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Recreation opportunities are abundant in this territory—no matter the season.
Photo: Rachid Dahnoun
Luckily for visitors and the roughly half-million residents of Nevada’s second-most populous region, Reno-Tahoe Territory is brimming with places to escape the urban grind. From day trips on the trails and beaches of awe-inspiring Lake Tahoe and camping, boating, and fishing at Pyramid Lake to shady afternoon picnics at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park and alpine hiking just minutes from Reno at Galena Creek Regional Park, there’s an outing in Reno-Tahoe to suit any taste.
To say that Lake Tahoe offers an abundance of recreational possibilities is an understatement as colossal as the impossibly blue lake itself. The largest alpine lake in North America, Tahoe’s 72 miles of shoreline and hundreds of thousands of acres of unspoiled forested mountain wilderness make it a strong contender for largest outdoor playground as well.
The granddaddy of all Lake Tahoe outdoor adventures is the Tahoe Rim Trail. In its 165 miles, the route circumambulates the lake through pristine wilderness and along mountain crests as high as 10,338 feet. Ultra-running superhuman Kilian Jornet completed the route in a mere 38 hours and 32 minutes, but us mortals should budget about 12 days. The Tahoe Rim Trail recently opened a new section along the Galena Waterfall, and, in late 2010, work started on the Rim to Reno Trail System, which connects the TRT to Reno and provides 20 additional miles of trails in the Mount Rose Wilderness vicinity.
Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park occupies much of the lake’s northeastern shore and adjacent backcountry between Incline Village and U.S. Highway 50. Sand Harbor is the park’s most popular stop, with sandy beaches, a boat ramp, and picnic and group-use areas. A beachside stage hosts the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in July and August. The shoreline north and south of Sand Harbor along State Route 28 offers myriad secluded—but popular—stretches of sand including Chimney and Hidden Beaches. Spooner Lake in the southern part of the park is popular for fishing and hiking and is the embarkation point for many trails leading into the 13,000-acre Marlette-Hobart Backcountry.
Fabled hiking, biking, and horseback routes such as the Marlette Flume and Tahoe Rim Trails combine for more than 50 miles of paths within the park and provide access to Marlette Lake and Hobart Reservoir. Hobart, Marlette Peak, and North Canyon Campgrounds provide primitive overnight options for backpackers, and the Spooner Lake Outdoor Company offers two rustic cabins near Spooner Lake. Cave Rock at the southern tip of the park is a sacred site among the area’s native Washoe people and overlooks a small day-use area with a boat ramp, beach, and picnic sites just south of the Cave Rock tunnels on U.S. 50. Outside of the state park, the eastern shore of the lake between Incline Village and Stateline is strewn with popular beaches, resorts, campgrounds, and other lakeside attractions. Photo: Tony Vitali
Van Sickle Bi-State Park straddles the Nevada-California border just steps from Stateline and South Lake Tahoe. The nation’s first bi-state park offers hiking and equestrian trails and nature study.
Roughly two-thirds of Lake Tahoe is in California, where cozy lakeside towns, four state parks, and endless wilderness are the perfect complement to the offerings on the Nevada side. Burton Creek, D.L. Bliss, Emerald Bay, and Sugar Pine Point State Parks offer countless trails to suit any fitness level, and all but Burton Creek offer camping as well. All told, the California side of Lake Tahoe is home to more than 1,000 campsites—all with restrooms and most with access to showers.
Emerald Bay State Park ranks among the most popular attractions at Lake Tahoe thanks to the unparalleled beauty of its languid waters and picturesque setting amid grand alpine forests, cascading waterfalls, and towering granite crags. In addition to a variety of trails and access to Desolation Wilderness, Vikingsholm Castle is a big draw to the park. Built in the late 1920s, Vikingsholm is considered the best example of Scandinavian architecture in the Western Hemisphere. Fannette Island—the lake’s only island—in Emerald Bay, is home to the castle’s companion, the Tea House. Beaches on the lake’s western shore include those within D.L. Bliss, Emerald Bay, and Sugar Pine Point, as well as popular spots such as Pope Beach near Camp Richardson, Tahoe City’s Commons Beach, and Meeks Bay.
A challenging way to take in all the scenery of Tahoe is during one of the lake’s many endurance sports events, including the 72-mile circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe via America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, June 3, 2012, and the Lake Tahoe Marathon, which follows California State Route 89 from Tahoe City 26.2 miles to Pope Beach, September 30, 2012.
Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park
PO Box 6116, Incline Village, NV 89450
Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
169 U.S. Hwy 50, Stateline, NV 89449
Lake Tahoe Incline Village & Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau
969 Tahoe Blvd, Incline Village, NV 89451
Tahoe Rim Trail Association
948 Incline Way, Incline Village, NV 89451
WORTH A CLICK
America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride
Lake Tahoe Marathon
The austere desert ying to Lake Tahoe’s majestic alpine yang, Pyramid Lake’s great beauty lies in its unlikelihood. The terminal destination of Tahoe’s only outlet, the Truckee River, blue-green Pyramid sits in striking contrast to the arid brown expanse surrounding it. One of the last remaining vestiges of ancient Lake Lahontan, 195-square-mile Pyramid is the largest lake situated entirely within Nevada.
The lake’s location within the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation has spared it from development with the exception of two small towns, Nixon and Sutcliffe on its southeastern and western shores, respectively.
Pyramid is one of Nevada’s most popular fishing destinations and home to the state’s largest population of native Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, found only in a handful of Nevada waterways. The lake’s other famous fish, the large Cui-ui suckerfish, is an endangered species found nowhere else in the world—and is subsequently off limits to fishermen. In 2010, the lake was named one of the top public fisheries in the world by Flyfishing & Tying Journal.
Winged wildlife are another draw to the lake, where Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge is a vital nesting colony for thousands of American white pelicans. While the island is closed to the public, the birds congregate at the lake’s southern end, providing excellent opportunities to watch and photograph.
In addition to the world-class fishing and bird-watching, Pyramid is a favorite watersports destination, as evidenced by the hordes of boaters, jet-skiers, kayakers, water-skiers, and wakeboarders that ply its surface every weekend between May and October, and occasionally during colder months as well. Visitors vie for beachside camping spots along the lake’s western shore, which is also home to the first National Scenic Byway located entirely on tribal land. Camping, day use, and other permits are required for non-tribal members visiting the lake. The fees charged for such permits help preserve the lake and the unique wildlife that depend on it.
Campers and day-users have easy access to basic supplies in Nixon and Sutcliffe, and the Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitors Center in Nixon offers information on area activities as well as the history of the land and its native Paiute people.
WORTH A VISIT
Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitors Center
709 State St., Nixon, NV 89424
Topaz Lake reservoir, on the Nevada-California border 21 miles south of Gardnerville, was created in the early 1920s when the West Walker River was diverted to an Antelope Valley basin that previously held a smaller natural lake. In 1937, the Army Corp of Engineers built a new levee, nearly tripling the lake’s volume and bringing it to its current capacity of 126,000 acre feet.
While the reservoir’s primary purpose has always been to serve the irrigation needs of the downstream agricultural regions of Smith and Mason Valleys, the lake is also a favorite Douglas County recreation spot, popular among bird-watchers, boaters, campers, fishermen, picnickers, and water-skiers. During the January 1 through September 30 fishing season, the lake has been known to produce many trophy-quality rainbow trout above eight pounds.
Topaz Lake Park includes 15 sites with RV hookups, electricity, water, and restrooms and 40 developed dry campsites and many undeveloped tent campsites along the lakeshore. For a higher standard of comfort, Topaz Lodge offers a full-service casino, 100 hotel rooms, a coffee shop and steakhouse, its own RV park, panoramic views of Topaz, and many of the aforementioned trophy trout pulled from the lake.
Topaz Lake, in western Douglas County, is a little gem in the mountains and this lake likewise offers good fishing. Not comparable to Pyramid or Tahoe in size, nevertheless the scenic setting of Topaz fully lives up to its name. Fishermen can expect plenty of sport and few disappointments.
“They’ll Offer Plenty of Fight Too!”
Nevada Highways and Parks, May 1936
Topaz Lake Park
775-782-9835 (camping reservations)
1979 U.S. Hwy 395 S.,
Gardnerville, NV 89410
Washoe Lake State Park
Despite its proximity to the bulk of Northern Nevada’s population, Washoe Lake State Park is a refreshingly un-crowded weekend retreat. The park, which encompasses the southern half of Washoe Lake and part of Little Washoe Lake, offers some of the state’s best windsurfing and waterfowl-hunting, as well as boating, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, and wildlife-viewing.
The park’s campground consists of 49 sites with tables, grills, and fire rings. Some of the sites have shade structures and can hold RVs up to 45 feet, and all are adjacent to restrooms with showers. A group area with a covered pavilion, restrooms, 20 picnic tables, grills, power, and lighting can be reserved for day and overnight use. Nevada State Parks hosts occasional stargazing and wildflower-viewing events in the park. Washoe Lake is conveniently situated about 20 miles south of Reno and less than 10 miles north of Carson City on U.S. Highway 395.
Washoe Lake State Park
4855 East Lake Blvd.,
Carson City, NV 89704
Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park
One of the first-ever Mickey Mouse toys, the oldest known pair of Levi’s cut overalls in Nevada, Christmas cards from a litany of Nevada Governors, an excessively large bottle of cod liver oil, and the oldest electric refrigerator in Carson Valley are only a handful of the more than 39,000 historical artifacts found at the Dangberg estate, just west of Minden off State Route 88.
German immigrant Heinrich Friedrich Dangberg homesteaded a patch of land near present-day Minden in 1857 and within a few decades became a successful rancher, businessman, and politician. By the time of his death in 1904, the Dangberg Land and Livestock Company held more than 50,000 acres in Carson Valley, Douglas County, and California’s Alpine County. Successive Dangberg generations inhabited and improved upon the original cabin and continued to hold prominence throughout the region well into the 20th century.
Today, the ranch house and surrounding out buildings hold the memories of four generations of Dangbergs and more than 150 years of Nevada history. Despite state budget woes that caused the park to be dropped from the Nevada Division of State Parks system in mid-2011, the ranch and home are still maintained and shared with the public thanks to the work of the nonprofit Friends of the Dangberg Home Ranch and Douglas County Parks and Recreation. Guided tours are offered by reservation for $8 per person 17 and older, and children are free. A special Holiday Toy Exhibit, December 3-4 and 10-11, features toys from the 1860s through 1940s that once belonged to the Dangberg children and are not seen during regular tours.
One day [Heinrich Friedrich Dangberg] returned to [his] claim to find the notorious gambler and highwayman “Lucky Bill” Thorington waiting for him with a finger resting on the trigger of a rifle. Thorington said, “What are you going to do now, Dutchman?” Wisely, Dangberg rode away, knowing he could acquire another claim more easily than another life. In  he staked out a second place between the forks of the Carson River. That claim was the beginning of a ranch that a century later covered more than 50,000 acres and sold in 1978 for $17 million… Dangberg eventually regained the land stolen by Thorington.
“The Amazing Grace”
Nevada Magazine, October 1988
Friends of the Dangberg Home Ranch
1450 State Route 88, Minden, NV 89423
WORTH A READ
Lost Legacy of Carson Valley: The Rise and Fall of the H.F. Dangberg Ranching Empire
By Steve “Dink” Achard and Conrad Buedel
Galena Creek Regional Park
Nestled amid alpine forests in the shadow of 10,776-foot Mount Rose and just minutes from Reno, Galena Creek Regional Park offers urban dwellers of the Truckee Meadows a chance to get away from the city without having to venture too far from home. Summertime hiking and equestrian trails play double duty as cross-country skiing routes in winter months.
Horseshoe pits, picnic and barbecue facilities, and fishing at Marilyn’s Pond provide additional recreation opportunities, and Camp WeChMe Lodge offers 12 bunkrooms, a kitchen, grand room, and restrooms and can host up to 150 people for reunions, retreats, and the like. Several picnic pavilions can also be rented for gatherings and special events.
The park’s new visitor center, located at the north entrance to the park, provides natural, historic, and recreational information and resources and includes exhibits, a weather station, gift shop, and bookstore. The visitor center also hosts guest speakers and events.
Galena Creek Regional Park
18350 State Route 431, Reno, NV 89511
Hidden Valley Regional Park
The 480-acre Hidden Valley Regional Park in southeast Reno includes 65 developed acres with picnic areas, multi-use athletic fields, two tennis courts, a volleyball court, playground, fenced dog park, and equestrian area with main and practice arenas, restrooms, and a grandstand. Hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails meander through the undeveloped portion of the park’s high-desert landscape.
Hidden Valley Regional Park
4740 Parkway Dr., Reno, NV 89502
Mormon Station State Historic Park
Built in 1851, Mormon Station in present-day Genoa is the site of one of the first permanent settlements in what would eventually become Nevada. Though the original station and trading post was lost decades ago to fire, Mormon Station State Historic Park is home to a reproduction constructed in 1947 that houses a museum with period artifacts. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition to the replica log cabin-turned-museum, the park includes a Snowshoe Thompson memorial statue (at right), stockade area with antique wagons, walking paths, picnic sites, and a group-use pavilion.
Mormon Station State Historic Park
PO Box 302, Genoa, NV 89411
Rancho San Rafael Regional Park
Since enthusiastically approving its creation in 1979, Renoites have held Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in northwest Reno in high esteem. The 570-acre park is home to some of the city’s most cherished events such as The Great Reno Balloon Race in September and is a favorite picnic, dog-walking, and recreation spot for people all around the Truckee Meadows. Manicured lawns, pastures, a duck pond and marsh, and shaded gardens and groves lend a peaceful countryside feel to Rancho San Rafael.
The Wilbur D. May Museum within the park is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and features special exhibits and the eclectic mix of items collected around the globe by May in the early 20th century. A philanthropist, rancher, and avid traveler, May was once the owner of Double Diamond Ranch in south Reno. The 13-acre Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Gardens features an abundance of native and adaptive plant species.
Evans Creek meanders through rolling foothills north of Reno before descending to Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. There the stream puddles into a pond and then into a marsh. The water nourishes an oasis of gardens and groves known as the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden, which is a great place to escape the city’s midsummer heat.
Nevada Magazine, July 2006
Wilbur D. May Center & Rancho San Rafael Regional Park
1595 N. Sierra St., Reno, NV 89503