Do we need yet another way to experience Lake Tahoe? Yes, absolutely! You may have visited this beautiful area before, skied its slopes, swam in its pristine water, or perhaps you’re planning your first trip here, but have you considered seeing it through a helmet visor on two wheels? Whether you’re a motorcycle rider or are planning to get into the sport, riding a motorcycle around Lake Tahoe is undeniably a once in a lifetime experience and a bucket list item for any serious aficionados.
When to ride the lake?
As an avid motorcyclist and ride leader living in Northern California, I am blessed with an abundance of gorgeous scenery and twisty roads in all directions. In theory, riding in and around the ‘Jewel of the Sierra’ is possible during the months of May through October, depending on weather patterns for that specific year; but for passionate riders, any hiatus in snow or ice is an additional occasion.
While it’s tough to pick a favorite time of year, I prefer late September or early October. I recently visited this past September, and though I was about two weeks early for the gorgeous fall colors, the temperature was a perfect 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the traffic was light due to shoulder season. As always, dress in layers, especially for the chilly evenings.
When leading rides from San Francisco to the Tahoe area, Highway 50 is my go-to route. As you approach the charming town of Placerville, you are rewarded with views of the Sierra Nevada and 60 miles of sweeping turns. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself pulling over several times for photos. And while most visitors don’t give much thought to pavement quality, riders do. Hwy 50 is immaculately paved which I appreciate as an avid track rider.
Around the Lake & Beyond
Time permitting, I recommend riding around the entire lake. If you’re starting in South Lake, fuel up with breakfast at Bert’s Cafe and then head northeast for a tour of the lake. I recommend a clockwise route, as you’re closer to the lake and won’t need to cross traffic when pulling over. From South Lake, hop on CA-89 North, then to Hwy 28 E, and finally, onto US-50 W. Keep in mind you may love these roads so much that you decide to reverse your route the following day to see it from a second perspective.
The lake loop is a nice mix of sweeping turns and straightaways interspersed with sweeping views of the lake(s) and mountains; you’ll appreciate the straight sections when you are distracted by the incredibly blue water. Luckily there are dozens of places to pull over… use them!
Kingsbury Grade (Hwy 207)
Ask any local motorcyclist to describe Highway 207 // Kingsbury Grade Road, and their most common adjective is “fun.” That certainly fits the bill, and any fan of twisty roads will love it. From South Lake Tahoe, head east on Hwy 207 off Hwy 50. Beforehand, I recommend dropping by the Tahoe Visitor Center (169 Highway 50, Stateline), just 1000 feet from the Hwy 207 junction to say hello and get great local advice.
Kingsbury Grade is a mere 11 miles long from South Lake Tahoe to Mottsville, an easy addition to any Tahoe trip. Returning to South Lake on the same road is a must as it’s a steep uphill climb; I prefer uphill riding since you’re in greater control of the bike, and can use gravity for braking. This one is a hoot.
CA Route 88
If you’re heading back to the bay area and are looking for fewer cars, even twistier roads, and beautiful scenery, I recommend Route 88, also known as Carson Pass Highway. This route is steeped in history – hundreds of thousands of people passed this area by wagon trains beginning in 1848, and later via the Transcontinental Railroad. With an elevation of 8,652 feet, it offers breathtaking views of the High Sierra, the American River, and Kirkwood Ski Resort.
Scenic Stops + Photos
We, motorcyclists, enjoy an occasional photo shoot for ourselves and our iron horses. When spotting an area where I can frame my moto with gorgeous scenery… I can’t help but pull over. I love sharing these images with friends and family and reflecting on incredible memories.
Both on and off the bike, the Tahoe area has no shortage of scenic stops and overlooks. Here are just a few:
- Emerald Bay – southwest Lake Tahoe, off Hwy 89
- Fallen Leaf Lake – just 6 miles southwest of South Lake, via Hwy 89
- Zephyr Cove – 6 miles north of South Lake, off Hwy 50
- Cave Rock – 9 miles north of South Lake, off Hwy 50
- Sand Harbor – northwest Lake Tahoe, off Hwy 28
- Kings Beach – North Lake Tahoe, off Hwy 28
- Donner Lake – 21 miles north of Lake Tahoe, off I-80
As any rider will tell you, there is nothing quite like the pure joy of riding a motorcycle in an awe-inspiring environment. When you add jaw-dropping views, alpine light, crisp mountain air, and a nice mix of sweeping and twisty roads… riding in and around Lake Tahoe is hard to beat…and it never gets old.