SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (AP) — Fringed by snow or gleaming cobalt blue under sunny skies, Lake Tahoe is a favorite in summer and winter. But there's a third side to Tahoe: fall.
As crowds thin out, the region seems to take a breath as it prepares for the seasonal switchover from camping and sailing to ski runs and cozy chalet evenings. Trails are roomier, rates cheaper and the lake waters are beautiful but bracing. All this and leaf-peeping, too.
Here are some suggestions.
Lake Tahoe is about 22 miles long (35 km) and 12 miles wide (19 km) at its widest point and straddles the California-Nevada state line. You can drive all the way around the lake most of the year although part of California Highway 89 along Emerald Bay Road may be closed in winter. Very broadly, the lake is divided up into North Lake Tahoe, reachable by Interstate 80, and South Lake Tahoe (the name of a city as well as an area), reachable by Highway 50. Tahoe City is partway down the lake on the west (California) side.
The east (Nevada) side of the lake is generally less developed, except for casinos in the north and south corners. On the southwest border, the city of South Lake Tahoe, California, abuts Stateline, Nevada, which is home to a number of casinos. To the north, casinos can be found in Incline Village and Crystal Bay, Nevada.
Lodging ranges from mid-century style motels to rentals-by-owner to upscale hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton, part of the Northstar California Resort near Truckee, and the new Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe in Stateline.
Temperatures usually stay mild through September and even into October, although expect cooler temperatures as winter nears. Resorts and outdoor outfitters shut down summer activities as the weather turns.
Lake Tahoe is surrounded by pines so it's mostly green. But there are aspen groves that turn russet and gold in the fall. Most trails sport some fall color come mid-September, including the Eagle Lake trail. Another recommended spot is Page Meadow, near Tahoe City, which has a number of trails. To get there, drive 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Tahoe City on Highway 89, turn on Pineland Drive, and then turn on Forest Service Road 15N60 or 16N48. At the north end, a good place to try is the Tunnel Creek trail in Incline Village.
ON THE CALENDAR
Two events celebrate food and wine this fall. On the northern side, the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival takes place in Northstar, Sept. 8-10, with more than 20 events including dinners, wine tastings, outdoor activities and cooking classes. Ticket prices vary; full weekend, $270, http://www.tahoefoodandwine.com . On Sept. 16, Sample the Sierra in South Lake Tahoe pairs offerings from more than 20 restaurants as well as growers and producers with wine, beer or spirits. Locally made art, jewelry and crafts will also be featured at the festival marketplace; Bijou Community Park, 1201 Al Tahoe Blvd., $40, http://www.samplethesierra.com .
Three Oktoberfests are planned:
—In the north, the Village at Squaw Valley, Sept. 23, $20 entry (includes half-liter stein mug and two beer tickets), http://squawalpine.com/events-things-do/oktoberfest .
—Tahoe City's Annual Oktoberfest, Sept. 30, craft beer, live music, local vendors, no admission fee.
—In the south, Camp Richardson Resort, Oktoberfest, Oct. 7-8, pumpkin patch, beer stein-holding and yodeling contests, no admission fee, http://www.camprichardson.com/oktoberfest .
Also Oct. 7-8, Taylor Creek Visitor Center, north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89, marks the annual migration of Kokanee salmon with a family event featuring treasure hunts, crafts and more, http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/ltbmu/FallFishFest .
Along the west shore of Lake Tahoe, the short hike up to Eagle Falls or the longer trek to Eagle Lake — about a mile (1.6 km), moderately steep — is always popular. Visiting in fall (as well as going earlier or later in the day) increases your chances of getting a parking spot in the small lot. To get there take Highway 89 north about 8 miles (13 km) from South Lake Tahoe and look for parking ($5) on the left.
Mountain biking is popular whenever conditions permit, but it's especially relished in the fall, when crisp weather and empty trails make for good riding. Outfitters renting in the fall, weather depending, include Tahoe Adventure Company in Tahoe Vista, at the northern end of the lake (530-913-9212), and Flume Trail Mountain Bikes in Incline Village (775-298-2501). To take advantage of chair lift assist, the Northstar California Bike Park is open until approximately Oct 1. Downhill trails and lessons are available, http://www.northstarcalifornia.com/ . In the south, the family friendly, paved, Camp Richardson Bike Path passes several beaches. A convenient starting point is Anderson's Bike Rentals, 645 Emerald Bay Rd. (877-720-2121).
The Tahoe shoreline includes scores of tiny pocket beaches as well as publicly accessible stretches of sand. King's Beach at the north end of the lake is large, sandy and set in the small town of the same name. Parking $5 during off-peak season. On the south shore, Baldwin Beach is quiet, excellent for picnicking and reachable via the Camp Richardson bike path. Parking $8. Operated through mid-October.