“Sustainable Travel in Lake Tahoe: How Responsible Tourism Can Save the Jewel of the Sierra Nevada”
Over-tourism and litter are not unique to Lake Tahoe, a high altitude year-round playground in the Sierra Nevada mountains that welcomes close to15 million visitors each year. But the accompanying traffic and general disrespect for the surrounding natural beauty and communities have taken a toll. So much so in Lake Tahoe that the first ever litter summit was held this year signed and a group of public and private organizations signed a 143-page destination stewardship plan to tackle tourism and outdoor recreation challenges and create a clear message for visitors: we’re doing our part to keep Lake Tahoe beautiful and you should too.
Here are five ways you can be a part of Lake Tahoe’s sustainability story.
Visit Lake Tahoe in October for stunning fall colors and crowd-free fun
1. Visit Responsibly & With Manners
Turquoise coves and beaches, scenic hiking and biking trails, and iconic ski resorts are just some of the draws to Lake Tahoe. To ensure you and future visitors have the same breathtaking experiences, embrace a leave-no-trace ethos. Being a responsible visitor isn’t hard and comes down to common sense: park in designated areas; don’t feed the wildlife; clean up after your dog; use non-plastic water bottles and shopping bags; stick to marked trails; and pick up litter if you find it, and dispose of it in proper bins (they’re everywhere). Why? Litter harms ecosystems by spreading bacteria, clogging storm drains, leaching chemicals into the water, and hurting wildlife.
Plus, it’s just bad manners to leave trash and let your dog poop in someone else’s backyard.
2. Drink Tahoe Tap
Lake Tahoe’s water is some of the cleanest and purest in the world and is naturally filtered by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. However, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) cautions against drinking the lake water directly as it can contain harmful bacteria and other pollutants that can make you sick. Not to worry though. Lake Tahoe’s tap water is a far better choice than plastic for your wallet and the environment. It’s also much more regulated than any H2O you’ll find in a bottle. So, just say “NO!” to plastic and BYO water bottles. You can fill them up in the sink, at restaurants, or at refill stations around the lake. If you forget yours, drop by a local Raley’s grocery store and purchase an official “Drink Tahoe Tap” bottle.
Paddle boarding in Tahoe City. Photo courtesy of North Tahoe Community Alliance
3. Minimize Driving
We get it. Having your own wheels means freedom and flexibility. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of clean air and water, and residents getting to work and school on time due to traffic. But there’s good news: going sans car is easy in Lake Tahoe, and buses are free!
E-bikes are becoming more and more popular, while Lake Tahoe’s numerous paths and trails are made for walking and hiking, plus show off the spectacular Sierra Nevada scenery you’ve come to admire. Kayaking and paddle boarding are popular human-powered ways to explore the lake too, and rental companies are ubiquitous.
Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) runs free bus transit routes throughout Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, and even into Carson City and to Reno Airport. Check out Lake Link, a free, on-demand shuttle that takes you to South Shore beaches, trails, entertainment, and nightlife seven days a week. On the North Shore, TART (Tahoe Truckee Regional Transit) has free bus services connecting North Tahoe, the West Shore, Truckee, and ski resorts like Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Meadows. TART Connect is an app-based service offering free on-demand rides on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. Diamond Peak Ski Resort has a free ski shuttle if you’re staying in Incline Village. During ski season, Heavenly Ski Resort has BlueGO shuttles with pick ups along seven routes around the South Shore.
Winter blue view from Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline Village
4. Consider Visiting Outside Summer and Ski Season
Lake Tahoe is popular year-round for good reason, but summer and ski season crowds push the limits of what’s bearable for the region and its communities. If you have the flexibility, take the pressure off by visiting during the slow season, generally from mid-September to mid-December. You’ll be rewarded with less traffic, more parking and patience, availability at restaurants and recreation outposts, lower hotel prices, gorgeous fall colors, and the pure joy of slow mountain town life amidst the splendor of the Sierra Nevada.
Volunteering is one way to help support the lake. Photo courtesy of Clean up the Lake
If you have a spare half hour or an entire weekend, consider rolling up your sleeves and volunteering around Lake Tahoe. The League to Save Lake Tahoe, known by its tagline ‘Keep Tahoe Blue’, has been around since 1957 and regularly organises volunteer-fueled beach clean-ups and events that you can do solo or with your traveling crew. Or, become a citizen scientist during your visit by reporting what you observe around the lake, whether it’s cloudy water, injured animals, or litter on the beach.
Clean up the Lake recently opened its new Environmental Dive Center—part science hub and part conservation dive school. Drop by for seminars and film screenings, to learn more about aquatic invasive species, or even to become a certified environmental diver.
The U.S. Forest service also takes on volunteers for work on trails, in the wilderness, and in the office. University students can even earn school credits.
Whether its Lake Tahoe or a destination across the world, the important thing to remember is to treat it with respect, listen to the advice of local communities, and leave the place better than you found it.
BeSeeingYou In: Lake Tahoe
Good to know: Lake Tahoe spans two states: California and Nevada.
WOW! Factor: At its deepest point, Lake Tahoe is 501 metres (1644 feet), making it the second deepest lake in the USA
Tip: Be prepared for high altitude. The lake sits at more than 1800 metres (6200 feet), and ski areas and hiking trails can be much higher.
Getting there: The closest airport is Reno, NV, but you can also fly into Sacramento (2 hours away), and San Francisco (4 hours away). There’s also a train from Emeryville (near Oakland, CA) to Truckee, an adorable Gold Rush-era town about 20 minutes from the lake.
Author Bio: Kimberley Lovato