Lake Tahoe is no secret the Sierra Nevada mountains and is a popular destination all year round thanks to its abundance of outdoor sports, activities and convenient location between California and Nevada. However, this vast freshwater lake (which also happens to be the highest alpine lake in North America) offers a totally different experience from one season to the next.
Thanks to the fresh blanket of snow it receives every December, it’s one of the best places to visit in California during winter as you can enjoy a wide range of winter sports, or visit simply to stay cozy in a cabin. Alternatively, Lake Tahoe is blissful in the summer when you can explore the area’s fantastic hiking trails or try a water activity like paddle boarding or canoeing with pristine natural backdrops.
Because there’s so much to see and do here, it’s best to visit with a Lake Tahoe trip plan in mind. So to help you plan an epic trip, we’ve put together this list of what to do in Lake Tahoe in both summer and winter.
Places to Visit in Lake Tahoe in Summer
If you visit Lake Tahoe in the summer, you’ll enjoy warm temperatures and long, sunny days that California is known for, making it the perfect time to see the top Lake Tahoe attractions.
Hiking is one of the most popular things in Lake Tahoe in summer for good reason! The area has over 50 hiking trails, ranging from leisurely strolls to challenging day treks. The Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail in the Emerald Bay area is a popular and short 2-mile route as it’s one of the most scenic hikes in Lake Tahoe, featuring cascading waterfalls, granite peaks, and plenty of lush vegetation.
Check out the Rubicon trail if you’re not in a rush. This 16-mile route is one of the best 1-day Lake Tahoe activities as it follows the shoreline of Lake Tahoe itself. It begins at D.L. Bliss State Park and finishes at Emerald Bay, and although it’s long, the trail itself is not too challenging. Even if you’re not into hiking, there are seriously Lake Tahoe trails for everyone!
Enjoy Kings Beach
To enjoy the summer rays, don’t miss a stop at Kings Beach, whether you’re a beachgoer or not. The view here is wonderful and the town of Kings Beach has lots to do too including street vendors, retail shopping, and a number of options for accommodation and restaurants too.
Kings Beach is one of the best beaches in Lake Tahoe and is white sand. It is hit by the summer sun from morning until afternoon, with picnic areas in shaded areas. It’s a great spot for all ages with plenty of water activities and sometimes even live music.
Cycle around the lake on an electric (or not) bike
While the hiking trails are excellent, you can explore more of the enormous lake by bicycle, and the easy-to-ride e-bikes allow you to ride for longer without tiring out. The most scenic coastal trail is on the east side of the lake, starting from the incline village and leading to Sand Harbour.
This popular cycle route is totally safe and traffic-free as it’s pathed the whole way and features incredible views of the glistening water and surrounding mountains. Plus, with a self-guided e-bike tour, you can go at your own pace, stopping off at the viewpoints and some beaches along the way.
With warm temperatures, clear waters, and a deep blue sky, summer makes the perfect time for a spot of paddleboarding. Whether you’re a paddleboarding pro or you’ve never tried this water activity before, it’s one of the best Lake Tahoe summer activities. There are various places to rent paddleboards from around the lake, and if it is your first time, you can take lessons here, too.
Kayak or canoe around the lake
Paddleboarding isn’t as easy as it looks and is a real test of your balance. So, if you prefer more relaxing Lake Tahoe activities, opt for some kayaking or canoeing instead. It’s still a workout for your arms, but you can go at your own pace, taking in the stunning views of the mountain backdrop and admiring the cute cabins that line the shores.
Kayaking and canoeing can be one of the most romantic things to do in North Lake Tahoe, too. There are many two-seaters available to rent around the north of the lake, then, once you’ve had enough, you can refuel with a romantic picnic on one of the beaches.
Cruise around Emerald Bay at sunset
If you’re wondering what to see in Lake Tahoe, sunset at Emerald Bay is a must! This part of South Lake Tahoe is one of the most photographed in the USA as the changing colors of the sky reflect in the waters. So, if you’re visiting Lake Tahoe, be sure to plan the end of the day in Emerald Bay to witness the incredible sight.
One of the best ways to enjoy this experience is with a sightseeing cruise on the world-class Tahoe Bleu Wave yacht. You can take this 2-hour cruise any time of day, but sunset is undoubtedly the most magnificent. You’ll cruise for 6.5 miles (11 kilometers) while learning about the history of the lake, spotting the area’s iconic wildlife, and of course, snapping some fantastic Instagram shots!
Things to Do in Lake Tahoe in Winter
With icy waters and snow-covered mountains, winter in Lake Tahoe becomes an adventure-lovers playground. You’ll never be short of places to visit in Lake Tahoe even in winter.
Hit the slopes at Heavenly Village
Heavenly Village is the largest and highest ski resort in Lake Tahoe and is ideal for beginners and pros alike. It boasts many skiable trails and the highest peak has an elevation of 10,067 ft. with 3,500 vertical feet for shredding. There are ski lessons available for beginners, where instructors will take you out on the easy runs, teach you all you need to know and keep a watchful eye on you.
If you have some experience, you’ll love Heavenly’s longest ski run, the 5.5 mile Olympic Downhill. Then, for the experts, check out areas such as Mott Canyon, Gunbarrel, and the Milky Way Bowl for a new challenge!
The ski resort has plenty of terrains that are well suited for snowboarders, too. Heavenly also has a super fun base village, so you can partake in the “apres-ski” tradition and grab a beer at the end of the day to reward yourself for your hard work!
Go ice skating
While it’s not as adrenaline-filled as skiing and snowboarding, ice skating is still one of the top activity to try in Lake Tahoe in winter. While the main lake doesn’t freeze over, some smaller lakes and ponds do, such as Sawmill Pond. When the ice is thick enough, you can enjoy a natural ice skating experience.
You will also find several ice skating rinks in South Lake Tahoe, including at Heavenly Village, an outdoor rink with fairy lights all around, and holiday music playing. Then, there’s the indoor South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena too. This NHL-sized rink is the only one that is open all year long.
Give cross country skiing a try
Cross country skiing is totally different from downhill skiing and is a fab activity for anyone visiting Lake Tahoe in winter. With cross country skiing, you can get up close and personal to the forested trails, snow-covered meadows, and peaceful shores that the downhill skiers don’t experience.
Kirkwood and Hope Valley resorts offer groomed trails, but cross country skiing is quite a workout, and even the easy trails here can be tiring. Luckily though, many courses have warming huts along the way so you can take regular breaks. Still, remember to take plenty of water, snacks, and extra layers with you.
Take a guided snowshoeing tour
Although some of the hiking trails are closed during the winter, this doesn’t mean that you can’t explore Lake Tahoe on foot. Snowshoeing is essentially a winter version of hiking, using specialized snowshoes and trekking poles to walk over the snow with ease.
If you have the gear, you can head out into the wilderness independently. Or, for those who have never tried snowshoeing before, you can take a guided snowshoeing tour with an experienced and knowledgeable guide.
The tour begins at one of the trailheads in North Lake Tahoe or Truckee, where you will get kitted out and discover the day’s itinerary. Then as you trek through the snow, you’ll learn about the lake’s unique winter ecology, discover native plants and animals and experience breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Discover the hidden Vikingsholm castle
Many people visiting Lake Tahoe are unaware that there is a castle here. What’s more, those who know about it tend to hike down to it in the summer. However, this enormous mansion looks particularly magical in the winter when covered in snow. Plus, it’s not a popular winter attraction and is usually pretty empty this time of year.
So, if you feel like escaping the crowds of the ski slopes, hiking to Vikingsholm castle makes one of the most peaceful things to see in Lake Tahoe in winter. However, make sure you’re wearing snow boots and take care with your footing as the downward trail can get icy. Ice spikes on your shoes are recommended!
See the lake from above
Finally, one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe any time of year is to take to the sky with a helicopter tour. Seeing frozen waterfalls and snow-covered mountains from above gives a truly unique perspective of the area, and the experience will imprint in your mind forever. It might be a bit pricey, but a helicopter tour allows you to fit in all Lake Tahoe sightseeing in a short space of time.
A 30-minute helicopter tour over Lake Tahoe will take you soaring over the waterfalls, lakes, and mountains, almost 10,000 feet high. The helicopter takes off from South Tahoe Airport, heading over Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, Mount Talla, and Fallen Leaf Lake. You’ll then glide over Glen Alpine Creek, Pyramid Peak, Lake Aloha, Horsetail Falls, and finally Echo Lake before returning to the airport.
That’s it! I hope you have a fabulous trip to Lake Tahoe, no matter what season you’re visiting in!