Best Parks in Tahoe

10 Best Parks and Recreational Areas in Lake Tahoe

The Lake Tahoe area is actually made up of dozens of state and county parks and National Forest areas as well as traditional parks with playgrounds and access to nature. If you want more of the adult playground with hiking, rock climbing, kayaking and swimming, visit parks like D.L. Bliss State Park on the West Shore or Kings Beach or Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park on the East Shore. Each of these parks offer camping, great beaches, summer events and some really great cliff jumping rocks. Don't forget the incredible Emerald Bay which has camping, boating and exploring in a compact (but stunning) space.

If you have small children, Commons Beach and Kings Beach both have playground and picnic facilities as well as bathrooms and quick access to Tahoe City and Kings Beach with restaurants and hotels. The Taylor Creek Visitor Center is also great for children and the disabled. The paved walking paths meander through creek and meadow areas that are popular with the area's bears.

Even if you want to get away from it all, the Tahoe National Forest and Desolation Wilderness are not technically parks, but they do have designated parking areas and hiking and backcountry ski trails. Many of them also have backpacking areas where you can pitch a tent in the summertime.


Commons Beach
Photo courtesy of Christina Nellemann

This small and local friendly beach is right in the middle of Tahoe City. There is a grassy area with playgrounds and nice BBQ areas, but is not the best beach for swimming. Free special events are held all year long on Commons Beach including SnowFest! in the winter, the Farmer's Market all summer and fall and in mid-summer, the Concerts at Commons Beach are great for all family members where live music is played on most Sundays. On summer Wednesdays, the park is showing Movies at the Beach. Commons Beach is right on the Tahoe City Boardwalk and from the beach you can walk to many restaurants, coffee shops and stores.

Recommended for Parks because: Sugar Pine Point State Park has some of the most dense forests in the Tahoe area.

Christina's expert tip: There are free music concerts at Commons Beach during the summer

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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. 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 Parks because: The Taylor Creek Visitor Center is great for all ages

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

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The biggest reason that folks strike out for this part of the country is the awe-inspiring scenery of the Sierra Nevada mountains and their surrounding lakes and rock formations. Visitors are certainly not disappointed by the Tahoe National Forest, which extends as far north as Yuba Pass and Sierraville and as far west as Nevada City. The Tahoe National Forest offers camping, mountain bike and hiking trails, kayaking and alpine lakes, picnic areas and even fire towers to rent out on summer nights. Hunting and fishing is also allowed in parts of the Tahoe National Forest with appropriate tags and licenses.

Recommended for Parks because: The Tahoe National Forest extends hundreds of miles around the Lake Tahoe area.

Christina's expert tip: The Tahoe National Forest has some of the least visited campgrounds in the area.

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Kings Beach State Recreation Area
Photo courtesy of Christina Nellemann

Although it's open year-round, this park really comes into its own when the weather turns warm. At that point, its 700 feet of lakeshore are inundated by sun worshippers, who lounge on the beach, splash in the water, tool around the lake, and engage in sports on the shore. Kids can take advantage of playground equipment, and families and groups relish the opportunity to spend time together laughing, eating, and basking in the beauty of the lake. Kings Beach is a great spot to go on a parasail ride or rent a kayak or paddleboard. Several companies have huts on the beach where you can book a day trip. There are a ton of restaurants and bars near the beach as well as a small theater and many hotels and lodges to choose from.

Recommended for Parks because: Kings Beach has recently received a makeover and has even more amenities.

Christina's expert tip: Kings Beach is called the Banana Belt of Tahoe and is a great spot even in the winter.

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Able to accommodate a wealth of recreational pursuits and athletic endeavors, North Tahoe Regional Park provides 124 acres full of varying facilities. Baseball, softball, and soccer fields join basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts to test your mettle, and bike paths, nature trails, and a playground entice folks who like to get their blood pumping. A large, sheltered picnic area comes with lake views, and during winter months, cross-country skiers and snowshoers trek across the dramatic terrain. A groomed snow play area is also a draw; admission tickets and rental of a sled or saucer runs about $5. In addition, the park is surrounded by public lands, expanding the already-abundant possibilities.

Recommended for Parks because: The North Tahoe Regional Park is surrounded by public lands and includes an interpretive trail.

Christina's expert tip: Pets are allowed in the North Tahoe Regional Park.

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A center for recreation and outdoor fun, Donner Memorial State Park also holds the memories of pioneer struggles, especially in regard to the Donner Party, who suffered a winter in the area and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Now, the tract of land in the Sierra Nevada range offers a wealth of warm- and cold-weather possibilities, including camping, fishing, hiking, boating, skiing, and more. Plus, the onsite museum charts local history and geology, and a memorial to the Donner party documents the conditions through which the survivors lived. Donner Lake tends to get less crowded than Lake Tahoe on summer weekends.

Recommended for Parks because: Donner Memorial State Park has beaches, sailing, kayaking and great views.

Christina's expert tip: Donner has some wonderful public docks on its north side for fishing or sunbathing.

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Along with unspoiled, forested slopes, Sugar Pine Point State Park near Tahoe City promises an interesting mix of camping, water access and outdoor activities. Trails for hiking, skiing, and biking criss-cross the glacier-scrubbed terrain, and campers capitalize on the relative isolation and the chance to commune with nature. Fishing is also a calming prospect, and when the season is cooperative, swimming and sunbathing are possible at the beach. The park's signature attraction is the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion, a grand, rustic summer home dating from 1903. Also within park bounds are a trapper's log cabin and a lighthouse. Tours are available in the summer.

Recommended for Parks because: Sugar Pine Point State Park has some of the most dense forests in the Tahoe area.

Christina's expert tip: Many campsites at the Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point campground are very close to the water.

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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 Parks because: D.L. Bliss has some of the best protected swimming areas on the lake.

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

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Somewhat widespread, this park extends 55 acres along the eastern shore of the lake, promising visitors everything from superb views to sunbathing to horseback riding. Perhaps the most well-attended spot is Sand Harbor, a beach only a few miles from Incline Village. If you're intent on having fewer crowds, consider Spooner Lake, which appeals to anglers, hikers, and bikers. It also provides access to the undeveloped area between the lake and Carson City. Cave Rock, farther south, is a haven for fishing and boating. It, like any of the other sites, is always popular for a picnic and taking in the area's magnificent natural vistas.

Recommended for Parks because: One of the prettiest parts of Lake Tahoe, this nearly undeveloped area has some of the best swimming holes.

Christina's expert tip: Follow any dirt trail along the highway to access the beaches of theLake Tahoe Nevada State Park.

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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 Parks because: The most popular state park at the lake, Emerald Bay has hiking, sightseeing, kayaking and camping in one place.

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