Shoulder season in Tahoe: That's basically when the snow melts off the area's slopes and the lake's waters remain frigid enough to keep swimmers at bay. So from May to mid-June and from mid-September to October, you won't be skiing or wading, but you will be experiencing the great outdoors as it should be enjoyed -- crowd-free -- with discounted resort rates to boot. On a recent visit to the Resort at Squaw Creek, we discovered some great ways to take advantage of the north shore's off-peak months. Here, the top recommendations.1. Book a stay at a ski resort: We found it surprising that Tahoe is actually busier in the summer than it is during the winter ski season. But, between the high and low temperatures of the year, Tahoe's ski resorts do offer their lowest rates in this time. Your best bet is a room at the four-star Resort at Squaw Creek, conveniently situated a few minutes away from Tahoe City in Olympic Valley. Right now, you can book a two-night stay over Labor Day Weekend from $225 per night and receive $50 in food and beverage credit (we recommend using it at the resort's excellent Six Peaks Grille). Nightly rates later in September and through October start at $179 -- that's a savings of more than $100 compared with peak summer pricing.
2. Take a hike: The miles of hiking trails laced around the north shore area reward hikers with sweeping views of the lake, white sand beaches, cascading waterfalls, and other natural wonders. Whether you're a seasoned hiker ready to scale a mountain (try the Western States Trail), or a more novice hiker looking to enjoy a more leisurely jaunt that ends at a beach (head to Emerald Bay State Park), there are plenty of options within a short distance from the area's resorts. Tip: $10 state park parking passes are accepted at all parks. Hold on to your pass to avoid getting double-charged on a day of park-hopping.
3. Kayak your way through a history tour: Lake Tahoe's west shore is dotted with historic mansions, and one of the best ways to admire them is from the water. Tahoe City Kayak offers guided kayaking tours led by local experts for $75 per person. During the two- to three-hour excursion, you'll learn about the lakefront properties' famous owners, as well as some interesting facts and myths about the lake itself (is there really a dead elephant at the bottom?). For night owls whose vacations coincide with a full moon, Tahoe City Kayak also has after-hours moonlight tours for $65 per person.
4. See Tahoe National Forest on horseback: Giddy up for a scenic tour on horseback with Alpine Meadows Stables, located within Tahoe National Forest. After your human guide pairs you with an equine guide, you'll spend an hour or two trotting by wildflowers (in the spring), scurrying chipmunks, and massive sugar pines. Rates start at $35 for an hour ride.