On this stretch of Lake Tahoe between Kings Beach on the northern shore and Stateline on the southern shore, a gorgeous landscape combining luxury development and wilderness beckons visitors seeking relaxation and adventure.
On the Nevada side, from Spooner Lake to Crystal Bay, Lake Tahoe’s East Shore affords many opportunities to experience Tahoe’s wild side. What makes this area especially intriguing, however, is the juxtaposition of wilderness and wealth. You can dine in a posh Incline Village restaurant one moment, then snowshoe through an isolated forest the next. The East Shore’s solitude is the legacy of George Whittell, a San Francisco millionaire who purchased vast tracts of land here in the 1930s to accommodate his penchant for privacy. Venture into Incline Village, though, and there are plenty of possibilities for enjoying the hustle and bustle of the “Pebble Beach of the Sierra.”
Thunderbird Lodge Historic Site
Wintertime brings a certain allure to this Tudor Revival-style lakeside lodge, which George Whittell used as a second residence from 1937 until his death in 1969. “There’s a winter wonderland effect amid the old stone buildings that’s reminiscent of an alpine estate in the deep woods in the heart of Europe,” says curator Bill Watson. Take the Secrets of the Castle tour and appreciate the knotty pine interiors, the elegant ironwork and the Lake Tahoe views while listening to intriguing stories about the property’s owner, his wife, Elia, his mistress, Mae, and the elephant and lion he kept on the waterfront estate. Venture into the 600-foot tunnel to the boathouse and card house, where Whittell often hosted poker games with friends such as Howard Hughes and baseball legend Ty Cobb. When he was losing, Whittell would escape into the card house bathroom, then disappear into the tunnel through a secret door. (5000 Highway 28, Incline Village; 775-832-8750; thunderbirdlodge.org)
Some 50 miles of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails wind around Spooner Lake and the surrounding wilderness. Beginners, explore the flat meadow trails under a canopy of pines. Experienced skiers, head uphill to discover views of Lake Tahoe and Marlette Lake—the latter created as part of the flume system used during the 1800s to haul timber to the Virginia City mines. Leave behind civilization at one of two log cabins, accessible only by ski or snowshoe. The backcountry cabins are comfortable but lack electricity and running water. Stoke up the wood stove that heats the interior, cook dinner on the two propane burners and spend a cozy evening curled up in bed reading by kerosene lamplight. Spooner Lake Outdoor Company provides bedding, dishes, flatware, coffee, tea and bottled water, and also rents cross-country skis and snowshoes. Bring your own food and a spirit of adventure. (775-749-5349; spoonerlake.com)
Diamond Peak Ski Resort
Load up the skis and descend on Diamond Peak Ski Resort, where you’ll find an extensive children’s ski program, stunning Lake Tahoe views and a newly renovated base lodge. Wrap up a day on the slopes with Last Tracks (held every Saturday from Feb. 7 through April 11), where you’ll sip wine and nibble on appetizers at the midmountain lodge overlooking Lake Tahoe. Afterward, take a sunset ski or ride down a freshly groomed run. Tickets are $32 per person, $200 for the season. (1210 Ski Way, Incline Village; 775-832-1177; diamondpeak.com)
Cal Neva and Hyatt Regency Spas
Melt your tension away at one of two luxury spas. Indulge yourself at the Euro Spa at Cal Neva Resort, former playground of The Rat Pack and Marilyn Monroe. Soak in the hydrotherapy tub, have a massage or try the Dead Sea body mask. At the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe’s Stillwater Spa, a rich interior of dark woods warmed by the fireplace’s flickering flames draws you in. Opt for the Stillwater Aromastone Fusion, where a masseuse drops essential oils along your back like raindrops, followed by a Swedish massage incorporating warm Lake Tahoe stones. (Cal Neva, 2 Stateline Road, Crystal Bay; 775-298-3086; calnevaresort.com. Stillwater Spa, 111 Country Club Drive, Incline Village; 775-886-6745; laketahoe.hyatt.com)
Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe
Imagine taking a ski lesson from Elvis. Or sliding down the slopes in your finest 1980s attire. This ski resort is known for wacky events, including Elvis Day on Jan. 10 and Slide Back ’80s Retro Ski Party on Feb. 7. It’s also known for high desert and Lake Tahoe views, not to mention Tahoe’s highest base elevation. Advanced and expert skiers challenge The Chutes, tucked away on a mostly north-facing bowl that sees little sun until March. Beginners, check out the First Timer area with wide-open gentle slopes, where you can take lessons and learn to glide, turn and—most importantly—stop. (22222 Mt. Rose Highway; 800-754-7673; mtrose.com)
Lone Eagle Grille
Walk in a stranger and leave having made new friends at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe’s lakeside restaurant, which shares a street with some of America’s most expensive homes. The place is pricey, but the lounge provides more affordable cuisine and an entertaining experience. With its knickknack-stuffed bookshelves, cozy fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows, the lounge makes you feel like you’re relaxing in the great room of a lakeside home. From Wednesday through Saturday, Tahoe singer/songwriter Luke Stevenson delivers a mellow acoustic guitar performance. Sip a warm drink by the outside fire pit, or sit inside during storms to watch the waves crash over the pier. (111 Country Club Drive, Incline Village; 775-866-6899; laketahoe.hyatt.com)
Insider tip—As you trek through the snow around Spooner Lake, watch for bear, deer, coyote and mountain lion tracks.
Take Interstate 80 west toward Reno. Exit #188B/Sierraville/Lake Tahoe. Turn right on Highway 267. In Kings Beach, turn left on North Lake Boulevard (Highway 28). Or take Highway 50 to Stateline and turn right on Lake Tahoe Boulevard.