Lake Tahoe’s “Biggest Little Neighbor”

Lake Tahoe's Biggest Little NeighborThis past weekend I decided last minute I wanted to get out of town, but didn’t want to deal with an expensive or long drive anywhere.  So where could I go?  Then it dawned on me, time to take advantage of what’s right in my backyard.   The solution was a “staycation” trip to the nearby city of Reno, Nevada known as the “Biggest Little City in the World”.  Tourism professionals in the area strongly promote the activities and events in Lake Tahoe to visitors in Reno, but what about experiencing it the other way around?  Located only 29 miles away from Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, the short but gorgeous ride to Reno only takes 45 minutes.  So, I packed my bags, jumped in the car and within an hour was beginning my biggest little adventure!

First stop, the 2013 Reno-Tahoe WordCamp event held at the University of Nevada, Reno. Hundreds of developers, designers, social media gurus, speakers and blogger enthusiasts joined together for an exciting day of seminars, lectures and networking.  This was my first time attending a WordCamp event and it was amazing.  I learned so much and even more importantly, met some amazing new people.  This got me to thinking about all of the AWESOME events that Reno hosts year-round that may visitors to Lake Tahoe are completely unaware of!  Top events include:  Reno Rodeo, Rib Cook-Off, Hot Air Balloon Races, Air Races, Reno River Festival, Hot August Nights, US Bowling Lake Tahoe's Biggest Little NeighborChampionships and Ace’s Baseball games.   Any night visit downtown for dinner along the riverfront followed by some gambling or catch a show or concert at one of the casinos.  To keep up on events occurring in Reno, follow the Reno-Tahoe Blog.  What particularly impresses me about events held in Reno is how approachable and accessible they are.  Growing up near a big city, events of this sort are often challenged by overwhelming crowds, expensive fees and lots of traffic!  Instead, events in Reno are intimate, approachable, inexpensive and much less hassle.

Where to eat?  Reno has hundreds of fantastic restaurants and a rich diversity of cuisines which I particularly enjoy when visiting from Lake Tahoe.  I could write hundreds of posts on the best places to eat in Reno, so instead I will only mention the two that I visited this past weekend – Hiroba Sushi and Campo.  I was craving sushi and feeling lucky to be in town so I could visit my favorite place, Hiroba Sushi.  They have a fantastic all-you-can-eat sushi which is hassle-free, delicious sushi creations and a personal, engaging waitstaff.  The only downside, they are always packed!  I was especially appreciative this past visit when a gracious hostess slipped me into a spot at the sushi bar and I walked right in without waiting.  The next day, it was gorgeous outside and I was able to join friends and visit a restaurant I have been anxious to try, Marke Estee’s Campo.  Located in the River-300x200hub of downtown along the Truckee River, its indoor/outdoor scene was perfect for this gorgeous day.  We grabbed a table outside and enjoyed Sunday brunch.  The selection was fantastic and proud of my italian heritage I was particularly pleased with the authentic Italian dishes and ingredients on the menu.  I will definitely be back for seconds.  To decide what to eat during your next trip to Reno, check out Chris Cook’s Sincerer Love and learn about dozens of restaurants and cuisines to enjoy while in town.

Shop ’till you drop!  Reno also offers a fantastic variety of shopping venues to visitors ranging from small boutiques, vintage stores, discount outlet plazas and malls to full-service department stores.  Whatever you are looking for, Reno has it.  This past weekend I was able to find one-of-a-kind items while boutique shopping on South Virginia Street, conventional pieces at Macy’s in the Meadowood Mall and hot sale items at the Summit outlet stores in South Reno all in the matter of hours.  Not very many big cities afford the variety, ease of navigation and close distance as Reno shopping does.  To learn more about Reno fashion along with great tips on where to shop local visit Reno Has Style.

After learning more about Reno, I hope during your next visit to Lake Tahoe you drive down the mountain to witness the rebirth in Reno and experience the “biggest little city in the world” for yourself.  Share in the comments if you have visited Reno before during a trip to Lake Tahoe and if so, what did you do?

If you enjoying learning about Lake Tahoe follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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Mt. Judah Loop Trail – View from Atop!

IMG_0901A wonderful hike in Lake Tahoe is the Mt. Judah Loop Trail that offers sweeping views of Donner Lake and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains on the North Shore.   As a resident on the North Shore, many of my recreational activities favor this side of the Lake but there are marvelous hikes in every region surrounding the lake.   The Mt. Judah Loop Trail veers off from the famed Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that spans 2,663 mile along the West Coast from Canada all the way to Mexico.  Learn more about the Pacific Crest Trail.   The trail is well marked, moderate in difficulty, 5.5 miles in length with an elevation gain of 1,700 ft.   The trail loops around the summit of Mt. Judah, elevation 8,234ft, offering a 365-degree view of the region.

Mt. Judah Loop Trail Hike

Getting There:  Exit highway 80 at the Soda Springs Exit and travel 4 miles along the former Highway 40 to Donner Pass.  Drive past Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and turn right after a group of buildings.  You will see a parking lot on your right with cars scattered, look for the Pacific Crest Trail sign at the far end along the road.

Hike down the road until you reach the PCT trail signs indicating further directions.  A single-track trails begins to climb the backside of the mountain with rocky steps and short switchbacks.  Soon you will come across a trail intersection which indicates the beginning of the Mt. Judah Loop Trail and where you will leave the Pacific Crest Trail.   This will also be the conclusion of your loop around Mt. Judah when you return, joining back on the PCT.  The single-track trail remains fairly level and loops around the summit amongst wild flowers, pine forests and  most notably spectacular views.   Along the loop there is also a detour to a lookout from Donner Peak which I highly recommend offering an amazing vista above Donner Lake.   First summit accomplished!

IMG_0897
On to the next peak!  Return back to the Mt. Judah Loop Trail and follow the ridgeline as it climbs up Mt. Judah  to the highest point on the mountain.   Here is where all of your hand work will pay off!  I recommend taking a break and soaking in the 365-degree views around you, including views of the crest, Lake Mary and Sugar IMG_0911Bowl to your west, the Pacific Crest trail to your south,  Donner Lake and Truckee to your east and Castle Peak to your north.  To complete the loop, follow along the trail back down the south side of the mountain and look for the junction back to the Pacific Crest Trail.  Turn right at the junction and travel north along the Pacific Crest Trail as you descend alongside Mt. Judah, weaving through dense pine trees.  Eventually, you will pass the original junction you took to begin the Mt. Judah Trail Loop hike.  Continue along the PCT until you exist the trail.  For more information about the specifics of this hike along with others in the Lake Tahoe region I often use Every Hike as a good reference guide.
A few tips:  I recommend this hike early in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is least intense as portions are exposed.  Note that the snow hasn’t melted off the summits yet and trails at high elevations such as this one aren’t clear of snow.  Give this hike another month to ensure a dry path.  This wonderful hike can also be enjoyed during the wintertime on snowshoes!  Take extra precautions when snowshoeing along this trail and be aware of winter conditions.

Have you hiked the Pacific Crest Trail or Mt. Judah Loop Trail?  Share with us in the comments your favorite hikes to enjoy in Lake Tahoe!

If you enjoying learning about Lake Tahoe follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

All photos below to Robin Penning

Tough Mudder: Recruiting Lake Tahoe

Tough Mudder Lake Tahoe

You wanna be a what? Last year my colleagues and I sat around learning about this event called Tough Mudder which was returning to Lake Tahoe.  We jumped on their website to educate ourselves and instantly discovered we were stepping into unchartered waters.  Images of obstacles with names such as “Braveheart Charge”  “Everest” and oh yes, even “Arctic Enema” came before us.   Guessing others out there are also new to this athletic phenomena and thought I’d share some information I’ve learned.  And why should you care?  Because it’s coming back to Lake Tahoe not just once, but TWICE this year!

Designed by British Special Forces with events worldwide, Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile obstacle courses “to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie”.  Ok, so you might be thinking… 10-12 mile obstacle course, piece of cake what’s so hard about that?  Let the names of popular obstacles along the course paint a better picture for you, they include things such as “”Fire Walker”, “Ball Shrinker”, “Electroshock Therapy” (unfortunately, this is what you think) and “Walk the Plank”.  Learn more  about the various “badass” Tough Mudder obstacles on their website.  Basically, this competition has it all from extreme tests of athleticism, team costumes, ragging parties, fierce competition and yes, as its name suggests plenty of mud.

Still can’t picture what this is all about?  Watch this video created by Tough Mudder to learn more:

So why would anyone do this?  It’s all about the teamwork.  Competitors must accomplish every challenge and complete the obstacles as a team.  The goal is to ensure that “no one gets left behind”.  This is my kind of competition.  Not only does this framework result in extraordinary individual accomplishments and team building, but also promotes a more celebratory environment than an individual-style competition.  Before starting each event, all competitors even recite the Tough Mudder Pledge.

Another cool thing about the Tough Mudder competitions is that they support the Wounded Warrior Project which provides assistance to military returning from service.  Tough Mudder participants have raised over $5 million to date towards the Wounded Warrior Project through a variety of ways.  You can even earn individual refunds towards your entry price by raising funds.

Hopefully by now I have convinced you this event is awesome.  Over the last few years, Squaw Valley and Northstar California hosted annual events and it was recently announced that Northstar California will host two events this upcoming year.  Event dates are scheduled as follows:  Saturday, July 13th and Sunday, July 14th and September, 28th and Sunday, 29th.  My advice – recruit a team and register early!  Tickets sell-out, especially on the Saturday events and the tickets increase as dates approach.  Good news is you can catch a  deal for Sunday and Fall events if you are still on the fence (no pun intended). Go register!

Not ready to become a Tough Mudder yourself but want to witness the madness?  Spectator tickets are also available for $20 in advance online or $40 at each event.  So worth it.

Lake Tahoe has always been an extreme adventure mecca and thanks to the recent addition of Tough Mudder to the agenda, it just keeps getting better!  Just another reason Lake Tahoe is the Best Lake in America.  Be sure to swing by Northstar California  to compete or spectate and check out what this whole thing is about.  Either way you are guaranteed some lively entertainment!

Are you tough enough?  Whether you want to participate or have already competed, share with us in the comments your motivations and experience.

If your enjoying learning about Lake Tahoe follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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Then and Now, Truckee’s Transformation

308757_10151325052217990_1424074711_nGrowing up and visiting Lake Tahoe, downtown Truckee wasn’t much more than a town we passed through when exiting Highway 80.  I have fond memories of the quaint town and liked its brick buildings, feeling as though I had stepped into a history book I was studying at school.  Mostly, it signaled that we had almost reached Lake Tahoe and the drive was ending!  But besides that, I really didn’t pay attention to it.  Then, three years ago when I relocated to Lake Tahoe I started talking to locals to find out where the hot spots to dine and socialize.  To my surprise, universally all of the North Lake Tahoe locals’s replied… Truckee.

Today Truckee is the epicenter of North Lake Tahoe.  At a first glance, it doesn’t look much different from its historic days as an old railroad town, but don’t be fooled like I was.  Inside the historic brick buildings of the from the 1860’s a new generation of posh restaurants, trendy boutiques and emerging small businesses have been sprouting and making deep roots with their reputation on a world stage.  This year, Truckee was names one of the 1389_1Winter_Daybreak_TruckeeWorld’s 25 Best Ski Towns by NationalGeographic.com thanks to its central location amongst world class skiing including Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Northstar California.    Truckee is also home to boutique accommodations such as the historic Truckee Hotel as well as quaint artisan shops and art galleries, most notably The Carmel Gallery.   It is also home to world class restaurants and one of my favorite places to visit in Lake Tahoe due to its variety of culinary options.

A few of my favorite restaurants in downtown Truckee to Try & Why
Best Coffee:  CoffeeBar – Their coffees look as good as they taste! And, it’s Italian
Best Breakfast:  SqueezeIn – Make sure to go hungry, lots to choose from and generous portions!
Best Mexican:  Casa Baeza – Let’s just say they call it “Casa Blackout” for a reason
Best Burger & Fries:  Burger Me! – If it’s good enough for Guy Fieri it’s good enough for me.
Best Restaurant with a View:  Cottonwood – Enjoy a great bar scene from above the Truckee River
Best New Restaurant: Trokay Cafe:  Cutting edge culinary & unique blue bottle coffee creations
Best Date Night Spot:  Pianeta – Homemade pastas and great happy hour specials, Mangia, mangia!
Best Bar & Place to Meet Friends:  Bar of America – an iconic watering hole for over three decades

truckee-visitors-bureauDowntown Truckee also hosts a variety of great events year-round that visitors enjoy.  My favorite Truckee event, along with many North Shore locals, is Truckee Thursdays which begin on June 13th and continue weekly until the end of August.  More to come on these events when summer gets closer!  To learn more about all there is to do in Truckee as well as view a calendar of events, visit the city’s official website.  Truckee is located 12 miles North of Lake Tahoe via Highway 267 at the intersection of Highway 80.  It lies along railroad tracks and the Truckee River both which originally made it famous.

I strongly recommend visiting downtown Truckee on your next visit to Lake Tahoe and trying one of my recommendations above.  Share in the comments below if there is a place in downtown Truckee you most enjoy!

Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe?  Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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Tahoe Rim Trail – A “Trail Like No Other”

Tahoe Rim Trail 2011 074When visiting Lake Tahoe you will likely hear locals speaking about the Tahoe Rim Trail but you might be asking what is it? where is it? and what can I do on it?

The Tahoe Rim Trail Association describes it as a “Trail like No Other” which we are so lucky to have in our backyard at Lake Tahoe.   A few cool facts about The Tahoe Rim Trail:  165 miles of single-track multiuser trail, circumvents Lake Tahoe peak by peak, passes through both California and Nevada, six counties, one state park, three National Forests and three Wilderness areas.  If you have ever hiked in Lake Tahoe, you likely set foot on the Tahoe Rim Trail whether you knew it or not.  Even better, the Tahoe Rim Trail isn’t limited to hiking, it offers something for all outdoor enthusiasts including horseback riding on all portions of the trail, backpacking for overnight adventurers as well as mountain biking access on more than 50% of the trail.  One of the best features of the Tahoe Rim Trail is that it connects to so many other trails in Lake Tahoe including the famous Flume Trail on the East Shore and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails along the West Shore just to name a few.

map-using-trail-master copyI love hiking and it’s so hard to pick my favorite portions of the Tahoe Rim trail!  For shorter, 1/2 day hikes that are closeby, I enjoy hiking along the portions that loop Mt. Rose and the nearby Tahoe Meadows which can also be great snowshoeing trails in the wintertime.  For longer day trips and overnight backpacking, I head towards Echo Lake in South Lake Tahoe to explore the trails that leads deep into Desolation Wilderness. I enjoy the trails that traverse though granite meadows and High Sierra alpine lakes that I visited as a child with my family during backpacking trips.  Here is a map of the complete Tahoe Rim Trail.

Can’t choose? Wanna do it all?  Join the 165 mile club and become the 1423rd member!  That’s right, do as the locals do and set the goal to complete the entire Tahoe Rim Trail.  I am proud to say that I have two local friends who accomplished this amazing feat a few summers ago.  You can tackle this challenge in different ways and strategies.  My friends completed it in one summer by dividing up sections of the trail, conquerining it one weekend at a time and enjoyed seeing so much of Lake Tahoe’s backcountry while doing it.  If you are interested in joining the 165 mile club check out more details and a list of current members on their website.

IMG_1780The Trail Rim Trail is managed by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, a nonprofit organization formed in 1981.  They began constructing the trail in 1984, later  completed in September of 2001.  The Tahoe Rim Trail Association is continuously maintaining, restoring and reconstructing sections of the trail.  Each season they offer volunteer programs to locals and visitors to work on repairing a section of the trail. If you love Lake Tahoe, especially hiking and biking, volunteering on the Tahoe Rim Trail is a great way to support Lake Tahoe and meet some of the locals who are dedicated to keeping Lake Tahoe the best lake!  The Tahoe Rim Trail Association also offers educational seminars and special events for members, groups and visitors.   To learn more about the Tahoe Rim Trail’s volunteering programs and schedule of events visit their website.

Have you hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail and if so do you have a favorite section? Share it in the comments below!

Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe?  Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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A Local’s Favorite Daycation – Emerald Bay

EagleFalls1As a Lake Tahoe local, whether by car or boat, the trip to Emerald Bay is my favorite sightseeing day trip to make.  Named one of the most photographed panoramas in America, I am not the only one!  But what you may not know is that springtime can be the best time to visit Emerald Bay.

People mistakenly think that there isn’t much to do in Lake Tahoe during the spring “off season” after ski resorts close and before golf courses and lake activities begin, but the off season is actually a favorite time of locals to enjoy Lake Tahoe.  Emerald Bay is a perfect example of this.  Two reasons my favorite time to visit Emerald Bay is in the spring are simple:  bigger waterfalls and smaller crowds!  Sound good to you?  Here I will share with you some of the best things to do and tips for visiting Emerald Bay.

3717160754_d3f6c55207_bBut first some history. Emerald Bay is a state park and national natural landmark located along the south west corner of Lake Tahoe famous for its expansive panorama of Lake Tahoe, granite glacier carved surrounding peaks and rich emerald shimmering waters.  Emerald Bay is accessible via Highway 89 and located 22 miles south of Tahoe City or 12 miles north west of South Lake Tahoe.  It is famous for a few unique features including being home to the Lake’s only island as well as the only flowing waterfall into the Lake.  Emerald Bay is also home of  Vikingsholm and its adjoining “Tea House” on Fannette Island. To learn more about these famous landmarks, visit my earlier post Lake Tahoe’s Original Mansion Masterpieces.

When visiting Emerald Bay, plan on spending the entire day as there is so much to do!
Here is a list of my favorite must see and do when visiting:
IMG_0879– Hike to Upper Eagle Waterfalls
– Hike to Emerald Beach & Lower Eagle Waterfalls
– Hike to Eagle Lake and have a picnic. My favorite!  (photo left)
– Sunbathe on the beach & swim in the emerald waters
– Snap a photo of the famous view from the Visitors Center
– Take a tour of the Vikingsholm Mansion
– Hike along the Rubicon Trail towards D.L. Bliss State Park
– Visit the bay by boat! Enjoy a different perspective of the waterfalls and mountains
– Take a day hike trip to nearby Cascade Lake or Granite Lake. Learn more at Stephen Berei’s Lake Tahoe All Access Blog

mapLocal Tips for your Trip!  Emerald Bay becomes EXTREMELY crowded in the summer months of July and August.  My friends and I have a rule that if we won’t get there by 10:00 am on summer weekend, its better not to go.  Parking is very limited with only three small lots available and it can take an hour of circling to find a spot during peak summer time.  Bring cash!  Parking rates at the visitor local center apply and can vary each year.  Hiking trails can also be very crowded, but are easy and short making them accessible for family members of all ages and ability. Dogs are not allowed along the hiking trails or beach.  Last, layer clothing.  The beach is surrounded by spectacular granite cliffs, gets shady early in the afternoon and the waters are very chilly due to the snowmelt especially during spring months.  Campsites, park facilities and museum tours do not open until Memorial weekend and remain open though Labor Day weekend.  To learn more about park information and hours visit the Emerald Bay State Park website.

Have you ever visited Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe?  If so, share your favorite thing to do there in the comments below!

Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe?  Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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Lake Tahoe’s Original Mansion Masterpieces

Sorry Larry Ellison but when it comes to building mansions at Lake Tahoe, you were not the first.  Since the turn of the century, elite have flocked to Lake Tahoe building luxury summer homes along its shores.  I am often asked about the history and facts about the mansions that adorn the shores of Lake Tahoe.  Here I share what I consider to be the crème de la crème!

UnknownCastle-in-the-Sky
The historic Thunderbird Lodge and its world famous Thunderbird Yacht sit stately along Lake Tahoe’s tranquil East Shore.  George Whittell, Jr. born in San Francisco in 1881 into great wealth, lived a fast life as a playboy of California and Nevada and later became a recluse.  His immigrant grandfathers exploited the gold rush, founding his family’s financial empire in the San Francisco Water Company, today Pacific Gas and Electric.  In early 1929, Whittle sold $50 million in stock holdings later insulating him from the stock market crash and became one of the wealthiest men in California.  Eventually Whittell acquired over 40,000 acres on the East Shore, including 20 miles of shoreline.  Thunderbird Lodge was completed in 1939, and consists of a main lodge surrounded by three cottages, a card house, a boathouse, an elephant house, a lighthouse, three garages, and a gatehouse!  Many stories surround Whittell’s activities including colorful parties and high-stakes gambling in the card house. Whittell loved exotic animals which he collected, including elephants and lions, who made guest appearances each summer!

images3Vikingsholm & Fannette Island House
Vikingsholm is known as one of the first summer homes as well as for its unique location incorporating the only Island and nearby the only waterfall on the Lake.  Mrs. Knight purchased the land from previous landowners in 1928 and decided she wanted to build a summer home that would compliment the natural surroundings.  She commissioned her nephew, Lennart Palme, a Swedish architect, to construct a Scandinavia masterpiece. It was completed in 1929 and occupied by Mrs. Knight, her staff of 15 and many guests and enjoyed for 15 summers thereafter.

images4The Pine Lodge
The Ehrman Mansion is located at Sugar Pine Point State Park and was originally built by Isaias Hellman in 1902.  Hellman was a German immigrant in 1842 and as a young 16 yr old boy began working in his cousin’s dry goods store.  He had a natural talent for business and shortly was running his own stories and decided eventually to open a bank. Banking became his true passion in life, later moved to San Francisco and became the President of Nevada National Bank which eventually became the Wells Fargo Bank that we know today.  Hellman hired Walter Danforth Bliss to design a summer home in Lake Tahoe and bought 2000 acres of the surrounding land.  The home was completed in 1903 and the family began summering at the estate that July.  The Mansion is complete with the main house, barn and coach house, water tower, various worker cabins and a pier.

Unknown4The “Godfather” Estate
Also formally knows as the Kaiser Estate was originally built by Henry J. Kaiser from San Francisco in 1935 as an exclusive hideaway for him and five other owners who joined forces to build the Hoover Dam.  The walled compound was originally a 16-acre mansion which included 17 large homes, small cottages, servant quarters, a yacht club and boat house and is found on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.  The mansion’s was nicknamed  “Fleur du Lac” or “Flower of the Lake” after Kaiser’s favorite hydroplane.  The mansion became most famous when it was featured in “The Godfather II” movie and site of Freddo’s death on the Lake.  Today the property has been redesigned into private residences and only the original boat house, harbor and lighthouse remain.

Most of these mansion offers daily tours starting in late spring through early fall which is a great activity to enjoy during the shoulder seasons in Lake Tahoe.  Share if you are interested in visiting any of these historic mansions at Lake Tahoe in the comments below.

Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe?  Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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