While the beauty of a snowy winter at Tahoe is hard to beat, sometimes we all need to beat a path away from the crowds. Surprisingly, one place where you will find peace and quiet in the winter is one of the busiest places at Tahoe in the summer – Sand Harbor State Park.
Now open in the winter, you can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the park or enjoy the amazingly beautiful beach and hiking trails, which in the winter are nearly devoid of people. And the best news of all, unlike in the summer, you will not need to rush to the park early in the morning to capture one of the precious parking spaces.
“You can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the park or enjoy the amazingly beautiful beach and hiking trails, which in the winter are nearly devoid of people.”
After spending much of the holiday week in the happy but bustling confines of the rental shop at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, I was ready for a break from the crowds, so I gladly took on the Sunday morning writing assignment of taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride around the park.
I was the only passenger in the beautiful little sleigh as my driver, Dale, new to the area from Maine, guided Chance, a 35-year-old Belgian horse, along the narrow sleigh route. Belgians are the smaller cousins to the Clydesdales of Budweiser fame. They are a beautiful horse bred for plodding work.
Chance gently rang the sleigh bells as we slowly made our way along the shore of Lake Tahoe and through the park’s forest of Jeffrey pines, cedar, lodgepole and white fir. While the distance covered on the route is fairly short, the chance to slow down, appreciate the views and listen to the sound of the bells made for a meditative experience. Dale said that while children are excited to see the horses, once the sleigh starts moving, kids often fall into a deep sleep.
I was nice and cozy and warm under the blankets, but I was thinking this might have been more fun with another passenger or a family to cozy up with. Looking for a unique and romantic place to take a date? This might fit the bill. The sleigh ride is about an hour, and costs $50 each.
Borges Sleigh and Carriage Rides provides for the horse-drawn experience. They’ve been taking people on sleigh rides at South Lake Tahoe for more than 50 years. Just two years ago, they made the leap to adding the Sand Harbor location, and this is the first winter there has been enough snow to do it on sleighs instead of wheeled carriages.
In addition to the sleigh ride, Sand Harbor State Park provides just about all the activities that it does during the summer, except without the crowds. Even swimming, in the form of scuba diving in wet suits, is a popular winter activity. Short hiking trails wind through the park or along the beach providing stunning views of Sand Harbor’s glorious sandy beach, as well as the picturesque shoreline to the north. On a nice day, bring a picnic and find yourself alone on a beach that is usually packed to the gills in July. If the conditions are right, a kayak or paddleboard might be in order. Although the winter water temperature of around 50 degrees might not be as cold as you would expect, I would still strongly recommend not falling in.
In addition to the outdoor opportunities, Sand Harbor’s Visitor Center provides detailed information on the natural and human history of Lake Tahoe, as well as books and clothing for sale. You can cozy up to the rock fireplace, check out the relief map of Lake Tahoe or read about how the Virginia City silver mines of the Comstock Era brought devastation to the forests of Lake Tahoe.
Story & photos by Tim Hauserman
For information on the sleigh rides or to make a reservation, visit sleighride.com. Sand Harbor State Park is located 3 miles south of Incline Village on Highway 28. For more information, visit parks.nv.gov/parks/sand-harbor or facebook.com/sandharborofficial. The park is open daily, with sleigh rides offered Friday to Sunday.
Winter at Sand Harbor
- Sleigh rides Friday-Sunday
- Snowshoe along Lake Tahoe
- Pack a winter picnic
- Launch kayaks or paddleboards
- Scuba diving