10 Tips for Planning a Trip to Lake Tahoe

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While California and Nevada both boast many natural wonders, few compare to the breathtaking beauty of Lake Tahoe. Straddling the border between the two western states, this lake is nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, making it a go-to destination for both swimming and skiing. This lake is over two million years old and could comfortably fit the Empire State Building inside of it! Lake Tahoe is enormous and as a result, offers a ton of great ways for you and your loved ones to enjoy it. In this guide, we’ll touch on a few key points to keeping your trip as enjoyable as possible.

If you’re renting a home for a Lake Tahoe vacation, keep some of these tips in mind to ensure your time is enjoyable for the whole family. Keep reading as we take a peek at all the major factors you need to take into account when planning your Lake Tahoe Vacation!

10 Tips for Visiting Lake Tahoe

Consider the Season

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There’s no bad time to visit Lake Tahoe. If skiing is your thing, winter is a must-visit. Summer is best for hiking, biking, and being on the lake, while a fall or spring visit lets you avoid the heavier crowds of the peak seasons. Regardless of the season you choose to visit, it’s good to keep in mind that the water is a little nippy. In the summer, expect the water to sit right around 64° F, whereas in the winter, the water plunges to a chilling 40° F. Unless your rental comes with a hot tub, leave the bathing suits at home after October.

Pack Appropriately

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Always plan for things to be a little colder than you expect. In summer, temperatures take a dip after the sun goes down. In winter, there’s no such thing as being over-prepared in terms of appropriate layers. The key to enjoying your time at the lake is understanding you might want a little of all of your wardrobe. A small change in the sun can make a huge difference in temperature for you. Being directly in the sun versus in the shade will often merit an additional layer, possibly even a jacket. In stark contrast, you may want to ditch a layer after the sun has found its place in the sky. If traveling in the summer, check this post out about how to pack. If your trip is in the winter, here is another list of items you’ll want to have on your trip.

Plan Your Route Ahead of Time

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If you plan to do any sightseeing on your trip, a map and a good GPS system are your best friends. In the winter, travel can be hazardous due to road conditions. In other seasons, one wrong turn can set you way off course. Before setting off, look up current traffic situations and know exactly where you’re heading. In addition, consider the view you’ll have of the lake and if possible aim to stay within eyeshot of the emerald-colored water. You won’t have to plan your route too tedious to keep beauty within sight, as the whole place is incredible, but if the lake is what you’re looking to gaze at, spending an extra 10-15 minutes on the route will be well worth it.

Prepare for Elevation

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The lake sits at 6,225 feet elevation and the area mountains are even higher. Unless you’re regularly used to these heights, prepare for the elevation change with extra water, moisturizer, and adequate sun protection. Additionally, we’d suggest not pushing yourself too hard the first couple of days. You’ll find that adjusting to the elevation may make you feel nausea and leave you completely drained of energy. Drink plenty of water, and eat lots of fruit to combat these natural reactions to the change in elevation. Check this article out for some additional tips and ideas on how to beat the elevation sickness.

Know the Difference Between Shores

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Not all areas of Tahoe are the same. If budget-friendly and touristy is what you’re after, head to the southern shore, where you’ll find casinos, plenty of restaurants, shopping, and entertainment. If you prefer a relaxing vacation with a more outdoorsy feel, the northern shore towns of Kings Beach, Incline Village, Carnelian Bay, Tahoe City, and Truckee are more your style. The general rule of thumb is the southern shore is a bit more glamorous and the northern shore will keep you in the great outdoors. These are not hard-fast rules, but they do seem to do the trick of orienting you to your desired amenities when choosing your rental property. For more information on the southern shores, give this article a peek. And if the northern shore sounds more like your cup of tea, check this out.

Make Reservations

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There’s nothing worse than driving to a nice restaurant and finding out it’s full. Lake Tahoe is a popular vacation destination, so prepare to make reservations early at your must-eat spots. Some additional things to consider when making a reservation are road closures. Particularly in the winter, it can be common for the only route the restaurant is closed. Plan accordingly and think about giving yourself some extra drive time to make your reservation. 

Below we’ve given you a couple of recommendations of restaurants that are sure to leave and your party satisfied. 

Cafe Fiore

Known for having some of the best Italian cuisines in the entire area, Cafe Fiore is a must-try while on your Lake Tahoe excursion. We’d suggest trying the eggplant crepes. They’re to die for. 

Christy Hill Lakeside Bistro

For something more traditional with a fresh twist, we offer you Christy Hill. This descendant spot is seated right on the coast of the lake and offers you a lovely view and a delicious meal. The duck breast and the pan-seared scallops are the house favorites. Don’t forget to ask about the nightly featured menu items.

Have a Car

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Because it’s tucked away in the mountains and has more than 70 miles of shoreline, a car is by far the easiest way to travel. If you’re arriving for your Lake Tahoe vacation by plane, make arrangements for a rental vehicle during your stay. Public transportation is virtually non-existent and rideshare services are to be desired. It’s a much better game plan to find a rental. The household names are all represented from Avis to Hertz, Enterprise to Budget. Lake Tahoe even has an SUV rental company that will put you in a sturdy vehicle, especially when traveling in the winter.

Local Pro-tip: If you are coming in the winter, you must have a four-wheel-drive car. During storms, many roads are closed to two-wheel drive cars and are dangerous if you don’t have the right gear.

Make a Game Plan

Lake Tahoe boasts an area of more than 200 square miles, and many of its amenities are spread out. It’s easy to get lost trying to figure out what to do and see if you don’t approach the visit with a game plan. Try to find as many activities as possible close to where you’re staying. It’s a good idea to pack a bunch of things that are close together. Get some ideas on areas with tons of activities nearby here!

Book a Tour

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One of the best ways to see all the beauty of the area is to sit back and let the professionals show you. Try a charter boat tour, hop on a bus or even experience a horse carriage ride as you see and learn about the beauty of the area. There are a ton of your options. We like our friends over at Around Tahoe Tours. Get in touch with them for the scoop on the great tours available to you for your trip! 

Try Something New

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Lake Tahoe is a one-of-a-kind place, so make the most of your vacation with a new adventure or experience. Ride a gondola, try paddleboarding, cruise through the tree on a zipline or go skiing for the first time. A Lake Tahoe vacation is the perfect time to step outside of your comfort zone and make lasting memories. For those of you that are a little less risk-averse, hop on a hot air balloon with the folks over at Lake Tahoe Balloons. They’ve got tons of experience and will make sure you have a blast on your trip.

Lake Tahoe Awaits!

With so much to do and see around this amazing lake, you’ve just got to find a place to stay! We’ve got you taken care of at VacationRenter. Head over there now to get your trip planning started!