Traveller: Lake Tahoe, USA: Diving into the world's second-largest alpine lake

Lake Tahoe, USA: Diving into the world's second-largest alpine lake

Julie Miller
January 30, 2015

The aim of stand up paddle boarding, as a general rule, is not to get wet. But the gin-clear abyss of Lake Tahoe is an irresistible lure, and I need a closer view .
I plunge into the blue where shafts of sunlight dance like lightning bolts, illuminating darting fish, boulders on the sandy floor and my own toes, corpse-white in the frigid depths. It's said that the clarity of the world's second-largest alpine lake has decreased since the 1960s from 30 to 23 metres; but to my waterlogged eyes, it's still as described by Mark Twain in 1872: "not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so."

When the young humorist first laid eyes on the high alpine lake that straddles the border of California and Nevada, he declared it "the fairest picture the whole earth affords". It is, indeed, a landscape of superlatives – impossible shades of blue, cradled between the tiara-topped Sierra Nevada mountains, with inviting sandy beaches and sheer banks swathed in a carpet of pine.

As bewitching as the lake is, however, it's what surrounds it that attracts most Australian visitors: sky-piercing mountains, and bucketloads of snow during the northern winter. A scenic 3½-hour drive from San Francisco or just 90 minutes from Reno, Tahoe's many ski resorts offer some of the best downhill skiing and snowboarding in the west.

Peak season at Tahoe, however, is summer. As an adventure destination, it's the total package, with hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and every imaginable water sport. The days are sunny and temperate, the nights cool enough for sleep and there's an air of celebration in the resorts, with special events and festivals for added value.

Our first taste of Tahoe is in the raucous northern gateway of Truckee, an historic railway and timber town that has retained its gritty edge. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the main street has the ambience of a Hollywood western, with original wooden facades, honky-tonk dives and the atmospheric Truckee Hotel, its history resonant in period furniture, sloping creaky floor and chandeliers that tinkle as resident ghosts flit by.

We have more al fresco activities on the agenda, exploring the lake. We gawk at luxurious homes, vestiges of Hollywood's assault on Tahoe in the 1960s ; then indulge in some contemporary glamour at the Hyatt Regency beach club, a sea of umbrellas and sun beds on a sandy white carpet, paddle the mirrored coves in kayaks, admiring the historic estates, the original log summer homes from the 19th century tucked behind ponderosa pines.

Stand Up Paddle Board rental with Tahoe Adventure Company costs $US30 an hour, $US70 half day.

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