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4 Summer Day Trips from Lake Tahoe

Posted by Laura Read on May 30, 2017
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  • hikers walk through scenic River Fork Ranch Preserve in Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: © The Nature Conservancy/Simon Williams
    Photo caption
    The Nature Conservancy’s 800-acre River Fork Ranch preserve in Nevada boasts hiking trails and an impressive interpretive center.
  • the Whit Hall Interpretative Center at the River Fork Ranch Preserve in Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: © The Nature Conservancy/Simon Williams
    Photo caption
    The preserve's Whit Hall Interpretive Center provides information about the relationship between the Carson River and the area's flourishing wildlife.

As the winter’s record Sierra Nevada snowpack continues its slow melt into summer, it fills up lakes and tumbles over stream beds and waterfalls, making Lake Tahoe day trips all about visiting sites of spectacular H2O. Here are four reasons to take a break from the mile-high lake’s shimmering blues for a day of water play elsewhere.

Carson Valley, Nevada

A jaunt over Spooner Summit from Lake Tahoe’s South Shore gets you to the fertile ranch lands of Carson Valley, home of Nevada’s first settlement, Genoa, which was established on the Overland Emigrant Trail in 1851.

Look for nesting bald eagles along the trails of the Nature Conservancy’s 800-acre River Fork Ranch. At the preserve’s Whit Hall Interpretive Center, see why cattails are much more than slender perches for blackbirds, and learn how the Carson River provides nourishment for plants, animals, and people.

Soak afterward in the mineral waters of David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort, and end the day at J.T. Basque Dining Room with a Ranch One grass-fed Basco Burger hearty enough for the Basque sheepherders who once inhabited the place.

Related: Summer fun in Lake Tahoe.

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  • Squaw Creek rushes along the Shirley Canyon Trail in Olympic Valley.
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
    Photo caption
    See the results of this year's melting snowpack at Squaw Creek along the Shirley Canyon Trail, about 30 minutes northwest of Tahoe City.
  • poke cones at PlumpJack Cafe at Squaw Valley, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Art Striber/PlumpJack Cafe
    Photo caption
    For a refreshing summer bite after your hike, try the seafood poke cones at PlumpJack Cafe.

Olympic Valley, California

Hike the Shirley Canyon Trail in Olympic Valley, a 30-minute drive from Tahoe City, where Squaw Creek cascades between aspen groves into the storied valley toward the Truckee River.

Find the trailhead at the end of Squaw Peak Road, and walk up as far as you like. It's about 15-minutes to the creek side, and a half-day trip all the way to Shirley Lake. In many places, the creek is so shallow, you can splash through it barefoot—though you’ll likely dash right out again to prevent freezing ankles.

Refuel later at PlumpJack Cafe with seasonal summer greens, truffle popcorn, and an eternal favorite, seafood poke cones. (Bring your dog, and dine on the patio outside.)

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  • the Feather River near Marble Hot Springs Road, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Darby Hayes Fine Art Photography
    Photo caption
    The middle fork of the Feather River, near Marble Hot Springs Road in Sierra Valley.
  • ibis takeoff from the Feather River in Sierra Valley, California, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Darby Hayes Fine Art Photography
    Photo caption
    Bird watchers will find plenty to see in Sierra Valley, including ibis (pictured), yellow-headed black birds, and sandhill cranes.

Sierra Valley, California

North of Truckee lies Sierra Valley, where you can drive or cycle on quiet ranch roads to see how this year’s extra water has widened the Feather River and made a new habitat for migrating birds.

On Marble Hot Springs Road, a historic steel bridge makes a great spot for watching yellow-headed blackbirds, white-faced ibis, and night herons who dip and soar among the marsh reeds. Sharp-eyed travelers can spot red-tailed hawks and sandhill cranes across the fields and an occasional pronghorn bounding over sagebrush. On weekends, catch a pop-up dinner of ribeye steak or lobster mac and cheese at Sierraville’s the Fork & Horn.

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  • a rock formation juts from Pyramid Lake in Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Larry Burton, Outdoor Adventures
    Photo caption
    Pyramid Lake, northeast of Reno, is home to the endangered cui-ui, a large sucker fish.
  • the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center in Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Larry Burton, Outdoor Adventures
    Photo caption
    Learn more about Paiute culture, and its deep connection with the lake, at the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center in Nixon, Nevada.
  • the Stone Mother at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Larry Burton, Outdoor Adventures
    Photo caption
    The ancient Stone Mother formation watches over Pyramid Lake.
  • Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge in the middle Pyramid Lake, Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Larry Burton, Outdoor Adventures
    Photo caption
    The Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge sits in the lake's middle where it supports the nesting habits of numerous bird species, including the American white pelican.

Pyramid Lake, Nevada

Lake Tahoe overflow pours down the Truckee River, then cuts through a sagebrush plain into Paiute country northeast of Reno. Follow the same path on Interstate 80 and onto Nevada’s lonely SR 447 to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitors Center in Nixon. Here, kids can do a scavenger hunt through exhibits to explore Paiute Tribe culture and the endangered cui-ui fish.

Ask the museum attendant for tips on where to spot wildflowers, waterfalls, and American white pelicans, as you drive up the west shore of the lake. See the Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge from Popcorn Rocks lookout, where trails lead to weirdly shaped ancient calcium carbonate tufa rocks, and a viewing scope lets you inspect the Stone Mother formation and white beaches on Pyramid Lake’s opposite shore.