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    Tahoe,

    Nevada

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    Lake Tahoe (; Washo: dáʔaw, 'the lake') is a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada of the United States. Lying at 6,225 ft (1,897 m), it straddles the state line between California and Nevada, west of Carson City. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and at 122,160,280 acre⋅ft (150.7 km3) it trails only the five Great Lakes as the largest by volume in the United States. Its depth is 1,645 ft (501 m), making it the second deepest in the United States after Crater Lake in Oregon (1,949 ft or 594 m).The lake was formed about two million years ago as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin, and its modern extent was shaped during the ice ages. It is known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides. The area surrounding the lake is also referred to as Lake Tahoe, or simply Tahoe. More than 75% of the lake's watershed is national forest land, being the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the United States Forest Service. Lake Tahoe is a major tourist attraction in both Nevada and California. It is home to winter sports, summer outdoor recreation, and scenery enjoyed throughout the year. Snow and ski resorts are a significant part of the area's economy and reputation. The Nevada side also offers several lakeside casino resorts, with highways providing year-round access to the entire area.
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    Inspiration

    The best US lakes for recreation

    Lake Powell Lake Powell is a reservoir in Glen Canyon National Recreational Area near the Utah and Arizona border. The water is a crisp blue, and snakes through the red rock canyon, offering plenty of opportunities for water sports and recreation. Visitors to Lake Powell can take a boat tour, go waterskiing and visit Cathedral in the Desert, a stunning rock monument located in Lake Powell. Its location near the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley provides an amazing opportunity for adventurers to have the road trip of a lifetime. Lake Lanier Lake Lanier is located in North Georgia, about an hour from Atlanta and a short drive from Chattanooga. It is a man-made reservoir made by damming the Chattahoochee River to provide electricity and flood control for nearby Atlanta. More than 10 million people visit Lake Lanier annually, with many of them using the Lanier Islands as a recreational hub. The Lanier Islands have plenty of lodging and dining options for all budgets, including tent camping and an RV park. Lake of the Ozarks Missouri's crown jewel of a lake sits in the middle of the state and offers a world-class destination. Visitors can find a plethora of land-based activities, restaurants and accommodations. In addition, there are countless marinas available to rent or store a boat. There are also 32 hiking trails near the lake, along with four caves to explore. There is inexpensive camping available nearby at Ozarks State Park and Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Pickwick Lake © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Pickwick Lake, Tennessee The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created a series of 9 major dams across Tennessee during the 1930s and 1940s to bring affordable electricity and jobs to an area stricken by the Great Depression. Today, all the TVA lakes are great for water sports and recreation, but our favorite is Pickwick Lake, on the border of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, just outside Memphis. Yellow Creek Cove on the lake is a constant party for boaters in the summer and features a rope swing into the water below. There is a great camping spot at Pickwick Landing State Park, where there is also a marina and available boat rentals. Big Bear Lake Big Bear Lake in Southern California, the ‘Jewel of the San Bernardino National Forest,’ prides itself on being open all four seasons for water recreation. Located 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, it also can be accessed easily from Las Vegas or Phoenix. Big Bear offers a mountain atmosphere, with hiking trails, winter skiing, and summer swimming. The heart of Big Bear Lake is at Big Bear Village, a charming small town that serves as the region’s hub for dining and lodging. Make sure to check out the local festivals at The Village at Halloween and Christmas. Lake Tahoe © MariuszBlach / Getty Images Lake Tahoe Lake Tahoe sits on the border of California and Nevada, near Reno. It is the second deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake) and is known for its incredibly clear water and vibrant colors. Tahoe is known as a gateway for recreational adventure. Visitors can access hundreds of miles of beautiful hiking trails, as well as rent paddleboards and kayaks to explore the lake. Lake Mead Lake Mead lies outside of Las Vegas, and is the largest reservoir in the United States, formed by the Hoover Dam. Boating in Lake Mead is a popular activity, with four separate marinas available to rent or store boats. Lake Mead Cruises also takes a nightly cruise to the Hoover Dam and back. Lake Mead is heaven for fishing and offers some of the best sport fishing in the United States. Lake Placid © Chuck Robinson Photography / Getty Images Lake Placid Lake Placid in the Adirondacks is a classic New York mountain town, with views so legendary the town was selected to host the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. In the winter, Lake Placid has amazing opportunities to snow ski and snowboard. In the summer, Lake Placid is a utopia for waterboarding and tubing. For those who own their own boat, there are several public launch points. For those on a budget, there are hostels off the lake for low rates or camping in nearby campgrounds or in the Adirondack backcountry. Lake Winnebago Lake Winnebago is a glacial lake in eastern Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee near Appleton and Oshkosh. It is a relatively shallow lake, known for great fishing in both the summer and the winter, with a prominent ice fishing industry. The lake’s most abundant fish are the Walleye, Perch, Sturgeon and Bass. Boats are readily available for rent at nearby Marinas. Boaters have access to more than 18,000 acres of water, including Lake Butte des Morts and the Fox River. Lake Winnepesaukee You can explore more than 250 different islands in New Hampshire’s Lake Winnepesaukee, or hike in the nearby White Mountains. There are a plethora of small villages on the shores of the lake, which can be reached by either boat or car, and each offers an individual flavor. Rent a boat and go waterboarding in the summer or plan a snowboarding adventure in the winter. When you’re ready to go indoors, check out one of the many breweries nearby, such as the Woodstock Inn Brewery in Woodstock. The nearest major city is Manchester. SPONSORED BY GEICOAs always, prior to travel, make sure you are up to date on your destination’s health and safety restrictions. See how much you could save when you bundle your car and boat insurance with GEICO. Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Lonely Planet and Budget Travel. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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    Budget Travel Lists

    The budget guide to Lake Tahoe

    Lake Tahoe sits on the border of California and Nevada, and offers beautiful scenery, hiking, beaches and winter sports. It is a perfect location for adventure travelers, photographers, and winter sports enthusiasts. Here is our guide to getting the best deals at Lake Tahoe. Getting There Lake Tahoe has its own airport, which can easily be accessed by flying through Denver. For the cheapest rates, look to Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, or Alaska Airlines. The nearest major city is Reno, Nevada. Where to Stay Accommodations are one of the areas where you can save while visiting Lake Tahoe. By choosing your hotel wisely you can make room in your budget for more days on the slopes. Given that there are majestic views around every bend in the road in Lake Tahoe, your hotel room will simply be a comfortable place to lay your head at night. Worth considering, is the Postmarc Hotel Spa and Resort boasts recently renovated rooms and the majority of them feature a spa tub. Listed on their website is a special for 20% off their published rates which makes this place even more endearing. Rates vary from $90-$100 without the applicable discount. If snowboarding is your sport of choice then staying at the Forest Suites Resort at Heavenly Village is convenient. The resort is right by the ski gondolas which take you to the top of the Heavenly ski slopes. The hotel is advertising a holiday sale with 30% off and a winter sale with 40%, these are some serious savings. Rates are currently $100 a night before applicable discounts. The Northern shore of Lake Tahoe is much quieter and made up of residential neighborhoods. The Tahoe Vistana Inn located North offers many amenities that make the stay even sweeter. The facilities offer a grill as well as firepits for guests to use on those cooler nights. The Inn offers its guests free usage of their bikes, paddleboards and kayaks which is a huge perk. Rates are currently $95 a night. What to Do When you arrive at Lake Tahoe head to one of the multiple Visitor Centers to look for brochures that may contain coupons for kayaking, boating and the countless number of water activities available at the lake. Lake Tahoe is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Every single viewpoint in Lake Tahoe is scenic. During the summer, you’ll gravitate to the lake and all of the water activities you can take advantage of. Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented right next to the lake, right on any beach. One of the most beautiful beaches to kayak is Sand Harbor. Hiking the Lake Tahoe area is another beautiful way to spend your day. There are multiple hikes to waterfalls in the area. Some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area are Cascade Creek Falls, Eagle Falls and Horse Tail Falls. It’s essential to pack a lunch on your hike to one of these impressive waterfalls. Sprouts Natural Foods Café has sandwiches packed chock full of the vegetables you need to nourish you as you hike. Driving out of Lake Tahoe heading South you can take a quick hike before heading home. You can hike a small part of the Pacific Crest Trail (which extends from Canada to Mexico) by hiking the Frog Lake trail. This dog-friendly trail takes you through lightly wooded forests as well as through rocky terrain. Your ultimate reward is the small lake when you reach the top and the beautiful views you get from there. Hiking frog lake is the perfect way to end your exploration of the Lake Tahoe area. Male skier skiing downhill on powder snow, Lake Tahoe, California, USA. ©Succes'S IBC/Getty Images Winter Sports The extraordinary views as you are skiing or snowboarding down the slopes are what makes Lake Tahoe such a unique place to ski. Unfortunately, affordability is not what Lake Tahoe is known for. Lift tickets can cost upwards of $130 during peak seasons. Luckily, Lake Tahoe has fifteen ski resorts which allow the budget-conscious skier to compare prices as well as the types of terrain and runs they wish to ski. When it comes to skiing, going during the week is your best bet for finding a deal. If avoiding the crowds sounds like a good idea then resorts like Homewood and Diamond Peak are under $100 during the week. Both of these resorts are family-friendly with Diamond Peak being the friendliest. At Diamond Peak children under six are free and they also offer an interchangeable ski ticket that can be used amongst the two parents. If your heart is set on the Heavenly Resort, which is the top-rated resort in Lake Tahoe, then you need to be prepared to spend a bit more. Currently, a one-day ski pass is $133 a day at Heavenly, with an Epic Day Pass. This includes 20% discounts at select quick-service restaurants at the ski resort as well as discounts on lodging.

    Budget Travel Lists

    California's 10 best hiking trails

    Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions due to COVID-19 or the California wildfires before planning any trip and always follow government advice. Rubicon Trail A hugely scenic trail on Lake Tahoe's western shore. It ribbons along the lakeshore for 4.5 mostly gentle miles from Vikingsholm Castle (add a mile for the downhill walk to the castle from Hwy 89) in Emerald Bay State Park, then leads past small coves perfect for taking a cooling dip, and treats you to great views along the way. Add an extra mile to loop around and visit the restored historic lighthouse, a square wood-enclosed beacon (that looks a lot like an outhouse) constructed by the Coast Guard in 1916. Poised above 6800ft, it’s the USA’s highest-elevation lighthouse. Mist Fall Hike This very enjoyable 8-mile, round-trip walk along the riverside, up a natural granite staircase and finishing at the falls, which (when the wind is right) blows refreshing water droplets at hikers on arrival, highlights the beauty of Kings Canyon. The first 2 miles are fairly exposed, so start early to avoid the midday heat on the 700ft ascent. Continuing past Mist Falls, the trail eventually connects with the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail to form the 42-mile Rae Lakes Loop, the most popular long-distance hike in Kings Canyon National Park (a wilderness permit is required). The Coastal Trail in San Francisco is a beautiful 4-mile hike © Chris LaBasco / Getty Images / iStockphoto Coastal Trail Hit your stride on this 10.5-mile stretch, starting at Fort Funston, crossing 4 miles of sandy Ocean Beach and wrapping around the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. Casual strollers can pick up the restored trail near Sutro Baths and head around the Lands End bluffs for end-of-the-world views and glimpses of shipwrecks at low tide. At Lincoln Park, duck into the Legion of Honor or descend the gloriously tiled Lincoln Park Steps (near 32nd Ave). High Sierra Trail A contender for the best trail in Sequoia National Park – it's definitely on many world's best hike lists – the High Sierra trail begins at Crescent Meadow and continues for 49 miles. From 6700ft it climbs to an altitude of 10,700ft, crossing ridges, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and offering the most jaw-dropping mountain and valley views. It also connects to junctions for the famous John Muir Trail. If you can only make one stop in Tuolumne, visit Cathedral Lake © AdonisVillanueva / Getty Images Cathedral Lakes If you can only manage one hike in Tuolumne, this should probably be it. Cathedral Lake (9588ft), the lower of the two Cathedral Lakes, sits within a mind-blowing glacial cirque, a perfect amphitheater of granite capped by the iconic spire of nearby Cathedral Peak (10,911ft). From the lake’s southwestern side, the granite drops steeply away, affording views as far as Tenaya Lake, whose blue waters shimmer in the distance. Parking for the Cathedral Lake Trailhead is along the shoulder of Tioga Rd. Due to the popularity of this hike, parking spaces fill up fast, so arrive early or take the free shuttle. Santa Monica Mountains A haven for hikers, trekkers and mountain bikers, the northwestern-most stretch of the Santa Monica Mountains is where nature gets bigger and wilder, with jaw-dropping red-rock canyons, and granite outcrops with sublime sea views. The best trails are in Pacific Palisades, Topanga and Malibu. The Backbone Trail is the longest trail in the range, linking – and accessible from – every state park. It’s 67 miles all told, running from Will Rogers to Point Mugu State Park, and can be completed in a few days. Take in all the coastal views at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve © Debbie Allen Powell / Getty Images Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Walkers and hikers explore eight miles of hillside sandy trails in a wilderness oasis of 2000 acres. Choose from routes of varying difficulties in this well-trodden coastal state park in La Jolla. The 0.7-mile Guy Fleming Trail (currently closed due to COVID-19) has panoramic sea views and paths through wildflowers, ferns and cacti. Meanwhile, the 1.4-mile Razor Point Trail (currently closed due to COVID-19) offers a good whale-spotting lookout during winter months. Flora and fauna is abundant in this protected area. During quieter times, with fewer stomping feet, quiet walkers may spot raccoons, rabbits, bobcats, skunks and foxes among plenty of other types of wildlife. You'll have to pay for parking. Tahquitz Canyon Considered historic and sacred by the Agua Caliente people, this gorgeous canyon, located in the Greater Palm Springs, can be explored via a fairly steep and rocky 1.8-mile (round-trip) hike culminating at a 60ft waterfall. An interpretive trail guide that's available at the visitor center points out rock art, viewpoints and native plant life. The center also has natural- and cultural-history exhibits and screenings of The Legend of Tahquitz video about an evil Cahuilla shaman. Bring a picnic, water and be sure to wear sturdy footwear. If you don't want to head out on your own, join a ranger-led 2½-hour hike departing four times daily (once daily July to September) from the visitor center. Don't let the name fool you, the Boy Scout Trail is a tough 8-mile one-way route © NatalieJean / Shutterstock Boy Scout Trail For an immersion into Joshua Tree flora and topography, embark on this tough 8-mile one-way trail cutting through canyons, washes and mountains along the western edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. Most hikers prefer to launch from Park Blvd near the Quail Springs picnic area and head north to Indian Cove. Arrange for pick-up at the other end or plan on camping overnight. Part of the trail is unmarked and hard to follow. Rings Loop Trail This fun 1.5-mile trail delivers close-ups of the Swiss-cheese-like cliffs of the Hole-in-the-Wall area at the Mojave National Preserve. Starting at the south end of the parking lot, it passes petroglyphs before entering an increasingly narrow canyon that you have to scramble out of using metal rings. You'll emerge at a picnic area and follow a paved road back to the parking lot. For a shorter experience (0.5 miles), use the rings to descend straight into the canyon and climb back out the same way. This piece orginally appeared on our sister site, Lonely Planet.

    Inspiration

    Over 500 miles of new bike trails are now open to cyclists in the US

    Cycling has soared in popularity during the pandemic, prompting cities and towns to reconsider their streets. In California and Wisconsin, officials and local cycling communities have worked with the USBRS to utilize several off-road trails to connect Milwaukee to the Mississippi River at Bluff Siding, and linked Lake Tahoe with an existing bike path in Nevada to create a seamless route to the San Francisco Bay Area. The designation of these new routes will give cyclists more than 500 miles of safe, signed paths and expands the reach of USBRS to 29 states in total. In California, the 233-mile USBR 50 path begins in South Lake Tahoe at the Nevada border. Cyclists will climb over mountain passes, following the Mormon Emigrant Trail before rolling through the scenic Sierra Nevada on the El Dorado Trail, the paved route in the state's historic Gold Rush country. From there, they'll enjoy over 30 miles of car-free cycling from Folsom to Sacramento, before traveling to Lagoon Valley Park and into San Francisco Bay. California's new bike route will start south of Lake Tahoe ©MariuszBlach/Getty ImagesNot only does the new California bike path provide scenic recreational routes for cyclists, it also connects two of the largest communities in the El Dorado and Sacramento counties. "Long term, I hope we can improve USBR 50 to serve not only visitors to the county, but local residents cycling for recreation, biking to work, and running errands by bike," said Mike Bean, Friends of El Dorado Trail board member, who helped designate the new route. In Wisconsin, cyclists will pass 269 miles of forests, vibrant urban areas and cut through the steep, rugged landscape of the Driftless Region. "Establishing this route has been years in the making and it’s a great accomplishment for the state," Craig Thompson, Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) secretary-designee, said in a statement. "More than 70 communities in eleven counties worked together to create this great transportation corridor that will be enjoyed by local, regional and national bicyclists." The USBRS boasts 14,598 miles of bike routes throughout the country, and connects cyclists to picturesque pathways in over 100 National Park sites, including Mammoth Cave National Park and Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. At least 40 states are currently developing more routes and once complete, it will be the largest bike network in the world, providing cyclists of all ages and abilities a safe passage through the country. If you want to hit the open road on two wheels this fall, you can access digital maps for all designated US Bicycle Routes for free here from the Adventure Cycling website, a nonprofit organization that provides national coordination for the USBRS.

    Inspiration

    5 Ski Resorts Under an Hour from Major Airports

    That first moment standing atop a mountain, goggles clear and skis waxed, can be the ultimate winter bliss. But there’s a whole lot of transportation leading up to that snowy perch. Not to mention travel pitfalls like long drives in rough weather, missed air connections, and baggage claim snafus. Luckily, several of the country’s best summits aren’t far from major runways, where you can find yourself schussing from plane to slope in no time. Check out these prime ski resorts, all within an hour’s drive from well-served international and regional airports. 1. Solitude Mountain Resort, Utah From Salt Lake International Airport (SLC), skiers and boarders will love the bevy of world-class mountains all within a tight 60. (They don’t call this town “Ski City” for nothing!) Even better, SLC is a major hub for Delta Airlines, and serves nearly a dozen more carriers big and small – including United, Southwest, Alaska, jetBlue, Frontier, KLM, American, and other airlines. You don’t have to ski to recognize some of the area’s famous winter destinations, like Park City, Deer Valley, Alta, and Snowbird. But head to Big Cottonwood Canyon to check out Solitude Mountain Resort, home to eight chairlifts, 80 runs, three bowls, and 500 annual inches of snow. Historic Solitude has been going strong since 1957, and now encompasses 1,200 acres; condos and townhomes; plus a Bavarian ski-in/ski-out lodge with heated outdoor pool and hot tub, spa, and easy access to shops, bars, and restaurants. Don’t miss the special dining experience of trekking via snowshoe to The Yurt, where chefs serve a four-course dinner inside a Mongolian yurt in the forest. 2. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Fly into Nevada’s Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), drive southwest about 55 minutes into California, and find yourself at one of America’s largest ski resorts. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is home to 42 total lifts, and 270 trails across 6000 acres – plus a Scenic Aerial Tram that climbs 2000ft high to an altitude of 8200ft, yielding magnificent mountain and Lake-Tahoe panoramas. Known for its lengthy ski and snowboard season and daily sunshine, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows earned fame when it served as the host site of the entire 1960 Winter Olympics. 3. Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont Vermont may be small, but Burlington International Airport (BTV) stays busy year-round, thanks to direct flights from about a dozen cities on a variety of airlines. From there, access to slopes around Mount Mansfield is a cool 55 minutes, either to Smugglers’ Notch, or luxurious Stowe Mountain Resort. Stowe stands out for its 11 lifts and a sightseeing gondola, which take riders up to Vermont’s highest peak (Mt. Mansfield) and sister mountain Spruce Peak. The base lodge anchors Stowe’s New England–village vibes, complete with spa, performing arts hall, ice skating, and an indoor rock-climbing center. 4. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming The only airport within a national park, Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is just 21 miles/35 minutes from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And what spectacular site for each, boasting views of the Teton Mountains in the south end of Yellowstone National Park. Skiers, boarders, and other winter-sports fanatics may find a bit of frosty heaven here. There are 17 lifts and 130 runs over 2500 skiable acres and 3000 backcountry acres; plus loads of other sports and leisure activities on the slopes and in posh downtown Jackson Hole. Easy access comes year-round, with directs on several airlines from a dozen major cities into its regional airport. 5. Aspen Snowmass, Colorado So you want a quick ride from the airport to the slopes? Central Colorado’s Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) may have them all beat with a speedy seven-mile, 15-minute drive to Colorado’s Snowmass Village. True, Apsen/Pitkin is a smaller regional airport, but nonstop service from major US hubs make it an easy port even in winter. (You also can opt for the Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE), about 80 minutes north, which also serves Vail and Beaver Creek mountain villages). Among the more vibrant Rocky Mountain resorts, Aspen Snowmass is a sprawling resort that draws skier, boarders, and other snow lovers from around the world. From its prime location in Snowmass Village, the resort offers 40 lifts and more than 330 runs over 5,300 acres, plus access to a town rich with events, dining, and nightlife.

    Inspiration

    Gaming in Nevada: Time to Think Reno

    What comes to mind when you think about a casino vacation? If it's 3,000-room megaresorts, celebrity chefs, and pirate battles, then you may have been among the almost 34 million people who visited Las Vegas last year. Thirty-four million! Now for some, that's just dandy - the bigger the party, the better. But lately, even dyed-in-the-felt Vegasphiles have been grousing that their beloved casino haunt is being overrun now that the last of the several new 4,000-room hotels has opened. Time to think about an alternative? Time to think Reno. Think Reno and you won't conjure images of fire spewing and waters spouting from man-made volcanoes and lakes. You'll first entertain more modest associations, such as three-digit room counts, employees who smile, and a great oyster bar at John Ascuaga's Nugget in the neighboring city of Sparks. But these are just warm-ups to the Reno area's main event, which is anything but man-made: an outdoor wonderland of golf, skiing, and sightseeing, compliments of two dozen links, a score of downhill resorts, snow-capped mountains, and an alpine lake without peer. Dubbed the "Biggest Little City in the World" in 1927, Reno is no Las Vegas, but it doesn't try to be. The city has developed its own style based on its most marketable attributes: outdoor beauty, recreational opportunities, a come-as-you-are casualness, and affordability. And is it ever affordable! The area's large number of casinos ensures a high level of competition, which sets Reno's bargain quotient at a level second only to its big-sister city to the south. Two ways to win The key to enjoying Reno is knowing what to expect. If you're used to Las Vegas, you have to be prepared for the differences. For example, Las Vegas boasts 18 of the world's largest hotels. Reno has none; its largest hotel is the 2,000-room Hilton (not even in the Las Vegas top 20). Remember that lofty 34-million visitor count? Reno turnstiles admitted a mere 5.1 million last year. In almost every manner, the pace is slower and the glitz factor is lower. As one wise soul put it: If Las Vegas is a sparkling diamond, then Reno is a partially polished peridot. Still reading? Then you're a candidate to honestly love Reno. There are two ways. The first and most reliable is to use the city as a home base for day trips. Reno is the perfect gateway, not only to the Sierra Nevadas, Lake Tahoe, and the ski areas, but for a sightseeing excursion to Virginia City, or even an extended trip to San Francisco or Northern California's wine country, both about 200 miles away. The second way is to simply go to Reno for Reno, taking advantage of the best that the 30 or so casinos in the area have to offer, perhaps coordinating a visit with one of the city's nonstop summer events. Whatever your base strategy, planning in advance will pay big dividends. The first move is to obtain the "Reno, Sparks, Lake Tahoe Visitor Planner." No casino locale has an informational guide in the same league as this one. And it's free. A toll-free call to 800/FOR-RENO will secure it in quick order. The planner provides extensive hotel descriptions and vitals, RV parks, special-events listings, suggested sightseeing itineraries, maps (both city and area), a list of travel wholesalers you can query for package-rate savings, and some stunning photos that will fire you up about your trip. You can also log on to the tourism authority's very good Web site at www.renolaketahoe.com. High-end rooms at bargain rates Upscale or downtown-and-dirty? Unless you want to go the ultra-bargain route, the best combo of price and quality is captured by going for the gusto. The good news is that upscale prices in Reno still qualify as bargain-rate lodging. In a random (mid-summer) check of hotel rates for this article, the most expensive we could come up with for standard rooms was $119 on the weekend and $65 on a weekday, both at Harrah's (800/ HARRAHS). Those were the highest! Weekday/weekend rates of $49/$79 at John Ascuaga's Nugget (800/648-1177), $49/$89 at the Reno Hilton (800/648-5080), $49/$99 at the Atlantis (800/723-6500), and $59/$109 at the Peppermill (800/648-6992) qualify as downright steals. Now is as good a time as any to mention that these latter four hotel-casinos are the cream of the Reno crop. All are perimeter joints, two situated to the east (Nugget and Hilton) and two to the south (Atlantis and Peppermill) of downtown, which contains the primary casino concentration. Downtown Reno has had a tough go of it in the recent past, during which many of the older Reno casinos have closed for good. Gone are the Mapes, Nevada Club, Riverside, Virginian, Riverboat, Holiday, even the famous Harolds Club. Using its huge Bowling Stadium as an anchor, downtown hopes to mount a comeback with the dozen casinos that remain, but for now, there's not much to recommend it. Of course, the financial inducement to take the downtown-and-dirty route can be mighty. Our survey found weekday rates of $49 at the Eldorado (800/648-5966), $32 at both the Sundowner (800/648-5490) and Pioneer (800/879-8879), and $24 at Fitzgeralds (800/535-LUCK). If you're using Reno as a home base, there's a great case to be made for spending $24 a night simply to store your gear and crash at the end of the day. Truth is, Reno is an easy town to rate-shop, so all you really need is a general idea of what's where to evaluate the prices you encounter. The core of downtown contains Harrah's, the Flamingo Hilton (800/648-4882), Cal-Neva Virginian (877/777-7303), Fitzgeralds, Circus Circus (800/648-5010), Eldorado, and the relatively new Silver Legacy (800/687-7733). The latter three are linked via elaborate skywalks housing restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and shops; together they constitute the focal point of downtown. Located away from the core, on the downtown's outskirts are the Comstock (800/266-7862), Pioneer, Ramada (888/RENO-777), Sands Regency (800/648-3553), and Sundowner. You'll find lower prices here because the locations are less convenient. To the east and south perimeter casinos already mentioned, add the Silver Club (800/905-7774) and Western Village (800/648-1170) in Sparks, and way out some ten miles west of town, the burgeoning Boomtown (800/648-3790), and you've got the whole roster of Reno-Sparks hotels. Upscale meals, moderately priced Filling up a dining card in Reno isn't difficult. Excluding the rock-bottom plays detailed later (see our section called "Bargains on Parade," further along in the article), there are two must-dos. The first is John's Oyster Bar at John Ascuaga's Nugget. Open since 1959 and operating out of the same location since 1979, John's recipe for awesome seafood soups hasn't changed in four decades. The restaurant's inspiration was New York City's Oyster Bar at Grand Central, but try getting an oyster pan roast, overflowing with the little critters, at Grand Central for $9.95! Chowders, cocktails, Louies, and oysters on the half-shell are served with half-loaves of fresh bread and an update of the day's events compliments of the in-house-produced Today's Noon News. Dine early and there's a good chance you'll see John himself sampling the wares; on rare occasions, you might even spot him doing a bit of cooking. Must-do number two is a trip to Louis' Basque Corner. Northern Nevada has a rich Basque heritage, and the area is peppered with restaurants serving the region's unique cuisine-lamb, tongue, oxtails, rabbit, paella - at long tables in the traditional all-you-can-eat family style. But Louis' is the top choice: It has the formula down, the price is right (about $16 for dinner), and it's only a two-block stroll from the center of town. Reno's buffet scene has taken a little longer than Las Vegas's to catch fire, but the creativity gap is beginning to close. The best spreads in town, ordered by price (from $10 to $15 for dinner), are at the Peppermill, Ascuaga's Nugget, Atlantis, and Eldorado. Also recommended is the incredible Baldini's (800/845-7911) value buffet discussed below, and the famous steak buffet at the Silver Club. Though pedestrian in general, the Silver Club's $6.99-er comes with all the sirloin steak you can stomach. And these aren't skinny shoe-leather jobs, mind you, but slabs thick enough to get them cooked, according to the grill chef, "exactly the way you want, if you're lucky." Moving up to the low high-end, there are the good value-priced steak houses, such as those at the Sundowner, Cal-Neva Virginian, and Western Village. Many of these offer neat little early-bird menus that chop an already puny tab in half. Recommended mid-rangers include La Strada (Italian) at the Eldorado, Art Gecko (Southwestern) at Circus Circus, Orozko (Mediterranean) at Ascuaga's Nugget, and the venerable Steakhouse Grill, also at the Nugget, where a toteboard tells you that 3,186,576 steaks (whoops, make that 3,186,577..., 578..., 579) have been served since 1956. Two gorgeous Italian restaurants, MonteVigna at Atlantis and Romanza at the Peppermill, take it to the next level. And for the biggest dent Reno can levy on your wallet, head to the Peppermill's highly rated White Orchid. But a scanty club scene Whereas Reno holds its own in the food department, its entertainment situation is significantly less developed. This is not a place to find the latest in touring musicals, high-tech production shows, top-flight impressionists, or cutting-edge magic. In fact, there's barely even a star presence. Only the Celebrity Showroom at Ascuaga's Nugget maintains a regular schedule of headliners, even if the likes of Robert Goulet, David Brenner, and Tony Orlando seem about ten years removed from their showroom heydays. Reno showrooms are "intimate," and tend to house small-scale production shows that seem to mark time between the appearances of the occasional second-tier headliner. In a pinch, you can always count on the tried-and-true comedy clubs, of which there's usually more than one to choose from on any given night. Taking up some of the slack is a vigorous nightclub and bar scene. Finally, if you really want the Vegas-style show up north, you can take the ride to Lake Tahoe, where the stars still come out. Bargains on parade One universal trait of bona fide casino destinations is the availability of the super bargain. Since the goal is to hook you on the fishline of one of the negative-expectation casino games, it's necessary to throw out some bait. Reno's got the tactic down cold. With only about a third of the Las Vegas casino count, Reno deals aren't as numerous, but in a head-to-head comparison of each city's best, David may actually beat Goliath. The first place that comes to mind when discussing Reno food specials is the Cal-Neva Virginian, where the granddad of local breakfasts, the 99[cent] bacon-and-eggs special, is still available daily from 10 p.m. till 8 a.m. in the Top Deck restaurant. This breakfast is such a standard in Reno that it constituted legitimate big news when 24-hour availability was rescinded earlier this year, replaced during prime time with a $1.74 version ("with more bacon"). You can also treat yourself to a big hot dog and bottle of Heineken at the Gridiron Grill for $1.50; Cal-Neva claims to be the largest seller of one-bottle-at-a-time Heineken in the entire country. The Cal-Neva's trump card, though, is another Top Deck special that even Las Vegas couldn't sustain: A complete steak dinner for $1.99, available from 10 p.m. till 6 a.m. It's an eight-ounce sirloin steak, rolls, vegetable, choice of potato (including baked), and one trip to the salad bar. You'll want to save the check, displaying a tab of $2.13 after tax, as a souvenir. Stiff competition comes from Baldini's, a quirky locals' casino located halfway between downtown and Sparks, where Pepsi is so prevalent (a la Cal-Neva's Heineken) that it all but doubles as currency. Baldini's has 49[cents] hot dogs, 89[cent] burgers, a dozen chicken wings for $2, and a whole rotisserie chicken for $4.99. But its claim to fame is a buffet with a taco bar, a baked potato bar, and a working Mongolian grill, where cooks stir-fry beef, chicken, and pork with a vegetable mix of your choosing. A few other casino buffets have Mongolian grills, but not with prices like $3.99 for breakfast, $5.99 for lunch, and $6.99 for dinner. It gets better. Kids are half-price, you get a card good for a 25 percent discount on unlimited visits just for signing up for the slot club, and you can get half off the price of your first buffet with a coupon from Baldini's "Super Bonus" funbook (you'll need out-of-state ID and a voucher available at the tourist center in the Bowling Stadium). The diner at the back of the little Nugget slot joint in downtown Reno hasn't changed in nearly 45 years. Eighteen red stools face the counter and another eighteen face the back wall. Try the "Awful Awful" burger for $3.50, or the chef's special dinner, which changes daily, for $3.95. The Sundowner's $1.99 plate of spaghetti with garlic toast, available 24 hours a day, is another that's been around forever. Back to Plan A It would take another article of this size to thoroughly explore all the possibilities in the Reno-as-gateway scenario. The key trip you should take, if only to look around, is the 40-mile jaunt (plus another 20 to the casinos on the south shore) to Lake Tahoe. The payoff for the steep climb up and over majestic Mt. Rose is a view of the lake suitable for memory framing. This sight is surpassed only by the breathtaking visage of Tahoe's Emerald Bay. To call the Lake Tahoe recreational area an outdoorsman's paradise doesn't begin to do it justice. Golf in summer and skiing in winter? Duh! Try 10 golf courses and 13 alpine ski resorts, a number of them world-class. Now add bicycling, hiking, swimming, speedboating, sailing, rafting, waterskiing, windsurfing, jet skiing, scuba diving, sport fishing, bungee jumping, skydiving, horseback-riding, tennis, bowling, ballooning, paragliding, rock-climbing, cross-country skiing, sleigh riding, snowboarding, ice skating, and snowmobiling. Do one, do all - possibly in overlapping seasons. If you expend a little effort, you can find all sorts of ways to package these activities for big cost savings. Last May, for example, Fitzgeralds advertised $49 and $59 ski packages to Mt. Rose, Alpine Meadows, or Squaw Valley that included a room at the casino, all-day lift ticket, and transportation. The tourism authority produces several planning guides to specific activities. You can track them down via the main planner and Web site referenced earlier. Advantage play "Advantage play" is a gambling term that describes any method for getting an edge at a casino game. The concept can also be applied to a trip to a casino destination. Advantage play for Reno begins the moment you book your flight. Try to get a seat on the left side of the airplane. Depending on your approach path, you'll be rewarded with a great aerial view of either Lake Tahoe or the city. And don't run straight for a cab at the airport. Unlike Las Vegas, almost all the Reno casinos provide airport shuttles (plus, Tahoe Express shuttles travelers from the airport to Lake Tahoe's south shore about a dozen times a day). Right off the bat, pick up one of the freebie magazines (e.g. Best Bets or Fun & Gaming) and page through it immediately. They're great sources for entertainment leads and discount coupons for shows and meals. Also, visit the tourist center at the Bowling Stadium for more of the same. If you come with kids, the best arcades are at Atlantis, Reno Hilton, and Boomtown. The best book to read before you come is the Nevada Handbook by Deke Castleman. The best place to get a book once you get there is Ron Teston's Gambler's Book Store at First and Virginia. The biggest special events are the Reno Rodeo in June, Hot August Nights in August, and the Best-in-the-West Rib Cook-off, Great Reno Balloon Race, and the National Championship Air Races in September. For a cool diversion, have lunch, dinner, or a drink at the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant, which is named after the first slot machine, developed in 1898 by Charles Fey. The bar's owned by two of Fey's grandsons, and on display are some of the inventor's machines, including his Liberty Belle. And finally, whatever you do, check out the great bathrooms next to the Romanza restaurant at the Peppermill. Trust us.

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