Things to Do in Lake Tahoe
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Things to Do in Lake Tahoe
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.