With glistening blue waters reflecting picturesque snow-capped mountain landscapes, Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful lakes in the U.S. All year long, this outdoor paradise offers exciting activities for sightseeing, water sports, hiking, and learning about the lake’s rich history.
See what makes Lake Tahoe a favorite outdoor escape for families, couples, solo travelers, and even sporting enthusiasts. Whether you’re looking for an upbeat travel destination full of outdoor adventures, or want a leisurely vacation relaxing on pristine beaches, Lake Tahoe has something for everyone.
Here are 15 things to do in Lake Tahoe, California that we know you’ll love.
EXPLORE THE LAKE
The vibrantly blue water reflecting the pine-tree-lined coasts makes Lake Tahoe one of the most beautiful lakes in the U.S. Nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this freshwater lake is the centerpiece of your visit to the area.
Lake Tahoe offers several activities that get you out into the water to enjoy the outdoors. Boating is the perfect way to explore the lake. Sail off from the docks at Zephyr Cove as you cruise aboard MS Dixie II. Two hours of sightseeing on these award-winning boat cruises let you view the snow-capped mountains, verdant coasts, and untouched lake islands.
Get active during your visit to Lake Tahoe by enjoying water activities. Set off on your own boating excursion by going kayaking or take to the skies and go parasailing for a bird’s eye view of the lake.
Did you know that the founder of Kings Beach won the site in a legendary poker game? Luck is also on your side when you get to spend a day here. The Kings Beach area is open to the public, so you can explore one of the best shores on the entire lake.
While South Lake Tahoe has more beaches, Kings Beach is the crown jewel on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Sink your toes into the soft white sand as it slopes gradually into the refreshing waters of the lake. It’s the ideal place for a day at the beach. Enjoy sunbathing on the unshaded coastline, swimming, or enjoying a picnic with amazing views.
Before leaving the beach, stop by the charming beach town to discover a few of Lake Tahoe’s favorite restaurants, dining, and antique hotels.
EMERALD BAY STATE PARK
Discover Lake Tahoe’s beauty in Emerald Bay State Park. From the mountaintop viewpoints to exploring underwater attractions, it’s easy to see how it earned its title as a National Natural Landmark.
Emerald Bay is one of the most popular places to visit in Lake Tahoe, where visitors can enjoy activities on the lake and the water. Lace-up your hiking shoes and ascend 600-ft up the slopes to reach Inspiration Point. Sweeping views of the lake with Fannette Island and a mountain backdrop are truly breathtaking. Or tour Vikingsholm to admire the fine Scandinavian architecture decorating the 38-room mansion from the interior to the exterior.
When you’re finished on land, it’s time to experience California’s first maritime heritage cultural trail. This route is designed for scuba divers interested in exploring the underwater exhibitions of the bay, which includes famous shipwreck sites.
Details: 138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150 | Website
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE AREA HIKING
Ever since it was discovered, explorers have carved out treks around Lake Tahoe in search of the best views and hidden treasures surrounding the lake. Of course, hiking is one of the top things to do in Lake Tahoe, but even the most popular routes have unique ways of exploring them.
There are more than 100 hiking trails in the South Lake Tahoe Area. Choose a moderate route like the Cascade Falls Trail. This trail is a 1.4-mile hike into the forested slopes, where you’ll encounter the stunning 200-ft Cascade Falls. If you’re ready for something a bit more challenging, the Rubicon Trail extends for 16 miles through Emerald Bay State Park. You can enjoy this trail on foot, horseback, or on one of their newly-introduced Jeep tours.
Several nearby lakes also offer hiking opportunities, like the Fallen Leaf Lake Trail, just a mile south of Lake Tahoe.
DL BLISS STATE PARK
If you want to escape the crowds packing the trails of Emerald Bay State Park, the neighboring DL Bliss State Park is just as exciting. It’s home to some of the top Lake Tahoe beaches and hiking trails, leading to unique points of interest.
DL Bliss State Park extends to the lake waterfront along the southwest shore, with Lester Beach to the north and Calloway Cove Beach welcoming visitors to its sandy coasts.
Make the journey 6,300-ft above the lake to the Rubicon Point Lighthouse Trail for views from the second-highest lighthouse in North America, or enjoy the scenic cliffside routes of the Rubicon Trail passing through the park.
For a break from waterfront views, other landmark routes like the Balancing Rock Nature Trail reveals a rock formation that continues to mind-boggle hikers who reach it.
Details: 9881 CA-89, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150 | Website
TALLAC HISTORIC SITE
Travel back in time to a golden area of Lake Tahoe during the late 1800s to early 1900s when wealthy families visited the lake on holiday and owned elaborate mansions. A set of three notable houses are designated as the Tallac Historic Site.
Tallac Historic Site features three historic mansions – Baldwin Estate, Valhalla Estate, and the Pope House. Tours of each house recreate life in the 20th century at the lake, with costumed guides providing a glimpse at the lavish lifestyle. If you’re in town in August, you can put on your finest clothing to attend the long-running Great Gatsby Festival.
If mansions are too opulent for your Lake Tahoe trip, you can stay nearby at Camp Richardson, which offers everything from tents to lakeside cabin rentals.
Details: 1 Heritage Way, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150 | Website
DONNER MEMORIAL STATE PARK
Taking your eyes off the beauty of Lake Tahoe is hard, but Donner Lake is a nearby gem that you don’t want to miss. A drive through Donner Pass as you reach the lake is well worth the detour from Lake Tahoe.
With Donner Lake resting as the centerpiece to the three-acre Donner Memorial State Park, it is a popular destination for outdoor recreation. Go on a trek along one of many hiking trails leading to stunning viewpoints of the verdant slopes surrounding the lake. Or visit the nearby Emigrant Trail Museum to learn about the area’s history.
Arrive early in the day to enjoy full-day boating and fishing on the lake, before returning to your tent for rugged camping beneath the pine-tree canopy.
Details: 12593 Donner Pass Rd, Truckee, CA 96161 | Website
TAHOE SOUTH BEER TRAIL
The craft beer scene has long been “brewing” at Lake Tahoe, as several breweries and distilleries have established roots around the lake. Weave throughout California and Nevada as you drink your way through the best beer in the region.
The perfect layer of frothy foam tops the beer poured from the taps at South Lake Brewing Company, where you’ll taste the largest onsite beer production in Lake Tahoe. Enjoy the tasting rooms at AleWorX, South of North Brewing Co., and Hangar Taproom and hang out with other beer lovers while telling about your latest adventures at the lake.
Guided beer tours are available, which takes visitors to a few of the best breweries in Lake Tahoe.
You have your pick on how to experience the famous Cave Rock landmark: through it or on top of it! Both offer unique perspectives of this prehistoric volcano.
Cruise along Highway 50, and you’ll soon find yourself approaching the massive rock. This four-lane highway passes directly through the rock via a tunnel built in the 1930s. You’ll be one of 12,500 vehicles that pass under the rock daily.
After the unusual drive-thru, park your car and set out on the Cave Rock hiking trail. This short hike climbs to the summit of the rock, where you’re rewarded with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. Sunsets at Cave Rock are among the best things to do in Lake Tahoe.
Details: US-50, Glenbrook, NV 89413 | Website
Ages ago, glaciers left behind what would become known as the Echo Lakes. Today, it’s developed into a year-round tourist community just a half-hour drive south of Lake Tahoe.
Hop in a boat and cruise the channel between the upper and lower lakes, while taking in all the views of towering granite mountains surrounding you. It’s the perfect place to go for a day trip out on the water, enjoying fishing or swimming.
During the summer, dock your boat and head out for a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, where you’ll have the best views overlooking the Echo Lakes. Alternatively, explore Desolation Wilderness, where you’ll discover the beautiful Aloha Lake at the end of the trail. Cross country skiing becomes the main attraction for snow sports enthusiasts in the winter.
Spotting the bright red bodies of the Kokanee Salmon as they rush through Taylor Creek has captivated tourists visiting this small stream ever since they were first introduced in 1944. So, if you’re looking for things to do in Lake Tahoe, it should definitely be on your bucket list.
The famous Fall Fish Fest celebrates the massive migration of the Kokanee salmon as they travel the 2.2-mile creek between Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe.
The Taylor Creek Visitor Center serves as your gateway to discovering everything there is to know about the creek. Explore some of the exhibitions or talk with rangers to point you in the direction of the nearest trailheads.
SKI AND SNOWBOARD
As the ski season opens up, ski-lovers of all ages come in droves to experience one of the top things to do in Lake Tahoe. Ski lift tickets are quick to sell out, and the ski resorts fill up as visitors anticipate yet another year of snow-filled ski adventures on the slopes.
Palisades, formerly Squaw Valley, famously hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics and maintains world-class ski runs and a lively ski village. Heavenly is one of the best ski resorts in South Lake Tahoe, with a scenic gondola ride overlooking Lake Tahoe and Desolate Wilderness on the way up to the mountain summit.
Lake Tahoe’s diverse ski resorts have runs designed for all skill levels, from first-time skiers to professionals.
Ready to hit the slopes, but don’t have the equipment? We’ve made snowboarding a lifestyle, but before we owned our equipment, Ski Butlers was our ski (and boarding) rental service of choice. These guys deliver to your hotel or condo – and pick up- for only a few dollars more than the jam-packed shops just down the road. And the equipment? Best in the business! Check out Ski Butlers on your next vacation!
SAND HARBOR STATE PARK
With massive boulders defining the Sand Harbor State Park coastline, it’s one of the most unique beaches you’ll find while visiting Lake Tahoe. Treat yourself to some water fun on the rocks, explore the rest of the park expanding into the forest, or attend one of the exciting events.
Sand Harbor State Park has a lot to offer everyone. Take turns making a splash when leaping from the large rocks into Lake Tahoe. There are several nature trails winding through the park where you should keep your eyes out for spotting wildlife. Or the Sand Harbor to Memorial Point Trail for one of the best views of the lake.
You’ll be part of the show when you attend the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in this interactive theatrical performance.
Details: 2005 NV-28, Incline Village, NV 89452 | Website
The mountainous Sierra Nevada range has created some of the most stunning waterfalls in California and Nevada. Witness the power of these natural landmarks to see just how many falls you can fit into a day.
South Lake Tahoe is dotted with several notable waterfalls. Navigate through the El Dorado National Forest, where you’ll emerge at the clearing of Eagle Falls. Or peer up at the Cascade Falls dropping 200-ft.
Several waterfalls also surround Fallen Leaf Lake, making excellent stops along the local hike. Start your journey near Mt. Tallac to see the short yet expansive Glen Alpine Falls. And you can’t help but notice why Horsetail Falls is named as such when you witness the rushing white waters of the falls.
Venture into the Desolation Wilderness for a chance to see the 150-ft plunge creating the Fontanillis Lake Falls. Or find the Galena Creek Falls tucked an hour-hike into the National Forest.
VISIT TAHOE CITY
Tahoe City is uniquely positioned where the Truckee River meets Lake Tahoe. Because of its location, it’s been able to blossom into a charming lakefront town. Spend a day exploring the city or stop by to pick up a few rentals to maximize your fun on the lake.
Beautiful wooden signs hang overhead as you wander the tranquil streets of Tahoe City. Browse the racks of tees in the Tahoe T-Shirtery for the perfect souvenir, or smell the fresh aromas coming from Wanda’s Flower Shop. When you get hungry, sit down for a bite to eat at Rosie’s Café.
You can never go wrong with Tahoe Water Adventures for renting watercraft in the summer. In winter, Tahoe Dave’s is perfect for gearing up to hit the slopes.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO CALIFORNIA
- NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: 18+ Magical Things To Do In Northern California Everyone Needs To Experience
- BIG SUR: 15 Great Big Sur Camping Spots Adventurers Will Love
- SANTA CRUZ: 16 Best Things To Do In Santa Cruz For Coastal Fun
- BIG BEAR: 11+ Adventurous Things To Do In Big Bear Your Family Will Love
- LA: Wait, How Big Is Los Angeles? That’s Mind-Boggling!
- TAHOE CAMPING: 23 OF THE BEST LAKE TAHOE CAMPING DESTINATIONS
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