Nothing beats a cheap thrill, and the Lake Tahoe region is loaded with them. Your most affordable adventures will inevitably involve getting outside and taking in the area's natural wonders. In spring, summer, and fall, take a drive around the lake, hike to a scenic spot for a picnic lunch, or soak up some rays on the beach. In winter, inexpensive outdoor fun can be had with just a sled and a slope. Here are some other offbeat things to do in and around Tahoe:
Three miles north of South Lake Tahoe off Hwy. 89 is the Forest Service Visitor Center's Stream Profile Chamber (tel. 530/573-2674), a series of submerged windows that allow an up-close-and-personal study of one of nature's stranger rites: the annual spawning display of red kokanee salmon as they battle their way up Taylor Creek to lay their eggs. Although the salmon run takes place during October, the chamber and visitor center are open from Memorial Day to the end of October. When the salmon aren't stealing the show, you can watch rainbow trout, crayfish, and minnows in their natural habitat through the viewing windows.
On the north side of the lake is the popular Fanny Bridge (at the intersection of Calif. 28 and Calif. 89). While everybody's at the railing admiring the huge rainbow trout that congregate below the bridge, take a step back and you'll see how the bridge got its name. Rent a bike for about $8 an hour at the Olympic Bike Shop, 620 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City (tel. 530/581-2500), and ride along the beautiful Truckee River Bike Trail. Helmets are included in the price, and for another small fee you can rent a trailer or a tandem attachment to include your kids.
For the ultimate cheap sunset thrill, ride the Squaw Valley cable car (tel. 800/545-4350; www.squaw.com). It's only $12 after 5pm (that's half the regular price). Then hang out at the High Camp, a miniresort near the top of the mountain that has an ice-skating rink, five restaurants, hiking trails, and gorgeous views of the lake basin. The 8-minute ride also offers incredible vistas as you rise 2,000 feet above the valley floor.
Gondola to Heaven
If you want a preview of heaven, take a ride on the Heavenly Mountain Resort gondola (www.skiheavenly.com). State-of-the-art "cars" whisk you from South Shore's downtown area up the mountain to Heavenly Resort's 14,000-square-foot observation deck, complete with telescopes and a cafe. The 2 1/2-mile ride rises to an elevation of 9,123 feet, offering passengers shore-to-shore views of Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley to the east, and Desolation Wilderness to the west (all best seen at sunset). The gondola is a half-block west of Stateline, an easy walk from downtown. It's open in the summer 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm; winter hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm; Saturday, Sunday, and holidays from 8:30am to 4pm. Tickets are $32 for adults, $26 for teens ages 13 to 18, $20 for children ages 5 to 12, and free for kids 4 and under.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.