Whether you arrive in winter or summer or anytime in between, there are so many amazing things to do in Lake Tahoe that you could easily spend months here without getting bored. Lake Tahoe truly is one of California’s (and Nevada’s) most magical destinations.
Below we share some of the best things to do in Tahoe from summer to winter. That said, we highly recommend visiting during the shoulder seasons as the crowds are thinned out and you can get the best of both seasons often in a week visit!
Check out SierraSafely for more information on how to experience Lake Tahoe during COVID, including a trail list with various businesses and activities to safely explore on your visit.
Where is Lake Tahoe?
One of the most confusing parts of visiting Lake Tahoe is understanding that is exists in both California and Nevada. Located only 3 hours from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe is a favorite Bay Area weekend getaway. The area is also easily reached from Nevada on a short Reno Tahoe itinerary. This massive lake, that can look like an ocean at times straddles the border of the two states offering a myriad of things to do in both states.
South Lake Tahoe is the meeting point of the two states with the Heavenly Ski Resort being cut in two by the state lines. Stateline is the name of this area technically, but most people call it South Lake Tahoe or Heavenly Village. South Lake Tahoe is popular with those looking for a variety of entertainment and nightlife options. Here there are a wide selection of bars, restaurants, shops and services that cater to all budgets.
North Lake Tahoe also straddles California and Nevada. It is known as being quieter with a more laid-back atmosphere with more of a small town feel albeit with some cool art galleries and nice dining. Both have amazing views of the lake, sandy beaches and plenty of family fun.
Things to Do in Lake Tahoe in the Winter
Lake Tahoe is one of the best places in California and Nevada to come for winter fun. Even if you aren’t skiing and snowboarding, there is a ton to do here to keep you occupied in the winter. Read on for some of our favorites.
Tubing or Sledding
Tubing and sledding are such fun activities for all ages. One of the most important things though (that we learned from experience) is to dress warm and wear waterproof shoes! In Tahoe there are a lot of places you can sled from snow parks designated for sledding to random hills that you park and hike up. Here is a list to get you started. Our recommendation – look for night tubing at the snow parks and drive around during the day looking for your own adventurous hills to conquer! Be careful of rocks, trees and not sledding into the road.
Scenic Heavenly Gondola
One of the best things to do in Tahoe during the winter (or the summer) is to hitch a ride on the Scenic Heavenly Gondola up the mountain for amazing panoramic views over the waters of Lake Tahoe. This 2.4 mile ride will leave you breathless (maybe literally even!) as you climb the mountain to the Observation Deck. You will see the lake and surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains as far as the eye can see. Perfect for those who want the views without having to ski down the mountain!
Cross Country Skiing
One thing I have wanted to try forever in Tahoe is cross country skiing. I haven’t done it yet, but it’s on the list. Some of the places I have researched to check out include the Royal Gorge in the Truckee area. This is supposed to be the largest cross country ski area in North America. In South Lake Tahoe, Tallac Historic Site and Camp Richardson are two places I have my eye on.
One of the best snow sports for the less athletic is snowmobiling! Trust me everyone loves this! It’s not always cheap, but it’s a blast and definitely worth the splurge. There are a variety of companies located around the lake that offer tours. For those of you who are nervous (like me!), you can ride alongside someone else or drive your own vehicle. Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours is one to check out if you are in North Lake Tahoe.
Depending on the conditions, you can either go hiking or snowshoeing around the Lake Tahoe region year-round. Keep in mind, that just because you are in the mountains in the winter does not mean there will be enough snow to snowshoe. On our recent visit, we had hoped to, but even with a ton of snowfall, operations weren’t quite ready to accommodate snowshoeing. Instead, we headed out for a hike. You will need to be flexible about which hikes are possible and which might be closed for the season. In general, look for lower altitude hikes like Spooner Lake, Sand Harbor area and Fallen Leaf Lake.
Hang at your Cabin – Hot Tub? Fireplace? Yes!
I know you might think it is silly to go all the way to Tahoe to hang out in your cabin, but some of the best days we have had have been right at home! The best rentals are those with hot tubs and fireplaces. When you have children and fresh snow, you can easily spend all day hopping between making snow angels in the snow to warming up in the hot tub. When you have had your fill outside, head indoors for some cozy TV shows and a fireplace. On our last snow visit, my son spent 6 hours making a snowman, igloos and more right on our balcony!
Horse Drawn Sleigh Rides
One of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter is take a horse drawn carriage ride along the shores of the lake. The place to do this is Sand Harbor State Park on the Nevada side. It is $10 to enter the park and reservations are recommended for the sleigh ride. The Borges family has been singing songs, telling stories and sharing this beautiful part of Tahoe with visitors since 1967. Definitely worth the price and drive to the area!
Skiing in Lake Tahoe
One of the biggest reasons many visitors come to Lake Tahoe in winter is to ski. There are so many ski resorts to check out in the Tahoe area, so I won’t list them all here, but you can find out more about our favorite California ski resorts here. When visiting Lake Tahoe for skiing there are so many thing to consider – budget, accomodation options and the type of ski resort you are interested in. Below we give a quick rundown of a few resorts worth looking into for your next trip to Lake Tahoe in winter.
Budget Off the Beaten Path Ski Resorts
Sierra-at-Tahoe is one of the cheapest resorts in the Tahoe area. This independently owned resort is also usually the least busy even though it was rated as one of traveler’s top ski resorts. The resort is mostly geared towards locals and beginners with runs leaning towards the easier side. Perfect for families or those looking for a chill day on the slopes.
Mid Range, Popular Ski Resorts
Heavenly is one of the most well known Lake Tahoe ski resorts as well as the largest. The base lodge, dubbed Heavenly Village, located right on the border with Nevada. This area has a lot of shops, restaurants and more to keep you busy. But the ski resort itself is great and can be accessed from hotels on the Nevada side as well as by shuttle lake side. Definitely one of the more popular draws to the area.
Squaw Valley Ski Resort is another mid-range popular resort in the Lake Tahoe Area. Chosen to host the 1960 Winter Olympics, this ski resort offers challenging terrain for advanced skiers and snowboarders. That said, this is also a great resort for those who spend as much time in the lodge as they do on the snow!
We have also heard great things about skiing at Northstar California Ski Resort, but we haven’t been yet!
Things to Know About Visiting Lake Tahoe in Winter
Chains or Snow Tires are a MUST. It is actually the law that you must have either chains in your car at all times during the winter or have 4-wheel drive and/or snow tires on your vehicle. There are often checkpoints in the winter and they will not let you go in certain places without this.
Honestly, I am glad they do this because the last thing anyone needs up there is a bunch of non-winter drivers without the correct gear cruising around town!
Winter weather watches and warnings are common in the area, but this does not mean you will be totally snowed in! All major roads are quickly plowed and kept clear for the most part. If you are worried about driving in snowy conditions, check that your hotel or lodge is close to amenities and/or offers a shuttle.
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe in Winter
There are SO many options of places to stay in Lake Tahoe during the winter, I could never list them all here. If you are like me though, it is often overwhelming to begin a search for where to stay. While there are a ton of options, I can provide a few tips on things I look out for depending on what type of trip I am doing.
For hang at the cabin with friends type trips, here are our top picks for cabin rentals:
The Lake Tahoe Chalet in South Lake Tahoe is the best place to go for a classic log cabin feel at not expensive prices. This cabin is a bit of a drive from town, so not great for those who are nervous to drive in snowy conditions. Note, it goes against my rules of things to do in Tahoe with no hot tub, but it’s still worth a few days of fun!
This charming cabin in North Lake Tahoe is beautiful, has a hot tub, and is located right in the middle of town close to the action. Or check out this North Lake Tahoe rustic cabin that has room for 6 and has everything you would need for a weekend getaway.
Hotels & Resorts
For a “we want to ski and party” feel, check out the various casino hotels that often offer greatly discounted rates when booked well in advance. We have stayed at both Harvey’s and Harrah’s which are both super close to Heavenly Village and easy to get around from. Lake Tahoe Vacation Resorts by the lake is also a great option for skiing and lounging.
For those who want a mountain experience, we loved our stay at the Tahoe Ridge Resort with easy access to Heavenly lifts from the Nevada side.
Things to Do in Lake Tahoe in Summer
Moving on from winter, we head straight to all the amazing Lake Tahoe summer activities that are on offer. Spend time exploring Incline village art galleries or just hit the trails. From beautiful Lake Tahoe beaches, to water activities and land based adventures, this is a dream destination for summer travel.
Paddle Boarding & Kayaking
The in thing these days is paddle boarding or SUP’ing. And, lucky for you, it is one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe. If you don’t quite have the core strength required for SUP’ing (like me!) you can rent a kayak instead.
Lake Tahoe Kayak Rentals is a good place to start for rentals if you don’t have your own boards or kayaks. And they even will deliver to select properties around the lake.
A great place to hop in the water easily is at Sand Harbor Beach in North Lake Tahoe. This state park offers several places for entry into the water as well as sandy beaches for relaxing afterwards. Entrance fees are $10 for the day.
Rent a Boat or Jet Skis
No matter what way you do it, you must get out on the beautiful serene Lake Tahoe waters. For those who are a bit more adventurous, why not rent a boat or jet skis? Our only recommendation is to go early as the water gets busy as the day goes on and can also get a bit rough. We haven’t tried this yet, so I don’t have a specific recommendation on a company, but I’ve heard Timber Cove Marina is the place to go. Let me know what you try and love!
Yes, I know you are at the lake and not the ocean, but trust me there are some spectacular beaches dotted around the shores of Lake Tahoe! Our favorite (and the most popular) is Sand Harbor in North Lake Tahoe with it’s wide sandy beach, but that does come with a $10 parking fee for day use. Another option is Cave Rock, which is part of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. This beach is great for families.
Kings Beach is a popular day use state park with over 700 feet of sandy beach on the north shore of Lake Tahoe in California. Lastly, El Dorado Beach also known as Lakeview Commons is a popular beach for swimming and for launching boats. For something different, you could also check out floating on the Truckee River in North Lake Tahoe.
Scenic Heavenly Gondola (yes again!)
From Heavenly Village you can take the Heavenly Gondola in the summer up the mountain for spectacular views over the lake and surrounding mountains. While it may not be as dramatic as during winter, it is still well worth the price tag. Once you are up on the top, head up the Tamarack Express chairlift for some of the best views as well as access to hiking trails and other amazing activities on offer. Summer at Heavenly features a mountain coaster, climbing walls, ropes courses, zip lines, tubing, mountain biking and even hiking tours (also plenty of free hiking).
One of the things that my son has loved doing since our trip to Singapore is ropes courses. We were so happy to find one here in Lake Tahoe. Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park is a must do for any adventure loving family. With 3 locations around the lake in Tahoe City, Squaw Valley, and Tahoe Vista you aren’t ever too far from one. The parks offer tree platforms, bridges, zip lines and more for adults and kids 5+.
We love to go horseback riding anywhere and everywhere we can. One of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe in summer is to go on a trail ride. Horses are only here during the warmer months, so take advantage of it! The company that we love is Zephyr Cove Stables who will take you on a ride high in the Sierras. It is amazing to be up high in the mountains not having to huff and puff your own way up and down! If you aren’t in the Zephyr Cove area, there are a multitude of options all around the lake. Ask at your hotel or check on TripAdvisor.
Hiking is *the* best thing to do in Tahoe in summer. While the winter season often closes off a lot of the higher elevation trails, the cool summer months are the time to get out walking. There are SO many trails around the shores of Lake Tahoe that I could dedicate an entire post to that (maybe I should!), so here I will just give a few of our favorite family friendly trails that you should definitely put on your wishlist for your next visit.
- Spooner Lake & Spooner Summit (The former is great even in winter)
- Eagle Falls – This can be as short as a 1 mile excursion with lake views or cross the bridge to go into the backcountry of Desolation Wilderness.
- Emerald Bay Overlook – Not a hike, but a must visit and there are lots of great trails right across the road from it.
- Sand Harbor State Park – there are a few trails here worth exploring as well as sandy beaches
- Taylor Creek – a must in Fall to see Lake Tahoe salmon spawn and die
- Fallen Leaf Lake – lots of cute trails around this area
- Rubicon Trail – An epic 22 mile trail traversing several state parks including Emerald Bay State Park
Other Lake Tahoe Attractions
As there are a ton of things to do in Lake Tahoe, I will continue to update this post as we visit more and check out other things. For you and for me, I’ve add a few other things to check out while in the Lake Tahoe area. For example, I know there are a ton of golf courses, but haven’t been to any. Have you?
Drive Around the Lake
One of my favorite things to do in Lake Tahoe in Summer is to drive around the lake visiting the different towns, beaches and checking out viewpoints. Choose one direction one day and another direction another day giving yourself ample time to wander around and check out the various vistas and hikes along the way. Doing this is how we found Taylor Creek and Fallen Leaf as well as the beautiful Emerald Bay lookout point.
Cruise on Lake Tahoe
On our recent visit we had planned to take a cruise around Emerald Bay, but the weather didn’t cooperate and we ran out of time. But, I’m keeping this on my list for our next visit! This is something that can be done on a limited basis in winter and throughout the summer. On the Ms Dixie II cruise, there is a narrated tour of the bay with many scenic points of interest for photo opportunities.
Take a Helicopter Tour
During our visit we saw many helicopters flying overhead and wondered what was happening. It was a helicopter tour! How cool would it be to see Lake Tahoe from above in such an epic way. Definitely a splurge type of activity, but hey we only live once!
A hidden gem in the Lake Tahoe area that has come up on more and more to do lists is Vikingsholm Castle. In order to reach this actual hidden gem, you will need to park at the state parking lots above Emerald Bay ($10) and then walk 1 mile down a small road to where the castle is located. It’s a beautiful hike, but can be a bit strenuous on the way back to your car!
Where to Eat in Lake Tahoe
Regardless of which season you visit Lake Tahoe, there are always tons of options available for meals. While we do try to eat in as much as we can to keep costs down, we have spent a good amount of time sampling the local food. I will admit there aren’t a ton of AMAZING options, with most of the food tending towards easy, family friendly fare. For example, our two favorite places are both pizza joints. For a quick sampling of food on offer, below are some of our favorites for you to try:
- Base Camp Pizza – The best pizza in town but often comes with LONG waits, so plan in advance
- Blue Dog Pizza – Our second favorite pizza place with excellent make your own pizza options.
- My Thai – If you are looking for a little spice, this local chain is excellent.
- Casey’s – Excellent breakfast joint in a nondescript shopping center. Teeming with locals, so you know it’s good
- Mott Canyon Tavern & Grill – Good bar food with video games and some gambling for the adults!
- Lake Tahoe AleWorX – Two locations at Stateline & South Lake Tahoe. Great outdoor patio with fire pits during cold weather
While Lake Tahoe offers an abundance of things to do and see, if you are looking for something different, head over to Nevada to Carson City and the Carson Valley for a quick day trip. See wild horses, get old fashioned photos taken and more.
Do you need more information on what else to do in California? We have you covered! Here’s a selection of our most popular California posts.
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