Lake Tahoe: Stateline

On the south shore of Lake Tahoe, right where US-50 crosses from California into Nevada, the casino complex at Stateline forms, for a few short blocks, a mini Las Vegas, with four 20-story resort hotels towering over the lakeshore. Harveys (775/588-2411, $89 and up), the largest with 742 rooms, started it all in the 1940s with six nickel slot machines. Harrah’s (775/588-6611, $9 and up), across US-50, is the most opulent, with luxurious 500- to 800-square-foot suites. Altogether, over 2,000 rooms are available, combined with at least that many more across the California border. The multitudes of game-hungry visitors that converge here create a definite charge in the rarefied atmosphere when the casino tables are turning at full speed, and it’s also a great place to catch your favorite slightly aging music and comedy performers or a Vegas-style floor show.

Nevada Beach and Zephyr Cove

From the casino district at Stateline, US-50 winds along Lake Tahoe’s southeastern shore for over 20 miles, passing by a pair of waterfront parks at Nevada Beach and Zephyr Cove, where you can ride the faux paddle-wheeler MS Dixie II (775/589-4906 or 800/238-2463, $59 and up) on a variety of cruises across the lake. Otherwise, lakeshore access is severely limited, since most of the waterfront is privately owned, though numerous roadside turnouts (most easily accessible to westbound, lakeside travelers) offer ample opportunities to take in unforgettable views.

Midway along the lake’s eastern shore, US-50 turns sharply and begins climbing up and over the 7,140-foot crest of Spooner Summit, all the way giving great views of the tantalizing blue gleam below. At the summit, stretch your legs on the Tahoe Rim Trail, which circumnavigates the entire Lake Tahoe basin. Dropping down swiftly from Spooner Summit into the Great Basin desert, US-50 links up with US-395 for the final few miles into Carson City.

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