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Ready for some high-altitude water play this summer?
Lake Tahoe is known for its chilly, crystal-clear water and beguiling shores, where the beach scenes vary from the Old Tahoe elegance of Meeks Bay Resort to the rocky coves of Sand Harbor, the shady shore of Pope and the party-hearty culture of Round Hill Pines.
Though only 15 miles of Tahoe’s 72-mile shoreline offer beaches open to the public, that’s more than enough room to launch a kayak, stand-up paddleboard or jet ski, spread a picnic or simply lounge under a beach umbrella with a book in one hand and a drink in the other, watching sailboats drift by.
This splashy sampler will take you to some of the best beaches around Lake Tahoe, with enough selfie photo ops to make your friends wish they were there.
But first, a few wise words of caution from Lisa Herron of the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
“We had a heavy snowfall this past winter, which translates to more water in the lake, so the beaches are smaller than in past years,” she says. “Plan in advance and arrive early, because there won’t be as much room.”
Also, she notes, this year’s monster snowmelt has made the water “very cold. If your kayak or paddleboard should capsize, hypothermia can set in in minutes. Wear a life vest, even if you’re a strong swimmer.”
On your travels, look for signage and consult your Lake Tahoe map and www.tahoepublicbeaches.org to find these hot spots. In most cases, you’ll pay a cash-only $10 use fee (and your dog may not be welcome everywhere).
Grab the sunscreen and let’s get started.
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Geographically, Pope, Kiva and Baldwin are one long beach, but there are notable differences between them. Start at the Y, the intersection of Highway 50 east and Highway 89 north, on the outskirts of the main drag. Take Highway 89 to find Pope Beach first, about three miles from the Y.
Pope’s wide, family-friendly and well-shaded stretch of sand runs for ¾ mile. It’s the place for a picnic or barbecue among the fir trees, and a perfect swim off the gently sloping shoreline. The concessions stand can be a life-saver.
Bonus: Check out Kayak Tahoe’s kiosk for kayak and SUP rentals. The veteran outfitter also has a presence at Baldwin and Nevada beaches.
Lake Tahoe is known for its chilly water and wonderful beaches, including the ever-popular Pope Beach. (Courtesy Allen Pierleoni)
Locals call it the “dog beach” because leashed canines are allowed (there’s even a Mutt Mitt station). The 200-yard-long beach was underwater the day we visited, but the better draw is the shaded paths in the fir forest, which you and your pet will love.
Don’t pass up the adjoining Tallac Historic Site, with the remains of a century-old resort, a museum and three refurbished estates. Take a self-guided tour or sign up for a guided stroll (www.tahoeheritage.org, 530-541-5227). Don’t miss nearby Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Rainbow Trail, via a 15-minute stroll on Lake of the Sky Loop Trail, at the historic site. No admission charge for any of the above.
This half-mile-long playground draws couples, groups of friends with boom boxes, and families who favor blow-up rafts, masks and snorkels. Serious swimmers will quickly find deep water here.
The scant shade makes a beach umbrella essential gear, as Baldwin cooks in the summer. Don’t feed the geese or gulls or you’ll have plenty of unwanted company. The concession stand and kayak and SUP rentals help make the day. When you pull in, choose the parking lot on the right for more interesting terrain.
The locals know this wide, mile-long beach as a peaceful place to escape the fray, but don’t even think of going near it on Fourth of July. The crowds that gather to watch fireworks make it a hassle, not a celebration.
Otherwise, it’s a mellow retreat ideal for a barbecue or picnic, backdropped by massive Mount Tallac. A 150-capacity timber-framed pavilion is available for rent. Look for the concessions stand and kayak rentals, and bring your leashed dog.
Find it: Off Highway 50 east, 2.3 miles out of Stateline. Turn left onto Elk Point Road, across the highway from the Round Hill shopping center.
Round Hill Pines Resort
There’s a party goin’ on here all summer. The beach is backed by a pine forest, which is almost secondary to the menu of rental recreation: speedboats, jet skis, kayaks and SUP, with parasailing for the daring and pedal boats for the demure.
Lake Tahoe’s Round Hill Resort offers all sorts of recreational possibilities. (Courtesy Allen Pierleoni)
The beach bar patio is one place to hang, or you can catch some shade at one of three covered picnic areas. When the excitement gets too much, board the Serenity yacht for a cruise into Emerald Bay.
Find it: On Highway 50, a mile north of Elk Point Road. Look for the stone walls, iron gates and signage at the entrance. Don’t attempt to turn left into the resort (too dangerous); instead, continue to the Zephyr Cove Resort and turn around at the traffic light.
A $10 cover ($5 for students, kids are free) gives you access to one of the best private beaches on the lake, and one of the top views of Mount Tallac and the Sierra. Don’t wander far from the Beach House Grill and its killer Brain Freezer – frozen rosé wine with lemon and sugar.
Bonus: The beach rocks till 10 p.m. daily for romantic star-gazing and a heaping helping of the Tahoe party scene, which includes live music on weekends.
Find it: At Stateline, just down the street from the Landing Resort & Spa at 4081 Lakeshore Blvd., www.beachhousetahoe.com
This tranquil bay is home to two beaches separated by a marina. One is overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, the other is owned by the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.
The rocky USFS beach (flip-flops advised) is popular with locals as a kayak-launching site. Shady parking is a bonus.
Meeks Bay Resort is more groomed, but somewhat sedate. The beach is studded with Adirondack chairs and picnic tables. Lounge on the deck of the casual Wa-She-Shu Grille, or jump on the paved bike trail and end up in Tahoe City. The compound is open to the public for a $10 parking fee.
Overnighting? Campsites and RV hookups are available. Or you can upgrade from the lodge and cabins to the Kehlet Mansion, built in 1934, for $1,000 a night. Just be sure you love knotty pine walls.
Find it: On Highway 89 north in Tahoma, less than 20 miles from the Y. 7941 Emerald Bay Road; www.meeksbayresort.com
Sand Harbor State Park
This is the best beach on the lake, period. The idyllic 55-acre park is a delightful meeting of curving white-sand beach, coves and nature-carved boulders in the water that are perfect for climbing and jumping off. And spectacular views, even by Lake Tahoe standards.
Lake Tahoe’s idyllic 55-acre Sand Harbor offers white-sand beaches, coves and a Shakespeare Festival every summer. (GoTahoeNorth)
A half-mile trail ends at Memorial Point, with a chance to explore hidden beaches. Plus there’s a visitor center, shaded picnic areas, kayak and SUP rental, boat launch, barbecue grills, snack bar and grill, gift shop, boardwalk, paved walkways and a nature trail. The deep-water drop-off makes it a favorite of scuba divers. And Sand Harbor is home to the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, which runs July 5 to Aug. 25.
Find it: Three miles south of Incline Village on Highway 28 north, about 25 miles from South Shore; http://parks.nv.gov
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