Top 7 Motorcycle Rides in South Lake Tahoe

As someone who has been riding South Lake Tahoe for more than 25 years, I know a thing or two about what makes this such a great place to see from your bike.

Below are my top seven motorcycle rides in South Lake Tahoe.

Ride 1Around Beautiful Lake Tahoe

Length: approximately 80 miles round trip
Rider Level: Novice and above

This truly spectacular ride offers stunning scenery and interesting roads. From South Lake Tahoe, head north on Highway 89 towards Tahoe City. Along the way you’ll pass scenic Camp Richardson and Emerald Bay State Park (a great place to take pictures).

Once you arrive at Incline Village you’ll stay on Highway 28 heading south back to South Lake Tahoe. You might consider stopping for some photos at the spectacular Sand Harbor, where the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is held every year, located about 10 minutes south of Incline Village. When Highway 28 meets up with Highway 50, follow Highway 50 west to South Lake Tahoe. About 4 miles from South Lake Tahoe is Zephyr Cove Resort, a great stopping point.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Ride 2: Lunch in Yosemite

Length: approximately 120 miles one way
Rider Level: Intermediate and above

Who knew? The front gate to Yosemite is only 120 miles away and is one of the most scenic rides in the Sierra.  Start your day out with a good breakfast in South Lake Tahoe and head to Meyers where you’ll take Highway 89 over Luther Pass,toward Markleeville.

Highway 89 intersects with Highway 88 at Pickett’s Junction. Take a left and follow signs for Woodfords and Markleeville.  Head south on Highway 395 and continue through Lee Vining (be sure to slow way down) and take a right on Highway 120 (Tioga Pass) which will take you to the entrance of Yosemite.

Note: Tioga Pass is usually open in late May and closes in October. If you are traveling in spring or fall check to make sure the road is open.

Virgina City NV
Virginia City, Nevada

Ride 3: Virginia City Loop

Length: 110 miles
Rider level: Intermediate and above

Head over Kingsbury Grade (NV 207), which will take you to the beautiful Carson Valley. Take a left onto Foothill Road, which is a beautiful little road to cruise.

A few miles up the road is the little town of Genoa, one of the oldest towns in Nevada. As you come into Genoa you’ll notice “The Oldest Bar in Nevada”. This isn’t a gimmick – it really is the oldest bar in Nevada. This is a famous watering hole for motorcycle riders throughout the area.

Stay on Foothill Road all the way into Carson City, where you’ll take a right on Highway 50 heading east to Dayton. Follow it outside of town and you’ll see the turn off for Virginia City (NV 341). It’s a winding road you’ll take through little towns like Silver City and Gold Hill. You’ll know when you reach Virginia City; It’s a historic town that dates back to the Civil War and where Samuel Clemens got his start working for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper.

After your done checking out Virginia City, head towards Reno on NV 341 and stay on it as you travel into Lake Tahoe (also called the Mt Rose Highway). When you get to the bottom of NV 431, turn left onto NV 28 and head to Incline Village. If you’re hungry, stop in the 7‐11 corner shopping center located at the Intersection of Village Road and NV 28 for great food options.

Ride 4: Smith Valley Loop 

Length: 180 miles
Rider Level: Novice and above

This scenic ride through rural Nevada starts by heading out Meyers where you will take Highway 89 over Luther Pass, toward Markleeville. Highway 89 intersects with Highway 88 at Pickett’s Junction; Take a left onto Highway 88, following signs for Woodfords and Markleeville.

Turn right, going south on Highway 395 to Lee Vining. As you drive through Bridgeport, at the south end of town you will notice a turn off on your left, CA‐182 to Wellington. This is a beautiful stretch of highway that offers turns, straight‐aways and beautiful scenery in a setting you have pretty much all to yourself.

Follow the road north to Wellington, from there take NV 208 back to Highway 395. Head back to South Shore by retracing your route back over Monitor pass.

Ride 5: Lake Almanor Loop

Length: Approximately 300 miles
Rider level: Advanced

Head up the West Shore of Lake Tahoe (enjoy Emerald Bay in the morning) on Highway 89 all the way to Truckee. If you got an early start and are looking for breakfast in Truckee, try the Squeeze In.

As you leave Truckee, head north on Highway 89, passing through small towns like Sierraville. Stay on Highway 89 north through Quincy. If you are looking for lunch in Quincy try the Morning Thunder Café.

Once past Quincy continue north on Highway 89 and follow the signs to Lake Almanor. You can take it easy and relax on the shores of the lake before heading back to South Shore. It’s a long day of riding but the roads, which are beautiful, are all two lane with not much traffic.

Ride 6: Downieville/Nevada City Loop

Length: Approximately 245 miles
Rider level: Intermediate and above

Head up the West Shore of Lake Tahoe (enjoy Emerald Bay in the morning) on Highway 89 all the way to Truckee.

As you leave Truckee, head north on Highway 89, passing through small towns like Sierraville. Leaving Sierraville, look for signs for Highway 49 to Downieville. This Sierra highway is two lane and takes you through some beautiful country.

As you arrive in Downieville you will drive over an old bridge that crosses the Yuba River. Stop and enjoy this small town before heading out on Highway 49, toward Nevada City. Nevada City is fun old town with small stores, and plenty of eateries located in its old down town.

To continue on your way, take Highway 20 back to Interstate 80. You will only be on the freeway for about 12 miles. Exit at the old highway into Donner Lake.

Head back to Truckee where you will again head south on Highway 89 to South Shore. Enjoy Emerald Bay as the sun sets on beautiful Lake Tahoe. It is a long day of riding but well worth it.

Ride 7: Five Passes

Length: Approximately 350 miles
Rider level: Advanced

This is the granddaddy of day rides, taking you on two trans‐Sierra crossings. If you are going to do this ride, you need to start early.

Cruise over Kingsbury Grade (SR 207). At the bottom of the grade, take a right on Foothill Drive and follow it as far as you can. It will eventually reach Highway 88. Continue west on Highway 88, then take a left on Highway 89, following the signs to Markleeville. Once at Markleeville, continue on Highway 89 up and over Monitor Pass.

As you reach the bottom of Monitor Pass, Highway 89 intersects with Highway 395. Take a right, heading south on Highway 395, passing through towns like Coleville and Walker and the Walker River Canyon.

Just past the canyon keep your eyes open for signs for Sonora Pass (Highway 108) east. Head right on Highway 108. The drive up and over Sonora Pass will take over some of the most beautiful country you will ever see ‐ think Yosemite quality without the crowds.

As you descend into the lower elevations you come through Twain Harte and into Sonora where you will head north on Highway 49. This is a famous highway that runs the spine of the Sierra through lots of little historic towns. As you drive north you will pass through Angels Camp at which time you are looking to head back east on Highway 4. You will start heading back into the Sierra, passing Bear Valley Ski Resort, and you will soon arrive at Ebbetts Pass.

As you come down Ebbetts Pass you will merge onto Highway 89 which will take you back into Markleeville.

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