15 Amazing Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

Mimi Slawoff Avatar

People paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a year-round, four-season resort. Photo credit: Travel Nevada

My first memory of Lake Tahoe, California is when my parents, sister, grandparents and I stayed in a cabin by the lake. I was about 8 years old. Since then, I’ve returned many times with my husband and three kids. With so many things to do in Lake Tahoe year round, each trip is different and holds special memories. Here are some of the well-known things to do in Lake Tahoe plus special places my family and I have discovered through the years. 

Two States, Four Seasons of Fun

Situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe straddles the state line between California and Nevada. At a depth of 1,645 feet, Lake Tahoe is North America’s largest alpine lake, spanning 22 miles from north to south and 12 miles across. But what really catches the eye is the lake’s stunning azure blue color, an amazing sight any time of year.

Depending where you’re coming from, it’s about a 3.5-hour drive from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. By air, the nearest airport is in Reno. From there you can rent a car for the 30- to 45-minute drive to Lake Tahoe.

In the summer months, things to do in Lake Tahoe include water sports, hiking trails, mountain biking, sightseeing cruises and other outdoor activities.

In winter, there’s skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and sledding. From the South Shore to the North Shore, the Lake Tahoe area has 15 world-class ski resorts ideal for skiers and snowboarders of all levels.

Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe
Sand Harbor is a nice rest stop on a road trip around Lake Tahoe. Photo credit: Lora Robb/Travel Nevada

1. Road Trip Around Lake Tahoe

One of my favorite things to do is to pack up the car with a picnic and drive around the 72-mile lake. It’s a great way to get acclimated and see all the top sights in Lake Tahoe. If you’re short on time, you can make it a half day trip and circle the lake in about three hours.

However, it’s a perfect day trip, with time to stop and enjoy Tahoe’s best beaches, hiking trails, vistas and mountain peaks.

2. D. L. Bliss State Park

This California state park is situated just north of Emerald Bay State Park. Together, the two state parks cover over six miles on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Things to do include swimming, hiking and camping. The Rubicon Trail and Balancing Rock Nature Trail are the two popular trails.

While dogs are not allowed on beaches and dirt trails, they can join you in developed areas like campsites, paved roads and paths, dirt fire roads and paved parking areas. They’re also allowed in designated picnic areas and day-use areas.

3. Emerald Bay State Park

Emerald Bay State Park is a gem. First, there’s a lot to see and do in Emerald Bay State Park. Outdoor activities include hiking, swimming, boating and camping. Second, the park is home to unique attractions: Fannette Island and striking Vikingsholm Castle, a former summer home that’s open for seasonal tours.

If you plan to hike, Eagle Falls is a good choice. It’s about a two-mile roundtrip hike.

Exterior of Vikingsholm Castle
Tours of Vikingsholm Castle are available in summer. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

4. Tour Vikingsholm Castle

Who would expect to see a castle in Lake Tahoe? Check it out! The 38-room Vikingsholm Castle is considered one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture in the Western hemisphere. Situated at the head of Emerald Bay, the castle served as the summer home for Lora Knight, who was a philanthropist and one of the wealthiest women in America.

Guided tours of the castle are available during summer months. The castle is accessible via a one-mile trail or by boat. Some companies offer boat cruises and guided tours. Try Action Water Sports and Cruise Tahoe.

View of Fannette Island from the water
Fannette Island. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

5. Fannette Island, Emerald Bay

Fannette Island is the only island in Lake Tahoe. Located in Emerald Bay on the west shore, the island is composed of granite and rises 150 feet above the water.

6. Lake Tahoe Boat Cruise

Take a relaxing 2.25-hour scenic cruise on the M.S. Dixie II, a paddle wheel boat that departs from the Zephyr Cove Marina. Cruise to Emerald Bay and learn how it was formed, and enjoy views of Fannette Island and Vikingsholm Castle.

Hikers at the Tahoe Rim Trail
The 170-mile long Tahoe Rim Trail has eight trailheads for shorter day hikes. Photo credit: Travel Nevada

7 . More Hiking Trails

The Lake Tahoe area has many hiking trails for all levels. Looking for an easy hike with great views? The Eagle Rock Hiking Trail is a great option. The trailhead is off SR 89 in Tahoe Pines, south of Tahoe City. Another great hike is Eagle Falls, a two-mile roundtrip hike accessible from Emerald Bay State Park.

The Tahoe Rim Trail is a 170-mile long-distance hiking trail that forms a loop around the Lake Tahoe Basin. Eight trailheads offer options for day hikes that range from 12-33 miles.

Ski hill at Northstar Ski Resort
Lake views while skiing at Northstar California. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

8. Alpine Skiing at 15 Ski Resorts

In winter, some of the most popular things to do in Lake Tahoe are skiing and snowboarding. In fact, Tahoe’s ski resorts are ranked among the best in the USA. Among the most popular are Palisades Tahoe (formerly called Squaw Valley), Northstar and Heavenly Mountain. All three ski resorts have a base village with lodging, entertainment, restaurants and shops.

While at Palisades Tahoe – site of the 1960 Winter Olympics – check out the Olympic Museum, showcasing Olympic history and memorabilia. Heavenly Mountain has 4,800 acres of ski terrain, many with stunning lake vistas. Looking for a smaller ski resort? Sugar Bowl was the area’s first ski resort and has a laid-back charm.

Gondolas at Heavenly Mountain
You don’t have to be a skier to ride the Heavenly Mountain Resort Gondola. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

9. Heavenly Village

Located at the base of Heavenly Mountain, Heavenly Village is the hub for year-round activities and entertainment in South Lake Tahoe. Outdoor activities include alpine skiing, ice skating (in wintertime), zip lines, mini golf (in summertime) and more. In addition, the cozy village has restaurants, entertainment, shops, an 8-plex movie theater and live music.

Even if you don’t ski or snowboard, take a scenic ride on the 2.4-mile long Heavenly Mountain Resort Gondola. From the observation deck, you’ll have incredible views of Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley and the Desolation Wilderness.

Truckee Riverwalk in Reno
The Truckee Riverwalk in Reno, NV. Photo credit: Travel Nevada

10. Truckee

About a 20-minute drive from the North Shore, Truckee is a fun destination in itself. One year, we rented a cabin overlooking Donner Lake and watched sunsets from the deck. And although the lake is much smaller than Lake Tahoe, there’s an abundance of water sports available.

Truckee offers a more intimate experience than neighboring Lake Tahoe. It’s a former logging town with an Old West-style downtown that’s home to historical sites, restaurants, boutiques and art galleries.

11. Donner Memorial State Park

While in Truckee, be sure to visit the Donner Memorial State Park. The park is open year-round for picnics and outdoor activities. In winter, there’s snowshoeing and cross-country-skiing. Summer brings fishing, hiking, water-skiing and camping.

But the park’s site has a somber history. A Pioneer Monument was built to commemorate the Donner Party, a group of pioneers traveling from the Midwest to California. They spent the winter of 1846–1847 snowbound in this area and many of them died. The visitor center’s exhibits tell the tragic story of the Donner Party, as well as the area’s railroad and logging history.

12. Float Down the Truckee River

One of our favorite summer activities is rafting on the Truckee River. It’s actually more of a scenic float trip. The Truckee River Rafting company offers these self-guided float trips that are suitable for ages two and older. Bring a cooler with snacks and drinks while enjoying a leisurely float past meadows. Small rapids add just enough thrills for an exciting family adventure. Plan on two to three hours from start to finish.

13. Kings Beach State Recreation Area

A day-use only facility, Kings Beach State Recreation Area has picnic tables, a playground, a half court for basketball and water sports. Stand up paddle boards, kayaking and jet ski rentals are available. Additional amenities: a boat launch and restrooms.

Not only is Kings Beach the largest public access sandy beach on the North Shore, it’s also one of the best swim beaches. In addition, Kings Beach is near shops and restaurants.

Aerial view of Sand Harbor State Park
Sandy beaches and scenic walks make Sand Harbor a popular site. Photo credit: Travel Nevada

14. Sand Harbor State Park

Plan to arrive early to this popular state park in North Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side. Stop by the Sand Harbor Visitor Center for information about the 55-acre park that has miles of sandy beaches and scenic walks. Plus, swimming, scuba diving and kayaking are among the outdoor activities. Sand Harbor State Park also has shaded picnic areas.

15. Stay and Play at Camp Richardson Resort

When my kids were young, they had a blast riding their bikes around Camp Richardson. But the campground is just one feature of this historic site on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Camp Richardson is a year-round resort with a marina, restaurants and accommodations that include a lodge and cabins. Take a fun side trip to nearby Fallen Leaf Lake, where you’ll find a variety of hiking trails.

Mimi Slawoff Avatar
Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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