Tahoe’s South Shore (foreground) and North Shore (in the distance) glow under the Milky Way on a summer night, photo by Justin Majeczky

One Love for Lake Tahoe

‘The other side of the lake’ can feel like a distant and unfamiliar place to Tahoe residents, but we should all make a point to get out and explore the unknown, advises a lifelong local


Those who live outside the Lake Tahoe Basin tend to view this place as one destination—and, technically, they are not wrong. But those of us who live here know there are at least two Tahoes, North Tahoe and South Tahoe, with many smaller subcommunities with unique identities.

What separates Tahoe’s North Shore and South Shore is partly geography, but also focus and personality.

On the California side, Emerald Bay marks the geographic boundary that keeps locals from venturing to “the other side of the lake,” as the tourist hotspot is either overly crowded in the summer or scarily treacherous or closed in the winter. On the Nevada side, the North-South split could be traced to the big chunk of national forest and state park land between Sand Harbor and Glenbrook. The scenic stretch provides access to the beautiful East Shore, which is great to visit but also teems with tourists during peak season, and is thus a deterrent to locals.

Depending on traffic, or possible road construction, it takes an hour or more to drive to the opposite side of the lake. This distance contributes to Tahoe residents’ lack of familiarity with the other side. Generally speaking, we like to stay close to home when we ski, bike, shop and dine. And for most of us, if we drive an hour somewhere, it’s probably going to be to Carson City or Reno where Costco, Trader Joe’s and considerably cheaper gas beckon.

As a lifelong resident of Tahoe’s North and West shores, I pass through South Lake Tahoe only a few times a year, usually to access favorite portions of the Tahoe Rim Trail or for my annual pilgrimage to Taylor Creek for the Kokanee salmon run.

The last few years, though, I’ve tried to rectify my lack of knowledge by taking on some South Shore-focused writing assignments. That’s how I learned there are easily rideable bike trails that allow you to pedal all the way from Baldwin Beach to Nevada Beach. Who knew the South Shore had such amazing beaches? And who knew you could kayak down the Upper Truckee River and float through a lovely marsh right into Lake Tahoe?

I suspect that, like me until recently, there are many longtime South Shore residents who are simply not aware of the recreational treasures that abound on the other side of the lake.


The Best of Both Shores

“It is interesting to me that everyone thinks their part of Tahoe is Tahoe,” says Heidi Hill Drum, CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center, which “aggregates data for the region to reinforce Lake Tahoe’s regional character.”

But while the nonprofit organization’s mission is to unite the communities around the Basin, Hill Drum admits that Tahoe’s North and South shores have their distinct differences.

“From the outside, [Tahoe] is one place, but from the inside, it is many different places,” says Hill Drum, who, after living on the South Shore for several decades, moved to North Tahoe a few years ago. “When we left the South Shore, we expected to see friends come up here, but it didn’t happen much. There is a perception that they don’t want to go all the way to Kings Beach.”

While she has enjoyed getting to know her new Tahoe locale, Hill Drum says she does miss her favorite mountain bike trails and the wider variety of restaurants on the South Shore. At the same time, she enjoys the quieter vibe on the North Shore and how the tight communities of Tahoe City and Kings Beach have nice sidewalks that make for enjoyable walks through town.

After experiencing the best of both sides, Hill Drum encourages Tahoe residents to reach out and explore the entire lake, not just their local haunts.

“Venture out. The drive is so beautiful, it still takes my breath away,” she says.

Hill Drum recommends North Shore folks mountain bike the Powerline Trail or paddle from Baldwin Beach to Emerald Bay, while South Shore residents should take in a lakeside concert in Kings Beach and then head to Las Panchitas for dinner.


‘One Big, Beautiful Place’

Like Hill Drum, Chris McNamara is another Tahoe resident working to bring the lake’s communities together. The founder and owner of GearLab in South Lake Tahoe, McNamara has teamed up with the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association (TAMBA) to create a trail network that circumnavigates the lake, similar to the Tahoe Rim Trail but closer to neighborhoods.

“I think of it not only as a mountain biking trail, but as 12-day hikes between 10 to 14 miles each that would end with people staying in town at night. I’m excited with a trail that you can stay the night afterwards. That is when you get the full experience,” says McNamara, who’s also the driving force behind a new community playground planned for Ski Run Boulevard.

Amy Berry, CEO of the Tahoe Fund, points to the Basin-wide Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan as another effort to unite the communities around the lake.

“It’s the first time there are partners from all over the lake that have come together,” says Berry. “They are thinking of Lake Tahoe, not North Lake and South Lake.” 

It has been said that all of nature is connected, and that is certainly the case with Tahoe. What happens on the South Shore affects the economy and environment of the North Shore, and vice versa. The deeper the understanding of the entire lake by its residents, the more successful we’ll be in keeping this place special.

“The thing to keep in mind is it is one lake,” says Berry. “The water doesn’t know if it is on the North Shore or South Shore. They impact each other. We need to think holistically about one big, beautiful place.”

South Tahoe and North Tahoe will always have their own style and flair. This is a good thing. Both sides of the lake have dynamic people who are dedicated to making their communities unique places to live, and whichever side of the lake you’re on, you can find a place you feel at home. But it’s also worthwhile for Tahoe locals and visitors to get out and explore the other side. You are sure to find amazing things that elevate your love and respect for Lake Tahoe.

Tim Hauserman has lived in Tahoe since he was 2. His latest book, Going it Alone: Ramblings and Reflections From the Trail, is a memoir about solo hiking misadventures.

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