12 Best Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

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Looking for things to do in Lake Tahoe year-round? You’re in the right place. 

Lake Tahoe, located in both California and Nevada, is the second-deepest lake in the United States and the largest alpine lake in North America. Known as the “jewel of the Sierra,” its water is crystal-clear and turquoise color in most spots. The landscape of snow-topped alpine mountains and the sandy and granite rock shoreline give the area a picturesque view.

Lake Tahoe can be enjoyed as a family with kids, but it’s also a very popular destination for couples and groups of friends looking for outdoor adventure activities.

Whether in the south or north of the lake, you can find scenic hikes and walking trails, incredible beaches, historic towns, old-fashioned movie theaters and bowling alleys, and lots of great food.

Here are the best things to do in Lake Tahoe.

12 Best Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

Here are the best things to do in Lake Tahoe on both the north and south sides

1. Visit the Beach

With its 72 miles (116 km) of shoreline, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches in Lake Tahoe. Many beaches are equipped with washrooms, picnic areas, and sports equipment, such as kayaks and paddleboards, that can be rented. 

If you’re swimming, be aware that the water can be pretty chilly – even in summer. The average temperature sits at a high of 70°F (21°C). During the summer, the sand can also be very hot, so wearing sandals or water shoes is recommended.

If you’re looking for beaches that make it easy to spend the day (with restrooms on site, food concessions, or picnic areas), then check out Sand Harbour Beach in Kings Beach in North Lake Tahoe Chimney Beach, Pope Beach and Common’s Beach in South Lake Tahoe.

2. Get Stunning Views at Emerald Bay State Park

view of Lake Tahoe
Image Credit: tinyfootstepstravel.com

Emerald Bay State Park is said to be the most scenic area of Lake Tahoe, and not without reason. It is a mountainous park with forested cliffs against the water and, as the name suggests, water with a stunning hue of emerald.

Emerald Bay is also where Vikingsholm, the historic Scandinavian-inspired lakeside castle, is located. You can visit and do tours of Vikingsholm or simply admire it from the outside.

To visit Emerald Bay, you can either buy a parking pass and spend a day or more doing activities like swimming, camping, or hiking on trails – but you can also simply drive through and stop at the scenic lookouts along Highway 89.

3. Head to a Ski Resort

Regardless of summer or winter, most of the ski resorts in Lake are open year-round, with varying activities depending on the season. In the winter, you can enjoy skiing and snowboarding in hilly, snow-covered mountain tops with incredible panoramic views of the surrounding land. In the summer, you can take strolls through the villages, hiking, and bike rentals to enjoy their trails.

Here are some of the stunning ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area that you might want to consider visiting in winter or summer:

  • Palisades, Tahoe (home of the 1960 Winter Olympics) or Northstar California Resort in North Lake Tahoe
  • Heavenly Mountain Resort or Sierra at Tahoe Resort in South Lake Tahoe

4. Take a Day Trip to Virginia City

day trip to virginia city from Lake Tahoe
Image Credit: tinyfootstepstravel.com

Virginia City is an old western mining town that looks very much the same as today as it did in the 1800s when it was an up-and-coming city. 

It has kept its charm over all this time. Today, it primarily exists for tourism, but there are under 1,000 people who still live in Virginia City.

You can watch actors perform an old-fashioned shoot-out, visit the old school, or do a haunted tour or a mine tour. You can also ride the old-fashioned steam train, which gives you beautiful views of the town and the desert mountains.

5. Get Out in Nature at Scenic Hiking Trails

Lake Tahoe is an excellent place to go hiking because there are a lot of hikes with spectacular panoramic views of the lake and mountains. There is also an abundance of different hiking trails varying in difficulty levels. Here are our recommendations for hikes to consider according to the level of difficulty you feel comfortable with

  • Easy: Angorra Lake Trail – This 1.4-mile (2.3 km) outback trail will take you down to a dirt bath to the Angorra Lake Resort, where there is a beach area, and lemonade stands where you can get a drink to cool off after your hike.
  • Moderate: Chimney Beach Trail This 2.4 mile (3.9 km) only takes about 30 minutes to complete, but don’t let that fool you. Although labeled as ‘easy’ on many platforms, this trail is steep in some spots and very rocky, so be sure to wear good-quality hiking boots. This trail takes you to a stunning area at the lake where you can admire Carribean-colored water and large granite rocks.
  • Difficult: Mount Tallac Trail – this 9.6-mile (15.5 km) out-and-back trail will bring you stunning views of the wilderness surrounding Lake Tahoe. It is one of the most popular day hikes in South Lake Tahoe. Be sure to bring mosquito repellant if you decide to hike this trail in the summer.

6. Go Horseback Riding

Lake Tahoe offers unique opportunities for horseback riding on the lake. The tours are usually about 1 hour long and take riders (7 years old and over) on scenic trails through forests and along the lake.

Horseback riding in Lake Tahoe is offered at Zephyr Cove and Camp Richardson Coral. The best way to book your horseback riding tour is to reserve it online in advance through their website.

7. Visit Truckee

visit truckee california
Image Credit: tinyfootstepstravel.com

Truckee is a town in California that is a part of North Lake Tahoe. It has a lot of historical significance because of its role in the first transcontinental steam train and also for being the location where the Donner Party’s journey came to an end in the 1800s.

Truckee has a quaint, picturesque main street to stroll through, lined with family-owned restaurants and tourist shops. There are also three different interesting museums to visit where you can learn about Truckee’s history, the Donner Party, and life in North Lake Tahoe in the 1800s. Keep in mind that the Truckee museums are only open on weekends, so you may want to consider that when planning your day trip to Truckee.

Truckee is also a great place to get outdoors. Visit Donner Memorial State Park (named after the Donner family, along with many other nature sights in town) for hiking and fishing in the summer or snowshoeing in the winter.

8. Spend an Afternoon Walking Around Heavenly Village

Heavenly Village is located conveniently in South Lake Tahoe. It has a gondola, a kid’s bungee jumping and miniput station, and lots of restaurants, bars, gift shops, and even a movie theater. 

You could spend an afternoon walking around, shopping and looking at souvenirs. There are well-made hoodies and T-shirts, and outdoor gear you can buy that says “Lake Tahoe” on it, which are suitable for use while in Tahoe and as a souvenir of your vacation.

Check out the store, On Tahoe Time, where you can find stunning wooden handmade artwork and souvenirs of Lake Tahoe. If you’re craving something sweet, stop by The Baked Bear for mouthwatering cookie ice cream sandwiches. 

9. Ride the Heavenly Gondola

Want to get spectacular views without having to do a strenuous hike? Head to the gondola in Heavenly Village. On the gondola, you’ll be taken up 2.4 m (3.8 km) up the mountain for a gorgeous, panoramic view of the surrounding area. There is an observation deck for you to enjoy the views, as well as a cafe up on the mountain to grab a hot drink before heading back down to the village.

Tickets can be bought online on their website in advance or directly from the Heavenly Gondola in the center of the village.

10. Take a Boat Cruise

Between yachts, power boats, and sailboats, there is a large range of chartered tourist and boat cruises in Lake Tahoe. Most of them leave from the south side of the lake.

There are half-day cruises and sunset cruises, but you can also do a 2-hour tour. All of these options tend to include a private captain, and sometimes the itinerary is customizable. 

Some things to see from the view of a boat in Lake Tahoe are:

  • Emerald Bay, which is said to be the most beautiful area on the lake
  • D.L. Bliss State Park, known for its shallow water, sandy shoreline with granite walks
  • The Godfather II House, called Le Fleur du Lac estate

Check out this customizable boat tour of Lake Tahoe with a private captain who will take you to the places of your interest on the lake

11. Walk the “Impossible Trail”

Lake Tahoe view
Image Credit: tinyfootstepstravel.com

The Impossible Trail isn’t as impossible as the name suggests – it got its nickname from how long it took for the walkway to be completed. The official name is the East Shoreline Trail, and it’s a 3-mile (4.8 km) long paved walkway starting in North Lake Tahoe that runs down the entire east shoreline of the lake.

Whether you’re looking for a place to bike, take a romantic sunset walk, or simply a leisurely walk to enjoy views of the lake – the East Shoreline Trail/Impossible Trial is perfect for that.

The Impossible Trail is especially great for those in  Lake Toddler with toddlers in strollers because it’s very wide, flat, and stroller-friendly. There are also many spots to sit down and public restrooms at many of the parking lots.

12. Learn About Lake Tahoe’s History at the Tallac Historic Sight

The Tallac Historic Sight is a set of two 100-year-old homes located in South Lake Tahoe. They offer well-shaded exterior grounds with mature trees and walking grounds, so you can spend time both inside and outside the homes. 

You can visit the Tallac Sight either with a private tour or a self-guided visit. You can explore the inside of the homes to see what life in Lake Tahoe looked like in the early 1900s and learn about some of the early settlers in Lake Tahoe, how they brought tourism to the area, and the role that women played in bringing tourists to Tahoe. 

Things to Do in Lake Tahoe: FAQs

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about visiting Lake Tahoe

What Is the Best Month to Go to Lake Tahoe?

If you’re looking for summer activities such as swimming and boating, then the best months to head to Lake Tahoe are June and July. After July, it’s best to head to Lake Tahoe in September or October, after fire season (typically August) is over. If you’re looking for winter activities, then you’re in luck – Lake Tahoe receives snow six months out of the year, from November through June.

Is Lake Tahoe Worth Going To?

Lake Tahoe is worth a visit. The Lake is famous for meeting a few records, being the largest alpine lake in North America and the second-deepest lake in the United States. There are many beautiful sights and outdoor adventure activities, and historic towns in and around the lake to explore.

How Many Days Are Enough for Lake Tahoe?

If you want to see all of Lake Tahoe (north and south) as well as some of the touristy towns in the surrounding area (Virginia City, Carson City, etc.), then you will need about a week in Lake Tahoe. If you plan to only see some of the highlights in South Lake Tahoe, then it can be done on a weekend trip.

Things to Do in Lake Tahoe: Conclusion

Whether you’re looking for things to do in Lake Tahoe in summer or winter, we hope that this guide has been a big help in planning your vacation to one of the most picturesque areas of America.

Whether you’re searching for outdoor adventure activities or to enjoy the calmness and serenity of the lake, there is a lot to do in Lake Tahoe to admire some of the most breathtaking views there are to see in the country.

This article was written by Tiny Footsteps Travel and published by Our Woven Journey.

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Kristin is a travelling mom of 2 girls who enjoys reading, hiking, plant based food and blogging about her family adventures.