Winter sports fans hail the Lake Tahoe area in Nevada and California as one of the best skiing and snowboarding destinations in the Western United States. Since I don’t ski, I prefer to spend my cold-weather visits to Lake Tahoe engaging in another snowbound pastime: Snowshoeing.
Think of this activity like hiking, only with giant shoes that distribute your body weight and prevent you from sinking into deep snow.
Also, think of it exercise; few winter sports provide as rigorous an anaerobic workout as snowshoeing.
The sport certainly has history. In olden days, Native-Americans would wear shoes shaped like tennis rackets traverse the snow. Fast-forward hundreds (if not thousands) of years and technology has made snowshoes sleek, lightweight and sensible. On most snowshoeing excursions, you don’t even realize you’re wearing something over your boots.
Snowshoeing routes in Tahoe are plentiful; you’ll find them wherever you find ski resorts, as well as on top of regular hiking trails. Over the years, I’ve snowshoed quite a number of these. I happen to like some better than others.
My favorite, of course, is the Rim Trail, the 165-mile loop that runs around Lake Tahoe itself. No, I’ve never snowshoed (or hiked, for that matter) the ENTIRE trail. I have, however, tackled 8- to 10-mile segments at a time, and enjoyed the vertical challenges these tromps have presented.
(The best of this bunch, a section north from Spooner Summit, meanders through conifer stands and offers spectacular views of the lake below.)
Two other great snowshoeing trails: the ascent to Andesite Peak near Donner Pass off I-80, a reasonably short hike with fantastic views of the northern part of the entire region; and the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, which boasts 40 miles of groomed trails and a 5-mile snowshoe-only trail that is almost always empty.
Then, of course, there’s the 5-mile Rubicon Trail, which starts at D.L. Bliss State Park and parallels the shore of the lake itself, offering some of the most scenic views anywhere in the area. The trail goes south from Rubicon Point around Emerald Point to Vikingsholm Castle.
Other snowshoeing options abound, too.
Most of the local resorts—including Heavenly, Northstar, Squaw Valley, and Sierra-at-Tahoe—maintain groomed snowshoeing trails throughout the winter, occasionally offering package deals for visitors who rent snowshoes, hiking poles and other equipment.
Viewfinder Tip: In deep snow, use hiking poles to provide additional balance as you snowshoe along.
A number of outfitters in South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and points in between also rent snowshoes by the hour, day or week. The object with these: To rent them and explore on your own.
For those visitors who prefer to have others arrange their trips, there are a number of guided snowshoeing options in the Tahoe area, too. Tahoe Adventure Company, in Tahoe Vista, offers a full-moon guided snowshoe trek through the brisk mountain air of North Lake Tahoe’s forests. Throughout the journey, guides discuss natural history and astronomy. About halfway out, the same guides stop the group and pass out snacks and hot cocoa.
Tahoe Adventure also offers star-gazing snow shoe tours on which an astronomer comes along and points out constellations and other fun aspects of the night sky.
Whatever your strategy, winter simply is better on snowshoes.
How do you like to experience winter destinations?