It was cold in the trees as we tromped through the snow. I carried a backpack, a sled dangling from one hand and my son stepping carefully down the crusty snow holding onto the other. We stopped at the edge of the trees above the dry basin of the small lake. I dropped the foam sled with slick plastic bottom and sat down on it. My son plopped down in front of me. We both tucked our feet up on the nose of the sled. Then, with a bob and a push, we slipped out into the sun and virgin snow and rushed, laughing and hooting down the hill and out into the clear open basin below the blue sky and Incline Peak.
One of the most beautiful places to play in the snow around Lake Tahoe is Tahoe Meadow, just west of Mt. Rose Summit above Incline Village Nevada. On any given weekend This short stretch of Mt. Rose Highway (US 431) will be lined with cars and trucks and families sledding, sliding and roaring across the snow. Nevada Dept. of Transportation recently posted a congested area speed limit there so it’s much safer, but it’s still a mess of doors swing open into traffic and unloading snowmobiles in clouds of blue smoke. As a lover of the solitude of the backcountry, this place, while beautiful, is completely unacceptable.
Incline Lake, Nevada
We rolled through the mayhem of Tahoe Meadow and started down the hill towards Lake Tahoe. Just out of sight of the meadow is a turnout lined with a high bank of snow and a wall of trees on the north side of the road. The spot is used by backcountry skiers and snowshoers, so there are usually steps cut in the wall for climbing up. Once you’re up, just sled or trundle down the hill to the dry basin of the erstwhile Incline lake.
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The reason the crowds of people don’t go to Incline Lake to play in the snow is that there isn’t much parking and you have to hike to get there. But some of the best places you’ll ever take your kid are at the end of a hike, and this is no exception.
It was a bright sunny saturday and by the time we got up there around 10:45 it was warm and nice in the sun. We threw snowballs to our enthusiastic border collie mutt, made trails of tracks in the snow and hiked up the hill to take runs in the sled. We sat on the sled and had snacks of graham crackers and snow-iced grapes while waiting for some friends to show up.
How to get to Incline Lake
If you’re in the Reno area it’s easy to zip up Mt. Rose Highway, past the zoo of Tahoe Meadow, and park in the turnout, just like we did. From north Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Northstar or Truckee, hear south on HWY 89 or HWY 267 to HWY 28 and head east on HWY 431 (Mt. Rose Highway) just before you get to Incline Village. From south Tahoe, head north on HWY 50, then north on HWY 28 and turn east on HWY 431 just north of Incline Village.
There are two turnouts you can park in to access the lake, a lower and an upper. This link will take you to a placemark at the upper turnout for Incline Lake. Both are about 100 feet above the lake. The lake is hard to see from the turnout, especially if there is a big bank of snow. They are both small. About room enough for 10 cars, the lower has an emergency call box. As a landmark, the broad, steep south face of Incline peak descends into the valley just downhill of incline lake, so make sure you are at a turnout east of where the mountain and you’re set.
“What’s POST-HOLING” daddy?” he said. “It’s when you step in the snow and fall into a hole buddy,” I answered as I tied a long cam strap to the sled to make a little harness for him. With my snowshoes on I wasn’t post-holing, but the steep climb out of Incline Lake back to the car was more than I wanted to cary him in my arms. I use a 20 foot cam strap to tie a loop on the sled handles for him to sit in so I could hike out of the hole and drag him behind me. It was work for me, tons of fun for him.
You must have a plan for getting out of the lake basin or you’ll have a bad time. This is why most people opt for the ease of access of Tahoe meadow, or some other spot where they let their children play in what, to my eyes, is just a pile of snow-plow slough on the side of the road where they can’t eat the snow.
We enjoyed a few hours of snowy solitude less than a mile from the mayhem of the meadow. We even saw a search and rescue plane circling over the area looking for lost hikers or stranded snowmobilers. But the only sigh of life we saw on the ground was a trickle of backcountry skiers crossing the lake bed to access the glades and bowls of Incline Lake Peak.
The snow play session ended when a particularly enthusiastic sledding run ended with our faces glazed with a rime of snow. My son gasped at the shock and cried, “daddyIgotsnowinmyfaceI’mgettingcoldIwanttogohome!” Pro Tip: always cary a bandana.
If you’re in Tahoe. Incline Lake is worth the hike. If you’re not in Tahoe, seek out the places just off the map, were fewer people go and you and your kid can have an experience worth documenting on Instagram with only mountains and sky in the background.