Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, is a sapphire jewel set amid the forested Sierra Nevada range that spans California and Nevada. Peaks reaching as high as 10,000 feet encircle the 190-square-mile lake for everything from zipping in a speedboat and paddling in a remote cove to world-class skiing, hiking, and mountain biking.
The Lake Tahoe area offers more laidback pursuits as well. You can meander through woods scented by sweet Jeffrey pines, golf to the sound of birdsong, and decompress at a wellness spa. Come evening, options range from lakeside dining and discovering local musicians to attending bold-name performances and all-night gaming. Read on to discover how to savor the best of Lake Tahoe’s outdoor adventure, buzzing nightlife, and—everywhere you look—awe-inspiring nature.
Adventures on the water
Lake Tahoe’s water is so clear you can see more than 80 feet down, yet its hues are distinctive, including cobalt near its ultra-deep center, aquamarine in shallow bays, and crystalline by the shore. Head to sandy Baldwin Beach for a sunrise salutation or try your yoga poses on a stand-up paddle board rented from SUP Tahoe. You can also row a glass-bottomed kayak into a secluded cove flanked by imposing boulders, guided by Clearly Tahoe. Another option is to set sail with Go Tahoe Blue or go big on a two-hour trip with the M.S. Dixie II, the largest vessel on the lake.
Anglers can join the folks at Tahoe Sport Fishing, who know the top spots to find Mackinaw, rainbow trout, brown trout, and Kokanee salmon. Or embark on your own boat at Cave Rock. Just be sure not to lose yourself in the azure expanse, and always “Keep Tahoe Blue” by observing the prohibitions on polluting watercraft, cruising slowly by the shore, and keeping invasive species out of the lake. You can finish off the day by sampling a curated selection of Northern California wines on a classic wooden yacht or joining a two-hour cruise during the calm, windless hours of sunset with The Tahoe Experience.
Into the woods and up the mountain
A wander through forested areas takes you past tall Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines, twisted Lodgepole pines, white firs, and deciduous aspens. You’ll find trails for every skill level, from the two-mile Lake of the Sky Trail to the nearly 10-mile Mount Tallac Trail, which ascends beyond the tree line to a rocky point 9,740 feet above sea level—towering over Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, and Fallen Leaf Lake. Other trails lead to waterfalls like Eagle Falls and Cascade Creek Falls that gush in spring and early summer. Help keep Tahoe wild by staying on trails, packing everything out, and using bear-proof containers. For quieter paths, hike midweek or, perhaps even better yet, come in the fall to see the aspens turn gold on the Lake of the Sky Trail.
Autumn’s cooler weather is also ideal for mountain biking. The technically easy but steep Flume Trail will work the quads as you pedal on paths cut into the lake’s rocky mountainside. The Tahoe Rim Trail has some more challenging sections near the South Shore, while Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is as gnarly a single-track as the name suggests. Rent your two-wheeler at South Shore Bikes or Anderson’s Bicycle Rental and hit up Van Sickle Bi-State Park for a host of bike trails.
On a typically clear morning, given Tahoe’s average of 300 sunny days per year, the Heavenly Gondola is a worthwhile endeavor. It takes you up 2.4 miles along Tahoe’s tallest mountain resort, to the Heavenly Observation Deck and a sweeping lake panorama. And when the snow falls, Heavenly isn’t just the Tahoe resort with the broadest lake views, affording a look across the lake’s 22-mile length to its northern shore. It’s also—with 4,800 skiable acres—one of the biggest ski areas in the two states it straddles.
Hardcore skiers will find some of the region’s deepest, untracked powder at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, while families will appreciate the easy skiing at Sierra at Tahoe. Sledders and tubers should head to Hansen’s Resort.
Taking it easy
The Lake Tahoe Basin, home to over a thousand plant species and diverse birds such as California gulls and mountain chickadees, is also host to a mammal population that includes mule deer, marmots, and mountain beavers. And no need to ascend mountain peaks to glimpse some of these fascinating animals. Consider an electric cycle from South Lake E-Bikes for a relaxed way to explore.
At the Lake Tahoe Golf Course, public links that double as an Audubon bird sanctuary, woodpeckers may provide a soundtrack, along with a bald or golden eagle soaring overhead. Birds are also regular visitors to the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, rated among the top public courses in the country.
Lake Tahoe spas offer an alternative to (or soothing remedy for the exertion of) outdoor adventures. Choose a massage or facial at Reflections Spa at Harrah’s, soak in a cedar bath at the Japanese-inspired Tahoe Forest Baths, or opt for the Sun and Lake Recovery Treatment at the Spa at Landing Resort.
Microbrews, farm-fresh fare, and tables with a view
Mountain towns and craft beers go well together with chilled suds, hearty food, and festive vibes making a welcome segue after a rugged outdoor day. Tahoe Cold Water Brewery and Grill serves 12 different microbrews alongside bar favorites and more refined entrees. South Lake Brewing Company offers 16 distinct brews and a casual menu.
Lake Tahoe has as many Mexican eateries as it has craft beer flavors—from the casual Taqueria Jalisco to Heavenly Village’s Azul Latin Kitchen, which has a kids’ and cocktail menu. Lake Tahoe Aleworx’s location in Stateline, Nevada is likewise friendly to families and groups. Kids should come early for wood-fired pizzas; later, the older set can sip craft cocktails and dance to the silent disco.
Couples might appreciate a table for two overlooking the lake at Jimmy’s Restaurant, where you can pair filet mignon with a selection from the 1,500-bottle cellar. Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen promises all the chef’s celebrated classics, from lobster risotto to sticky toffee pudding.
Music, festivals, and fireworks
Lake Tahoe’s wilderness setting belies its extensive musical offerings. You can discover new acts at bars like Noel’s Coffee and Apothecary, serving coffee by day and transforming into a cozy lounge and music venue after dark. For bigger artists, check out the line-ups at Bally’s Lake Tahoe, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, or Harrah’s. You’ll see local musicians playing outdoors at Heavenly Village and Aleworx throughout the summer, and touring acts come to the warm-weather stages at Live at Lakeview and Harvey’s Lake Tahoe,
Beyond music, Valhalla showcases theater and the Tahoe Blue Event Center hosts sporting events and a ComicCon. Festivals abound, among them golf, fishing, and running events. Late summer is when the Tahoe Brewfest pours golden, amber, and chocolate-toned brews from California and Nevada, while the Fall Ale Fest starts in September. Once the air turns brisk, Heavenly Village features holiday lights, seasonal music, and fireworks.
From cozy cabins to stylish lodgings
If forested mountain ranges evoke campgrounds or wooden cabins, Lake Tahoe has plenty to choose from, as well as pet-friendly hotels. You can also find more rugged vibes at the Basecamp Tahoe South, with its modern woodsy interior. Similarly, the Station House Inn brings a contemporary touch to its rustic decor.
Also, ideally complementing time outside, The Landing Resort and Spa’s wellness treatments help ease aching muscles after an active day. The hotel’s shoreside location also merits an early wake-up to catch the sunrise-pink mountains as the lake turns from a midnight hue to its signature blue. Lake views also abound at the award-winning, LEED-certified Lodge at Edgewood Resort, where the guest rooms’ subtly elegant furnishings and floor-to-ceiling windows keep your focus on the natural vistas beyond.