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Lake Tahoe: Our Summer Grueninger Getaway

August 31, 2020

For those who haven’t been to Lake Tahoe, the question shouldn’t be if you should go, the question should be “when?” 

This trip was my first return to Lake Tahoe in quite some time, and it’s everything I remembered and more. Each casino we travel to through the year has a few unique experiences that make it stand apart from the rest, but something about the entire Lake Tahoe experience makes it a getaway that I have circled on my calendar as far in advance as possible. Regardless of what you imagine an ideal trip is, Lake Tahoe offers all of it and then some, and leaves you planning for your next trip there before check-in for your return flight home.

Harrah’s Lake Tahoe is a hotel and casino in Stateline, Nevada. Originally opened with Harveys Lake Tahoe in the 1950s, Harrah’s offers more than 500 rooms and over 65,000 sq. ft. of gaming space. Harrah’s has gone through renovations in recent years, but still has plenty of charm that makes it feel like a classic casino.

Friday

We arrived in the evening in Reno, and after picking up our bags, were on our way with our group of approximately 80 on charter buses provided by Caesars. After an hour drive from the Reno airport to Lake Tahoe, we were promptly met by our NCM hosts (Angie, Christian, and Jerel) who helped us get checked in, and on our way to our rooms. After a quick temperature check, we picked up our bags and were on our way. This was Harrah’s Lake Tahoe first big group to arrive since shutting down and the hosting team got us checked in quickly and flawlessly. Our host team went above and beyond to make the process simple and easy, and we couldn’t appreciate them more. For approximately 80 of us arriving at once, I think we were checked in in under 20 minutes. Impressive!

Saturday

Julia and I woke up early to get a coffee and get to know the area a bit more.Upon walking out of the elevator, we turned a corner and saw a woman hit a $10,000 jackpot. I’ve seen a lot on these trips, but seeing a jackpot this large before I got my coffee was definitely a first. I was in Tahoe quite a long time ago (well under legal gambling age) and I’d only remembered bits and pieces. This was Julia’s first time there, so it was a walk well spent. We walked from the casino down to the lake and cut back up and into the Heavenly Ski lift area for light breakfast before heading back to Harrah’s.

Saturday morning we did buy lift tickets to ride the gondola and walk the Heavenly trails (appropriately named). There’s two stops you can exit from, the first one being an overlook that makes for an excellent photo opportunity, and the second one being a much larger event and activity space that I expect is much more used and lively during the wintertime (this one has access to ski and toboggan runs, etc). Both stops had vendors you could pick up a snack and a drink from, and were very accessible for those looking to see a few great views without having to walk too terribly far.

Quite the view!

After riding the gondola back to town, we got ready to take a group out on the Tahoe Star. For those unfamiliar, the Tahoe Star was previously owned by Bill Harrah himself. The tour takes guests from a nearby marina to Emerald Bay. The tour provided a meal and an open bar (!) and our captain told us the history of the Vikingsholm Castle, a stunning 38-room mansion built in 1929, inspired by Scandinavian architecture. After a few laughs and a few more drinks, we were on our way back to Harrah’s to get ready for the evening.

Julia presenting the Tahoe Star

We met my parents at Friday’s Station, Harrah’s steak house located on the top-floor of the hotel tower. Friday’s Station boasts a 1,000+bottle wine cellar, with panoramic views of the lake viewable from all tables. We had a few great appetizers including the oysters and shrimp cocktail, and for an entrée, I’d recommend the filet, with a glass of cab chosen by your server.  

Dinner recommendation: Friday's Station is a must! Incredible views, great meals, and paired wine. Can't ask for much more than that.

Look at this young couple!

Saturday night we hit the casino floor, met up with a few friends, and played some slots for an hour or so before calling it a night. I’d describe Harrah’s as being a “classic” casino because of the low ceiling, choice of carpet over tile, and a general styling that’s an ode to the past rather than trying to predict what’s going to be trendy in the future.

I don’t think it feels tired or old, and personally, if I’m going to a casino, I want it to feel more like a movie and less like a nightclub. If you’re a fan of the Flamingo or Harrah’s in Las Vegas, I think you’ll really enjoy the gaming floor in Lake Tahoe. There’s plenty of options for penny and dollar slot machines, and three separate bars for video poker. The middle section is devoted to table games, and there’s dedicated High-limits slots and table games sections for those interested.

Sunday

I never quite adjusted to the west coast time change, so I was up and at it around dawn. I spent the early morning taking photos of the property, enjoying my coffee, and listening to a podcast while I explored South Tahoe. I did end up renting one of the electric scooters and had the biggest grin as I cruised through town of all the people who didn’t hit a jackpot. Fun, but dangerous.

Scooter recommendation: Don’t. I’m 27, and barely manage to ride without knocking half my teeth out.

A nice shot from the early morning. Also pictured, fun and dangerous scooters

Once the rest of the team was up and at it, we had a really nice breakfast off-property at a place called Driftwood Café, and jumped in our rental car and headed over to D.L. Bliss for an awesome hike around the state park and on the edge of the Lake. We opted for an intermediate trail, but there’s tons of options of different distances depending on what your flavor is. Julia won the award for Best Hiker of the day and Deb and Gary won the award for Best Sugar Pine Cone Spotters. I self-nominated myself for the Will Get in Better Shape After This Trip Because This Hike Was Harder Than Expected award, and won unanimously.

These pictures hardly do it justice. Tahoe is beautiful

Hiking recommendation: There’s tons of trails in the South Lake Tahoe area. Anything marked as Beginner can be done by people of all ages, and is more than fine to do in tennis shoes. For more adventurous hikers, checkout the Intermediate and Advanced trails for something more challenging. It’s great to get off the property for a bit and immerse yourself in the incredible scenery of the area.

After a long hike and not nearly enough water, we drove a bit more of the lake and headed back to Harrah’s.

We walked over to Harvey’s and had dinner at Hell’s Kitchen, which is styled by the popular TV show, and had a great meal. My personal favorite part of the meal was a variation on a Gin and Tonic, which came with a note/insult from Gordon Ramsay himself rolled into the straw (it said something about me being an “idiot sandwich”).

Monday

Monday morning we woke up early, and took off for a fly fishing tour. My parents have gone fly-fishing on their last two trips to Tahoe, and for two people who I wouldn’t consider as the most outdoors-y people I know, absolutely swear by it. We met our guides, Brendan and Jarrod (of Alpine Fly Fishing), who brought all of the gear we could ever imagine. We drove about 45 minutes southeast of Lake Tahoe to meet them, then went to the Carson River nearby for four hours of fly-fishing.

After a short demonstration, we were off. Based off how the day went for me, I could’ve used a longer demonstration.

Unlike more traditional lakeside fishing, the majority of fly-fishing is dependent on skill (casting technique, watching and understanding the current of the river, and pulling your line in the right direction within .5 seconds from when its bit). The hook is about half the size of an earring hook, and isn’t barbed at the end to make sure people are properly “catch and releasing”. It’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, but the exact opposite.

After casting for about 15 minutes at each spot, we’d move a few yards either up or down the river. We split into groups of two, and within about an hour, Julia caught a fish! I had a bite and saw a fish I had on line before the line broke. It was huge, I promise (I’ll leave it up to you if you want to believe me on that).

Fly-fishing is mesmerizing and I can see how people get lost in it. The cool air coming off the river combined with staring at a calm stream makes for an incredibly relaxing morning. We were off a hillside in northern California and at one point, I looked up and saw a bald eagle in a nest. It was a pretty incredible morning. Our guides were incredibly helpful at giving us help on where to cast, untangling lines, and getting our lines set up. Going with a guide made the experience unforgettable.  

If you have never fly-fished, it makes for a great experience. I’m by no means a grand fisherman myself, but I really did enjoy doing something slightly out of my comfort zone, learning something new, and being in a beautiful part of the state.

Fly-fishing recommendation: Absolutely. Sign up with a guide and don’t think twice about it. I guarantee I’ll be fly-fishing again on the next trip.

Tuesday

Tuesday we left early in the day and caught our flight back to Ft. Wayne. Julia caught a separate flight to Sonoma for a bachelorette party getaway, and I headed back home and went to bed early after a packed 4 days.

Things I didn’t do but will next time:

  • Pool(s) - Harrah’s has an indoor pool, and Harvey’s has an outdoor rooftop pool. Both are worth seeing based off our host’s recommendations
  • Concert - With the current situation, concerts at Harvey’s won’t be happening anytime soon, but it has an outdoor concert theatre that attracts great bands.
  • Rent a bike - There’s tons of great trails near Harrah’s and places to rent bikes. Seeing a city by bike is one of my favorite ways to explore somewhere new
  • Winter activities - I’d love to ski or rent a snowmobile next time I visit. Do I know how to do either of these activities? Absolutely not, but it seems like a lotta fun

A general note on rental cars

After having a car in Lake Tahoe, I’d say if you have any interest of leaving the property, I'd consider it for your next trip. If you go too far from the property, you might be stuck paying heavy taxi/Uber/Lyft charges, and it makes for a much less stressful trip if you have your own transportation. We did have a few of our guests pick up rental cars from the Reno airport, but generally, more guests decided to rent from one of the companies in Lake Tahoe (Hertz, Avis, and Budget all nearby the property). The one downside of renting from Reno is that if you have an early return fly, you'll be responsible for driving from Lake Tahoe to Reno in the early AM, rather than catching the shuttle with the rest of the group. A host or concierge can help if you’re at the property, but we’d suggest setting up reservations for a car well in advance.

Lake Tahoe is a truly incredible experience and somewhere I’veonly managed to scratch the surface of. I’ve tried to write as much as I can about the things we did, saw, and ate, but to tie a bow on it all – I cannot wait to get back there again.

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