Incline Village’s Main Street is Nevada 28, accessible via US 50 at Spooner Summit, Nevada 431 from US 395 south of Reno, or via California 267 and 28 from Truckee, Brockway and Crystal Bay.
Come from the south and you’ll encounter one gem after another, starting just a few miles along at Spooner Lake, part of Lake Tahoe State Park with 50 miles of hiking, equestrian and mountain biking trails here; the 2-mile trail around the lake is an easy stroll with many small pleasures along the way. Cost is $10 in summer, $7 in other seasons.
Continuing north on Nevada 28 You will pass the entrance to Thunderbird Lodge, the estate of George Whittell whose eccentricities were financed by enormous wealth. Beautifully restored and maintained, it is available for tours which descend through a 600-foot tunnel to the boat house where the $5.1 million yacht Thunderbird is secured. One of the rooms along its length was his pet lion’s kennel, poker games were conducted in another. you can arrange the tour at Sand Harbor or at the Visitors Center farther into town.
As you approach Sand Harbor you’re passing above Clemens’ Cove. Mark Twain wrote in “Roughing It” about making a timber claim here in 1861, which involved building a brush lean-to and setting the forest on fire.
Sand Harbor State Park (8 am to one hour past sunset, 365 days a year. Drive in: $7 winter, $12/summer. Bike in: $2 Walk in $1) is almost magically beautiful. There is a Visitor Center, a bar & grill with a shaded deck, a boat launch, a couple of short scenic hikes, and you can rent kayaks and paddleboards. In winter the parking lots are kept clear of snow and you can take an unforgettable sleigh ride into the wintry woods. Do this.
The new East Shore Trail is being built from Lakeshore Drive in Incline Village to Sand Harbor, part of a planned 10-foot wide Lake Tahoe Bikeway that will go all around the Lake.
Further on are the hallowed grounds of the Ponderosa Ranch, fabled home of the Cartwright Family in the hugely popular television series “Bonanza“, now turned to other uses.
If ever a town needed a Visitor Center, it’s this one, and happily enough it has one at the eastern edge of town, dispensing detailed information to out-of-towners about all the ways to enjoy the lake: hiking and biking trails from the Flume Trail to the Ale Trail; the food, three dozen dining choices when you include Crystal Bay three miles farther along; the drink from the elegant Lone Eagle Grille on the water to the beer-shrine The Alibi in the industrial district to the comfortable Crosby’s in Christmas Tree Village; the nightlife — casinos at the Hyatt and at three more in Crystal Bay; and the lodging, the splendid Hyatt and in Crystal Bay both the Biltmore and the 9-room Border House.
Every other other settlement in Nevada formed itself around some natural activity center — a railroad depot, a mine, a ford of the river, a crossroads. After one false start in the 1880s, Incline Village formed around a golf course.
The false start came when the Sierra Nevada Wood & Lumber Company built a sawmill at Sand Harbor in 1878. From there the company built a narrow-gauge railway to haul the cut lumber and cordwood to the foot of “The Great Incline”. This was a minor miracle of engineering the company built to haul the wood to the top of the mountain, a double-track of narrow-gauge rails with cross ties on a solid log bed. As four loaded cars were being hauled up on the endless cable by the steam engine at the top, four empties were let down the other pair of rails. Near the top of the Incline the rise was 8 feet in every 12, a 67 percent grade; the 8,000-foot cable weighed 7 tons.
At the top the logs went into a V-flume that carried them rapidly through the Virginia City Water Company’s 4,000 foot tunnel and on down the steep east slope to Lakeview north of Carson City. There it was loaded onto flatcars of the V&T and hauled to the Comstock.
The company ceased operations in 1895, and everyone left with what they could carry and abandoned the rest.
In 1960 there were only four houses where Incline Village is now, and the place didn’t have a name any more. Then the Crystal Bay Development Company began to cut roads and develop beaches, a ski area and a Robert Trent Jones golf course which became famous. Some of the people who came to play golf fell under Tahoe’s spell, so that much of the early residential development was strips of second homes not far from the fairways.