I love getting outside and exploring. It’s my favorite part of living in Northern Nevada. Over the last few weeks of shutdown, I’ve been trying to get out at least once a week. It started with a visit to a nostalgic favorite in Chickadee Ridge, where you can feed the birds and gaze at Lake Tahoe from a beautiful perch off Mount Rose Highway. Last week, I intended on visiting Sardine Lake in the Plumas National Forest, only to find out the road I was traveling on hadn’t been plowed. As a consolation, I accidentally discovered Smith Lake and was reminded how much fun it can be to spontaneously explore.
It’s no secret hordes of people have been flocking to Lake Tahoe during this shutdown, particularly the incredibly scenic and unspoiled east shore where water clarity can oftentimes look like the tropics. While some people have been packing in places like Sand Harbor and the litany of hikeable beaches on both sides, some places remain to get away from the crowds.
And while this next destination is far from secret, it was nearly crowd free on a Sunday. I can’t promise it will stay that way, but this would be a great spot to put on your list. I would highly recommend this location as a place to watch the sunset, or even sunrise if you don't mind getting up super early.
Between Glenbrook and Zephyr Cove along Highway 28, which hugs the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, lies an unmistakable landmark: Cave Rock. It’s the giant piece of granite that has a tunnel carved through it. I’ve driven it hundreds of times in my life. If you are heading south on Highway 28, there’s a boat launch and small beach just past the tunnel. I’ve been there to watch the sunset before. Beautiful. But until recently, I had never climbed to the top of Cave Rock. I always knew it featured panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, but for one reason or another I had never been up there. What a mistake by me.
When I wrote about Chickadee Ridge, I mentioned some of the things I look for in a hike: something easy to find, not overly strenuous and with a big payoff. Cave Rock checks all three boxes.
Just past the boat launch if you are heading south, you can turn onto Cave Rock Drive. If you plug “Cave Rock Trailhead” into you GPS, it’s an easy destination to find. One caveat is there isn’t an officially parking lot nor signage for this hike. But after making the turn from Highway 28, you head up the road a little and will see an area to park. If the lot is full, you can try and find street parking elsewhere or I’m sure you could park down at the boat launch (and pay the $10 fee) and walk up from there. It wouldn’t add much to your journey.
Luckily for us, we arrived on a Sunday morning around 11 a.m. and there was a free spot. From there, there's an obvious dirt trail on the left side of where the cars park that leads you to Cave Rock. It’s a quick 10- to 15-minute walk that was basically flat. Once you get the base of the granite structure, there are several paths that lead to the top. Pick whichever one you want. While not an easy walk up if you have some sort of physical ailment, it is otherwise not challenging to maneuver your way through the rocks to the lookout.
On top of the world
It was no shock when I got to the top of Cave Rock the views were absolutely spectacular. Sweeping panoramic views of sparkling Lake Tahoe engulf your field of vision. It feels like you are on top of the world. For those of you who are afraid of heights, you may feel uncomfortable looking over the edges, but there are plenty of places to stand or sit and take in the majesty of Lake Tahoe.
My wife and I had incredible timing that day because we only saw one couple on the trail leaving as we were coming in as well as a family coming down the rocks as we went up. Once we got to the top, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was amazing to stand on top of that rock, look down at the highway below, gaze out at the lake and take some breaths of the crisp mountain air.
I’m a big believer in the healing powers of Lake Tahoe. And on that morning, it was just the medicine I needed to give myself a little boost during these uncertain times. From our perch we saw several paddleboarders cruising through the lake in incredibly glassy conditions. I knew where I was headed next.
Cave Rock boat launch
After taking in the views for a bit, we made out way down to the trail and back to our car. We crossed the highway and went to the Cave Rock boat launch to get our paddleboards in the water. When the conditions are right, Lake Tahoe is an amazing place to put an oar in the water. But it’s not always perfect. Wind can cause a lot of instability in the water boats are usually buzzing.
But with boats still on hiatus and a perfect crystal clear day, the water was absolute glass. And for an average at best paddleboarder like myself, I was salivating at the opportunity to get out on the water. We paid the $10 parking fee, grabbed the boards and away we went for an amazing paddle session. Afterward, I took a bone-chilling dip in Lake Tahoe for the necessary soul cleanse. I’m a big believer in submerging myself into Tahoe, even when it is freezing cold. It’s a refreshing and enlightening feeling, something we all could use a little more right now.
Until the next adventure, stay safe and I hope you too can enjoy some of our beautiful backyard.
Nevada Sports Net's executive producer Alex Margulies will feature a local recreation activity every Thursday in his "Exploring Our Backyard" feature. "Exploring Our Backyard" will return with new TV episodes this summer. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @marguliespxp.