Clear skies, blue waters, and soaring mountain peaks are what most summer vacationers call a winning combo. Come winter, throw in some great skiing and you’ve got Lake Tahoe, one of the top year-round travel destinations in the U.S. Backed by the stately Sierra Nevada mountains, Tahoe is an all-season nirvana for nature lovers, offering a list of outdoor activities that seems to stretch as long as the lake is deep. (Lake Tahoe is very deep, by the way. Its depth average is 1,000 feet, making it is one of the deepest lakes on the planet.)
Tahoe's summertime to-do list includes swimming, kayaking, fishing, golfing, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. In the winter, skiing and snowboarding run the show. Winter snowfall averaging 300 to 500 inches annually makes the ski resorts at Tahoe some of the most reliable and exciting in the country, with steep vertical drops, open bowls, and challenging terrain along with family-friendly runs.
So, now that your Tahoe itinerary is taking shape, all you need is hotel ideas. We say: If you're going to the largest alpine lake in the continent, why not stick to the theme and stay in a woodsy lakeside cabin or a lodge-like mountain resort? The shores of Lake Tahoe are lined with simple cottage and cabin properties -- great home bases for a relaxed summer getaway. The surrounding slopes are dotted with ski-chalet-style resorts that are cozy, cold-weather crash pads. (Note that Lake Tahoe is divided across California and Nevada, with 70 percent in California. South Tahoe is known more for its gambling -- which is legal in Nevada -- and nightlife, while North Tahoe is generally quieter.) No matter the time of year, these are the best vacation lodges to make your temporary Tahoe home.
Our Picks in North Lake Tahoe:
1. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
Here is a luxury chain's spin on a classic mountain lodge. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is the only five-pearl property in North Lake Tahoe and the only large resort built in the area in the last decade. Located in the mountains above Northstar ski resort, the Ritz-Carlton offers ski-in/ski-out access to the slopes, a gondola down to the village, multiple outdoor pools, year-round hot tubs, and daily s'more-making by the fire pit. Most guests gush about the hotel's matchless service, breathtaking views, and excellent food. The hotel has 171 big, modern rooms with deep soaking tubs, fireplaces, and Nespresso machines. All of this comes at high nightly rates, which are intensified by pricey parking and resort fees.
2. Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging
The family-friendly Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging is located within the picturesque village at Northstar, the hub of activity for the ski resort. The four-pearl hotel offers luxe rooms, a heated pool, underground parking, and easy access to the slopes for skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and mountain biking, fishing, golfing, and hiking in the summer. The rooms themselves are individually owned and decorated, so styles will vary, but granite counters and lodge-style wood furniture can be found in most units. Kitchens, gas fireplaces, balconies, and washer/dryers are standard. Views are of the village, forest, or ski slopes. Note that scoring a room here in winter can be tough, and rates may increase depending on availability.
3. The Village at Squaw Valley
The Village at Squaw Valley features 200 condominiums in a European-style village with direct access to the resort's cutting-edge ski lifts. It's a massive property amid the Sierra Nevada granite, allowing guests to stroll and shop with views of the towering mountains. High-end retailers make the village feel like a boutique shopping mall. Other than the world-class skiing, fun pursuits include a bungee-cord-powered sky jump, roller skating, cable car rides, and ice skating. The spacious condos feature fireplaces, balconies, heated floors, and kitchens, but not all have air-conditioning.
4. Red Wolf Lakeside Lodge
Red Wolf Lakeside Lodge is a low-key property on the lake's northern shore. It's more expansive than similar area properties, with a private beach and dock and a grassy barbecue and fire pit area. A heated outdoor pool and free water-sports equipment are great perks. Most of the buildings are two-story cabins with wood-railed balconies and green shutters decorated with wolf cut-outs. There isn't a restaurant, but apartment-style accommodations with kitchens are ideal for those who want to cook. It can be difficult to book a room in the summer but things slow down significantly in the off season (the location is a bit far from the ski lifts).
5. PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn
Laid out like a small village, this spread-out property has the feel of a sporty camp and is popular with weddings and large groups coming to take advantage of the proximate ski facilities. The hotel was specifically tailored to accommodate skiers, a design element that extends to a number of common areas as well as the rooms themselves (think boot-removal space). The 61 rooms are available in a variety of configurations and sizes, some with kitchenettes, and all with breakfast included in the price. The property is unusually peaceful throughout, with a sunlit patio for daytime relaxing, and a lovely outdoor fire pit where guests congregate in the evenings. However, the serenity lets up during the busy winter season.
6. Cedar Glen Lodge
In a small forested area across the street from Lake Tahoe, the 1930s-era Cedar Glen Lodge is a throwback to a simpler time. The lawn area contains barbecue grills, seating, and a fire pit, where nightly s'mores are prepared and guests can mingle with the friendly owners. Cedar Glen owns a small beach for lake access, and its heated pool, hot tub, and sauna are nice perks, especially during the chilly winter months. A continental breakfast is free to guests daily. Each cabin is unique, but all have kitchens with gas-burning stoves decor and rustic decor (think wood-paneled walls and pine furnishings). Unlike many lodges, updates are constantly being performed so that things never get too dated.
7. Franciscan Lakeside Lodge
The mid-range Franciscan Lakeside Lodge has a fantastic lakefront setting, and offers plenty on-site to offer guests a true Lake Tahoe experience. Guests can take advantage of the views and clear water simply by strolling out their doors and heading for the Lodge's private beach and pier. An adjacent grassy area with seating and barbecue grills makes a perfect spot for enjoying the sunset, while a lawn at the rear of the property has a great playground for the kids. The pool is said to be the largest in North Lake Tahoe, but it's only open seasonally (May to October), and there's no hot tub, like at Cedar Glen. Franciscan Lakeside Lodge's 64 rooms include lakefront, lakeside, and forest-side (located in the forested area across the street) cottages, studios, and one- and two-bedroom units. Most rooms are individually decorated in an "Old Tahoe" style with lodgepole pine furniture, patchwork quilts, and photos of regional scenery. Kitchenettes make dining in -- and saving money -- a cinch.
8. Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino
Handsome, old-fashioned alpine lodge decor make the massive Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino feel cozier than its big size would suggest. Common areas feature wood beams and flagstones, while Adirondack chairs dot the outdoor premises. The hotel sits right on Lake Tahoe among pine trees, and has what is purportedly the area's largest private hotel beach. All 442 rooms have flat-screen TVs and coffeemakers; some have spectacular views while others overlook parking lots or neighboring buildings. One-bedroom cottages are a definite upgrade. Spacious bathrooms, private balconies overlooking Lake Tahoe, and full kitchens with Keurig coffeemakers are just some of the amenities you'll find. Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe is a very popular wedding and event destination, so note that hotel facilities are often occupied by private parties. Also beware of hidden costs, like those for Wi-Fi and use of the fitness center.
9. Hyatt High Sierra Lodge
This upscale hotel in the Incline Village ski community is set slightly apart from the town's commercial center. Situated among pine trees about a five to 10-minute walk from North Lake Tahoe, the hotel is a good choice for travelers seeking a quiet stay. The property’s 60 residential-style rooms are primarily available as time-shares, but can be rented for shorter stays. Most of the amenities are situated in the adjacent Hyatt Lake Tahoe hotel; these include water sport rentals on the lake, a small pool with a hot tub, a casino, a spa, and a few restaurants.
Our Picks in South Lake Tahoe:
10. Basecamp Hotel
The 50-room Basecamp Hotel is a hip, outdoorsy hotel in South Lake Tahoe, designed to inspire adventure and communal activities. The eco-friendly hotel has an outdoor patio with a fire pit (s'mores kits are for sale) and a rooftop hot tub. In keeping with the hotel's camping theme, the large rooms are adventurously designed with pops of bright color and quirky decorations such as hand-drawn silkscreened maps, lamps that resemble camping lanterns, and camp coolers. Suites and family-sized rooms have bunk beds, projector screens, and kitchenettes with mini-fridges and microwaves. The Great Indoors room has a tent pitched over a king bed, a picnic table, a fake fire pit, and forest wallpaper. All rooms have balconies and flat-screen TVs, but they lack air-conditioning (they do have ceiling fans, though). Breakfast, Wi-Fi, and parking are all free.
11. The Ridge Tahoe
The 302-room Ridge Tahoe sits on 11 acres of secluded mountainside land on Heavenly Ski Resort’s Nevada slope (and a ski lift on the property provides ski-in/ski-out access). The restaurant/bar on-site has a lodge-like feel with wooden bear statues and snowshoe decorations. There are plenty of outdoor spaces for families to enjoy the fresh air, including a miniature golf course and a tennis court. The hotel’s surrounding pine trees and gorgeous mountain views make it a popular spot for weddings; sometimes as many as five take place in one weekend. There’s a free shuttle, but it can take over 15 minutes to reach the restaurants and casinos in town. Rooms are spacious and homey; some have stone fireplaces, balconies with mountain views, and kitchens.
12. 3 Peaks Resort and Beach Club
Two blocks from one of Lake Tahoe's public beaches, 3 Peaks Resort and Beach Club's biggest draw is its value and location -- prices are low for fast access to a nearby beach, Heavenly Village, and Heavenly Ski Resort. Rooms resemble cozy log cabins; some are renovated with contemporary details while others are dated with tube TVs and patterned bedspreads (book one with a fireplace and balcony for extra ambience). There is a heated outdoor pool, two-tiered hot tub, big spa, and Sierra Nevada mountain views help compensate for the lack of a restaurant and bar.
13. Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge and Spa
The mid-range Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge and Spa is popular with families and groups who want access to a private beach on Lake Tahoe and condo-style accommodations with full kitchens. Balconies overlooking the lake are a great touch, but some of the furniture could use an update. The two-bedroom loft is ideal for larger groups. While many hotels in this price range offer free entrance to a public beach, this is one of the only properties that offers guests a completely private beach. In the summer, there are free shows and barbecue facilities. The on-site spa is an unexpected perk, though there isn't a restaurant or bar.
14. Beach Retreat & Lodge at Tahoe
The lower-middle-range Beach Retreat & Lodge’s location right on Lake Tahoe attracts families and couples seeking a budget-friendly waterfront location. The atmosphere is relaxed with a family-friendly vibe. Hammocks hang between pine trees growing on the edge of the sandy beach, where there are blue lounge chairs and yellow striped umbrellas. Jet Skis and boats are docked by the hotel's 1,000-foot pier, and the shallowness of the lake means guests can walk through the water to the end of the pier. In the evening, guests might be found roasting s’mores on outdoor fire pits and swimming as they watch weekly poolside “dive-in” movies. The 262 basic, sea-themed rooms have flat-screen TVs, fireplaces, and coffeemakers, but lack microwaves and not all have mini-fridges.
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