While the economy of Lake Tahoe depends upon massive numbers of tourists descending upon the area in July and August, the day after Labor Day every Tahoe local quietly pumps his or her fists in glee and says, "Oh yeah, local's summer is on!" If the weather holds, which it often does, September and October are a time you can still do all the fun things you did during the summer, except without the crowds.
Here's an insider's look about what locals know, and visitors need to know, with a few ideas to get you started:
Dip your paddle
One of the best ways to see Lake Tahoe is from a paddleboard or kayak. But during the summer, the lake is full of motorboats churning up wakes which make paddling a challenge. In the fall, you can head down to the beach in the morning and pretty much have the lake to yourself. Pick a glassy day to paddle over the perfectly smooth water and enjoy views to the bottom of the lake.
Pick your paddling spot well to avoid a long carry to the water. Fortunately, there are several spots with easy access that require less than a 100-foot carry from car to water. On the West Shore, head to Hurricane Bay, four miles south of Tahoe City on Highway 89, or William Kent Beach, next to Sunnyside (parking is limited). On the North Shore, Waterman's Landing in Carnelian Bay not only provides easy access, but rental boards and refreshments as well. For more information visit watermanslanding.com.
While Desolation Wilderness in the summer is chock full of happy hikers splashing through the crystal mountain lakes and marveling at the granite, in the fall it lives up to its name: Desolation. At this time of year, you will find spectacular colors and those same lakes and granite as the summer, but you will not find many people. And unlike the summer, you will have no trouble obtaining one of the required permits for wherever you might want to camp. Try hiking in from Emerald Bay and plunking down near Dicks Lake or Middle Velma Lake, or heading out from Fallen Leaf Lake to Half Moon Lake at the base of Dicks Peak. Be prepared for long nights and cold mornings, but it is worth it.
With cooler temperatures, and aspen leaves that have turned yellow, orange and gold, the fall is a great time to hike or mountain bike. Page Meadows just a few miles south of Tahoe City, and the Ophir Creek trail out of Tahoe Meadows, are two great choices for hiking where you will find lots of colorful leaves. The ride to Marlette Lake from Spooner Summit is a leaf peepers and mountain bikers dream.
Ride the road
Even though there is great road bike riding at Tahoe any time before the snow starts to fly, the steady stream of cars in the summer months can certainly make for an unnerving experience. Now you can ride without fear. Ride around Donner Lake if you just want a short spin, but better yet, take Old Highway 40 from Donner Lake over the Rainbow Bridge to Donner Pass, and then on to Cisco Grove and back. The 40-mile ride along the Yuba River on a lightly traveled road is a true favorite amongst Tahoe cyclists.
Another great fall ride is Blackwood Canyon on the west shore. The seven mile ascent brings you past lots of fall colors and views of the canyon and Twin Peaks, but very few cars, and the descent while a bit bumpy is a joy.
Once you've paddled, hiked, and biked, you probably will have built up an appetite. With the change of season, restaurants slow down and start finding ways to fill the seats. Pick up a free copy of the Tahoe Weekly and find two for one deals and other restaurant discounts in the fall. And while you are at it, check out the discounts on bowling, cruises on the Tahoe Gal, and just about anything else that is busier in the summer.
Take it easy baby
There is one other great thing to do at Tahoe this time of year -- nothing at all. Bring your chair and a saucy novel down to an empty beach and let the quiet lapping of the waves and the wind in the trees carry you away to nap land.