From summer to winter, these are the best things to do in Lake Tahoe, no matter what season you decide to visit.
Even though I grew up in California, only a few hours southwest of Tahoe, I didn’t visit Lake Tahoe for the first time until I was 27.
I heard fond anecdotes about Lake Tahoe trips from other friends throughout my childhood, but I somehow missed out on this California rite of passage.
When I finally visited for the first time, I realized what all the hype was about.
The lake was even more beautiful than the pictures made it seem, and the hushed natural scenery was a unique juxtaposition to the casinos and busy streets of downtown South Lake Tahoe.
I could see why so many people make an annual (or bi-annual) pilgrimage back to the lake every year.
Lake Tahoe is a magical place.
If you’re looking for a destination that has cozy cabins, adventurous outdoor activities, and some of the best views in California, this guide will help you experience the best things to do in Lake Tahoe.
These are my picks for the 50 best things to do in Lake Tahoe – from summer to winter, from the south to the north, and everywhere in between.
Enjoy your time around the most popular alpine lake in California!
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Tips For Visiting Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination in California that features a diverse mountain landscape, various elevations, and activities for every season.
It’s also a popular weekend trip from San Francisco, so it makes a difference to plan out your Lake Tahoe vacation before heading out.
- Book early and know when the busiest times are to visit – Since there are so many places to visit in Lake Tahoe, it’s good to book hotels and restaurants in advance. Summer slightly edges out winter in terms of popularity, so expect hotel rates to be more expensive during this time, especially Thursday-Saturday and holiday weekends. If you want fewer crowds, plan to visit in the fall or spring.
- Be mindful of the higher elevation – Lake Tahoe is an alpine lake that sits at over 6,000 feet above sea level. The lake’s higher elevation means oxygen is not as plentiful, so hiking and other strenuous activities might take a greater physical toll on your body than anticipated. The sun is also much stronger, so put on extra sunscreen and drink a lot of water.
- Check road conditions in the winter – If you’re driving up to Lake Tahoe in the winter, check the road conditions a couple of days before you make the drive. Roads can get icy and highway checkpoints might require you to put snow chains on your tires before you proceed. If you don’t have them, you will be forced to turn around. In the summer, it’s worth it to check air quality ahead of time since forest fires can happen in the Lake Tahoe area.
- Bring layers – Even if the weather is hot in the afternoon, temperatures can plummet once the sun goes down. Nights can be breezy and cool by the lake. Bring extra layers and a warm jacket to stay warm in the evenings, even if you’re visiting at the height of summer.
- Plan how to get around – Although there’s public transit in Lake Tahoe, it’s not the most convenient or reliable way to get around. If you’re going to popular spots where parking is a nightmare, by all means, hop on the bus. Otherwise, you’re mostly going to want your own set of wheels to get around the lake, especially for more remote locations.
Which Part of Lake Tahoe is the Best?
It depends on what type of experience you’re looking for.
South Lake Tahoe is the most popular area of Tahoe where you’ll find the most people and accommodation options.
The south part of the lake is a good jumping off point for seeing some of the most popular sights around Lake Tahoe.
South Lake Tahoe is also known for its casinos and nightlife.
So if you’re looking for that kind of energy, the south side of the lake is a better option for going out.
There are casinos in North Lake Tahoe as well, but they’re not as big or as boisterous as what you’ll find in the south.
North Lake Tahoe is more remote and relaxed and a good place to go if you want a slower pace and fewer crowds.
Accommodation can be more expensive in the north, simply because there are fewer options compared to the south.
If you’re looking for beaches and skiing or snowboarding, both North and South Lake Tahoe have their own set of beautiful beaches and ski resorts.
So you’ll be spoiled for choice no matter what side of the lake you base yourself.
It really just depends on what kind of energy and atmosphere you’re looking for.
How Many Days Do You Need in Lake Tahoe?
You’ll want to give yourself at least a weekend or 2-3 days in Lake Tahoe.
This will allow you to get a feel for what the area has to offer and fit in a few outdoor activities while you’re at it.
If you have more time, spending a week in Lake Tahoe will let you experience a good chunk of Lake Tahoe attractions and sights.
Honestly, you could spend a month in Lake Tahoe and there would still be things you’d want to do around the lake.
But in general, I’d recommend 2-3 days to start with and up to a week for a good introduction to Lake Tahoe.
When is the Best Time to Visit Lake Tahoe?
Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination, but the lake is busiest during the summer and winter seasons.
If you’re looking for lower prices and fewer crowds, I’d recommend visiting from March to May or September to November.
In my opinion, the best time of year to visit Lake Tahoe is in September or October, just after most of the tourists have left and the weather is still gorgeous.
But I’m also more of a hiker than a skier or snowboarder, so I prefer the sunny weather for getting on out on the trails.
If you’re more interested in snow activities, the best month to visit Lake Tahoe is in March when you can usually catch the tail end of the skiing and snowboarding season.
In fact, March is probably the best time to enjoy the slopes in Tahoe because it’s less crowded, lift tickets tend to be cheaper, and there’s still plenty of snow.
Is it Expensive to Visit Lake Tahoe?
Yes, it can be.
There’s no way around it, Lake Tahoe has become an expensive destination to visit in California due to its popularity.
With that said, there are ways you can cut down on costs with a visit to Lake Tahoe.
The best way to do this is to visit during the shoulder seasons mentioned above – from March to May or September to November.
During these times, accommodation prices tend to be lower, plus you get the added benefit of fewer crowds.
Another popular way to visit Lake Tahoe on the cheap is by going up with a large group of at least four or more people.
This will allow you to split the price of a cabin in a cost-effective way and cuts accommodation prices down by a lot.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for your own place, it’s hard to find accommodation under $75-$100 per night at the low end.
And that will probably be higher in the summer.
The one exception is the various cheap motels around the lake.
You can usually find a room at these for around $40-$50 per night, but you won’t have a kitchen or that Tahoe cabin feel.
In terms of state parks, most day parking fees will set you back $10 for each park you visit.
And for ski resorts, lift tickets are around $100 for a one-day pass at the main resorts (Heavenly, Squaw Valley, and Northstar).
What to Pack for Lake Tahoe
As I mentioned above, Lake Tahoe is a great place to visit all seasons of the year but temperatures can fluctuate dramatically.
Because of this, it’s best to pack for either a moderate to hot summer or snowy winter.
This is what I’d recommend bringing in your overnight bag, depending on the season.
If you’re packing for a summer stay:
- Swimsuit: Since you’re planning to participate in summer activities in Lake Tahoe, it’s a no-brainer that you have to pack your swimsuit, Otherwise, good luck drying off in your jean cut-offs while taking a dip in the lake, jet skiing, paddleboarding…you get the idea.
- Sunglasses/Sunscreen: Proactively protect your skin by slathering on sunscreen so you can avoid the telltale angry red marks of a sunburn. Most importantly, apply sunscreen regularly. Chances are sunscreen will wear off as you go swimming, hiking, etc. Also, don’t forget your sunglasses! Those sun rays at the lake can be intense.
- Light Layers: Just because it gets warm during the day doesn’t mean that it can’t cool down dramatically at night, especially if you’re by the waterfront. The summer uniform of choice is a t-shirt/tank top, shorts, and light sweater of some sort.
- Brimmed hat: If you’re particularly susceptible to getting sunburns on your face, wearing a brimmed hat can do wonders.
- Flip flops: There are so many stunning beaches to explore in Lake Tahoe in the summer. Don’t forget some slip-on shoes like flip flops or sandals that you don’t mind getting a bit sandy. If you’re looking to bring a pair of nicer shoes for Tahoe nightlife, I’m a fan of Tieks.
- Hiking shoes: If you plan to enjoy the numerous hiking trails in Lake Tahoe, don’t forget to bring a quality pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots. The terrain of granite rocks and alpine forests is rugged and can be uneven at times, so it’s a good idea to have the right kind of footwear. And for more casual shoes for walking around town, I always bring my Allbirds. If you’re going hiking in the backcountry, it’s also a good idea to bring a handheld GPS device.
- Beach towel & coverup: For those long days on the beachy shores of Lake Tahoe, don’t forget your favorite beach towel and an easy-to-slip-on coverup so you can head to the bars and restaurants afterward.
If you’re packing for a winter vacation, bring these items along:
- Gloves: Keep your fingers well-insulated and safe from frostbite with a good pair of gloves. Waterproof gloves are especially useful if you’re playing in the snow or trying to get up after falling on the slopes. Here’s my full list of my favorite heated gloves.
- Sunglasses/goggles/sunscreen: So many people assume that because it’s wintertime and it might be less sunny that they don’t need to wear any form of eye protection. Wrong! The snow reflects the sunlight so effectively that you risk getting snow blindness if you don’t shield your eyes properly, so bring a pair of sunglasses or goggles if you’re staying out in the snow for long periods.
- Wool socks: Don’t forget to throw your coziest pair of wool socks into your bag. Especially if you’re wearing different shoes for some type of snow activity, your feet will definitely not be as comfortable as they’re used to, so a thick pair of wool socks is worth it.
- Long underwear: The only thing worse than cold feet are cold, WET feet. Thankfully, tucking your long underwear into your socks helps a lot in making sure snow doesn’t sneak its way to your feet. Long underwear also keeps the rest of your body toasty warm. A good pair of long underwear is extremely effective in capturing body heat while not being annoyingly bulky at the same time.
- Heat warmers: Slip a couple of these suckers into your gloves, pockets, socks, shoes, and anywhere else that you think might be susceptible to the cold. These heat warmers can keep you nice and cozy for hours at a time.
- Ski / snowboarding gear: Sometimes it’s easier to just rent the gear you need once you get up to Lake Tahoe, but if you’re an avid skier or snowboarder you probably have your own gear. Don’t forget to pack your board / skis, jacket, pants, helmet, and anything else you might need for optimal comfort in the snow.
- Warm jacket: As someone who has had to learn the hard way how to dress properly for below freezing temperatures, I can say first hand that it pays to bring a warm and properly insulated jacket to the snow. If you can bring a snow jacket, even better. Just make sure that the jacket you bring is lined with warm materials and that it’s waterproof so you don’t get soaked when you’re playing (or ahem, falling) in the snow.
- Snow boots: The snow in Lake Tahoe might not be as hardcore as what you’ll find in Whistler, but it’s good to have boots that are made for snow if you’re visiting in the dead of winter. Not only to keep your feet warm but to make sure you’re not slipping and sliding everywhere with shoes that don’t have any traction.
- Beanie: There’s nothing like a beanie to keep your ears warm. If you’re anything like me and you have sensitive ears, a beanie is paramount to being comfortable in cold and/or windy conditions.
- Snow Chains: It’s good to check road conditions ahead of time but plan to have snow chains in your car if you’re driving up to Tahoe in the winter. If you get caught without snow chains when they’re required, you’ll probably be fined and forced to turn back or be directed to the nearest store or gas station that sells them (which isn’t always close by).
How to Get to Lake Tahoe
How to Get to Lake Tahoe from San Francisco
If you’re planning a trip to Lake Tahoe from San Francisco, the easiest way to get there is by car.
South Lake Tahoe is around 200 miles from San Francisco and takes around three to four hours to get there, depending on traffic.
Most people take I-80 to CA-50 to get to South Lake Tahoe from San Francisco.
If you’re going to North Lake Tahoe, it’s about the same time in the car, you’ll just stay on I-80 for the majority of the drive and then cut over on CA-267 once you get to Truckee.
If you’re driving to Lake Tahoe in summer, I highly recommend visiting mid-week and avoiding holiday weekends if possible.
If you can only get up to the lake on a weekend, try and leave before noon on Friday from San Francisco to avoid the worst traffic.
There are bus and train options from San Francisco that drop you off near Lake Tahoe, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting the lake with public transportation.
Public transportation up to the lake involves transfers and takes much longer.
And once you get up to the lake, public transit isn’t the best outside of the main Lake Tahoe cities.
It makes a huge difference if you can have your own car to get around the Lake Tahoe basin.
How Far Is Lake Tahoe from Yosemite?
Yosemite may seem like it should be close to Lake Tahoe since it’s also in the Sierras, but it’s about a three-hour drive to get from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite.
A little far for a day trip from Lake Tahoe, but it can be a worthwhile detour on a tour of the Sierras.
Or if you have the time to stop in at Yosemite for two or three days on your way back to San Francisco that can be a good option too.
Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe in the Summer
Spend the Day at the Beach
Heading to the beach is by far one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe in summer.
Lake Tahoe has 72 miles of shoreline and countless beautiful sandy beaches to enjoy.
And they’re some of the best places to take in the clear aquamarine waters of the lake to the fullest.
The water is cold but, especially on hot days in the summer, there’s nothing more refreshing than going for a dip in the freshwater lake.
One thing to note about Lake Tahoe beaches is that parking is always a pain in the summer.
To reduce the hassle of finding a parking spot, I’d recommend going early in the day.
Or you can take public transit or shuttle buses if you’re going to one of the more popular beaches.
Sand Harbor is full of soft white sands and crystalline waters and is a must-visit as the most popular beach in Lake Tahoe.
If you want to know my top five beaches to visit and how to get there, read my full guide to Lake Tahoe beaches.
Recommended Experience: Kayak Tour of Sand Harbor Beach
Hike One of the Many Trails Near the Lake
While it’s possible to spend all day lounging on the gorgeous Tahoe beaches, there are so many good trails that will immerse you in the best of Lake Tahoe nature.
Want to see some striking waterfalls?
Cascade Falls and Eagle Falls are both easy to moderate hikes that will take you to 60-90-foot falls.
For tougher hikes, Shirley Canyon Trail is a heart-pumping three-mile hike that features steep inclines, high altitudes, and Shirley Lake.
Moraine Trail is a bit easier, so you can go on this trail if you want an easier walk along the lake instead.
D.L. Bliss State Park is another great place to hike.
While you’re there, be sure to hike to the highest elevation lighthouse in the US – the Rubicon Point Light.
For the most epic Lake Tahoe hike, you can either hike part of or the entirety of the Tahoe Rim Trail.
This trail takes you around the perimeter of Lake Tahoe and takes several days to complete.
Thankfully, there are organized hiking camps that you can register for if you want to devote a few days to one of the country’s best hikes
Another option is hiking part of the Pacific Crest Trail around South Lake Tahoe.
You can start as early as Echo Summit and end at Desolation Wilderness or Highway 80.
It’s a long hike, so make sure you’re prepared to cross many miles and experience the full beauty of granite cliffs and glittering, green waters.
Enjoy Truckee’s Thursday Night Street Fair
Wondering what to do around Lake Tahoe in summer?
Summers in Truckee are an absolute delight, with temperatures hitting a comfortable high of 70-80 degrees.
Even better are the night adventures to be had on Truckee Thursdays, a weekly street fair that features local and regional vendors, live performances, and a beer garden.
Tour the Tallac Historic Site
The site of two historic homes, artifacts, and exhibits, the Tallac Historic Site is one of the best things to do in South Lake Tahoe, especially for anyone who’s a history enthusiast.
Run by the Tahoe Heritage Foundation, the Tallac Historic Site includes the Pope-Baldwin Estates that are open for tours during the summer, gardens, the Tallac Museum, and a Vintage Clothing Exhibit.
If you’re looking to take a step back in time to explore what Lake Tahoe was like over 100 years ago, this is a good attraction to visit.
Hang Glide or Paraglide over the Lake
Lake Tahoe is approximately 192 square miles of pure blue, which means that any view from the top is going to be mind-blowing.
So it’s no surprise that one of the best things to do around Lake Tahoe for those who love lofty views is to go flying over the lake.
Depending on your personal preference for flying high, you can either go hang gliding or paragliding with companies such as Uprising Paragliding.
Available year-round, treat yourself to views of snow-capped mountains and clear skies.
Whitewater Rafting on the Truckee River
If you’re looking to get your thrills on the water, a good day trip and one of the best things to do near Lake Tahoe is to go whitewater rafting on the Truckee River.
Truckee River is full of thrilling rapids and peaceful scenery, perfect for a vacation with family and friends.
Parasail at Kings Beach State Recreation Area
Located on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, Kings Beach is not only one of the best places to visit in Lake Tahoe, but it’s also a popular spot to go parasailing with friends.
When you parasail at Kings Beach, you are lifted to heights as far up as 800 feet, giving you a stunning vantage point of the entire lake and then some.
As a bonus, you get to sail for free on your birthday if you fly with North Shore Parasail.
Go on a Scenic Horseback Ride from Camp Richardson Corral
Camp Richardson Corral is a riding school that lets you live out your Pony Express dreams without the threat of poor weather conditions or pneumonia.
You can ride through Lake Tahoe National Forest on a guided tour and experience the tranquility of Fallen Leaf Lake and Taylor Creek on horseback.
Camp Richardson Corral also offers hay wagon rides, pony rides, pack trips, and boarding facilities.
It’s a fun thing to do in Lake Tahoe for the whole family, by yourself, or as a couple.
Take Wakeboarding or Wakesurfing Lessons
If you’re looking for things to do around Tahoe and you want to take your wakeboarding or wakesurfing skills to the next level, Birkholm’s Water Ski School is at the top of everyone’s list.
They provide private lessons for all experience levels and equipment, meaning you’re in good hands of seasoned professionals.
Even better, if you’re staying on the lakefront, Birkholm’s Water Ski School can directly pick you up by boat for your lesson.
This is one of the best activities to do in Tahoe if you’re looking for a challenging water activity and you don’t mind getting wet.
Dinner Cruise on The MS Dixie II Paddlewheeler
Looking for cool things to do in Lake Tahoe?
Zephyr Cove Resort not only gives you prime access to a mile-long beach, it’s also where you can take a Lake Tahoe cruise on the MS Dixie II Paddlewheeler.
On the cruise, you can purchase fine wines and delicious cocktails on top of enjoying a fresh and locally sourced dinner with stunning scenery against the backdrop of Emerald Bay.
Jet Ski on the Lake
Thanks to its usually calm nature, Lake Tahoe is a water wonderland where you can swim, sail, and even go jet skiing.
Jet skiing can cost a pretty penny though so make sure you shop around for the best options.
One of the best things to do in Tahoe, or at least the most eccentric, is to visit Vikingsholm – a Viking-inspired castle near Emerald Bay.
Vikingsholm is a tribute to fine Scandinavian architecture and seamlessly blends in amidst the trees.
Since tours are only available in the summer, this is one of the best summer things to do in Lake Tahoe.
The summer is also the perfect time to admire the castle while it’s bathed in the golden glow of the sun.
Vikingsholm is accessible via a steep one-mile trail after you park near Highway 89 or a less steep 1.5-mile trail from Eagle Point Campground Campfire Center.
Related Experience: Emerald Bay Tour
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SUP or Kayak to Fannette Island
If you’re looking for Lake Tahoe summer activities, SUPing or kayaking is an ideal way to explore the lake.
And one of the best places to kayak Lake Tahoe is to paddle out to Fannette Island in Emerald Bay.
Fannette Island is close enough to the shore to be accessed by SUP or kayak so you can easily explore the island at your leisure.
There’s an abandoned tea house perched at the very top of the island, so be sure to make the 10-minute climb and treat yourself to views of the gorgeous emerald waters.
Visit the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion
Back in the late 1800s, businessman I.W. Hellman bought enough land at Sugar Point to create a summer estate that later became dubbed Hellman-Ehrman Mansion.
After he passed away, his daughter Florence Hellman Ehrman, inherited the property where she and her family have entertained visitors for decades.
Today, it’s maintained as a house museum and is a stunning example of Tahoe summer vacation mansions.
It’s one of the more interesting things to see in Tahoe for those who want to like to explore historic estates.
Spend a Sunny Afternoon at D.L. Bliss State Park
Another one of the best things to do at Lake Tahoe during the summer is to explore the scenic D.L. Bliss State Park.
There are a lot of great state parks around Lake Tahoe, but D.L. Bliss is by far one of the most beautiful and offers some of the best Lake Tahoe views.
Located on the western shore of Lake Tahoe, there are numerous places to picnic, hiking trails, and beaches to swim at.
One of the highlights at D.L. Bliss State Park is Rubicon Point Light, which is the highest elevation lighthouse in the US.
Other activities to enjoy at the park include walking the Balancing Rock Nature Trail, relaxing on the sand at Lester Beach or Calawee Cove, or hiking one of the most popular (and intense) hiking trails in Lake Tahoe – the 16-mile Rubicon Trail.
Helicopter or Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Lake
Looking to get a good Lake Tahoe overview from above?
Going on a helicopter ride or hot air balloon ride over the lake can be a magical experience.
Helicopter rides can be done year-round at the lake, but I recommend them as a summer activity because I think the shades of the Lake are more stunning from above in the summer.
And you can see more of the Lake Tahoe landscape when it’s not covered in snow.
For helicopter rides, Tahoe Helicopters offers various rides that explore different areas of the Lake and last from 10 minutes to one hour.
The most stunning ride they offer is probably their Lake Tahoe at sunset ride, which lasts for an hour and allows you to see a breathtaking Tahoe sunset from the sky.
If you’d prefer a hot air balloon ride over Lake Tahoe, Lake Tahoe Balloons offers tours that take you on a calm and scenic ride above the lake.
Tours leave at sunrise and last for about 45 minutes to an hour, concluding with a champagne toast upon landing.
Note: Hot air balloon rides only run from May through October.
Rent a Boat to Explore Hidden Coves Around the Lake
One of the best activities in Lake Tahoe for those with a sense of adventure is to rent a boat and explore the hidden coves around the lake by yourself or with a few friends.
Renting a boat in Lake Tahoe starts at around $100-$120/hour for a Pontoon rental, which isn’t bad if you’re splitting it with a group of friends.
Grab some Bluetooth speaks, a cooler of drinks, and enjoy a sunny day out on the water doing your own cruise around the Lake.
You can find boat rentals at most of the main marinas around Lake Tahoe.
Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe in the Winter
Hit the Slopes at One of the Many Ski Resorts
An obvious must do in Lake Tahoe is to go skiing or snowboarding.
Hitting the slopes is one of the best things to do in Tahoe in winter and an adrenaline-induced way to experience a winter wonderland in California.
A few of the best ski resorts in Tahoe include:
Squaw Valley Ski Resort
Lake Tahoe is legendary as the best place in NorCal to “shred the gnar,” boasting luxury ski resorts and some of the best snow that you’ll get in California.
Squaw Valley recently acquired Alpine Meadows, which means you get twice the terrain to cover with the price of one lift ticket.
That, plus its large variety of slopes and less-crowded lifts, make Squaw Valley a popular choice for daredevil snowboarders and skiers who like to zip down from the mountain top.
Heavenly Ski Resort
Famed for its unparalleled groomed snow, Heavenly Mountain Resort might be more costly than other resorts in the area, but it makes up for it in a huge variety of runs and terrain.
If you ski or snowboard at an intermediate level, Heavenly will keep you entertained on all of its trails.
Or if you don’t feel up to braving the lifts, you can go off on your own adventure and snowshoe through all that luscious powder.
Northstar Ski Resort
Not too far from Squaw Valley, you’ll find another North Tahoe ski resort by the name of Northstar.
With 3,000 acres of skiable runs, Northstar is a good-sized ski resort that offers terrain for all skill levels.
Although Northstar is known for its luxury accommodation and pricey lift tickets (starting at around $150 per day), it’s also known for its laid back atmosphere.
Northstar also has some of the best terrain parks in Tahoe, including one that has a superpipe designed by Olympian Shaun White.
Ice Skate at Heavenly Village
One activity that should be on your winter in Lake Tahoe to-do list is ice skating.
Heavenly Village boasts an open-air ice skating rink from November to April, so you can enjoy gliding around in the morning before lunch or at night underneath the lights.
Go Hot Tubbing in Squaw Valley
Another one of the best Lake Tahoe winter activities is hot tubbing.
There’s no better way to apres-ski (AKA relaxing so hard you turn into a limp noodle after spending all day in uncomfortable ski boots) than hitting the hot tub in Squaw Valley.
The hot tub at High Camp will give you stunning views of the granite peaks while all your muscles relax.
Party at WinterWonderGrass Festival or Tahoe Snowfest!
With so many tourists gathering in Lake Tahoe during the winter, it’s no wonder the city wants to throw as many cool events as possible.
WinterWonderGrass Festival showcases the best of big name bluegrass talents like Trampled by Turtles, Greensky Bluegrass, and more.
Tahoe Snowfest seeks to celebrate the best of the local community with the intensity of Mardi Gras.
Ski races, ice carving, polar bear swims, and pancake breakfasts are some of the many cool events you can participate in during this weeklong festival.
Snowshoe Around Camp Richardson
If you’re visiting Tahoe in the winter, you can go sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing on Camp Richardson’s carefully groomed trails.
The Camp Richardson trails take you along the shores of Lake Tahoe and are perfect for any skill level.
This is one of the best things to do in the Lake Tahoe area if you want to explore the local trails in winter but you’re looking for a guided experience in the snow.
Snowshoeing is also one of the best cheap things to do in Lake Tahoe in terms of winter activities (which can otherwise get very expensive).
Take a Snowmobiling Tour with Lake Tahoe Adventures
One of the more adrenaline-inducing snow activities in Lake Tahoe is going on a snowmobiling tour.
Speed through the breathtaking Hope Valley on the back of a snowmobile with Lake Tahoe Adventures!
Helmets, boots, gloves, and, of course, the snowmobile are included in the reservation and you can rent goggles and a snowsuit for an additional fee.
Once you’re feeling adequately suited up to brave the cold, you’ll get to pilot a snowmobile and follow the instructor as he or she takes you on a two-hour adventure in pure alpine bliss.
Go on a Self-Guided Craft Beer Tour
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Lake Tahoe, one of my favorite local experiences is exploring the delicious craft beer scene in South Lake Tahoe.
There are plenty of options for a self-guided craft beer tour through South Lake Tahoe.
You can design your tour to include as many breweries as you want, but the following deserve a shout-out for their ales: South Lake Brewing Company, South of North Brewing Co, The Brewery at Lake Tahoe, Lake Tahoe AleWorx, and Cold Water Brewery and Grill.
Cozy Up on a Sleigh Ride
If you’re visiting Lake Tahoe during the holidays, think about hopping on a sleigh ride to cruise along the snow in style.
If you’re looking for romantic ways to explore the area or an activity that’s good for the whole family, a sleigh ride is one of the more unique things to do near Lake Tahoe.
The most popular company to go with for sleigh rides in Tahoe is Borges Family Sleigh Rides, which operates rides in both North and South Lake Tahoe.
This family-owned company has been running sleigh rides in the Tahoe area for over 30 years.
Rides go for an hour and include warm blankets, plenty of photo opportunities, and a local guide that recites poems and stories about popular landmarks.
Take in the Tahoe Landscape While Cross Country Skiing
If you’re not a fan of downhill skiing or snowboarding but you still want to enjoy being active in the snow, one of the alternative best things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter is cross country skiing.
Some people love it, some people hate it.
Whatever your thoughts are on cross country skiing, it’s one of the best ways to explore the Tahoe area in the snow.
You can either choose to go on ‘groomed’ cross country skiing areas at local ski resorts or near larger cities, or go off-track to explore backcountry cross country skiing areas.
Enjoy an Apres-Ski Happy Hour
With how popular snowboarding, skiing, and other winter sports are in Tahoe, it’s no surprise that there are just as many ways to enjoy apres-ski.
After a full day of hitting the slopes and falling in the snow, one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe is to find a cozy spot to relax with a drink in hand and good company.
And there are many others if you do a quick Google search near where you’re staying.
Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe in Any Season
Visit Donner Memorial State Park
If you’re looking for things to do near Tahoe and you’re an American history buff, Donner Memorial State Park is an ideal place to go in Lake Tahoe.
You might remember how the Donner Party met their tragic fate in the Sierra Nevada during a brutal winter.
Today, this site has been converted into the Donner Memorial State Park, which is considerably more visitor-friendly than it used to be decades ago.
You can visit the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center to check out its history museum or stop by the Pioneer Monument.
Enjoy a Massage at Stillwater Spa and Salon
If you’re looking for relaxing things to do around South Lake Tahoe, why not have a spa day?
Located at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, the luxurious Stillwater Spa and Salon boasts several services, including an infinity room, dry cedar sauna, and eucalyptus steam room.
Wrapped in a fluffy robe, you’re in relaxation central.
This can also be a great romantic thing to do in Lake Tahoe in winter if you book a couple’s massage.
Visit the Olympic Museum
After Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960, the Olympic Museum opened to the general public.
Today, it’s one of the most interesting things to see near Lake Tahoe and home to unique Olympian memorabilia, videos, and news articles.
Talk about a blast from the past and a chance to geek out over your inner hockey/ski/snowboard/skating fanatic.
Spend the Afternoon in Tahoe City or Downtown Truckee
Tahoe City is a community hotbed filled with locals and tourists who are always looking to unwind and explore after hitting the slopes.
As a result, the amount of places to shop, eat, and check out in Tahoe City is pretty impressive.
For example, the Gatekeeper’s Museum is a great place to learn about the Washoe Tribe, the logging and mining eras, and the establishment of the tourism industry in Tahoe.
After you check out the museum, you can go from village to village to shop around at the charming boutiques.
Or you can head over to downtown Truckee, home to plenty of artisanal boutiques and mom-and-pop shops.
If you have a hankering for olive oil, you can visit the tasting room at Tahoe Oil & Spice to sample over 50 olive oils, balsamic vinegar, and spice blends.
Explore Heavenly Village
If you’re sticking around Heavenly Resort then you definitely can’t miss out on exploring Heavenly Village, one of the most vibrant places to see in Lake Tahoe.
Heavenly Village is home to over 40 shops, a stellar dining scene, and great music.
Pick up a couple of cozy fleece jackets before you head off to enjoy some tequila at Azul Latin Kitchen.
Let your Stomach Enjoy the Best Foodie Spots
Since South Lake Tahoe attracts so many visitors, it’s no surprise that the dining scene is on point.
Need to load up on carbs before a hard day of hitting the slopes or after enjoying a full day of Lake Tahoe sightseeing?
Check out Artemis Mediterranean Grill if you want to treat yourself to some hummus and falafels.
Go to a Magic Show at The Loft
Fill your night with laughter and awe as you watch a Magic Fusion show at the Loft Theatre & Lounge in Heavenly Village.
Blending comedy with magic, Magic Fusion is hosted every night of the week in an impressive 107-seat auditorium.
Not only can you witness some dazzling performances, but you get to wine and dine at the same time.
Be sure to buy your tickets in advance if you want good seats.
Ride the Heavenly Mountain Gondola or Squaw Valley Aerial Tram
Heavenly Mountain Gondola
Heavenly Ski Resort is a fan-favorite for those who want superior powder and superior views.
Hop on the Heavenly Mountain Gondola to ride for 2.4 miles until you reach the observation deck.
From there, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views while enjoying a hot cup of cocoa from Cafe Blue.
One thing to note is that tickets for the gondola aren’t cheap at $50/person.
It’s best to ride it if you’re going skiing or snowboarding at Heavenly Resort since daily lift tickets include the Heavenly Gondola.
With that said, it’s also beautiful to experience in the summer because you can see so much of the Lake Tahoe landscape below.
It just depends on if you’re willing to splurge that much for a gondola ride.
Squaw Valley Aerial Tram to High Camp
You know High Camp at Squaw Valley is a special place when they choose to host the Winter Olympics there.
The Squaw Valley Aerial Tram is one of the top things to do in Lake Tahoe (literally, ha!) and features 360-degree views of the lake.
Similar to the Heavenly Mountain Gondola, the tram isn’t cheap at around $50 per person, but if you’re skiing at Squaw Valley it’s included in the price of your lift ticket.
Once you arrive at the top, you can indulge in several outdoor activities, including hiking, playing lawn games, roller skating, geocaching, and more.
Dance the Night Away on the Tahoe Club Crawl
There is truly something for everyone at Lake Tahoe, including the masses of party-going twenty-somethings that bring a lot of energy to Tahoe’s nightlife.
If you’re looking for things to do in Lake Tahoe at night, the Tahoe Club Crawl is a fun option for those between 21-30.
The pub crawl takes you through multiple venues (all with welcome shots, duh) and ends at Opal Nightclub, where you can proceed to dance your pants off.
Go Gambling on the Nevada Side of the Lake
Gambling might be a no-no in most of California, but risk-takers can take their chances gambling on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.
Hopefully, luck will be on your side so you can spend your newly-earned dough on some luxury experiences around Tahoe.
Best Free Things to do in Lake Tahoe
Take in the Scenic Views of Lake Tahoe
If you’re looking to take in the best of Lake Tahoe scenery, there’s no better way to do this than from the scenic lookout points that are nestled around the lake
This is one of the best free things to do in Lake Tahoe – all you need is a car and an afternoon to hit a few popular lookout points.
These are a few of the best viewpoints in Lake Tahoe to really take in the natural beauty of the Lake Tahoe area:
Picnic at a State Park
Although the state parks around Lake Tahoe do charge a day-use parking fee of $10 per vehicle, having a picnic at one of the beautiful state parks is priceless.
One of my favorite parts about Lake Tahoe compared to other lakes in California, is that 80% of Lake Tahoe basin is under public ownership.
This means there are a ton of state parks to enjoy on all sides of the lake – eight to be exact (counting both California and Nevada state parks).
Make sure you have cash for the parking fee and head to one of these state parks for a picnic in the sunshine:
- D.L. Bliss State Park
- Emerald Bay State Park
- Donner Memorial State Park
- Grover Hot Springs State Park
- Sugar Pine Point State Park
- Cave Rock State Park
- Sand Harbor State Park
- Spooner Lake State Park
Drive Around the Lake
If you want to go another level up from taking in the most popular scenic viewpoints, one of the top 10 things to do in Lake Tahoe is driving around the lake.
Driving around Lake Tahoe is something to experience at least once.
The perimeter of Lake Tahoe is 72 miles and takes around three hours to drive around with no stops.
Of course, you should be stopping a lot with all those good views.
So I recommend giving yourself a minimum of five hours up to a full day if you want to have longer stops.
A few stops around the lake that shouldn’t be missed include:
- Meeks Bay
- Sugar Pine Point State Park (and the Ehrman Mansion)
- The Tahoe Maritime Museum
- Gatekeeper’s Museum
- The Watson Cabin Museum
- Kings Beach
- Crystal Bay
- Stateline Lookout
- Mt. Rose Lookout
- Memorial Point
- Sand Harbor Beach
- Spooner Lake
- Cave Rock Vista Point.
If you have enough time, I’d also add on stops at the Olympic Museum, the Donner Party Museum, and Truckee.
Driving around the lake is one of the best ways to get your bearings and check out the main highlights in Lake Tahoe in one day.
Visit the Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum
The Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum is home to many precious artifacts that date as far back as the Gold Rush Era in Tahoe.
Learn more about the Pony Express, Chinese railroad workers, and the Native American tribes from the carefully curated exhibit.
Admission is free but the museum tends to have limited hours and is usually closed from January to May so check their website ahead of time for current hours.
Visiting this museum is one of the best South Lake Tahoe activities to do if you’re looking to learn more about the history of the area.
Ride the Free Gondola at Northstar
Available year-round, the free Highlands Gondola near the Village at Northstar takes you up into the air and through the stunning vista that is Lake Tahoe and its surrounding landscape.
Once you arrive at the resort at the top of the mountain, you can go hiking and picnicking in the summertime or play in the powder during the winter.
Backpacking in Desolation Wilderness
If you like the idea of getting away from the crowds and roughing it in the wilderness, Desolation Wilderness is the best place near Lake Tahoe to do just that.
This protected wilderness area covers close to 64,000 acres and offers plenty of backcountry hiking and camping opportunities for the adventurous traveler.
If you’re looking to go backpacking in Lake Tahoe, this is one of the best areas to do it.
In Desolation Wilderness, you can expect to find granite peaks, alpine forests, as well as lakes and valleys that were formed by glaciers.
Both day and overnight permits are required for entering Desolation Wilderness.
Day permits can be picked up at the start of trailheads, but overnight permits should be booked at least a day in advance on recreation.gov.
If you’re looking to purchase a backpacking tent, check out my post on the best 4-person tents for camping & backpacking.
Stand in Two States at Once
Okay, it might not be as cool as standing in four states at once (I’m looking at you, Four Corners Monument), but you can still stand in California and Nevada at the same time.
The 1872 California-Nevada State Boundary Marker sits in South Lake Tahoe and is marked by a simple line across the road.
Head to the marker if you want to enjoy a small detour from the casinos and other Lake Tahoe attractions.
Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe With Kids
Devour the Specialty S’mores at Northstar
It’s pretty hard to beat the holy trinity of chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows, but Northstar has s’mores-making down to an art.
During the winter, the Village at Northstar makes complimentary s’mores, some of them simple and some of them decadent.
We’re talking bacon-wrapped s’mores, s’mores with chili or mint-flavored chocolate, sprinkle-covered s’mores…the list goes on.
The s’mores alone make Northstar one of the best places to visit in Lake Tahoe in the winter.
And it’s also easily one of the best things to do in Tahoe with kids if you’re looking for a special treat after a day on the slopes.
Get an Adrenaline Rush at Granlibakken
A Tahoe resort that doesn’t only focus on skiing or snowboarding.
The Treetop Park has 97 tree platforms, 10 ropes courses, 27 zip lines, and 60 bridges that allow you to navigate from one tree to another with no problem.
If you’re looking for a sporty activity to challenge your family all day, look no further than the Treetop Park.
Go Tubing at Hansen’s Resort
One of the best Lake Tahoe family activities, tubing at Hansen’s Resort never fails to delight kids and adults.
You can either buy an all-day pass or pay an hourly rate to use the tubes and saucers they have on-site.
The Snow Tube Run is approximately 400 feet long, so you’ll have a fun workout running up the hill and tubing all the way down.
Ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster at Heavenly
It might be a little out of place, but hopping on the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster is one of the best Tahoe activities if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush.
This gravity-powered coaster sails through the trees and rock formations and can be booked as part of the Ultimate Adventure Pass or Scout Sampler Pass.
If you’re looking for a little more adventure to spice up your vacation, check out more of Heavenly’s Epic Discovery.
This summer playground features a ropes course, zip lines, and a climbing wall.
Since you can’t go skiing or snowboarding in the summer, these are some of the best Heavenly summer activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Tahoe City Winter Sports Park
For a fun place to play in the snow for the whole family, head to Tahoe City Winter Sports Park.
The park offers a sledding hill, cross country skiing trails, a snowshoeing loop, ice skating rink, fat biking (if you want to try biking in the snow), and plenty of hot chocolate for the kiddos.
Tahoe City Winter Sports Park is ideally located right in the heart of Tahoe City and offers a good variety of activities for all ages of kids.
Tahoe Science Center
Run by UC Davis, the Tahoe Science Center is a unique museum in Lake Tahoe that’s geared for teaching kids about the ecosystem of Lake Tahoe through interactive exhibits.
The museum is both educational and fun and it can be a great place to visit when the weather is gloomy or if you’re simply looking for a break from the usual Tahoe attractions.
Besides learning about the ecosystem of Lake Tahoe, there’s also a focus on sustainability efforts and how they’re working on keeping Lake Tahoe blue.
Docent-guided tours are offered Tuesday through Friday from 1 pm to 5 pm, with tours beginning on the hour.
The exhibits are recommended for children who are eight and up.
Best Lake Tahoe Tours
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
Since tourism is the lifeblood of Lake Tahoe, rest assured that there are plenty of accommodations ranging from budget-friendly to luxury affairs all around the lake.
If you don’t feel like staying in a hotel or you’re part of a large group, Airbnb and VRBO cabins are a popular option for short-term rentals.
South Lake Tahoe
Just a five-minute walk away from Heavenly Village, 7 Seas Inn is a charming motel that boasts an impressive breakfast spread.
I’m talking Belgian waffles, seasonal fresh fruit, and egg frittatas-impressive.
Private beach passes and its convenient location makes 7 Seas Inn perfect for those who want the most bang for their buck.
This Marriott property sits smack dab in Heavenly Village and is literally steps away from the Heavenly Gondola.
Their on-site spa and wellness center, Serenity, offers massages and facials, perfect for getting out those knots in your muscles after a long day on the slopes.
It’s hard to beat the Marriott for luxury and convenience in Tahoe.
Hotel Azure recently went through a remodel and it clearly paid off.
Not only do they have one of the best-looking pools in the Lake Tahoe area, but they have a fitness center, spacious rooms, and even a bowling alley.
Hotel Azure is also in an ideal central location, making it easy to access the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, Heavenly Ski Resort, and the local restaurants and bars around South Lake Tahoe.
North Lake Tahoe
An independent hotel in Lake Tahoe, Firelite Lodge strives to provide its guests with superior comfort and value with a friendly local touch.
They have a spa and pool on-site, as well as flat-screen TVs, bathtubs, microwave ovens, coffee-makers, and more amenities in each room.
A quick five-minute drive from Lake Tahoe, Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe is a great option for couples who are looking to unwind.
Equipped with bars, restaurants, a year-round heated pool, and two hot tubs, the Hyatt is ideal for relaxing by the waterfront, playing golf at the nearby Incline Golf Course, and shopping.
There’s also a 24-hour casino on-site for all of you itching to hit the tables.
For all the snowboarders and skiers, Squaw Valley Lodge is the perfect haven for those who want to hit the slopes first thing in the morning.
This lodge provides ski in and ski out access to Squaw Valley, which means you don’t have to fight all the other visitors for a coveted parking spot.
On top of the typical amenities, some select units offer in-house washer/dryer so you don’t have to deal with wet snow clothes during your visit.
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