wonderful views of the surrounding landscape.
    Aaron Hussmann
Hope Valley has a variety of hiking and biking trails—all with wonderful views of the surrounding landscape. Aaron Hussmann

Adrenaline junkies may prefer a faster paced mountain bike ride through world-class technical singletrack. In place of a morning spent in Hope Valley, take your mountain bike and ride the famous Corral Loop, a two-mile twisting and turning downhill perfect for intermediate and advanced riders. The Forest Service gate usually closes November 15th, meaning riders just have to ride the service road to the top of the trail rather than using a car shuttle system.

On your way out of town, cruise by the Divided Sky in Meyers, CA for a hearty Flagpole Sandwich or homemade soup. Divided Sky’s laid back atmosphere and big porch views pair well with a true 20 ounce pint of craft beer.

There is no shortage of Instagram worthy shots in South Lake Tahoe.
    Aaron Hussmann
There is no shortage of Instagram worthy shots in South Lake Tahoe. Aaron Hussmann

Be Prepared

Wherever your fall adventures take you in Tahoe, it’s important to be well-prepared for the chilly weather and changing conditions that characterize the season. Always check the weather forecast, pack extra layers, and bring plenty of water when enjoying the shoulder season in Tahoe.

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