Most roads that climb up and down mountains follow gradual valleys or ridges. This is also the case for most roads in and out of Tahoe. Less common are those roads that cut along the side of a steep mountain and give you amazing views. Tahoe has two of those.
The most well-known is the short section of cliff-edge road from Echo Summit down toward Meyers on the South Shore.
A less well-known example is from Daggett Summit at the top of Kingsbury Grade down to Carson Valley.
While the Echo Summit drive gives you the great views associated with a 1200-foot drop-off, Kingsbury Grade gives you a nearly 3000-foot drop-off.
The views are spectacular. You can enjoy them from both directions, going up or down, but they are most dramatic going down from Tahoe. As with the Mt. Rose Highway that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, the Kingsbury Grade/Carson Valley drive can be done as part of a nice counter-clockwise loop.
From Stateline on Highway 50 at the southeast corner of the lake, turn east on 207 Kingsbury Grade. You will climb 1100 feet up to Daggett Summit before dropping 3000 feet down to Carson Valley.
When you get down to the floor of Carson Valley, take a left on Foothill Rd. Drive north to Genoa, Nevada's tiny and very-charming oldest town. Continue north out of Genoa on Main, which turns into Jack's Valley Rd. That takes you to Highway 395 just south of Carson City. A short distance north on 395 will get you to Highway 50, which you take west up and over Spooner Summit and back to Tahoe. (As always, print out a Google map to make your navigating easier.)
|The giant lake shimmers behind you as you head up Kingsbury Grade...|
|A last glimpse of the water...|
|Did you ever notice that every pass in and out of Tahoe is within a few feet of elevation of the others?|
|Carson Valley in the distance|
|The Grade winding down below you|
|The road is well-designed and signed, with shoulders where you can pull off.|
|In the distance are the twin towns of Minden and Gardnerville. In the far distance, 395 climbs up out of Carson Valley on its way down the Eastern Sierra.|
|It feels much like descending in a small plane.|
|If you look very close, you can see a bunch of black dots on the field in the center of the photo. Got a guess as to what they are?|
|Foothill Rd. stretches out below you like a runway for your Cessna.|
|Here are some of those "black dots" up closer. The mountain in the center is Jobs Peak. It looks 1500 feet higher than it does from Tahoe because we are 1500 lower. In fact, Carson Valley is almost the same elevation as the bottom of Lake Tahoe.|
|In the distance is 11,000-foot Highland Peak near Markleeville.|
|More black dots... Although Carson Valley is technically a desert as far as precipitation goes, it gets year-round runoff from the Sierra to its west, keeping the ranch land green all through the hot summer.|
The entire loop from Tahoe to Carson Valley, north to 50, and then back west over Spooner Summit takes about 90 minutes. It demonstrates the incredible contrast from lake resort country to the beautiful ranch land just a few miles east and 1500 feet below Tahoe.