My Favorite – The Five Lakes Hike

Hiking in Lake Tahoe is one of the top attractions visitors and locals enjoy throughout the basin.  There are hundreds of miles of trails to choose from and explore, but year after year my favorite hike to enjoy each summer is the Five Lakes Hike on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.

The Five Lakes Trail is located in the Granite Chief Wilderness in between Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley ski resorts and is easily accessible at the intersection of Alpine Meadows and Deer Park roads.  The 5-mile moderate trail ascends approximately 900-1000 ft. along granite canyons and pine forests to a high-altitude meadow that creates a bowl of five lakes in between the rugged mountain peaks towering from above including a peak of Squaw Valley ski resort.  As you ascend the trail, you will enjoy view of the Alpine Meadows ski resort from a distance, traverse under an abandon ski resort chair lift (said to be created to link the two ski resorts at one time) and climb along the rocky, granite cliff until you pass a waterfall and reach the high-altitude meadow.  The hike takes only about one-hour to reach the meadow and lakes but I recommend spending at least a 1/2-day on the trail in order to fully explore and enjoy the lakes above.  Since it is such a popular hike, the trail can become crowded, especially on weekends, but not to worry as there are plenty of nooks and coves to relax, picnic, swim and even fish in the lakes.

Check out a video of my recent trips along the Five Lakes Hike in Lake Tahoe and learn tips and see pictures of this gorgeous trail!

A few local tips on the Five Lakes Hike:  

  • Be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen!  This hike is primarily exposed and can be very hot during the midday until you reach the shady meadows above
  • Pack lots of water and snacks.  As you quickly ascend the trail it is roughly a 2.5-mile straight climb until you reach the top.  The added elevation factor in the mountains can surprise out-of-town visitor
  • Sometimes finding all 5 lakes can be tricky but take your time enjoying and exploring the high elevation meadows and trails connecting the lakes throughout.
  • Worth the wait!  Due to its high elevation, I recommend enjoying this hike later in the summer season as high-altitude snow is likely to remain throughout spring.  One year over 4th of July friends and I did this hike and there was still snow covering the trail and the lakes were frozen over!

To learn more about this popular trail visit this online trail guide that including stage by stage directions as well as this complete review in SFGate.com.  Have you ever hiked Five Lakes?  If so do you have any tips to share on how to find all five lakes? Please share them in the comments below.

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.

Truckee Thursday Time!

Truckee Thursday ReturnsThis past Thursday evening Truckee-Tahoe locals from all around gathered to welcome back a favorite summer event, Truckee Thursday!  Every Thursday evening from 5-9pm this summer until August 29th locals will gather to eat, drink, shop and reunite on the city blocks of downtown historic Truckee, CA  for this weekly celebration.  Hosted by the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association, Truckee Thursdays are a fantastic way for visitors,  locals and businesses to reunite and celebrate their local community.

Truckee Thursday ReturnsSo what exactly is Truckee Thursdays?   Picture farmer’s market meets street party in the mountains.  The downtown blocks of historic Truckee are closed to vehicle traffic for the evening and in its place local merchants including farmers, artisans, crafters and restaurants and invited to secure booths to feature their products, services and culinary arts.  It is great event celebrated by guests of all ages from newborns to seniors and even dogs are welcome!

Truckee Thursday Returns
Allow me to take you on a quick tour of my usual visit to Truckee Thursday to give you a better picture.  I usually carpool with friends and park in either the lot on East River Street (if it isn’t full already) or along the street.  First stop, I like perusing the local vendor booths set up in the street selling fruits and vegetables along with crafts such as candles, jewelry and home furnishings – perfect for gifts!  These vendors often leave on the early side so it is good to go there first.  Then after a bit of shopping, I head to the beer garden to grab a draft, meet up with friends and listen to the guest band performance.  By now I have worked up an appetite and head to the food trucks and stations to see what looks good for the evening.  My two favorites… anything from Red Truck or the famed Tri-Trip sandwich from Full Belli Deli (both pictured below).  End your evening with one of the many sweet treats available including crepes, chocolate covered frozen bananas on a stick or ice cream that you can find throughout.  As the sun sets, temperatures drop and the Truckee Thursday celebration winds down, if you aren’t quite ready to go home I recommend continuing the party at the historic Bar of America in the hub of downtown Truckee.

Truckee Thursday ReturnsTruckee Thursday ReturnsEach week at Truckee Thursday presents a local merchant sponsor along with a non-profit partner band showcasing the main stage in the beer gardens.  Check their website for the schedule of events of sponsors including Burger Me!, Northstar California and California 89 to see what lies ahead this summer at Truckee Thursday.

This season, Truckee Thursday also announced a few new additions to their line-up!  New is a second ‘corner stage’ on the corner of Bridge Street and Donner Pass Road and enjoy Bike Valet hosted by the Truckee Thursday ReturnsTruckee Donner Historical Society so you can ride your bikes and avoid the parking jam.  New lifestyle and apparel store, California 89, will also be featuring movies for downtown visitors seeking a break from the busy street action.  I also heard rumor that for those residents living in Tahoe Donner, a new shuttle route has been added to transport residents after Truckee Thursday events.  Can anyone confirm if this is true?!

 A few local tips to enjoy the BEST evening at Truckee Thursday.  Be sure to arrive earlier in order to find parking as it fills up fast!  Bring cash as that is all most vendors accept.  Another good reason to come early is that the best food will sell-out fast and you won’t want to miss it!  Carpooling helps with parking AND be sure to have a safe and sober driver with you if you plan on drinking.

If you frequent Truckee Thursday, what do you most look forward to buying, eating, sipping while you are there? Share your comments below.  I hope to see you next Thursday!

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.

Truckin’ the Truckee River

images2With summer in full swing in Lake Tahoe I was thrilled to hear last night that one of my FAVORITE summer activities had reopened for the summer, and early this season too!  I am so excited – I had to share information with you about my previous experiences here!  Whether you are traveling by a large commercial blue raft, personal inner tube or maneuvering on a kayak, “floating” the Truckee River is a quintessential summer activity to enjoy with family, friends or your significant other.   It’s also an annual tradition in Lake Tahoe that locals and visitors have been enjoying for decades.

The Truckee River is the only outlet of Lake Tahoe, the second largest Alpine Lake in North America, which begins at the fork in Tahoe City at Fanny Bridge.  Start your day by heading to Tahoe City where the East  and North Shores of Lake Tahoe meet.  Be sure to grab supplies along the way including drinks, picnic lunch, sunscreen, coolers, floating devices (if you aren’t interested in renting) and maybe even some super soakers if you are planning to make some new friends along the float.  There are two most popular methods of floating – personal oversized inner tubes which can be purchased for about $25 at various convenience and grocery stores or you can rent large, commerical rafts from the Truckee River Raft Company right at the start of the River in Tahoe City.

Truckee River Raft Company is the original and most popular rafting supplier in the area whose individual and group tours provide options for any and all interested floaters.  Rentals include free parking, shuttle bus, paddles, and life jackets for rafters 2 years and older. They also have the best equipment with all rafts being large, sturdy, commercial white water grade and comfortable to fit 2-20 people.  I definitely recommend them for families, large groups and first-time floaters!

Along the 5-mile, 2-3 hr float you will be entertained with many sights, thanks to both the scenic beauty surrounding you as well as the diversity of fellow floaters alongside you.  The river weaves through tall pine trees, varies between shallow sandy portions and deep, rocky emerald waters, tall grasses, ducks under wooden bridges, introduces sandy beaches great for picnic lunches and glides along the bike path as well as Highway 89 to your right.  During a day on the river you are likely to meet visitors and locals of all ages and purpose.  You will meet multi-generational families on family summer vacations, romantic couples and rowdy entourages setting up “party” camp along beaches and shallow portions of the river.  I have seen it all… from floating small Weber BBQs to queen-size bed air mattresses as floating devices, you will be sure to be entertained by the sites around you.

images3Celebrate the end of your journey, dry-off and reward yourself with food and drinks at River Ranch Lodge and Restaurant at the entrance to Alpine Meadows, where floaters must stop their journey along this section of the Truckee River.  Enjoy your return to dry ground and watch the other adventurers rush down the last and largest section of rapids into the large pool of emerald waters in front of the restaurant’s large viewing and sunning deck (shown to the right).  Then, when you are ready, pile your equipment and damp belongings into busses provided by Truckee River Raft Company to shuttle you back to your vehicle at the beginning of the river.

Have you floated the Truckee River before or plan to do so this summer?  Share your experiences and preferred flotation vessel to use along your journey in the comments below.  Look forward to seeing you on the river this summer!

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.

Photo 1, Photo 2

Opening Day to Bike & Hike at Northstar California

547284_349278815154232_1618896414_nWith temperatures around the basin heating up and the sun slipping behind the mountains later each day, it is no secret – summertime has arrived in Lake Tahoe.  What does that mean besides BBQs, beach days and summer weekend traffic? It means that resorts and vendors throughout the basin will begin launching their summer schedule of activity programs.

A big player in the region did just that today.  Northstar California owned by Vail Resorts starting turning their chairlifts again, celebrating the opening day of their downhill mountain bike park and trail lift access for the summer season.

Northstar California is home to Northern California’s largest mountain bike park offering beginner to advanced cross country and downhill mountain biking trails, bike rentals and repair, lift access throughout the resort and its own Bike Academy.  Whether you are an expert or a novice downhill mountain biker like me, this place has something for you.  The ultimate perk, with lift access you can cut out 1/2 the work by riding the chair lifts up the mountain alongside your bike and focus your time and energy on enjoying the thrill of riding down the mountain instead.

My personal favorite and recommendation for beginners is to sign-up for a lesson with Northstar’s Bike Academy Bike 101 program.  It’s the perfect introduction to both mountain biking as well as the resort terrain teaching you all the basic skills needed, familiarity with the equipment 2013-summer-trail-mapand safety instructions.  The Bike 101 program includes half-day bike rental, safety gear and helmet as well as a lift ticket to enjoy the mountain which you can explore all day after your lesson.  I tried the experience last summer, loved it and looking forward to returning this year.  The staff is phenomenal, well versed in mountain biking techniques as well as knowledge of the mountain.

Also, if you have never ridden a chairlift in the summertime, frankly you’re missing out.  Most associate chairlifts with wintertime activities, but here you can enjoy the gorgeous views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and glimpses of nearby Lake Tahoe all summer long on the hiking trails of Northstar California.  With three main chairlift access open including the Gondola, Tahoe Zephyr Express or Vista Express chairlifts, families and friends can explore the mountainside enjoying scenic views of Lake Tahoe, Martis Valley and the Sierra Crest of in the distance.  Easy lift access, clearly marked trails and parameters of the resort, make it easy for out-of-town families to explore hiking trails safely and with more familiarity than in the open, backcountry of the basin.

Afraid you and your kids might get hooked?  No problem, Northstar California offers competitive season passes packages allowing guests to enjoy access to the biking trails and hiking trails all summer long through September.  Learn more about mountain bike and hiking pass pricing as well as season passes.   Also learn more about the resort’s hours of operations as well as answers to all of your questions about the mountain experience.

Do you enjoy downhill mountain biking and if so, where are your favorite places to ride in Lake Tahoe? Please share your feedback in the comments below.

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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The BEST of Summertime in Lake Tahoe

waters-tahoe-vacation--1I am currently on vacation in my other favorite place in the world and place I formerly called home, Maui Hawaii, I can’t help but think of summertime.  As I am here playing in the surf, soaking in the rays and visiting with my Maui ohana of friends and wish for vacation not to ever end, I remind myself that everything will be ok.  Because, I am returning to home to Lake Tahoe at the beginning of summertime, my favorite time of year there.

Lake Tahoe in the summertime is an incredibly special time during the summer months. A place I feel so special to be for the season that I refuse to leave at anytime for any reason in fear of missing a day there to play.   It also got me thinking about why Lake Tahoe is the best place to travel to in the summertime and I wanted to share my list of reasons with you here.

Best Reasons to Visit Lake Tahoe in the Summertime:

The Lake – Obviously, this is the main attraction.  The clear, crisp blue waters of Lake Tahoe are the cornerstone of all summer activities including boating, trips to the beautiful beaches and my favorites – SUP and kayak along the coastline to hidden coves.

The Mountains – When you aren’t on the Lake, you’re hitting the mountains.  The Sierra Nevada mountain ranges surrounding the Lake provide the ultimate playground for all of your adventures including golfing, cycling, rafting and especially miles and miles of mountain biking and hiking.

The Beaches – Lake Tahoe’s 72-miles of coastline is scattered with beautiful sandy and rocky beaches.  A few of my favorites you can’t miss are: Sand Harbor State Park, Hidden Beach, Zephyr Cove, Emerald Bay, D.L. Bliss State Park and Sugar Pine Point.

The Temperature – It’s no secret, we have the best temperature in Lake Tahoe in the summertime.  With NO HUMMIDITY, bright blue bird cloudless days, consistent 70’s temperatures and cool evenings, the weather in Lake Tahoe is perfect for any and all summertime activity.

The Sunsets – Lake Tahoe offers some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen with its alpine glow, clear skies and mountain range silhouette backdrop, perfect for every evening sunset spectating.

The Smells – Anyone who has visited Lake Tahoe in the summertime will state this accolade.  Lake Tahoe has the most amazing smell in the summertime.  It is a mixture of fresh pine trees, crisp cool air and occasionally a lingering BBQ in the distance.

The Evenings – I LOVE the long days in Lake Tahoe during the summertime.  It’s almost like the world knows we need longer days in order to squeeze in all of the jam packed activities we have planned.  It doesn’t get dark in Lake Tahoe during the evenings until 9pm. It is amazing.

The Events – Summer is FULL of fun activities of all sorts throughout Lake Tahoe with so many things to choose from including outdoor weekly concerts, farmer’s markets, Truckee Thursdays, Shakespeare Festival performances, holiday parades, fireworks, races and community events and more!

The Traditions – When people ask me to describe Lake Tahoe in the summertime, I often say it is reminiscent of quintessential American summertime traditions.  Everywhere you turn it is full of families celebrating pastimes and traditions whether its playing cards at the beach, enjoying secret family BBQ recipes and drinking games all while reuniting at the same rental cabin year after year.

The People – Whether its the locals, first time visitors or returning neighbors and family friends, you are guaranteed to be amongst amazing company, and likely to make some new friends, as visitors flock to the mountains and lake, year after year to reunite amongst this beautiful backdrop

I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit more about what is to come in Lake Tahoe over the following months. I hope to see you this summer around the Lake!

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!

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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

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.

Photo Credit 1Photo Credit 2, Photo Credit 3