This weeklong road trip covers two of my favorite places on the planet: Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. I’ve visited both these mountain regions countless times, yet each time I’m nonetheless awestruck by their beauty. The trip starts in North Lake Tahoe, winds its way to South Lake Tahoe, and then veers southeast along Hwy. 395 to Mono Lake. From there, it cuts westward on Hwy. 120 and heads up, up, up to the famed Tioga Pass and into Yosemite National Park. Just reading about it will make you want to drop everything and start packing.
From Tahoe City head south on West Lake Boulevard for a few miles to Tahoma Meadows Bed and Breakfast. Check in for two nights, make dinner reservations for tonight at Jakes on the Lake then have lunch on the deck at Sunnyside and soak in the amazing view. Drive back to Tahoe City to the Olympic Bike Shop. Rent a bike for a few hours and take the scenic paved bike path that follows West Lake Boulevard and the Truckee River. Return the bikes, and then drive to Jakes on the Lake and enjoy a sunset-view dinner. After dinner, drive to the Cal-Neva Casino for some evening entertainment, and then head back to the hotel.
Day 2: Rafting & Relaxing
Have breakfast at the Fire Sign Cafe down the street, and then drive to Truckee River Raft Rental in Tahoe City. If you’re not into rafting, go on a sailboat cruise instead with Tahoe Sailing Charters. After a leisurely raft trip down the mostly calm, always beautiful Truckee River, have a burger and beers on the riverside deck at the River Ranch Lodge & Restaurant while waiting for the return shuttle. Next, drive to Squaw Valley and ride the cable car to High Camp, where you can explore numerous hiking trails, ice skate, or admire the view at the Poolside Café. Take the cable car back to the parking lot, then drive to Gar Woods Grill & Pier at Carnelian Bay for dinner overlooking the lake (arrive in time to watch the sunset).
Day 3: Picnic Lunch & Beachside Cocktails
Sleep in, grab breakfast at the hotel, and check out. Stock up on sandwiches and drinks, stuff them into a backpack, and head south on Hwy. 89 toward South Lake Tahoe. Park at Emerald Bay and walk to Vikingsholm for a lakeside picnic lunch (I recommend the hike to Eagle Lake as well). Back in the car, drive south to Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge & Spa in South Lake Tahoe and check into one of their lakeside units for two nights. Walk over to the beach and order a Rum Runner and appetizers at the Beacon Bar & Grill, then later that evening have dinner in South Lake Tahoe at Naked Fish (great Japanese food and sushi) or The Cantina Bar & Grill followed by some entertainment at the casinos.
Day 4: Gondola Ride & Lobster
Sleep in, have breakfast at Ernie’s Coffee Shop, then board the MS Dixie II for a 2-hour cruise to Emerald Bay. Return to the Beacon Bar & Grill for another Rum Runner, and then relax at the gold-sand beach. If you like to water-ski or wakeboard, consider renting a boat or Jet Ski; paddling sit-on kayaks along the shoreline is fun too. Around 4pm, hop in the car and head to the Heavenly Resort for a gondola ride to the viewing platform before sunset (wow!). For dinner, drive to Fresh Ketch for oysters, steak, and lobster. Then win your money back at the casinos and/or see a show.
Day 5: Mono Lake & Yosemite
Today’s itinerary entails lots of driving, so rise early, gas up the car, drive over to Sprouts Natural Food Cafe for a light breakfast and sandwiches to go, and take the Kingsbury Grade to Hwy. 395 (it’s a bit confusing to find, so bring a map). Head south to Mono Lake, spend an hour or so at the excellent Visitors Center, and then head east on Hwy. 120 into Yosemite National Park toward Yosemite Valley. Be sure to stretch your legs at Tuolumne Meadows and walk around a bit, admiring the view. If you can afford it, check into the legendary Ahwahnee Hotel or the Wawona Hotel for two nights. Dine at either hotel’s restaurant and call it a night.
Sleep in, eat breakfast at the hotel, and take the 2-hour Valley Floor Tour in an open-air tram. Better yet, purchase the Map and Guide to Yosemite Valley, rent bikes at Yosemite Lodge or Curry Village, and take your own tour along the paved trail that winds throughout the valley. When you return the bikes, use the Map and Guide to Yosemite Valley—which lists an assortment of hikes and short nature walks—to plan tomorrow’s hike while you have lunch at one of the overpriced cafes in Curry Village. Save energy for the long hike on Day 7, and stroll eastward at a leisurely pace into the valley along one of the Yosemite Valley trails. Make sure you have a clear view of the valley at sunset to witness the alpenglow. Return to the hotel for dinner. If it’s a summer Saturday, mosey over to the Wawona Hotel for their old-fashioned barbecue dinner on the front lawn.
Day 7: Hiking & Drive Home
Rise early, catch a light breakfast, check out (but leave your luggage at the hotel), and unfold your Map and Guide to Yosemite Valley to see which hike best fits your schedule and endurance level. Some of my favorites are the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail (a real thigh-burner but very rewarding) and the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls. Alas, after your hike, it’s time to head home. If you’re heading to the Bay Area or Sacramento, take Hwy. 120 toward Groveland and follow the signs.
If you have your own tips and recommendations about exploring Lake Tahoe and Yosemite that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.
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