November 26, 2022

Bumper to bumper Lake Tahoe – image: Marcin Wichary, cc 2.0

Influential travel magazine Fodor’s recently asked travelers not to travel to some locations this year due to overtourism and the impact on the local environment of too many visitors. One of the ten areas on the “No List” is Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe has a people problem. Amid the pandemic and the Great Migration, there was an influx of people moving to the mountains, as well as those with second homes in the area moving to Tahoe permanently. And it’s kept traffic meandering along the lake, keeping the trails and beaches overcrowded,” Fodor’s said.

The magazine continued, “heavy traffic is crushing Tahoe’s roads into fine dust and debris and pumping exhaust emissions into the air. When it rains or snow melts, rainwater carries these fine pollution particles into the lake, clouding the cobalt blue water. Improving traffic conditions in Tahoe will reduce this source of pollution and reduce the stress and strain of traveling in Tahoe.”

Traffic at Lake Tahoe – image: Ben Sykes, cc 2.0

What do people of Tahoe think about Fodor putting Tahoe on the No Fly list? Scott Robbins, spokesperson for the Tahoe Neighborhood Group and 2022 South Lake Tahoe City Council member, said in Fodor’s story, “It’s hard to take seriously our city’s talk of leadership on the long-term climate change issue. if at the same time we encourage visitor traffic that results in traffic jams that can extend into Sacramento.”

A survey by the Tahoe Prosperity Center (TPC) earlier this year found that a healthy majority of Tahoe residents agree with the feeling that Tahoe is headed in the wrong direction. In addition to survey numbers, anecdotally, any perusal of a Tahoe discussion on social media will show a high level of dissatisfaction among people about both the number of people visiting Tahoe and how they behave when they are here.

The attitude of many can be summed up in one comment left on Fodor’s website in response to the story: “I would urge you not to visit Lake Tahoe unless you like crowded beaches, stalemate around the lake and beyond, want to spend a lot of money, because it is really very expensive here. Gas is currently $7.00 a gallon… People just don’t respect the area and I’m fed up with people’s I-I-I attitudes with no regard for those who live here.

On the other hand, Tahoe is still and probably always will be a tourist-based economy. The small businesses that allow most Tahoe people to live here do so through the generosity of visitors.

Tahoe Prosperity Center CEO Heidi Hill Drum suggests that people don’t boycott Tahoe, but use the story to remind travelers to be considerate when they visit the lake. “That’s the real problem,” said Hill Drum. “Complaining about tourism is pointless, there are many solutions. We must work towards a sustainable tourism economy. Let’s make it work for everyone, tourists and visitors.”

South Lake Tahoe-based tourism expert Carl Ribaudo, president of SMG Consulting, says, “We see this dynamic all over the country, in every mountain town: Vail, Park City, everyone is dealing with traffic, crowds and congestion. It is caused by many different things. The tourism people are well aware of this and are working hard to figure out how to move forward.” Ribaudo said. “In the short term, the best opportunity is to educate people.”

Lake from bumper to bumper Lake Tahoe – image: Marcin Wichary, cc 2.0

Work is underway to create a Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan, which will focus on balancing the needs of local residents, businesses and visitors. It comes about with the input of a whole range of players, including local businesses, the government, environmental organizations and travel agencies. For more information about this plan, visit You can also read the article I wrote about the effort in Tahoe Quarterly magazine.

“Those working on the stewardship plan get it, they’re working hard to find solutions,” Ribaudo said.

The agencies that used to have the promotion of the lake as their main goal also understand the problem. The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association has developed a Visitor Pledge, which both visitors and locals can follow to become sustainable travelers. “We teach people what it means to be a steward. How do we reduce our ecological footprint? Pack what you pack. Keeping wild animals wild.” said Tony Karwowski, CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

Karwowski says they are becoming a destination management organization. Now part of their funding goes to creating much-needed housing for the workforce and improvements to the transportation network. “The biggest problems in our region are housing and transportation.”

Although the locals understand that we are a tourist economy, it is still hard to swallow the changes we are seeing. Places that we used to visit regularly and where it wasn’t busy now require you to get there by 8am to get a parking space. And those parking spaces that used to be free, you now have to pay for them. We used to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail for miles and only see a few people, now the trails feel overrun with users.

Many locals simply stop visiting the popular places like Emerald Bay and Sand Harbor because they are too busy to enjoy them. It’s no wonder there are probably a lot of locals saying “Hooray” to Fodor’s.

Emerald Isle Lake Tahoe – image: Gunn Shots, cc 2.0

But Hill Drum reminds us, “As residents, we use trails and we use beaches. we also contribute to the crowds. Just because we live here doesn’t mean we have more access than everyone else.” And it is true that the locals who hike on trails and complain about too many people hiking on trails seem a bit hypocritical. Instead, we all need to work on solutions and model our own behavior so that those who visit the area will follow.

Tahoe Rim Trail – Image: Courtesy of Tim Hauserman

The Tahoe Rim Trail Association was at the forefront of addressing the issue, making a major shift five years ago from promoting the 165-mile trail to a focus on maintenance and education on proper use of the trail.

One issue that local residents and authorities all agree on is a major one that needs to be addressed, which is the dramatic increase in litter and graffiti in recent years. Founded in 2020, the Truckee Tahoe Litter Group Facebook page now has over 2,600 members, all working to keep litter and those damn poop bags out of our environment. And to get local and regional government authorities to address the problem. This often means more public dumpsters, more frequent garbage collection, and more education to a public that has somehow forgotten that littering is not only illegal, but a very uncool thing to do.

Trash on a beach at Lake Tahoe – Photo:

Some solutions seem simple, but given the myriad of different agencies in a two-state, five-county town, it’s not getting done. A classic example is the popular toboggan hills around the lake. People buy cheap plastic sleds, break them and leave them on the hill, creating a huge litter problem. How about sled bins that are collected regularly? And an educational program to remind people to pack and unpack? And finally, enforcement of the $1,000 fine for litter? Local anti-litter groups have complained that law enforcement officials are reluctant to enforce the litter law.

“More joint effort is needed between the agencies and visitors in the field of litter. The Stewardship planning group really recognizes it and it is on the radar.” Ribaudo said.

Karwowski summarized how locals of the Tahoe region can help make Tahoe a better place to both live and visit: “We really need our locals to understand their role, which is modeling stewardship. Participate in a culture that emphasizes the importance of keeping it beautiful and caring for our region. It’s all our responsibility to be a part of it. I feel strong and passionate about this place, but it’s hard work, it won’t be easy, but we have a unique opportunity. “

Tim Hauserman is a freelance writer and has lived in North Lake Tahoe most of his life. In addition to Going It Alone, he wrote the official guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the recently released 4th edition. He also authored Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children and has written hundreds of articles on topics as diverse as travel, outdoor recreation, housing, education and wildfires. View Tim’s website here.

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