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Lake Tahoe is a tourist spot to avoid, says Fodor's Travel guide – San Francisco Chronicle

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Lake Tahoe is a tourist spot to avoid, says Fodor’s Travel guide. Snowboarders and skiers wait in line to ride Castle Peak chairlift during the opening day of this year’s ski season at Boreal resort in Truckee.
Beachgoers claim a spot on the shores of El Dorado Beach in South Lake Tahoe in July.
Distinct lines of clarity in the water can be seen from the shores of El Dorado Beach in South Lake Tahoe in July. Fodor’s Travel, a guide company, says that visitors should avoid Tahoe in order to give the heavily visited region, and the increasingly murky lake, a break.
Would you want to avoid this place, like Fodor’s recommends? Here, people beat the weekend heat on powerboats near Lake Tahoe’s Hidden Beach in September.
A skier jumps over a small hill during opening day of this year’s ski season at Boreal resort in Truckee.
A week before Tahoe resorts opened for the winter and invited skiers and boarders up to enjoy an unexpected early season snowfall, Fodor’s Travel came out with its own recommendation: Don’t go.
The entire Tahoe basin made the international travel guide’s inglorious “No List 2023,” as a place to avoid for its own good.
“Lake Tahoe has a people problem,” noted the guide. “Amid the pandemic and the great migration, there was an influx of people moving to the mountains, as well as people with second homes in the area coming to live in Tahoe permanently. And it’s caused traffic along the lake to crawl, as well as kept trails and beaches packed.”
The upshot, in addition to gridlock from Truckee to Tahoe City, is that particle pollution is seeping into the lake and murking up the cobalt blue waters that are a main attraction. A partial solution would involve decreasing automobile traffic around the lake, and that is why Fodor’s is begging people not to go.
“Improving Tahoe’s traffic conditions will reduce this pollution source,” the guide states, “and alleviate the stress and strain of travel in Tahoe.”
Andy Chapman, CEO of Travel North Tahoe Nevada, was interviewed for the Fodor’s article and took issue with the suggestion that Fodor’s is asking people to stay away from Tahoe.
“We all need to give nature a break but we don’t want to tell people not to come to Tahoe,” he said, noting that the agency makes available on its website a “Responsible Traveler Pledge,” with six tenets on how a visitor can help take care of Tahoe. The gist: “Be mindful in your traveling and have respect for the destination,” he said.
Chapman also said that travelers are not the sole contributors to overcrowding. There was what he called “the great work migration” of people who moved to Tahoe to work remotely during the pandemic and still haven’t returned.
“We have had increased users in Tahoe and that is in all categories — visitors, new residents and second homeowners. A lot of people moved to Tahoe,” he said, “and that created some impacts.”
Jesse Patterson, chief strategy officer with the environmental advocacy nonprofit Keep Tahoe Blue, was unaware of the Fodor’s listing before The Chronicle queried him Sunday. After reading it online, he also disagreed that Tahoe should be on the “No” list even though the concerns raised by Fodor’s had merit.
“Fodor’s is correct that we get a lot of visitors and that it takes its toll on the environment and the local community, mostly with traffic and litter,” Patterson said. “Everyone has to come see the lake, but we are asking them to leave the lake better than you found it by parking your car once and getting around from there by transit and ski shuttles and carpooling and pick up litter whether it is yours or not. That’s the Keep Tahoe Blue lifestyle.”
Because automobile exhaust is seen as a main source of pollution to the lake, efforts have been made in recent years to get people out of their cars.
These involve TART Connect, a free service that combines an Uber-like door-to-door service with vans and traditional bus routes. Most of the major hotels and resorts offer guests access to the service. There are three zones, operating from Truckee to Tahoe City, and the ski resorts in between — Palisades Tahoe and Northstar California Resort. TART Connect ranges from the ski areas on the west shore of the lake all the way around the north shore to Incline Village, Nev.
“Locals use it, but we want visitors to use it, too,” said Kirstin Guinn, director of marketing for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “We do have an influx of people but there are plenty of great solutions in place,” said Guinn, based in Tahoe City. “Come up midweek and use the transit solutions.”
In compiling its “No List,” Fodor’s created three categories for inclusion: natural attractions that could use a break in order to heal and rejuvenate; cultural hotspots that are plagued by overcrowding and resource depletion; and locations around the world immediately and dramatically impacted by water crises.
On the plus side, Tahoe made the list in the “natural attractions that could use a break” category, which is the one to be in if your location has to make the list at all. Tahoe was in the company of coastal France, where trails and beaches are worn down from overuse, particularly at the D-Day attraction of Normandy Beach, and the Antarctic Peninsula, which draws 100,000 tourists annually who come to feel the climate warm and see the wildlife disappear.
In the “suffering cultural hotspots” category, Venice, Italy, Cornwall, England, and Thailand made the list. The guide also listed places most severely impacted by water crises — they include Maui, the Southern European Watershed and the entire American West. The guide did not go so far as to discourage people from visiting the entire state of California, but it did single out the heavily visited coastal town of Mendocino, which in summer of 2021 made the news by trucking in water to inns and other facilities.
“My takeaway is the problem of over-tourism is global, and there are some locations that are affected specifically,” Guinn said, “but Lake Tahoe still offers everything that it ever has. It is gorgeous every minute.”
Heavenly Mountain Resort, Northstar California Resort and Kirkwood Mountain Resort all opened on Saturday, ahead of schedule, after 3 feet of snow fell last week. Palisades Tahoe, which encompasses Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows, will open Friday.
Boreal Mountain, which is the most easily accessed resort, right off I-80, got the jump on the others by opening last Friday.
“This is our first post-COVID year, the first full season where the lodge is fully open. We’ve got the bar back open again,” Boreal marketing manager Tucker Norred told The Chronicle. “We’re focused on good news now.”
Sam Whiting (he/him) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: swhiting@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SamWhitingSF
Sam Whiting has been a staff writer at The San Francisco Chronicle since 1988. He started as a feature writer in the People section, which was anchored by Herb Caen’s column, and has written about people ever since. He is a general assignment reporter with a focus on writing feature-length obituaries. He lives in San Francisco and walks three miles a day on the steep city streets.

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