When they're not skiing, most visitors to Tahoe go to see and play in Big Blue, but there are dozens of smaller lakes in the area that are open yearround and are great for kayaking, swimming, fishing and just getting away from it all. The best thing is that each of these lakes are accessible by car.
On your way to and from Tahoe on I-80, I'm sure you've seen seen the turnoff for Rollins Lake just after Colfax. This popular camping and boating lake is actually really large (over 900 acres) and can accommodate many boats and kayaks. The water is a bit green, but is perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding and playing in the water with your dog.
This beautiful, little lake is tucked into a rocky valley just across Highway 88 from the ski resort. The road down to the lake and the parking area is small and winding, but there is a small campground and some beautiful water to swim in. Kirkwood has a small hiking path around the lake where you can swoon over the lake's cute cabins and look up at the Twin Sentinals that tower over the area. When we were last there, one of the trees had a rope swing that dumps you right into the cold lake.
The tranquil and hidden Independence Lake on Highway 89 between Truckee and Sierraville was nearly made into a ski resort in the 1960s by none other than Walt Disney. In 2010, the Nature Conservancy claimed Independence to be one of the most pristine lakes west of the Rockies and purchased the land around it from former owner NV Energy. The 2.4 mile lake is home to one of the world's last two wild populations of the Lahontan cutthroat trout and can be accessed by a five-mile dirt road from the Jackson Reservoir road. Personal and motorized boats are not allowed, but the Conservancy has kayaks available for free.
If you ski the East Bowl of Mount Rose, you've seen Washoe Lake in Washoe Valley. There are actually two lakes: Little and Big. Both of the lakes are known for being a little muddy and goopy to swim in but you are bound to have them to yourself. Little Washoe is great for viewing wild horses, winter ice skating, viewing birds and kayaking. Big Washoe is known as Brown Maui and is one of the top places in the country to go wind and kite surfing. Both lakes are accessible from 395 South through East Washoe Valley.
Don't tell anyone else about Ice Lakes near Royal Gorge. These twin lakes are ideal for shallow water kayaking in the fall and ice fishing in the winter. They are both surrounded by cute cabins, but the former Ice Lakes Lodge where you could pick up dinner or a drink is currently in foreclosure. These two lakes can be accessed off of Interstate 80 from the Soda Springs Exit.
This article was originally published in October 2013.