Time to take a gamble on Lake Tahoe!

The USA has no dearth of drop-dead gorgeous destinations. And yet, Lake Tahoe, which started off as a casino hotspot, is now also one of the most desired ones among golfers, photographers, ski enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a great vacation.
Picture perfect to the tee! Lake tahoe, usa
Picture perfect to the tee! Image: Courtesy Edgewood Resort.

“I knew it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart”. Michael Corleone’s (played by Al Pacino) famous lines were uttered at Fleur du Lac, Lake Tahoe, now commonly referred to as the Godfather 2 villa. This villa and the lake provided the backdrop for quite a few scenes in one of my favourite films of all time and was recently put up for sale at an asking price of USD 5.5 million. Fleur du Lac was one of the many million-dollar homes that I spotted along a 16-km long kayaking trail during my last visit here.

Lake Tahoe isn’t just one of America’s most photogenic spots, it’s an all-weather outdoor destination. Whether you’re a skiing enthusiast or enjoy the adrenaline rush of mountain biking, Tahoe has you covered. It was a different sport that brought me here, aside from the picture-perfect views.

The 18th hole at the Edgewood Resort in Lake Tahoe typifies the classic ‘risk v/s rewards’ golf hole. The green is flanked by a pond and Lake Tahoe on the right. I surrendered to the views of the shimmering lake and was relieved to move to the 19th hole, in this case the Brook’s Bar.

The scenic views at the northstar-at-tahoe resort golf course can be quite distracting! Image: courtesy northstar. Lake tahoe, usa
The scenic views at the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort Golf course can be quite distracting! Image: Courtesy Northstar.

Golf courses with stunning views can be tricky for amateur golfers. Golf is certainly one excuse to visit Lake Tahoe. There are at least 10 courses between the northern and the southern shores of the lake that make it one of America’s golfing paradises.

Many of these courses are steeped in legends. There’s Tahoe City Golf Course that recently celebrated its centenary and was designed by one of the area’s most accomplished female pros — May ‘Queenie’ Dunn Hupfel. You can tee off where the original Rat Pack (a term used the 1950s to refer to Las Vegas entertainers) stars like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr golfed. It may not boast of the same sweeping lake views as Edgewood but is one of the most charming nine-hole courses in the area.

Relaxing after a round of golf at the edgewood golf resort: image ashwin rajagopalan. Lake tahoe, usa
Relaxing after a round of golf at the Edgewood Golf Resort: Image Ashwin Rajagopalan.

The word Tahoe owes it origins to ‘da’aw’ that translates to ‘lake’ in the Washoe language. It’s easy to understand why the ‘Washoe people’ made this home about six thousand years ago. There are few places that can match Lake Tahoe for its picture postcard charm all year around. An azure blue lake with the mountains that create new vistas each season. Lake Tahoe was the hub for this large Native American community that lived in California and Nevada, the two states that share the lake’s shoreline. 

The best way to appreciate the lake is to row your way around. My 16 km-long trail was quite gruelling but the gorgeous blues along the lake more than compensated for the tough three-hour expedition.

Kayaks are a great way to explore the lake. Image: ashwin rajagopalan. Lake tahoe, usa
Kayaks are a great way to explore the lake. Image: Ashwin Rajagopalan.

There’s no marine life to spot and almost nothing stands in the way of the clear views of the lakebed. It’s deceptively deep; the lake’s deepest point is 500 metres, the second deepest for any lake in America. It packs more volume than lakes or water bodies (it is larger in volume terms than the Dead Sea) that are much larger.

One of the many 'beaches' on lake tahoe's north shore. Image: ashwin rajagopalan. Lake tahoe, usa
One of the many ‘beaches’ on Lake Tahoe’s north shore. Image: Ashwin Rajagopalan.

If you don’t fancy kayaking and still want those stellar images, I’d recommend an experience that was certainly one of the ‘high points’ of my trip. A para-sailing experience where I could take in 360-degree views of the Sierra mountains and the azure blue lake in one breath from a 1000-feet high. Don’t forget to strap on a GoPro while you’re at it.

Parasailing across the lake can be quite a thrill. Image: ashwin rajagopalan. Lake tahoe, usa
Parasailing across the lake can be quite a thrill. Image: Ashwin Rajagopalan.

I forgot about my sub-par scores as I enjoyed the views from Brook’s Bar at the Edgewood resort. In many ways Edgewood defines Lake Tahoe’s status as a luxury travel destination. It’s a cosy alpine lodge in the winter and a golf and outdoor resort during the rest of the year. This 2010s resort has won numerous critics’ and reader accolades. Brook’s Bar and Deck was envisioned by Frank Gehry, whose impressive resume includes contemporary architectural marvels like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Golf Digest listed it as one of the Best Golf Pubs in the world.

Aerial perspective of the edgewood resort: image: courtesy edgewood resort. Lake tahoe, usa
Aerial perspective of the Edgewood Resort: Image: Courtesy Edgewood Resort.

It might have been the casinos that first put Lake Tahoe on the US tourist map in the 1920s but a century later, many repeat visitors also come back for the region’s wide array of dining options. Do make time to catch a sunset at Riva Grill, a popular local establishment that serves scrumptious seafood, including dishes with an occasional Asian twist. The coconut-crusted prawns served with a mango mustard marmalade was one of the highpoints of my meal.

Mountain biking at northstar village: image: ashwin rajagopalan. Lake tahoe, usa
Mountain biking at Northstar village: Image: Ashwin Rajagopalan.

The Van Sickle bi-state park in South Lake Tahoe is one of the many spots where the California and Nevada lines keep criss-crossing. Of course, you know you’re in Nevada when you see a large casino, given the state’s liberal gambling laws! A trail through the Van Sickle Park led me to a panorama point. I soon realise that such lookout points are a given on both sides of the lake. But if there’s one view I will return for, it’s the panoramas from Eagle Rock at the end of a short yet steep trek. Of course, that’s not the only reason I will be back at Lake Tahoe.

Eagle's eye view from eagle rock. Image: ashwin rajagopalan. Lake tahoe, usa
Eagle’s eye view from Eagle Rock. Image: Ashwin Rajagopalan.

Suggested read: Kashmir gets its first open-air floating theatre at Dal Lake

Fact sheet

Best Time to Visit: Round the year

Getting there and around: Lake Tahoe is a three-hour drive from San Francisco and an hour away from the Reno airport. I drove from the Reno airport; I’d recommend pre-booking a car for your entire visit

Stay: At the Edgewood resort in South Lake Tahoe. This resort offers some of the best views and most luxurious, well-appointed rooms. Consider The Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe if you’re planning a winter trip. The resort’s mountain concierge services and active après ski experience are its biggest draws | Also check out: The websites www.gotaheonorth.com or www.tahoesouth.com  for tips and activities on either side of the lake.

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