Lake Tahoe in California isn’t just any lake. It’s one of the world’s clearest, bluest, deepest lakes, nestled in the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s also one of the most laid-back and popular vacation destinations on the West Coast. Planning your getaway to Lake Tahoe in the winter? Read through this complete guide for tons of great tips and tricks to traveling to Lake Tahoe in the winter. First time to Lake Tahoe? Check out our guide to navigating all there is to do at this incredible vacation destination. Keep reading to find out the top 10 ideas on how to enjoy yourself at Lake Tahoe.
Emerald Bay State Park
A visit to Emerald Bay State Park (a national natural landmark) is a must-do when vacationing on Lake Tahoe. Located 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe, this park allows you to experience the new underwater “trail” of features below Emerald Bay, camp in your RV, stay at a floating camp by boat and just enjoy the scenery of alpine peaks and ancient, thick glaciers. Enjoy hiking, biking, and water sports depending on the season you choose to visit. Planning a winter trip? Check out our winter guide to Lake Tahoe. Spend some time on Fannette Island and discover Mrs. Knight’s teahouse. Rent a kayak and paddle around this majestic lake. There are a ton of boat cruises offered, too.
Eldorado National Forest
West of Lake Tahoe is a wilderness area that you can visit to experience the habitats of black bears. The mountainous landscape called Desolation Wilderness is a breathtaking sea of granite that’s accessible to hikers and overnight campers on trips that you’ll need to reserve with the park ranger’s office months in advance. Since the area includes extreme wilderness, the rangers and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit need to keep track of each person who enters the area. You will certainly want to visit Mount Tallac, an elevated mountain peak with trails and views.
Emerald Bay is the home of Vikingsholm, Lake Tahoe’s hidden castle that is available to tour. Built in the late 1960s as a summer home, it’s a magnificent piece of Scandinavian architecture in a spectacular setting. Tours are open from May through September. While you’re there, be sure to grab a photo in front of Eagle Waterfalls, the only waterfall that flows directly from the mountains to the lake. Take a tour by boat and see the incredible castle from a different perspective. Get more information on boat tours of the castle here.
Fallen Leaf Lake
For breathtaking views, take a hike along the hidden Fallen Leaf Lake located on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, which is less than a mile away. The lake has an eight-mile loop for hikes and a large campground that includes yurts. Though close to Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake is less crowded because it’s less famous than its popular neighbor.
D. L. Bliss State Park
Yet another pristine park, D. L. Bliss State Park is located on the western shore of Lake Tahoe, north of Emerald Bay State Park. Take the Balancing Rock Nature Trail, a self-guided tour of this natural attraction, which is an enormous piece of granite resting on a slender stone base. It’s important to note that if you’re planning on traveling with your dog, this is one of the areas where they can be a little tricky to have. Dogs must be kept on a leash and are only allowed in the campground and picnic areas. Be sure to plan accordingly.
The only island in Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island is on the California side of the lake and is reachable only by kayak. Take a hike through a rocky landscape to get to an abandoned stone cottage that is still standing on the island, and that was once a teahouse. The historic structure has rock walls and is missing its roof, but the views from the structure are heavenly.
As the name suggests, this lake is home to osprey and bald eagles. Trout fishing is popular on Eagle Lake, which is California’s second-largest natural lake. Eagle Lake is located on a back trail near South Lake Tahoe. You won’t want to miss hiking by the waterfalls and underneath the soaring granite peaks. For a rugged challenge, trek the trail by snowshoe in winter.
Lake Tahoe is a major skiing destination, and The Village at Squaw Valley was even the site of the Olympics in 1960. For history and skiing, check out the ski terrain at the top of Donner Summit. Squaw Valley is handily one of the best skiing spots in the area. Heavenly Mountain offers pristine slopes for varying skill levels. Check out North Star for some great runs; they’re also known for some incredible snowboarding. For the master skier or snowboarder, hit the runs at Kirkwood. Known by locals and visitors alike as one of the most challenging mountains in the area, this place will push you. They’ve also got some decent options for beginners, but this is definitely a more advanced set of slopes.
Casinos and Nightlife
If you want to mix some civilization and nightlife into your Lake Tahoe trip, consider visiting the surrounding casinos and resorts, some of which come complete with spas (essential after hours of hiking). There are numerous mountain havens hidden along Lake Tahoe’s shores.
From quaint family beaches to secret nude beaches, there’s a stunning spot for everyone. Try Sand Harbor Beach on the north shore, Pope Beach or Baldwin Beach in South Lake Tahoe, Hidden Beach in North Lake Tahoe, Commons Beach in Tahoe City, or the more scandalous Secret Cove on the East Shore for summer fun. Each beach has its own unique amenities (or lack thereof), but all offer picturesque views. If you don’t feel like jumping in the water, take a boat cruise.
Where to Stay in Tahoe
If you’re looking to be a part of the nightlight and party, look for a hip spot to stay on the South Shore. If you’re looking for something more relaxing and serene, look to the North Shore. Enjoying this trip on a tighter budget? Look for some incredible deals on cabins and cottages in Incline Village. It’s on the northern part of the Nevada side and offers you some amazing options.