California

18 Exhilarating Things To Do At Lake Tahoe

by Arthur McMahon

things to do lake tahoe

From high-end shopping to alpine adventure parks and sunny beaches, there are countless things to do at Lake Tahoe.

For some, the ski slopes and casino buffets of South Lake Tahoe combine to create the ultimate winter recreation destination. Others prefer visiting the sandy beaches and riverside trails of North Lake Tahoe during their summer vacation.

The thing is, Lake Tahoe is a fun place to visit any time of year. Outdoor adventures shift with the changing seasons, as do the downtown festivities, enabling new opportunities and experiences throughout the year.

In short, you’ll never run out of things to do at Lake Tahoe.

The extraordinary lake itself provides copious recreation opportunities, and the surrounding mountains that form the rim of the Lake Tahoe Basin hold their own magnificent splendor which begs to be explored.

Mountain resorts and lakeside promenades are home to unique Tahoe atmospheres all their own. A cornucopia of diverse restaurants tantalize the senses, and numerous casinos provide endless entertainment at all hours.

We’ve laid out some of the best activities in Lake Tahoe below and divvied them up into their respective seasons to help you plan your trip. There are ample activities to try, and lucky for you, most of them can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Year-Round Activities

Bike The Truckee River

truckee river bike trail
Photo: jcookfisher

“This is a premier trail around Tahoe for walking, biking or running,” says John on TripAdvisor.

Open year-round (except for when winters snows are at their absolute worst) the Truckee River Bike Trail is an extremely popular path for recreational bicyclists — enough so that it’s a destination in and of itself.

The smooth ride and astoundingly beautiful Truckee River are the highlights of the trail. Riders are far-removed from the highway and busy roads, resulting in a wild and scenic experience that bike riders sometimes only dream of finding.

Hang Out At Heavenly Village

heavenly village

Set in the heart of downtown South Lake Tahoe, the shops at Heavenly Village create a wonderful alpine hamlet atmosphere right off the shores of Lake Tahoe.

The shops at Heavenly Village include major outdoor brands such as Patagonia and The North Face. Adding to the ambiance, an outdoor ice rink and numerous fire pits create the ideal winter setting, especially when you’ve got a steaming glass of mulled wine or apple cider to keep you warm.

Summertime is when the Cold Stone Creamery and Heavenly Village Cinemas become popular stomping grounds. With the warmer weather, the ice rink is converted into an entertaining mini-golf course.

Downtown South Lake Tahoe is but a step away from the resort, and popular casinos are only a hop across the state line.

El Dorado Wine Country Tour

el dorado wine country

Take a day trip away from the lake to explore El Dorado Wine Country in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Wine sampling is a staple of such events and goes without mentioning, but the orchestrated picnic on winery grounds turns this into a unique experience.

Round-trip transport from Lake Tahoe and tasting fees are included in the tour. Aside from the mountain views and tasty wines, you’ll also get to learn the history of the area which was once a part of the gold rush boom in the 1800s.

Cruise On The M.S. Dixie II

ms dixie ii
Photo: Jay Galvin

Looking for a scenic boat ride with a bit of class and refinement? The M.S. Dixie II is a 500-passenger paddlewheel boat that offers onboard meal service and an audio-assisted sight-seeing tour of Lake Tahoe.

You’ll get an in-depth education about the lake and its history. Audio speakers throughout the ship relay information about the area during the cruise whenever the ship approaches a point of interest.

Cruising past iconic spots such as Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm, there will be plenty of time for photos and observation. This is a relaxing family-friendly excursion that’ll help to slow down your vacation’s pace so that you can enjoy the lake for what it is.

Donner Memorial State Park

Donner Memorial State Park
Photo: Ken Lund

A museum, visitor’s center, campground, and miles of hiking and snowshoeing trails are the underpinnings of Donner Memorial State Park. Commemorating a dark point in American pioneer history, this park serves to tell the tale of the ill-fated Donner Party that found themselves trapped in the mountains during one of the heaviest snowfalls on record.

A stone statue near the Emigrant Trail Museum within the park stands 22 feet high, marking the height of the snow levels recorded during the 1846 Sierra Nevada winter when the Donner Party was trapped at the pass.

The Emigrant Trail Museum features detailed information about the Donner Party, and it also outlines other historical interests of the area, including early railroad development and other pioneer-related stories.

Try Your Luck at the Casino

montbleu casion tahoe

There are many casinos in the Lake Tahoe area, especially if you extend your search out to the nearby city of Reno. The bulk of immediate Tahoe-area casinos are just outside the heart of downtown South Lake Tahoe across the Nevada state line.

Harrah’s Casino, Montbleu Resort, and the Hard Rock Casino are notable mainstays among the many other slots and tables on the Nevada-side of Lake Tahoe. Gambling, games, and shows of all sorts keep the action going all day, all night, and all year long.

For some, the casino buffets with food aplenty are where the excitement is. Dine to your stomach’s content at the smorgasbord of all-you-can-eat options in the area.

Ride The Rubicon Trail

rubicon trail tahoe

“Native communities originally used the Rubicon Trail to travel from the Sacramento Valley to Lake Tahoe,” says Jakob Schiller at Outside Online.

Infamous among off-road enthusiasts, the Rubicon Trail is a 22-mile long 4×4 route riddled with technical obstacles that only the most off-road worthy vehicles can surpass.

Put your vehicle to the test, or save your daily driver and embark upon a paid Jeep tour of the Rubicon Trail. This is where Jeep comes to test their trail-rated vehicles, and it is also home to several Jeep and other off-road-focused events throughout the year.

Gondola Rides At Heavenly Mountain Resort

heavenly resort gondola
Photo: Travis Wise

This year-round outdoor adventure park is best known for its scenic gondola ride which carries visitors up a mountain face overlooking the blue water of Lake Tahoe on its way toward the Heavenly Ski Resort adventure park. Be sure to stop at the observation deck on your way up for a jaw-dropping photo opportunity.

Summer activities at the park include high-speed summer tubing, zip lines, rock walls, and a mini roller coaster. The winter slopes are just as fun with skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing as reliable mainstays, and the unique guided UTV tours make for an adventurous good time of winter off-roading.

Hike On The Tahoe Rim Trail

Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo by Arthur McMahon

The Tahoe Rim Trail is a 165-mile backcountry trail that circles around the Lake Tahoe Basin. Nearly 50 miles of the trail occupies the same route as the Pacific Crest Trail, and the remainder of the loop sticks to ridge crests as often as possible.

Ranging in elevation from 6,240 feet up to 10,338 feet at Relay Peak, the Tahoe Rim Trail takes hikers to high alpine destinations and even above the timberline in some locations.

With dozens of access points, the trail is readily accessible to thru-hikers, backpackers, and day hikers. Mountaintop views can be found across the entire loop, and wildflowers are in abundance throughout the trek at the right time of year.

Explore Emerald Bay State Park And Vikingsholm

emerald bay lake tahoe

Touted as the second-most photographed destination in the country, Emerald Bay is breathtakingly beautiful and a popular destination for tourists. Emerald Bay State Park’s impressive landscape was formed by glacial movements eons ago.

“Emerald Bay is one of the most beautiful places in California,” says Josh at California Through My Lens.

Camping, hiking, and boating are all common activities in the park. Vikingsholm resides above the crystalline waters at the head of Emerald Bay, and is a striking example of Scandinavian architecture that draws large crowds on the daily.

The Vikingsholm estate looks like something out of a storybook with its large stone walls, broad oak structures, and ever-clinging moss. Tours of the estate and interior dive deep into the rich history of the place.

The most adventurous undertaking at Emerald Bay is the Maritime Heritage Trail, an underwater trail that showcases that bay’s historic sunken watercraft which rest in silence at the bottom of the bay. There are multiple dive sites to explore.

Winter Activities

Tahoe City Winter Sports Park

The whole family will have a fun time at Tahoe City Winter Sports Park. The largely flat, wide-open grounds are groomed and maintained for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat-tire biking: a unique snow experience on bicycles with knobby tires that glide easily through the snow.

There is a wonderful sledding hill onsite that children of all ages will love. Older kids can entertain themselves for hours in the snow while parents spectate from the cozy confines of the lodge.

A newly-constructed ice rink provides another more fun winter activity that the entire family can enjoy together. Strap on your skates and ride!

Hit The Slopes

lake tahoe skiing

With over a dozen winter ski resorts in the immediate area, Lake Tahoe is the ultimate snow-lovers destination.

The slopes are aplenty, and they come in all varieties from beginner to expert, from backcountry terrain to groomed bunny hills. Some have warm lodges to relax in between runs, while others are all about the rugged mountain experienced.

From Squaw Valley to Boreal Mountain and Diamond Peak, you can’t go wrong. The simple question remains, which slope are you going to hit first?

SnowFest

SnowFest is a months-long celebration of the excellent snowpack in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. Events of all sorts take place from February through March all throughout the North and South Lake Tahoe areas.

Past activities have included such fun events as the torchlight parade, frozen luaus, concerts, ski races, ice-cream eating challenges, and pet show contests.

Keep an eye on the SnowFest event calendar to stay up-to-date on this year’s upcoming winter events and activities.

Summer Activities

Take A Hot Air Balloon Ride

tahoe hot air balloon rides

Lake Tahoe Balloons will float you up into the sky above Lake Tahoe to panoramic heights unattainable elsewhere in the area.

“Best part of my weekend in Tahoe,” says Rachel on TripAdvisor.

Liftoff takes place at the crack of dawn. You’ll gently float above Lake Tahoe and partake in the stellar views of nearby wonders such as Emerald Bay, Fallen Leaf Lake, Cascade Lake, and all of the Desolation Wilderness. Clear skies will gift you Sierra Nevada vistas full of sky-scraping snow-capped mountains.

Your balloon operator will also act as a tour guide. The ride ends with a landing on the upper deck of the Tahoe Flyer watercraft, where champagne and snacks await your arrival.

Ride The Tahoe Tiki Boat

tahoe tiki boat

It’s a party on the lake! The Tahoe Tiki Boat cruises around the lake and acts as party central for your gathering of up to 12 companions.

Play whatever music you like over the onboard Bluetooth speakers, get wild with your drink of choice, and take a ride down the boat’s slide into Tahoe’s pristine water. Keep snacks and drinks cold via a complimentary ice chest.

The boat also contains all of the equipment you need for fun in the water. Practice paddleboarding or soak up some sun and relax on a large float mat.

Swim At Kings Beach Recreation Area

kings beach lake tahoe

A thousand-foot long stretch of pristine beach lines the north shore of Lake Tahoe. This popular summer hangout is the ideal swimming spot on this end of the lake, and there is a dog-friendly section of the beach for your furry friend.

Fishing and parasailing are other fun activities at Kings Beach Recreation Area, and there is a large playground that children love underneath the shade of towering Jeffrey Pines. Boat rentals are also available on location.

Set with picnic tables, restrooms, barbeques, and a basketball court, it’s easy to spend an entire afternoon at Kings Beach. Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen!

Take The Aerial Tram To High Camp

squaw valley tram

The 10-minute Squaw Valley aerial tram joy ride is chock-full of sweeping views. This leg of the journey is just the beginning, though, as the tram drops you off at High Camp, a veritable mountaintop playground.

Miles of easy and difficult trails set off into the wild landscape which surrounds High Camp. Family-friendly activities centered around the village include disc golf, roller skating, a pool, hot tub, and lawn games.

Easy to grab snacks and the Granite Bistro Cafe will keep your belly full while you explore. The Olympic Museum is an interesting indoor retreat that takes visitors through the 1960 Winter Olympics experience which took place at Squaw Valley.

Tour The Hellman-Ehrman Mansion

Hellman-Ehrman Mansion
Photo: Virginia Hill

Built in 1903 by San Francisco financial tycoon I.W. Hellman, this stone mansion is one of the last reminders of a bygone era when only the wealthy had access to Lake Tahoe’s clean air and sapphire water.

The Hellman-Ehrman Mansion is now a national and state landmark, and tours of it are given by the Sierra State Parks Foundation. Take an educational walk around its 2000-acre estate and see what life around Tahoe was like over 100 years ago.

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