Lake Tahoe is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise — no matter what time of year you visit — but winter in particular is a marvelous season in Tahoe. Thousands of visitors have the option to enjoy various winter activities at over ten different ski resorts in the area, in addition to getting sweeping scenic views from just about anywhere. If it’s your first time visiting this ski region nestled on the border of California and Nevada, you’ll be amazed at all there is to do!
- Skiing & Snowboarding
Lake Tahoe is known as California’s top ski destination. Although Tahoe sits on the vertical border of California and Nevada, its two main communities are split horizontally, across the beautiful blue body of water. These two communities are called North Lake Tahoe and Tahoe South. A handful of resorts exist in both these areas, so you may want to check out a couple of them during your stay.
One of the most popular resorts in North Lake Tahoe is Northstar. There, you’ll find the Burton Academy, the only official Burton snowboarding school. If you’re in need of some liquid courage on the mountain, you can ride down to Tōst at 1:30 PM and cheers with fellow riders over a free glass of bubbly at 2:00 PM. Because the champagne is complimentary, drinks are distributed on a first come-first serve basis.
Down in Tahoe South, you can take advantage of a full day of winter fun at Heavenly Resort. Aside from shredding down Heavenly’s slopes, if you’re visiting in December, you can check out Heavenly Holidays, a full month of holiday celebrations including a tree lighting, fireworks, live music, and more.
- Drive the Scenic Highways
California upholds a reputation for having incredibly scenic views as you drive through the state’s highways, and Tahoe is no exception. Take a drive down the scenic highways 89, 28, and 50 to appreciate the skyline and lake views. As the highway takes you up north, feel free to stop at Squaw Valley, another ski resort which served as the site for the 1960 Winter Olympics. While there, you can tour the Olympic Museum, ice skate, ski, snowboard, or take an aerial tram ride to catch amazing views of Lake Tahoe’s landscape.
If you continue to drive north, you’ll probably end up in an old historic railroad town called Truckee. Here you can take a break and do some shopping at local boutiques such as Dressed or Bespoke. Your visit to Lake Tahoe wouldn’t be complete without actually seeing the lake up close. On your way down from Truckee, find your way to Crystal Bay on the Nevada side, which boasts the deepest point in the whole lake, measuring in at 1,645 feet deep. This area has a lot going on, including a casino to let you test your luck and gamble a little. You’ve reached Nevada after all. If you’re not the gambling type, you can grab a bite right along the water at Lone Eagle Grille.
- Overlooks and State Parks
If it’s not too cold out, you can visit some of the high overlooks and state parks. Emerald Bay Overlook gives an expansive view of the Emerald Bay. So much so, that it’s said to be one of the most photographed places in the world. As long as the weather permits, Emerald Bay at sunrise is an incredible sight to see, even in the winter. A nearby trail leads to Vikingsholm Castle, a hidden gem built in the late 1920s. Have your camera ready here too so you can take a few snapshots at the historic mansion.
The state parks and recreation areas around Lake Tahoe also have some picturesque views. D. L. Bliss State Park and the Donner Memorial State Park normally more popular during the summer, but if you visit during the tail end of winter, you’ll get to witness the vibrant colors of the lake in contrast with the snow, pictured below.
Local Winter Activities
Tips for Exploring Tahoe
- Plan Your Routes and Check Road Conditions
Driving is the most convenient way to get around the Lake Tahoe area, but it’s easy to get lost. To keep yourself from driving around in circles, plan your activities and routes in advance, and double check addresses on a map, and write it down somewhere in case you lose service. In the winter, look up local road conditions before you set off. The area gets a lot of snow, and road closures are not uncommon. The Waze App is a great way to get live updates on road closures while navigating where you need to go. Even if your route is clear, pack a set of chains, just in case.
Pro tip: chains are normally more expensive in Tahoe. If you’re visiting during the winter from a different city such as San Francisco, purchase chains before you get to Tahoe. Alternatively, you can also save yourself the hassle and rent an all-wheel-drive car.
- Opt For Home Cooked Meals Instead of Restaurants
Don’t get us wrong — there’s nothing wrong with restaurants in Tahoe. But if you ask us, enjoying a home-cooked meal in your Tahoe vacation rental adds to the cozy winter experience. There are many other advantages to doing grocery shopping instead of splurging at restaurants.
First, you’ll want to be prepared if you get snowed in. During the winter months, anything is possible, and it’s better to be prepared rather than stuck at home with no food. Second, cooking your own meals will also save a lot of money, which you’ll be able to spend on other exciting things. Third, this will allow you to enjoy spending time in your vacation rental rather than being out and about all the time.
Hit the grocery store and think of the best comfort food you can make for you and all your travel companions! You never know, cooking may even turn into a fun activity for your entire Tahoe crew.
- Always Pack Snacks
While you’re at the grocery store, be sure to grab some snacks too. Granola bars are perfect to bring in a backpack when you hit the slopes so you can refuel when you get tired. And who doesn’t love road trip snacks? Traffic jams, delays and road closures on the highway are common. Packing something to eat and drink along the way can keep you from feeling tired and hungry if you get stuck.