Best Things to Do in Tahoe

10 Best Attractions and Activities in Lake Tahoe

Lovers of the outdoors are in luck on both sides of Lake Tahoe. In one day at the lake you can ski, hike, bike or just sit around on the beach. These 10Best attractions at the lake start at the very top with Emerald Bay or the summits of Mount Tallac on the South Shore or from Mount Rose on the North Shore. Other great views of the lake can be seen in the winter with trips to the top of Squaw Valley and the Heavenly Gondola.

For some unique views of the lake, take the family to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center for a underwater peak at the spawning salmon that swim out of Tahoe and into Taylor Creek. For an evening view, go to Zephyr Cove and take a trip on the paddleboat, the M.S. Dixie II to Emerald Bay. If you want to get a nice view of another lake, head to Donner Lake near Truckee for some dock swimming or kayaking.

Other attractions and activities include kayaking the Tahoe Kayak Trail around the water's edge or heading back up into the hills to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail, which circumnavigates the entire lake and even meets up with the famous Pacific Crest Trail.


Sand Harbor
Photo courtesy of Christina Nellemann

Sand Harbor is considered the most beautiful beach in Lake Tahoe. It is located on the Nevada side of the lake in the Lake Tahoe National Park. The beach has a small museum and store, bathrooms, showers, parking, a boat launch, picnic tables and BBQs and plenty of golden sand to put down a blanket and umbrella. Some areas around the beach have rocks that you can jump off of. There is a parking fee at Sand Harbor during the summer and fall months. During the summer season, Sand Harbor has beach lifeguards. The boat launch area of Sand Harbor is located on the North side of the beach and launch fees and boat inspections apply. There is also a bay just for SCUBA divers called Diver's Cove.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Zephyr Cove is home to the docking area of the M.S. Dixie paddleboat.

Christina's expert tip: The rule of thumb for Sand Harbor is to get there before 10 a.m. on summer weekends. Parking fills up fast.

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D.L. Bliss State Park is located just a few miles past Emerald Bay on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. It consists of several hundred acres of granite hillside and pine forests and a large and family-friendly campground. The bottom of the park is Lester Beach, one of the prettiest beaches on the Lake. The entrance and parking fee for D.L. Bliss is about $8, but there is plenty of parking for day users as well as campers. The campground has private and semi-private spots, firepits, plenty of tent spots and hot pay showers. From Lester Beach, you can paddle past Rubicon Point towards Emerald Bay as you glide through the the clear blue-green waters. You an also access the beautiful Rubicon Trail that runs about 3 miles along the shoreline to Emerald Bay. Another, shorter hike is the Balancing Rock Hike. The Balancing Rock is the feature attraction of a short, half mile self-guided nature trail in the northwest section of D.L. Bliss State Park. The granite of this large rock began weathering more rapidly at the joint plane, an extensive horizontal crack that is easily seen at its "waist". The overlying rock weighs around 130 tons and is now balanced on the rock below.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: D.L. Bliss's Lester Beach is one of the best beaches on the lake.

Christina's expert tip: Camping is popular here, you may need to book several months in advance.

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The Taylor Creek Visitor Center is located near Camp Richardson on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. It is free to enter and offers both adult and children an up-close view of the local flora and fauna. The paved trails and bridges throughout the marshlands are stroller friendly and there are both guided and self guided interpretive trails, an underground "aquarium" area where you can see an actual part of Taylor Creek. During the fall the Kokanee Salmon are spawning and visitors can watch the process through glass windows. There is also a 180 degree curved diorama that illustrates life above and below the water. Be sure to look for the raccoon, crayfish, bats, frog, Stellar Jay, Bald Eagles, butterflies, and the slug. In winter, the Taylor Creek area becomes a cross-country ski area especially suited to beginners. Using the area is free, but you need to purchase a California SNO-PARK permit for your vehicle. It comes to about $5 a day or $25 for a season.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Taylor Creek is open all year long for families.

Christina's expert tip: Both the parking and the park entrance fee are free.

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Donner Lake
Photo courtesy of Anenome Jones/Flickr

This beautiful lake north of Lake Tahoe is just a quick drive West of the small town of Truckee, California. This lake is great for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and fishing. There are free public docks on the North side of the lake, a marina with fee parking on the West side and the Donner Lake Village Resort offers cabins and condos for rent. The resort is right on the water and the rooms run between $90 and $320 a night depending on the size and season. Parking can be tight during the height of summer, but you can park on the North side of the lake just off the edge of the road. There is a small beach at the West end of the lake where you can rent boats, kayaks and jetskis. There is a roped off area for children and plenty of parking. Donner Lake is much smaller than Tahoe and not as clear and blue. In the winter it has been known to freeze, but ice skating can be dangerous.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Donner Lake is a great lake for kayaking and canoeing.

Christina's expert tip: The free public docks are great for fishing and diving into the water.

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Squaw Valley USA
Photo courtesy of Rajiv Patel/Flickr

The second largest and likely the most beautiful ski resort at Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley USA was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics and has only grown since then. The 4,000 acre resort consists of the Olympic Village where there are several inns and hotels, condos, restaurants and bars. The mountain itself has dozens of runs, 30 lifts and a 110 person gondola that takes both skiers and non-skiers up to High Camp where you can ice skate, lounge in a warm swimming pool, do some hiking or go snowtubing. The base elevation of Squaw is 6,200 feet with a peak elevation of just over 9,000. There are six mountain peaks in the area and the average annual snowfall is 450 inches. Approximately 50 percent of the runs are intermediate and 25 percent are beginner. Squaw Valley Central Reservations can customize a winter vacation package to suit any budget and any length of stay. Representatives can arrange all travel plans including lodging, activity packages, ski school lessons, scenic Cable Car rides and more. Discount packages are also available. Squaw Valley offers group and individual ski and boarding lessons, ski clinics and rental services.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Village at Squaw has stores, restaurants and shops.

Christina's expert tip: Squaw Valley is the only ski resort in the U.S. that has a funitel lift.

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The Gondola at Heavenly is open during the winter for skiers and non-skiers and open all year long for visitors to the lake who want a spectacular view of Lake Tahoe. The ticket to the top is a little pricey ($38), but you can stay at the top as long as you want. Each 8 passenger car leaves from Heavenly Village on the Southeast side of the lake and takes about 5-7 minutes to get to the top of the mountain. At the first stop you can get out and walk around on the platform. There are seats and some picnic tables as well. You can buy a ticket with a lunch voucher for the Tamarack Lodge at the top of the resort if you want to get something to eat or you can bring your own food to the first platform and just sit and enjoy the view. At the top of the mountain is a snow play area for children.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Heavenly Gondola has one of the best views in South Lake Tahoe.

Christina's expert tip: If the weather is nice, bring your own picnic to the first platform and eat at one of the outdoor tables.

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Mount Tallac is one of the tallest peaks in Tahoe at 9,735 feet and the loop from the Glen Alpine Trailhead at 6,500 feet is a long, strenuous 11.6 mile hike. However, the views are so worth it. There is free parking at the trailhead and a bathroom. You will need to bring your own water and food. The hike takes you over crushed granite and loose rock and shale and you get views of Fallen Leaf Lake on the way up. Along the trail you will come to two smaller alpine lakes, Gilmore and Cathedral Lake. At the top of the mountain you will get some wonderful views of Desolation Wilderness, Fallen Leaf Lake, Granite Lake and all of Lake Tahoe. The hike will take about 8-10 hours for the average hiker.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Mount Tallac is a more advanced hike, but the amazing view isworth every step.

Christina's expert tip: Be prepared while hiking: bring enough water for the entire day, food, correct shoes and clothes for both warm and cool weather.

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Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of Christina Nellemann

The Tahoe Rim Trail follows the shore of Lake Tahoe and is one of the world's premier trails. It passes through two states (California and Nevada), six counties, one state park, three National Forests, and three Wilderness areas. This spectacular trail is 165 miles of single-track multiuse trail, winding peak to peak around Lake Tahoe. Hiking and horseback riding are allowed on all portions of the trail, while mountain biking is allowed on the trail with the exception of the wilderness areas, the section that is in the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, and on the sections of trail that overlap with the Pacific Crest Trail. Day hikes, backpacking and camping are also allowed on the trail and rules and permits may apply to certain areas. Donations and volunteers are needed for the Tahoe Rim Trail and the TRT will have special events and free public hikes with local TRT guides available. Become a member of the 165 Mile Club when you complete the entire trail and you will receive a certificate of completion, a 165 mile patch and recognition on the TRT website.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Tahoe Rim Trail Challenge is held every summer and allows hikers, bikers and horseback riders to track their routes.

Christina's expert tip: The TRT offers Backcountry Skill Courses throughout the year.

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Mount Rose is the 3rd highest peak in Lake Tahoe. It is easy to drive to, but not so easy to climb. It is located next to, looking down and over Mt Rose ski resort, Reno/Sparks/Carson City/Washoe Valley and Lake Tahoe. Mount Rose is a challenging hike that can be done in about 4-6 hours by an average hiker. The trail initially takes you through forest, scrubland, beautiful meadows full of wildflowers and a waterfall. After falls, the trail climbs steeply upward toward more stark terrain and shale. Once you've made it to the top, you are over 10,778 feet and can see the entire Tahoe area. Destination: Difficulty Mileage: (One Way) 6 miles Elevation: 8700'/10778' Directions: Take Highway 431 (Mt. Rose Highway) north of Incline Village. Park at the trailhead located one mile south of the summit.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: From the top of Mount Rose you can see Tahoe, Reno, Carson City and several local reservoirs.

Christina's expert tip: Start the hike early in the morning. The parking lot for the trailhead is free, but can fill up by mid-morning.

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Emerald Bay State Park on the southwest area of Lake Tahoe is home to park is home to Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm, a 38-room mansion that is one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the western hemisphere. The views from any part of the Bay are fantastic. The park contains the only island in Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island where a small teahouse was built by the owner of the Vikingsholm Castle. The park is accessible by State Route 89 near the southwest shore of the lake. Emerald Bay is one of Lake Tahoe's most photographed and popular locations. In 1969, Emerald Bay was recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the federal Department of the Interior. In 1994, California State Parks included the surrounding water of the bay as a part of the park, making Emerald Bay one of the first underwater parks of its type in the state, protecting the various wrecks and other items on the bay's bottom. There are several camping areas in Emerald Bay including Eagle Point Campground, Bayview Campground and the boat-in campground on the West side of the bay. Parking around the bay is small and will cost you about $8 for the day. You can also access the popular Desolation Wilderness hiking and camping area from the Eagle Falls parking area.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Emerald Bay is the most visited part of the lake for good reason.

Christina's expert tip: Plan to get to the park early in the morning to get parking. This is the most popular area of the lake.

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Meet Christina Nellemann

Christina has lived in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area since she was a baby. A first-generation Nevadan, her Danish parents instilled in her an intense love of travel and the wild, rugged outdoors...  More About Christina