Northern California’s rustic wilderness is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Home to Lake Tahoe, one of the most magnificent mountain lakes in the world, and Yosemite, one of the best-known national parks on earth, you could visit every day and still not experience all that this majestic area has to offer. Even if you’re not the nature-loving type, there’s plenty of indoor recreation as well, from casino gambling to couture shopping.
Here are just a few of our favorite ways to experience Lake Tahoe and Yosemite:
Hit the slopes
With the largest concentration of ski resorts in North America, Lake Tahoe is like Disneyland for the snowboarder or skier. Nine ski resorts offer more than 22,000 acres of mountain adventures. Fun fact: Heavenly resort has a ski run that stretches into two states (California and Nevada).
But there’s no need to be an Olympic skier to enjoy playing in powder. Try out some alternative winter adventures with snowshoeing, fat tire biking, nordic or cross-country skiing. Fat tire bike rentals are available at South Shore Bikes and Sierra Ski & Cycle Works in South Lake Tahoe.
Channel your inner Dorothy Hamill and don some ice skates; Northstar California and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows have rinks. You can also experience the thrill of good old-fashioned tubing at Heavenly Mountain and Sierra-at-Tahoe. They both have groomed hills and rope-tows or gondolas to get you to the top without the huff-and-puff trek.
Indulge in a soothing soak
After a long day on the slopes, there’s no better reward than a pampering spa treatment. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is home to a 17,000-square-foot Four-Star spa with treatments that are influenced by the area’s natural assets: woods and water. Or simply indulge in a mountaintop hot tub soak or a dip in the heated pool at High Camp at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows.
Catch the Christmas spirit
During the holiday season, this holly, jolly hour-long adventure features Santa and his whole crew. The Polar Express Train Ride leaves from the Carson City Eastgate Depot (about a 45-minute drive from South Lake Tahoe) and heads north on the Carson City-Virginia City Route. Each ride includes a silver sleigh bell so you can take a souvenir home with you.
All passengers are encouraged to wear PJs, even the grown-ups.
Witness pristine panoramic views
One of the area’s most iconic assets is its stunning vistas. Soar over the Sierras on a gondola at Northstar California Resort, get an aerial perspective with Sierra Air Helicopters or take the 10-minute tram ride to High Camp at Squaw-Alpine.
See the lake up close with a boat tour. The Tahoe Gal, a 120-passenger paddle wheeler, glides across the pristine waters of Emerald Bay, while Tahoe Cruises, a vintage yacht company, sets out on sunset and dinner excursions.
Embark on a castle tour
Vikingsholm Castle, built in 1929 as a summer home for Lora Josephine Knight, is one of America’s finest examples of Scandinavian architecture. Located in Emerald Bay State Park, this unique house was built to complement the surrounding forest’s fjord-like natural beauty.
Tours are only available from May to September and are highly recommended; much of Knight’s original turn-of-the-century furnishings and interior design are still intact.
Take a hike
The Tahoe area is known for its epic trails offering mind-blowing vistas. Check out D.L. Bliss State Park or Emerald Bay State Park — there’s more than six miles of shoreline between the two areas. Other popular hikes in the area include Glacier Meadow Loop, Squaw Valley Trail and the crowd favorite, Tahoe Rim Trail.
No visit to Yosemite would be complete without an extraordinary hike. From beginner trails to expert excursions, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. Some of the most popular sights to explore include Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point.
Dine with a view
Whether you’re visiting for a romantic getaway or on a family vacation, everyone can appreciate a fine meal with a view; and this region has it in spades.
For classic California cuisine with French flair (not to mention floor-to-ceiling windows), book a table at Four-Star Manzanita inside The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. An open kitchen gives you an inside peek at the behind-the-scenes action, and views of the slopes outside lend an alpine feel.
European elegance can be found in Yosemite’s shadow at Four-Star Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant. The stunning old-world interiors of this French fine-dining restaurant are matched only by the vistas of the Sierra Nevada’s foothills just outside.
Even if you’re not an outdoorsy type, there’s plenty of indoor sporting to be had. Try your luck at one of the many casinos on Lake Tahoe’s Nevada side. Harveys Lake Tahoe, MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa and Harrah’s Lake Tahoe offer high-stakes gambling in a Vegas-syle atmosphere without taking you away from the beautiful mountain surroundings.
Explore by moonlight
For an exciting nighttime adventure, don’t miss the Yosemite Moonlight Valley Floor Tour, a late-night open tram ride through the park that allows you to see some of the area’s most iconic landmarks, including El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. The two-hour tours are only offered during full moons from May through September, but you’ll be glad when you’re met by cool nighttime breezes rather than frigid winds.
Peruse The Ansel Adams Gallery
Walk around the same gallery that the acclaimed artist once operated with his wife, Virginia Best Adams, and see his original photographs. It’s fitting that Adams’ memorial gallery is in the park, since his iconic nature photography put Yosemite on the map.
If you visit during the summer, sign up for one of th gallery’s free camera walks (available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) and channel your inner Adams with an immersive shoot.