Visiting North Lake Tahoe & Northstar

With the help of a season ski pass and a record-setting snowfall, I’ve spent more time in Lake Tahoe over the past few months than I have in the past 27 years combined! Specifically, I was able to make several trips to North Lake Tahoe and get to know the area better. While my experience is centered around winter activities, I hope this post can help others plan for visiting North Tahoe year-round.

Why North Lake Tahoe?

You really can’t go wrong with South Lake Tahoe or North Lake Tahoe – both offer a great variety of dining, lodging and activity options. In the winter months, I prefer North Lake Tahoe and the relatively easy route there from San Francisco along the 2-to-3-laned highway 80. In this post, I’ll mainly be referencing the areas of Kings Beach, Tahoe Vista and Carnelian Bay, which are all within a 15 minute drive of Northstar Resort.

I highly recommend checking the Caltrans website for Highway 80 Road Conditions. During the winter when it storms, you may need snow chains on your tires and the Caltrans website is the source of truth for chain control restrictions. I also religiously read the Tahoe Daily Snow Report for weather and storm forecasts. BA, the writer there, has been pretty spot on with his predictions this season.

Northstar Backside Drifter Run

Where to Ski or Snowboard in North Tahoe

Luckily, North Lake Tahoe has a plethora of skiing and snowboarding options, ranging from swankier amenities-packed resorts to smaller, but no less challenging, slopes. Below are a few options – this is by no means an exhaustive list, but can hopefully be a good starting point for most.

Northstar California Resort (pictured above)
Thus far, I have the most experience with Northstar through the Epic Season Pass. This particular pass includes Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood resorts (the latter two are in South Lake Tahoe) along with Vail, Breckenridge and Park City. I started out the season as a beginner-intermediate snowboarder and Northstar was a great place to continue my progression. You may hear Northstar referred to as “Flat-star” due to its relatively mellow blue runs – which was a plus for learning at my level. However, they also have plenty of great steeper runs and glades on the Backside and Lookout Mountain. I’m also a sucker for things like their free daily 2pm champagne tōst on East Ridge and 3:30pm s’mores at the village.

Squaw Alpine Resort
Another big brand resort, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows were combined in 2011 under one umbrella to form Squaw Alpine. Known for a variety of challenging terrain at both resorts, there are many skiers who flock here on a powder day for some of the best fall lines in the area. However, the 2016 – 2017 season saw a lot of lift closures due to wind on the upper part of Squaw’s mountain. This was bad news for families and beginners, as this is where most of the green trails are located.

Because many of Squaw’s lifts operate along the ridge, winds of 100mph+ can cause delays and closures on significant portions of the mountain. If you don’t plan to visit often, investing in Squaw’s season pass may seem riskier because of this. However, an option is to purchase the Mountain Collective Pass, which includes 2 days at Squaw and many other resorts around the country.

North Tahoe Lift Ticket Deals

While I haven’t snowboarded at either of the resorts mentioned below, both were recommended to me by travelers I met during my stays in North Tahoe.

Mt. Rose
Located near Incline Village, Mt. Rose boasts some of the biggest snowfall numbers each season, along with a great view of Lake Tahoe. You can check out their special deals page for great deals on lift tickets – such as Two-Fer Tuesdays (2-for-1 adult lift tickets) and Ladies Day Thursdays (only $29!).

Diamond Peak
Like Mt. Rose, Diamond Peak also has great lift ticket specials, which can be found here. Most notably, they have a Bring-Your-Other-Pass deal for $40 lift tickets and a Local’s Lunch special for $35.

Franciscan Lakeside Lodge Tahoe Vista

Where to Stay

There are plenty of lodging options via traditional hostels, hotels, Airbnb and VRBO – below are a few favorites:

Hostel Tahoe, Kings Beach
Perfect for those traveling on a budget – this is one of the most relaxing hostels I’ve ever stayed in. I’ve stayed in the female dorm, which was very clean and has a private en-suite bathroom. The cozy common living area has a fireplace, perfect for drying your boots and gloves after a long day on the slopes. The kitchen is incredibly well stocked with plenty of tools and dishes and storage space for your groceries and snacks.

Cozy Lakeside Studio, Tahoe Vista (sleeps 2)
Wonderful location right on the lake with access to a well-maintained pier (see photos below). This studio is definitely on the cozier side, recommended for couples. Surprisingly, there’s a stove in the kitchenette, which is great for those looking to stay in and cook.

Apres-Ski Chalet Studio, Kings Beach (sleeps 2)
More spacious than the cozy option above, this in-law studio is great for those who don’t need a full kitchen (no stove here). There’s plenty of storage space for all your gear inside, and the electric fireplace heater is great for drying off gloves and boots nearby.

Woodsy Suite, Carnelian Bay (sleeps 4)
Though I haven’t stayed in this particular place, I’ve stayed with friends in another one of this host’s homes. Well managed and stocked, you really can’t go wrong with any of their properties!

Adorable Cabin Close to Lake, Carnelian Bay (sleeps 6)
Love the decor in this home and the extra space in the mudroom and loft office area. Plus, it has access to a private beach and pier, which is always a bonus.

Patagonia Nano Air Jacket, North Lake Tahoe

Topo Designs Trip Pack in X-Pack Black, North Lake Tahoe

Topo Designs Trip Pack in X-Pack Black, North Lake Tahoe

Where to Eat: Austin’s

If you’re renting a house or cabin with a kitchen, there’s a might convenient 24-hour Safeway market located in King’s Beach. If you’re looking to take a break or are staying in a hotel without a kitchen, there are definitely plenty of choices for eating in the area.

Burger at Austin's in Incline Village

The one place I’ve found myself returning to over and over again is Austin’s in Incline Village (pictured above). It’s a short 10 minute drive from King’s Beach (where I’ve typically stayed) and has a good selection of delicious comfort food. I usually order the burger here (pictured above), but you can’t really go wrong with anything on their menu. Be sure to ask for a basket of cornbread and butter (sometimes, they don’t bring them out if they’re still baking) – it’s always a struggle to stop at one basket.

Tahoe Vista Pier

Would love to hear your thoughts on visiting North Tahoe – feel free to post any questions in the comments!

Outfit: Patagonia Nano Air Jacket, Topo Designs backpack, Sorel winter boots

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