Mount Rose Highway to Lake Tahoe at Sunset


After completing my day-long drive on Route 50 across Nevada, I was almost ready to settle down in Reno for the night.  But, I couldn’t quite bring myself to check into my overpriced casino hotel, and call it an end to the day, with an hour or more of daylight still shining.  I thought about where I could go for a good sunset photo opportunity, and as I looked at the map, I realized I had only one choice: I’d have to try to make it to the shore of Lake Tahoe before the day ended.

The fastest way to get to Lake Tahoe out of Reno is to take the Mount Rose Scenic Highway.  This road was built for one purpose: to gain altitude in a hurry.  The Mount Rose Highway begins at the end of the US 395 freeway, and immediately starts gaining elevation.  For a while, it feels like you’re driving up a huge ramp, but eventually, the highway passes through the foothills, then clings to the mountainside.  There are plenty of narrow twists and turns, but the road eventually tops out at 8,911 feet, just below the cluster of radio towers.  Because time was of the essence, I didn’t stop to take any pictures until I was already heading downhill towards the lake.  In the picture above, you can (barely) see the towers atop Mount Rose.

During the entire journey, I continuously watched the clock and calculated the miles, hoping I wouldn’t be too late for the sunset.  From my 2007 visit to Lake Tahoe, I recalled a good scenic spot on the eastern shore of the lake, in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.   Mount Rose Highway ended at the top of the loop around Lake Tahoe, at Incline Village.  I needed to drive a few miles south on the Nevada side to reach the spot which, I hoped, would be perfect.

About five miles from the intersection of Mount Rose Highway and NV Route 28 (the Lake Tahoe Loop Road), I spotted a parking area at the side of the road.  There are several pullouts, but this one is more official, with a pavilion and at least a dozen parking spots.  From there, I climbed down the hillside towards the lake.  In this area, the shore is lined with huge boulders…

… and the skeletons of giant trees, smoothed by the elements.

I wandered around (quickly) as the sun prepared to set, hopping from boulder to boulder in order to find the best spot for a picture.  The possibilities here (and just about anywhere around Lake Tahoe) are endless.

Once the sun was gone, I had to give up for the day.  I reluctantly returned to the car for the drive back over the mountains to Reno.

As I climbed out of the Tahoe basin, I found one more place to admire the view of the lake.  Directly below is the community of Incline Village.  The finger of land stretching out into the lake is on the California/Nevada state line.

There’s one more place you should stop (even though, technically, you’re not allowed) on the drive back to Reno.  Watch for a slow traffic turnout in an exposed spot on the mountainside.  Here, you’ll get a great view of the valley, and the sprawl of Sparks and Reno in the distance.

In case you’re wondering, I stayed at the Peppermill Resort Casino, that’s just south of Reno’s “Strip” (Virginia Street).  The room was nice, and the casino was spectacular (although I didn’t gamble).  But, the Peppermill, and many other casinos in Nevada play a trick on visitors that you won’t know about until you check in.  They tack on an extra fee (in the neighborhood of $7.50 per room, per night) that’s not included in your reservation quote — or in my case, my winning prepaid online bid.  When I tried to get the fee waived, the desk clerk refused.  Worse yet, he kept changing the story about why the fee was charged.  First it was a “resort fee”, then an “energy fee”.  Then he told me it went to make improvements in the hotel, such as free long distance (which nobody uses anymore anyhow, thanks to cell phones).  There’s not much you can do about these dishonest fees in Nevada (which are sometimes double what the Peppermill charged).  So, just be aware that the great deal you booked, might end up being more expensive.  I decided to boycott the Peppermill’s casino and restaurants (which were expensive).  Instead, I drove into downtown — and ended up finding a $5 prime rib dinner!

(It’s worth noting, since I wrote this a few years ago, these resort fees have become much more common.  Now, it’s not unusual for a Vegas casino to charge you an extra fee of $30 or more per night.  Hotel bidding websites have gotten better at listing these fees before you buy, but it’s still easy to overlook them, so be careful!

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