Perhaps I am naive but I honestly thought I could drive to Tahoe, walk barefoot on the beach and maybe stick my toes in the water. Little did I know, you have to get up at the crack of dawn just to find parking within a mile of any beach on Tahoe. Yeah, I am a tourist, and I'm sure the locals have their tricks, but the bottom line is this: Lake Tahoe in July is a freaking mess of humanity, and as you might guess from my previous rants, I'm not really into overdoing humanity. It's a chronic genetic disorder passed down by both parents, one a Utah Farmer, the other an Australian who knew the spiritual/psychological benefits of periodic "walk-abouts." Moderation in all things, especially politics, religion and tourist traps.
Our plan was to rent SUPs (stand up paddle boards) and head out to Tahoe's open water and enjoy the alpine scenery of Lake Tahoe, but as we're driving through the traffic jam of South Lake Tahoe, and as we're approaching Pope Beach, we start to see parked cars lining Highway 89 (1/2 mile from Pope no less) and swimwear clad people walking the highway. Not a good sign. When we reach the turn off to Pope Beach we're greeted with a "LOT FULL" sign. Duh - this is Lake Tahoe during daylight hours.
Time for plan B. I flip a "U-ey" and head back towards town ("South Lake Ta-hell"). I had seen a SUP-Board rental shop (www.SUPsouthlaketahoe.com) along the way and it was high time to ask for advice from someone who knew the scene. We walk in and the owner gives a knowing, smirk/grin. He's undoubtedly seen folks like us a thousand times: tourists frazzled by the huge crowds and absolute zero "solitude" of America's largest, highest, deepest, most beautiful (arguable) alpine lake. He is friendly and knows his business, and suggests we don't even try Tahoe but rather go to a much lessor known lake just a few miles away, a place that only the locals know: Hidden Leaf Lake. I'm wary - how many other did he reveal this secret? - but I'm also desperate so we rent the boards. (The owner was even kind enough to load the location on our phone, which says eight miles or twenty minutes SW of Tahoe.)
We drive to Hidden Leaf on a windy, one-lane road. When facing on-coming traffic on the narrow road, Hawaiian rules dictate: if you have a pull-out, stop and let the line of traffic pass. None of this Utah "he/she-in-the-baddest-Escalade-has-ROW" bullshit. Just be kind and wait your turn when it's not yours to take.
The road is lined with nice, yet discretely modest cabins, each with private docks for private lake excursions, and, I'll admit, I'm a bit envious of those lucky souls. I was also a bit nervous the whole drive in, thinking it'd be packed like Tahoe, but when we reach the public parking lot I see there are only 30 or so spaces - all taken - but within minutes someone waves us over saying they are leaving. We carry the boards to the water and find the small public beach, all of 50 feet of sand on the otherwise deep and rocky lake shore, but it's mostly vacant and the folks who are there are relaxed and happy and not concerned about defending their territory. Such a relief to get away from the maddening crowd of Tahoe. We spend the rest of the day at a leisure pace, paddling Hidden Leaf or just snoozing on the secluded beach.
Hidden Leaf Lake is about a mile south of Lake Tahoe; it's about 3 miles long and a mile wide and over 400 feet deep just off it's western shore below Cathedral Peak. The lake was created by several glaciers that descended northward down the Glen Alpine Valley. Once the glaciers retreated, the basin below the terminal and lateral moraines filled with water and Hidden Leaf Lake was born. If the glaciers had continued downward and reached the level of Lake Tahoe, the lake would instead be a bay of Tahoe similar to nearby Emerald Bay, which is several miles to the NW.
I love Hidden Leaf Lake. Tahoe is nice but a bit of a disappointment with it's crowds and access issues.
|Kara's a champ! Five minutes and she's a SUP pro. All that high speed skiing has its benefits, namely a keen sense of balance.|
|On the other hand, I'm just a pastey white guy in a dorky hat.|
|Cathedral Peak forms the west shoreline and the deepest part of the lake, over 400 feet deep just below those steep slopes.|
|The paddle boards move surprisingly fast when you dig into the water.|
|Kara ahead, paddling over about 400 feet of water (where's that life jacket?). The terminal moraine is easily seen on the north edge of the lake, just above Tahoe.|