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Things to Do in 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.
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Emerald Bay State Park
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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.

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Heavenly Gondola
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Whether you're an adventure junkie or a relaxation-seeking traveler, Heavenly Gondola—at Heavenly Ski Resort—is a can't-miss Lake Tahoe attraction. Take it to the top of the mountain, then gaze out over panoramic shore-to-shore views of aqua-blue Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains from up high.

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Lake Tahoe
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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.

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Vikingsholm Castle
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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.

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M.S. Dixie II
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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.

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Sand Harbor
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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.

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South Lake Tahoe
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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.

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Fallen Leaf Lake
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Though only one mile south of its much larger neighbor Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake holds its own, scenically surrounded by tall pine trees and mountains. It was created centuries ago by a glacier from the Glen Alpine Valley, and a lack of commercial development here means a very high quality of water, the clarity of which means visibility up to 50 feet. The bottom is even often visible from the shore!

Boating and fishing are both popular activities, with a variety of small boats available for visitors to rent. There are also several fantastic hiking trails around the area, and though there are no designated areas the lake is great for swimming. The proximity to Lake Tahoe and remaining relatively unknown means fewer crowds and less bustling activity. There is also a campground for those seeking full immersion into the peace of nature here.

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El Dorado Wine Region
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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.

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Squaw Valley
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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.

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More Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

Tahoe City

Tahoe City

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Lake Tahoe is split into two areas—South Lake and North Lake. The majority of summer tours such as biking, boating, and Jet Ski rental run out of South Lake Tahoe, opposite the lake from Tahoe City. Those staying on the south shore can visit Tahoe City on a tour that circles the lake by bus or bike, stopping along the way for photo ops.

Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are popular ways to get out on the lake, and a paved path runs along the water for walking and biking. Or take a rafting tour on the Truckee River, which flows from the lake. In winter, Tahoe City provides rental shops for ski and snowboarding gear and restaurants and bars to visit after a day on the slopes.

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Virginia and Truckee Railroad

Virginia and Truckee Railroad

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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.

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Virginia City

Virginia City

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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.

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Eagle Falls

Eagle Falls

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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.

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Northstar

Northstar

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.

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Emigrant Trail Museum

Emigrant Trail Museum

Located at Donner Memorial State Park, the Emigrant Trail Museum recounts the history of the area and the people who came into this part of the Sierra, including Native Americans and builders of the transcontinental railroad, through dioramas and artifacts. The museum also tells the story about the ill-fated Donner Party; a slide show details the party’s plight.

Surrounding the Emigrant Trail Museum, Donner Memorial Park offers a plethora of summer activities including camping, picnicking, boating, and hiking. In winter, you can cross-country ski and snowshoe on the trails, while taking in the dramatic winter vistas. Also here is the Pioneer Monument, which was built to commemorate the pioneers who immigrated to California in the late 19th century.

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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.

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