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The insider’s guide to Reno Tahoe

By: Jacqueline Kehoe

Reno cityscape. Photo: Scott Sporleder

Nevada’s pioneer heyday may be long gone, but you still gotta have that renegade spirit to cut it in Reno Tahoe. That out-of-the-box, anything’s-possible kind of thinking is just as necessary as a full tank of gas and ample time to explore. You have to think in 3D here, readying yourself to navigate a vertical wilderness, an infinite expanse of both water and sand, and the lights of the “Biggest Little City.”

Welcome to Reno Tahoe, where High Sierra peaks are the backdrop to hidden hot springs. Where the world’s largest alpine lake sits just over the ridge from one of the West’s most colorful “thirst parlors.” This insider’s guide will walk you through just what you’ll discover here — you ready to go for gold?

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This guide is proudly produced in partnership with Reno Tahoe.
Carving turns at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is as close as most of us will ever get to touching Olympic snow — the 1960 Winter Games were held right here. Their Headwall zone includes some of the most technical runs in the entire world, and it comes with those famous Tahoe views. Ride the Aerial Tram to scope it all out, hit the bowls and glades, and then top ‘er off with lunch and/or après at the base village. It sounds like a day made in the shade, but that’s unlikely — this place gets 300 days of sun a year.

The experience: Experts should head to the aforementioned Headwall zone. The rest of us can enjoy the gentler mid-mountain slopes or try the Pacific Crest South Bowls at Alpine Meadows.

The claim-to-fame: The 1960 Winter Olympics took place in Squaw Valley. Beyond that major historical milestone, the resort is famous for its sun and snowfall — at the time of writing (it’s only late February!), 500+ inches had already fallen during the 2018-19 season.

The snapshot: Hit up the Main Lodge sun deck at Alpine Meadows for a view of the mountain (camera in one hand, pint in the other). For action shots and speckled sunlight, there are plenty of gladed tree-skiing zones off the Red Dog chairlift.

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Photo credits: J. Bartlett and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
Mt. Rose Wilderness, under an hour’s drive from downtown Reno, is where your Frozen-meets-Snow White dreams come true — or whoever your favorite animal whisperer may be. The only effort required for this fairytale day is snowshoeing up to Chickadee Ridge. Once at the top, check out the views of the lake below, and then whip out your whispering weapon: a pocketful of birdseed. The little flying guys will eat right out of your hand.

The experience: It takes less than an hour to snowshoe up to Chickadee Ridge — 2.1 miles out and back — and at the end, Lake Tahoe awaits below. Note that you’re climbing up a sledding hill to get to the ridge, so those two miles can be more than meets the eye. Though if you bring your toboggan, you can slide down!

The claim-to-fame: The 31,000-acre Mt. Rose Wilderness is one of Nevada’s most popular playgrounds. It runs from near the northern tip of Lake Tahoe along the state border, and it’s full of canyons, meadows, trails, peaks, lakes, and lowlands.

The snapshot: A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, right?

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Photo credits: Scott Sporleder
Getting the best views of Lake Tahoe’s eastern shore means leaving the car parked for the day. And navigating Sand Harbor — and its hidden coves and cobalt waters — means utilizing your own paddle power.

The experience: Sand Harbor is made up of three parts: beach, cedar, and rock. Which means the recipe is: Sunbathe on the beach, picnic under the cedars, and paddle around the rocky shoreline. This is a popular spot — come early to get some R&R with Mother Nature.

The claim-to-fame: Lake Tahoe is already a beautiful turquoise anomaly resting among the granite peaks of the Sierras. Throw in gently sloping beaches, and it’s no surprise that Hollywood has come calling.

The snapshot: A half-mile trail runs from Sand Harbor north to Memorial Point, exposing the harbor (and its hidden coves) at different angles.

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Photo credits: Renee Roaming, Joelle Friend, Scott Sporleder, and VisitRenoTahoe.com
Burning Man doesn’t exactly pop out of nowhere — though it may seem like it if you’ve ever visited the desolate Black Rock Desert during any other time of year. The point of origin for many of the monumental works of art you’ll see at the Burn is The Generator, in Sparks, NV. This inclusive art space requires 35,000 square feet to accommodate its members. And it’s not just for pro artists — community members are encouraged to participate in testing ideas, attend workshops, and simply observe.

The experience: If you’re a first-time visitor, come Thursday, Friday, or Saturday afternoon for a tour — ideally in the summer, when teams from around the world gather to take on huge projects. Scope out which artists grab your eye and watch them in action.

The claim-to-fame: Those amazing photos of Burning Man you’ve seen with the art structures the size of buildings (that disappear overnight)? That’s The Generator.

The snapshot: Whoever’s causing sparks, flying paint, or bending metal oughta do it (just make sure to get their permission first).

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Photo credits: VisitRenoTahoe.com
Sometimes it’s what’s on the outside that counts. Let’s just say the Whitney Peak Hotel’s walls can’t talk…but they can climb. Or — at the very least — you can climb them.

The experience: The hotel is located feet from the famous Reno arch and 45 minutes from Lake Tahoe. You’ll want to take some time out from exploring the lake to hit up the onsite Basecamp, ranked one of the best hotel gyms in the country by Outside Magazine.

The claim-to-fame: How many hotels have the world’s tallest artificial climbing wall? The answer is one.

The snapshot: The top of the 164-foot climbing wall, of course! From the bottom looking up can do the trick, too.

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Photo credits: Candice Vivien, Scott Sporleder, and Amy Seder
Days in Reno Tahoe are usually high-paced and spent outdoors — snowy slopes, sunny canyons, the largest alpine lake in the country and all — but nights are spent relaxing. Melting, you might even say. Welcome to the land of natural hot springs.

The experience: Come for the five mineral hot springs at David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort, leave having experienced the Eucalyptus steam rooms, heated swimming pool, and a geothermal soak against the shadow of the Sierras.

The claim-to-fame: David Walley’s sits just two miles from Genoa, Nevada’s oldest town. The history here spans from the geological to the pioneer.

The snapshot: Settle into one of the mineral hot springs around sunset, and frame it against those peaks. Just don’t drop your camera!

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Photo credits: Scott Sporleder
Northern Nevada hasn’t always been Burning Man territory — during the Gold Rush, immigrants flooded here from Basque Country. And today, their heritage lives on (deliciously) at places like Louis’ Basque Corner.

The experience: You have to go for the Picon Punch — the “national drink of the Basques.” It’s famous at Louis’, and it’ll hit you like a haymaker.

The claim-to-fame: Louis’ is a family-style restaurant, so get ready for lots of Basque comfort food, and bring your sharing manners.

The snapshot: A spread of tongue Basquaise, tripas callos, lamb chops, oxtails, and sirloin won’t last long, so you best take a picture of it while you can.

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Photo credits: Scott Sporleder and VisitRenoTahoe.com
Why be a brewery or a distillery or a restaurant when you can be all three? Housed in a 100-year-old building that was once the headquarters of the old NV-CA-OR Railway, the Depot Craft Brewery Distillery is a three-story space big enough for any imagination — and appetite — to run wild. And it especially runs wild at brunch.

The experience: Sip a Silver Donkey or nurse The Luchador while digging into some cornbread fritters, mac n’ cheese bites, or a slice of smoked chocolate cake (with smoked chocolate ganache and whiskey sugar). And happy hour? 3-6pm, every day.

The claim-to-fame: Brunch — 11-3pm on weekends — comes with liter-sized drinks.

The snapshot: The giant, old-school depot doors sure know how to light up a burger. Particularly one with house-cured pastrami, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and Russian dressing.

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Photo credits: VisitRenoTahoe.com, Joelle Friend, and Aly Nicklas
The Old West hasn’t completely dried up — Genoa Bar & Saloon is Nevada’s oldest thirst parlor, wetting whistles since 1853. And if you want to push through the double doors in a cowboy hat and spurs, that’s allowed.

The experience: When’s the last time you sidled up to a drink next to an original “wanted” poster for John Wilkes Booth? Or sat in the same room as Mark Twain, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood? (Not all at the same time.)

The claim-to-fame: Their renowned 14-ingredient bloody Mary. And maybe also the “bra safe.”

The snapshot: The diamond-dusted mirror shipped here from Scotland in the 1840s, the buffalo heads, Raquel Welch’s bra, the original oil lamps — if you can’t get a good photo here, your lens cap must be on.

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Photo credits: VisitRenoTahoe.com
This guide is proudly produced in partnership with Reno Tahoe.
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