Lake Tahoe is a year-round paradise for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and those looking for a serene getaway. It can also be a great place for families and those looking for nightlife and entertainment. Straddling the borders of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe boasts a wealth of activities that promise unforgettable experiences from world-class skiing to exciting festivals. This guide unveils the top things to do in Lake Tahoe to help you plan your next trip.
Top Things to Do When Visiting Lake Tahoe
The best way to get around Lake Tahoe is by driving. Compare car rental prices here. You can also download this audio-guided tour to follow as you drive through the Lake Tahoe area. Highlights include Emerald Bay, Donner Pass, Chimney Beach, Mt. Rose Scenic Byway, and more.
Don’t have a car? You can book this full day Lake Tahoe circle tour – This full-day bus tour is led by a local guide stopping at top Lake Tahoe attractions including Resort at Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley Resort), Sand Harbor, and Emerald Bay.
Planning Your Trip To Lake Tahoe Right Now?
Below are some of the top tours in Lake Tahoe. Don’t forget to plan ahead when visiting Lake Tahoe!
Top Activities and Tours in Lake Tahoe:
About Lake Tahoe
Divided into two sections, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. The North Shore is a nature lover’s playground in a natural setting among the trees of the Sierra Mountains foothills while the South Shore is filled with casinos, nightlife, and plenty of entertainment.
Whether you are visiting Lake Tahoe in summer or winter, you’ll find endless options for outdoor adventures, fine cuisine, and outstanding viewpoints. So, are you ready to see all the best things to do in Lake Tahoe? Let’s get started.
South Lake Tahoe
To make planning easier, we are going to break up all the things to do in Lake Tahoe between the North Shore and the South Shore. You can choose your accommodations on either side to be closer to the activities you may want to enjoy. We are also going to cover Lake Tahoe activities in winter and Lake Tahoe in summer. It is a year-round destination.
1. Emerald Bay State Park
A visit to Lake Tahoe isn’t incomplete without experiencing the allure of Emerald Bay State Park. Located on the south shore, Emerald Bay State Park is one of the most picturesque places in Lake Tahoe. One of the top things to see is Vikingsholm Castle. Hike down the trail from the parking area to reach the historic architectural gem that offers guided tours to give visitors a taste of Lake Tahoe’s past.
One of the most popular trails is the Eagle Falls to Eagle Lake Trail. You need a permit to hike to Eagle Lake or you can turn around at Eagle Falls where you’ll take in the views of Eagle Creek and the waterfalls.
2. Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Kayaking
When visiting Lake Tahoe in summer, Emerald Bay is ideal for water activities such as kayaking and paddleboarding.
You can rent kayaks and paddleboards from Kayak Tahoe. Kayak Tahoe has five locations in places where the water is calm and inviting making it perfect for paddle boarding and kayaking. Other locations are Baldwin Beach, Pope Beach, Nevada Beach, and Meeks Bay.
Extend your adventure by visiting Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. A paddle out to the island offers a close-up view of the Tea House ruins. Back on shore, the park’s trails provide varied hiking options for all levels. For a more relaxed activity, enjoy a picnic on the beach or visit the park’s visitor center to deepen your understanding of the area’s ecology and history.
3. Emerald Bay Lookout
If you are driving around Lake Tahoe, make a stop at the Emerald Bay Lookout for the perfect view of the largest alpine lake in North America.
You can also take a boat cruise on Emerald Bay. The Tahoe Emerald Bliss Boat Cruise is an hour-long boat tour that takes you from Tahoe Keys to Rubicon Point to take in the beautiful scenery of the shores of Lake Tahoe. You can also book a private boat charter to explore at your own pace. Book this private charter for up to six guests who can enjoy a private tour of Lake Tahoe in Style in style with their private captain driving them through Emerald Bay to Fannet Island, Rooster Rock, and D.L. Bliss State Park.
4. Ride the Heavenly Mountain Gondola
No trip to Lake Tahoe is complete without riding the Heavenly Mountain Gondola. This scenic ride takes up to the Tamarack Lodge at 9,123 feet (2,781 meters) above sea level.
This scenic ride offers breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The gondola ascends to an observation deck, where you can enjoy a panoramic vista of the area.
At the top, explore the incredible hiking trails or visit the Tamarack Lodge for a meal with a view. In winter, take advantage of the ski and snowboard runs. Regardless of the season, the ride is a captivating way to appreciate the beauty of Lake Tahoe.
When you visit Tahoe in the summer, hop on the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster at Heavenly. This is a rip-roaring good time to zoom down the mountain on the coaster.
5. Ski Lake Tahoe
Out of all the things to do in Lake Tahoe this one is a must. Lake Tahoe is home to 12 ski resorts with six main resorts offering world-class skiing and snowboarding. You’ll find ski terrain and mountains in both North and South Lake Tahoe to suit your skills and preferences.
Heavenly Ski Resort is the most popular place to skin in Lake Tahoe and it has the highest vertical drop in California. Located on South Lake Tahoe, it sees a lot of crowds, but because it is so massive, you can get away from it all.
Kirkwood ski resort is another popular ski area with the deepest snow in the Lake Tahoe area and it is much less crowded.
If you are not a skier, you can still go up the mountain of Heavenly. The 2.5-mile gondola ride will take you to an observation deck for a panoramic view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe.
6. Hike Mount Tallac
If you crave a challenge and spectacular views, consider hiking Mount Tallac in the summer season. This demanding trail is located and is a favorite among seasoned hikers. As you ascend, enjoy a varied landscape of forest, meadows, and stunning alpine lakes.
Upon reaching the summit, you’re rewarded with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and its surrounding peaks. It’s a perfect spot for photography or simply enjoying the vistas. Plan for a full day as the round-trip hike can take 7 to 9 hours. Remember to bring plenty of water, snacks, and sun protection.
7. Tallac Historic Site
If hiking doesn’t catch your fancy, visit the Tallac Historic Site which was once touted as the Grandest Resort in the World. Visitors can relive the heyday of California’s elite mountain getaway. If you visit Lake Tahoe in summer, you can join in on guided walks. In the winter, it is a popular place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
It is free to enter and the Tallac Museum is housed in the former Baldwin House.
In the winter, you can rent snowshoes from Camp Richardson Mountain Sports Center and get all the information you need. Camp Richardson is also a winter cross-country ski resort with cabins for rent, a historic hotel, and vacation rentals. .
8. Tahoe Art League’s Art Center & Gallery
Art lovers should not miss the Tahoe Art League’s Art Center & Gallery. This non-profit organization showcases local artists and their varied works, ranging from paintings and photography to sculpture and ceramics. The displays rotate regularly, ensuring there’s always something new to see.
Additionally, the Art Center offers art classes and workshops throughout the year, perfect for visitors looking to tap into their creative side. If a piece catches your eye, many artworks are for sale, offering a unique memento from your Lake Tahoe visit.
9. Take a Hot-air Balloon Ride over the Lake
For a bird’s-eye view of Lake Tahoe, consider a hot-air balloon ride. This unforgettable experience allows you to admire the lake’s sparkling blue waters, sandy beaches, and surrounding peaks from an entirely different perspective.
Launch from the deck of a boat and float over the lake at sunrise, the most stable time for flights. This adventure typically lasts three to four hours, including setup, flight, and pack-up. With a souvenir flight certificate included, it’s a unique way to create lasting memories of your Lake Tahoe trip.
Hot air balloon rides take place in Lake Tahoe in the Summer from May to October. You can check availability and reviews on TripAdvisor
10. Scenic Helicopter Tour
If you’re looking for thrill and scenery, a helicopter tour over Lake Tahoe offers both. These tours provide stunning aerial views of the lake’s major landmarks, such as Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, and the surrounding snow-capped peaks.
Choose from various tour lengths and routes, each offering its unique views and highlights. Some companies offer special sunset flights for an even more magical experience. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the unforgettable vistas.
This helicopter tour covers the entire south shore of Lake Tahoe. You’ll see Zephyr Cove, Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake and Fallen Leaf Lake. Whether you visit Lake Tahoe in summer or winter, helicopter tours are a beautiful way to take in stunning views.
11. D.L. Bliss State Park
D.L. Bliss State Park is a natural wonderland waiting to be explored. Home to some of the finest beaches in Lake Tahoe, it’s a great location for swimming in Lake Tahoe in the summer. The park is also known for its remarkable granite formations, such as the Rubicon Point Lighthouse.
Beyond the beach, the park offers a network of hiking trails. A popular choice is the Rubicon Trail, offering stunning views of the lake and shoreline. For a unique experience, check out the Balancing Rock nature trail featuring a large, precariously balanced granite boulder.
We aren’t much into gambling, but from the looks of everyone crossing the border to the casinos on the Nevada side of Tahoe South, people love it.
There’s Bally’s and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to name a few. Of all the things to do in Lake Tahoe South this is probably one of the most popular. South Lake Tahoe is filled with excitement and nightlife and lots of dining choices.
13. Zephyr Cove
Zephyr Cove is on the Nevada Side of Lake Tahoe, but it is a lovely scenic view of islands, beaches, and it is here that you’ll find the famous lone tree that has become popular on Instagram.
14. Tour the El Dorado Wine Region
Located an hour’s drive from South Lake Tahoe, the El Dorado Wine Region is a wine lover’s paradise. Nestled in the Sierra Mountains foothills, this wine region has more than 2,000 acres of vineyards. Book a wine tour and bring home some California wine/
Lake Tahoe North
15. Tahoe City Winter Sports Park
If you want to go fat biking, snowshoeing, ice skating or cross-country skiing, the Winter Sports Park is the place to be. What makes it unique is that it is an all-inclusive park where you pay one price for admission and get the chance to try all the activities. There Cafe Zenon is located on the golf course for parents to relax while the kids have some fun.
16. Paddleboarding on Kings Beach
Take advantage of Lake Tahoe’s clear waters by paddleboarding at Kings Beach when visiting Lake Tahoe in the summer. This calm, sandy beach is the perfect spot to learn or practice stand-up paddleboarding. With rentals available nearby, it’s an easy activity to pick up even if you’re a novice.
Apart from paddleboarding, Kings Beach offers a variety of water-based activities like kayaking and jet skiing. Or, you can simply relax on the shore and soak up the sun. The beach’s westward-facing location makes it an ideal spot to watch the sunset over the lake.
17. Lake Tahoe Spas
After all that outdoor activity, you may want to unwind and relax at the Lighthouse Spa in North Lake Tahoe and have a massage, get a facial, or book a full-body treatment like a warm aromatherapy body wrap.
You can also indulge in a spa day at the Resort at Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley Resort). This wellness center offers a range of treatments designed to rejuvenate body and mind, including massages, facials, and body therapies.
The resort’s facilities also include heated pools, a fitness center, and a mindfulness studio offering yoga and Pilates. Enjoy your day of luxury amidst the resort’s tranquil setting, with views of the beautiful Squaw Valley landscape providing the perfect backdrop for relaxation.
Most hotels around Lake Tahoe have on-site spas including the Spa and Casino at Incline Village.
18. Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum
Immerse yourself in the history of the Westward Expansion at Donner Memorial State Park near Truckee. The park’s visitor center offers insightful exhibits on the Donner Party, Native American history, and local wildlife. A short walk from the visitor center is the Pioneer Monument stands 22 feet high and is dedicated to the pioneers who crossed the Sierra Nevada.
The Donner Party consisted of nearly 100 emigrants en route to California between 1846 to 1847. Only half of them survived after their wagon train ran into a snowstorm. it tells a gruesome tale.
Aside from its historical appeal, the park offers a variety of outdoor activities. In summer, enjoy camping, hiking, or fishing in Donner Lake. In winter, the park becomes a playground for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
19. Treetop Adventure Park
Unleash your inner adventurer at Treetop Adventure Park. This exciting outdoor experience features a series of courses set high in the trees, including rope swings, bridges, and zip lines. It’s a fun and challenging activity for adults and children alike.
Courses vary in difficulty, making it accessible for all fitness levels. Professional guides ensure safety and provide instructions before you start. Whether you’re an adventure enthusiast or looking for a fun family activity, Treetop Adventure Park is a unique way to experience the Tahoe forest.
20. Go Mountain Biking at Northstar California Resort
Northstar Mountain Resort has winter skiing and snowboarding, but if you visit Lake Tahoe in summer, you’re going to want to hit the trails to do some mountain biking. It has bike paths for single-track, cross country, and downhill mountain biking. If you don’t have experience, there is an intro bike park for beginners.
At the resort, there are hiking trails, fun summer activities for the whole family, and a kid’s camp. You can also stay at Northstar California Resort in both the summer months and winter.
21. Go Rafting Down the Truckee River
If you want to add a little river fun to your Lake Tahoe adventure, book a whitewater rafting trip down the Truckee River. This rafting adventure is fun for the whole family and takes you from Tahoe City through scenic meadows and mountains views as you navigate easy rapids to River Ranch.
If you want a more adrenaline-fueled rafting experience, you can book the Boca Floriston Run on the Truckee River with intermediate rapids through the Tahoe National Forest.
Book this tour in advance – The Truckee River Boca to Floriston run is good for families to enjoy moderate Class III rapids on a half-day tour.
Each February or March (see details at their website) hosts 10 days of winter fun in various locations. There are parties, the polar plunge, live music, and outdoor fun just waiting to be had. The Festival takes place in Tahoe City and Kings Beach. The next event is from Feb 24 to March 10, 2024.
23. Summer Concert Series
During the summer months, Lake Tahoe heats up with live entertainment. All around Lake Tahoe, there are festivals and events. The summer concert series includes weekly events at The Village at Palisades Tahoe, Kings Beach, and Commons Beach.
24. E-Biking from Incline Village to Sand Harbor
Rent an e-bike to explore the East Shore Trail from Incline Village in Nevada to Sand Harbor Beach. You can book rentals ahead of time. The easy hiking and cycling route takes you to beaches, coves and the beautiful Nevada shoreline. The paved trail is 3 miles long and connects Incline Village south to Sand Harbor State Park.
Explore at your leisure to visit places like the Mark Twain Cultural Center, Billionaire’s Row and numerous hikes. Includes helmet, bike lock, and bike rack with bungee.
25. Sand Harbor Beach
If you want to pop over to the Nevada Side of Lake Tahoe, Sand Harbor Beach is one of the most popular places to enjoy watersports and the warm weather. You’ll find kayak and stand-up paddleboarding rentals, there is a pavilion for picnics and there is even a boat launch for avid boaters.
26. Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival
Experience the magic of Shakespeare under the stars at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Held annually at Sand Harbor State Park, this event attracts thousands with its high-quality performances set against the beautiful backdrop of Lake Tahoe.
Alongside the Shakespearean plays, the festival includes a variety of other entertainment, such as live music and dance. Enhance your theater experience with a pre-ordered meal or bring your own picnic to enjoy on the beach. Be sure to book your tickets in advance for this popular summer event.
27. Tahoe National Forest Hikes
California boasts many national parks and forests and the Tahoe National Forest is one of 18 national forests in the state. Located between Reno Nevada and Sacramento California in the northwest of Lake Tahoe, there is now shortage of hiking trails. The Five Lakes Trail is one of the most beautiful trails in the Tahoe National Forest. It’s a 2-mile steep climb up to 1200 feet before you begin to explore the five lakes. Once you reach the top, you can take your time following the trails to the lakes.
28. Ski Lake Tahoe North
Sugarbowl is the closest to San Francisco and Sacramento making it a favorite among locals. It has that old-school feel with the highest amount of snowfall in the region.
When visiting Lake Tahoe in winter, you must hit the slopes of Olympic Valley. Lake Tahoe hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics and it has never slowed down since! Out of all the things to do in Lake Tahoe this one is a must. Lake Tahoe is home to 12 ski resorts with six main resorts offering world-class skiing and snowboarding.
Palisades Tahoe: Known for hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics, Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley Resort) has terrain for everyone from gentle slopes for beginners to challenging trails for advanced skiers. Ski lessons are available for newcomers or those looking to enhance their skills. While at Palisades, take the Arial Tram up to High Camp for panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the High Sierras. And while you are there, visit the Olympic Museum showcasing memorabilia from the 1960 Winter Olympics.
North Star has some of the best views of Lake Tahoe and is a complete family resort with a village and our personal favorite the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Wherever you choose to ski in Tahoe you won’t be disappointed.
Northstar, Alpine Meadows, and Homewood Mountain are other recommended resorts.
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
When looking for where to stay in Lake Tahoe, it all depends on what outdoor activities you want to do. If you want to focus on more nightlife, restaurants and family vacations, you’ll want to stay in South Lake Tahoe. If you want some world class skiing, we suggest north lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe North
Cedar Crest Cottages – Great for large families or couples. It has its own kitchen and outdoor firepit. It’s a little far away from everything, but that is exactly what most people are looking for when coming to Lake Tahoe.
Sunnyside Resort – Located directly on Lake Tahoe, Sunnyside Resort is an excellent central location that feels like you are in more of a ski village feel when in this area.
Lake Tahoe South
Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel – This is the most convenient location right next to the Heavenly Gondola. It’s a busy hotel with lots of families and I think it could definitely use an upgrade. But you can’t go wrong with the location or price. Search Booking.com for Accommodation in Lake Tahoe.
We have an entire article dedicated to where to stay in Lake Tahoe. You can read it here.
Where to Eat Lake Tahoe South
There is no shortage of places to eat in Lake Tahoe South. All you have to do is go for a walk down the street and find the place you are looking for.
But a few places we sampled and can recommend are:
Riva Grill – is a lakefront eatery that is a local favorite. It offers contemporary American food and there’s plenty of parking. Outpost Brewing Company – is a great apres ski location offering handcrafted brews. Azul Latin Kitchen – located near the gondola this restaurant offers a delicious Mexican-inspired menu. Off the Hook Sushi – Another local favorite, this hot spot is located in the middle of town and will satisfy your seafood cravings. See full recommendations on where to eat at Tahoe South Food Guide
Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination offering activities for families, couples, and even bachelors and bachelorettes. We enjoyed North Lake Tahoe’s laid-back pace and quiet atmosphere, but families and younger single travelers will definitely love the excitement and energy of South Tahoe’s nightlife and casinos.
Have you been to Lake Tahoe in the winter? What are your favorite things to do?