Lake Tahoe
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Panoramic view of Lake Tahoe

Things to do in  Lake Tahoe

Welcome to Lake Tahoe

Set high in the Sierra Nevada range, spanning the California/Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the US and one of the deepest in the world. Surrounded by pine forest and steep, alpine peaks, Tahoe is famous for its dazzlingly clear, blue-green water and epic winter snows. With easy access from the Bay Area and Sacramento, Lake Tahoe National Recreation Area attracts roughly three million visitors year-round. Lake Tahoe's many activities are divided by weather and season. In winter, powder-hounds flock to its numerous ski resorts and snowboarding trails. Summer season is great for watersports of all sorts—swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking—as well as hiking, camping, and mountain biking. With just one narrow, winding road along the 72-mile (116-kilometer) shoreline, a chauffeured "circle-the-lake" tour is the best way to take in the scenery. South Shore, home of Heavenly Mountain Resort, Emerald Bay State Park, and Eagle Falls, makes a popular base. Start in Zephyr Cove and capture those famous views from the deck of an old-fashioned paddleboat or even from the cockpit of a helicopter—the choice is yours. Many day trips begin in South Shore, from wine tasting in El Dorado to a Wild West adventure, complete with steam train ride. It also offers nightlife, casinos (on the Nevada side), and easy access from Reno airport. North Shore's Tahoe City and Squaw Valley are generally quieter and more upscale. A few good restaurants are found here, with many more options in nearby Truckee.

Top 15 attractions in Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay State Park

Emerald Bay is the jewel of Lake Tahoe’s natural sights—and not just because of its name. Its waters are a bright turquoise color, owing both to the clarity of the lake and the shallowness of the bay. Emerald Bay is also home to the lake’s only islet, Fannette Island. This scenic patch of land surrounded by water is what gives the bay its jewel-like shape and name. Visitors flock to the area in summer for boating, swimming, and hiking opportunities.More

Lake Tahoe

The largest alpine lake in North America, and the second-deepest lake in the United States, Lake Tahoe is Northern California’s winter playground. known for its several ski resorts, and a summer getaway. The lake straddles the California-Nevada border, with roughly two-thirds of its mass in California.More

Sand Harbor

With its pristine waters, long stretches of sandy beach, rocky coves with giant boulders, and stunning panoramic views, Sand Harbor is one of the most popular beaches at Lake Tahoe. It’s the ideal place for the whole family to enjoy a day of fun in the sun surrounded by some of Lake Tahoe’s most spectacular scenery.More

Vikingsholm Castle

Vikingsholm Castle is a historic mansion and architectural highlight of Lake Tahoe. Located in beautiful Emerald Bay State Park, the majestic home overlooks the lake’s scenic Emerald Bay and Fannette Island. Blending seamlessly with its surrounding natural environment, Vikingsholm is considered to be one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the western hemisphere.More
Heavenly Gondola

Heavenly Gondola

Whether you're into adventure travel or are looking for a spot of relaxation, Heavenly Gondola—at the Heavenly Ski Resort—is a must-visit Lake Tahoe attraction. Ride the cable car to the top of the mountain, then gaze out over panoramic shore-to-shore views of turquoise Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains from up high or take to the hiking trails.More

Squaw Valley

One of the top ski resorts on the West Coast, Squaw Valley was the host of the 1960 Winter Olympics. With 3,600 acres (1,457 hectares) of terrain, over 170 trails, and a village boasting over 50 restaurants and 40 shops, as well as a multitude of activities and festivals in the summer, there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied year-round.More

Virginia City

Step back in time to the Wild West at the historical mining town of Virginia City, once called the “richest place on Earth.” Enjoy 100-mile (160-kilometer) views across the high desert, ride the V&T railroad, shop, have a bite to eat or drink in an old saloon, and tour museums, mines, and mansions in one of the country’s largest National Historic Landmarks.More

Virginia and Truckee Railroad

Experience the frontier days of the Wild West and take in the beautiful scenery of the Nevada high desert on a ride on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. One of the most famous of all American short-line railroads, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad operates three routes using century-old steam engines and heritage diesel locomotives.More

Eagle Falls

One of the most popular hikes in the Lake Tahoe area, the Eagle Falls Trail is an easy to moderate hike featuring cascading waterfalls, lush forest scenery, and breathtaking views of Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierra high country. Experience the best that Tahoe has to offer in this short but rewarding hike.More
South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe, perched on the largest Alpine lake in North America on the California–Nevada border, is one of the region’s most popular hot spots. The city offers stellar water views and serviceable accommodations with easy access to the lake, plus casinos, great skiing, beaches, and bike trails.More
M.S. Dixie II

M.S. Dixie II

To truly experience Lake Tahoe, take a trip aboard theM.S. Dixie II, a paddle-wheel boat that plies the lake’s stunning, cobalt-blue waters. From its vantage point on the lake, take in views of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Emerald Bay, charming Fannette Island, and Vikingsholm Castle.More
Tahoe City

Tahoe City

Tahoe City is situated on the shores of Lake Tahoe and serves as a fantastic base for wider exploration of the popular all-weather region, including both North and South Lake. Here, visitors enjoy warm-weather activities such as stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and jet skiing. In winter, skiing at nearby resorts is a favorite, followed by warming drinks and dinner in Tahoe City.More
El Dorado Wine Region

El Dorado Wine Region

California’s El Dorado wine-producing region is situated at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. With a low-alpine climate—warm days and cool nights are ideal for growing grapes for wine—the area is home to about 50 wineries, producing dozens of celebrated wine varietals.More
Tahoe National Forest

Tahoe National Forest

Located in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains, Tahoe National Forest encompasses more than 800,000 acres (324,000 hectares) of dense forest, rivers, snowcapped mountains, canyons, and lakes, providing you ample opportunity for outdoor recreation in Northern California.More


Located north of beautiful Lake Tahoe, ski resort Northstar has 3,170 acres (1,283 hectares) of terrain, 100 trails, and a base village with 35 shops and restaurants, a giant ice-skating rink, and a movie theater. With lift-accessed mountain biking and more in the summer, Northstar offers year-round fun for all ages.More

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All about Lake Tahoe

When to visit

Lake Tahoe is a popular outdoorsy destination, with beaches and slopes enticing visitors in summer and winter. Whether you’re packing a swimsuit or ski gear, these are the best times to visit. Summer hosts a bevy of festivals, including the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, the Brews, Jazz, and Funk Fest, and the Lake Tahoe Music Festival—all in July and August. To avoid crowds, plan months in advance, snag beach spots and ski lifts early, and skip holiday weekends.

Getting around

Straddling the Nevada-California border some 6,245 feet (1,900 meters) above sea level, Lake Tahoe is well-connected transportation wise. Public buses move travelers (and their bikes) between North and South Lake Tahoe. Seasonal resort shuttles, rideshares, and bike lanes round out transport options. Travelers with cars may have to deal with bumper-to-bumper traffic, but a car is a good way to see destinations such as the Emerald Cove lookout and take in the entire Lake Tahoe Loop scenic drive.

Traveler tips

California Sno-Parks, operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, offer affordable access to snow play areas (think sledding and snow angels) and cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails. Permits are easily obtained online for a small fee—much less than the hundreds of dollars spent on downhill skiing. Blackwood Canyon, Taylor Creek, and Echo Lake sites are on the lake’s west side; 15 other sites are farther out as far as Sierra City and Pinecrest.

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A local’s pocket guide to Lake Tahoe

Kristin Dorsett

Kristin and her husband made the move to the Lake Tahoe area after visiting for their honeymoon and they head to the lake whenever they get a chance—summer or winter.

The first thing you should do in Lake Tahoe is...

take a cruise on the MS Dixie II paddleboat. The 2-hour tour gives you an overview of the area and feel for the scale of the lake.

A perfect Saturday in Lake Tahoe...

involves bikes and ice cream. Rent a bike from Anderson's Bicycle Rental, cruise along the bike path, and finish with an ice cream from the Camp Richardson Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

Virginia City. Travel back in time to the Wild West, ride the steam train, and get a bloody mary from the Bucket of Blood Saloon.

To discover the "real" Lake Tahoe...

head to the north and west side of the lake. The towns there have a more local feel. I always like to stop at the Spoon in Tahoe City.

For the best view of the city...

go to Inspiration Point. You’ll get a clear shot of Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm Castle, but get there early as parking can be a bit difficult later in the day.

One thing people get wrong...

is thinking Lake Tahoe is just a winter skiing destination. I actually think summer is the best season to visit—the weather is perfect and there’s lots to do, from hiking to water sports.

People Also Ask

What is Lake Tahoe famous for?

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and is famous for its beauty: Located on the Nevada-California border high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, its azure waters are ringed with snow-capped mountains. Lake Tahoe is also renowned for its ski resorts, and it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.

What can you do in Lake Tahoe during the summer?

Lake Tahoe offers dozens of warm-weather activities for outdoorsy types in the summer months, from kayaking, parasailing, paddleboarding, and fishing to hiking and biking. Once the sun sets, South Lake Tahoe's bars, restaurants, and craft breweries are a popular destination for visitors looking to kick back and relax.

What can you do in Lake Tahoe during the winter?

As one of the country's most popular ski destinations, Lake Tahoe is host to 15 different resorts, each of which promises thrilling slopes, alternative winter sports like snowboarding and snowshoeing, and a lively après-ski scene. You don't have to be intrepid to take in soaring views from the Heavenly Gondola.

What part of Lake Tahoe is best to visit?

To make the most of your time in Lake Tahoe, head to the lively Tahoe South, where the bulk of the lake's casinos, restaurants, bars, and other attractions are found. The resort city of South Lake Tahoe is near many in-demand resorts and beaches, so it is a convenient base.

Does Lake Tahoe have nightlife?

Yes, Lake Tahoe has a bustling nightlife scene, much of which is concentrated along the southern half of the lake. The city of South Lake Tahoe offers a lively array of bars, restaurants, casinos, shops, and resorts, and during the winter season, the après-ski scene is its own attraction.

What should you not miss in Lake Tahoe?

Don't miss Emerald Bay State Park, which is known for its unspoiled beauty and the historical Vikingsholm mansion. Summer boat trips on Lake Tahoe are essential, and in winter, its ski resorts are a must. Visit Palisades Tahoe, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, and ascend the famed Heavenly Gondola.


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