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  • Day Trip to Lake Tahoe: One Day Itinerary for All Seasons

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Looking to make the most of your one day in Lake Tahoe?

Whether taking a day trip to Lake Tahoe from San Francisco or closer, you’ve landed in the right spot. I’ve crafted an action-packed one day itinerary for Lake Tahoe, highlighting the best things I experienced during my two getaways to this crazy clear lake.

The problem is Lake Tahoe is so different in the different seasons. Luckily for you, I went once in the summer on a California road trip and once in the winter for some New Year’s snowboarding. And I’ll have two itinerary versions for each season.

Let’s make the most of your limited time with an exciting day of activities, starting with a hike at Emerald State Park, water activities in South Lake Tahoe, and the best stops on a serene drive around the lake. Below that, I’ll also give you a rundown of the best winter activities in the area.

day trip to Lake Tahoe itinerary with an overloop of lake through the trees

Sample One Day in Lake Tahoe Itinerary

So you have everything in one scroll, here is a summarized version on the summer and winter Lake Tahoe itineraries. Below, I will go into more detail about each activity.

Summer Day Trip to Lake Tahoe

A day trip in Lake Tahoe is enough time to drive around the whole lake and see the main highlights. But, I recommend sticking to the south and east sides of the lake so you have time for hiking and water activities. 

  • Drive in from the south, as South Tahoe  will be where we spend most of the day.
  • If you haven’t had breakfast yet, head to the  Driftwood Cafe  in South Lake Tahoe for their fan-favorite pancakes. 
  • In  Emerald Bay State Park,  stop at the  Emerald Bay  and  Vikingholm Castle. 
  • Go on a  morning hike on the Eagle Falls Trail , a popular trail to a beautiful waterfall. 
  • Grab a bite at  Freshies Restaurant & Bar  for a Hawaiian-inspired menu with fantastic lake views.
  • Rent a kayak or paddleboard, or go on a sailing trip  on top of the clear lake waters.
  • Start on the  scenic drive, hugging the east Lake Tahoe  coast up north.

Zephyr Cove

Cave rock beach.

  • Sand Harbor Beach
  • Clothing Optional:  Secret Cove Nude Beach

Recommended lodging options for the Night: South Lake Tahoe

  • Luxury: Edgewood Tahoe Resort
  • Mid-range: Marriott Grand Residence Club, Lake Tahoe
  • Budget: The Coachman Hotel

Feel free to mix and match based on your interest and pace. The tour covers a lot of ground, so don’t rush.

Winter Day Trip to Lake Tahoe

Most people who come in the wintertime do so for winter activities. 

  • Alternative:  Go on a guided snowshoe tour.
  • Lunch:  I always love warming up in the ski lodges with some fries and chicken strips.
  • Alternative:  Snowtubing is also one of my favorite winter activities. 
  • Relax at a Spa:  Treat yourself to a massage at The Landing Resort & Spa.

catherine xu and friend posting while skiing and snowboarding

Quick Facts about Visiting Lake Tahoe

Did you know that Lake Tahoe is over two million years old and is considered one of the 20 oldest lakes in the world? It’s also the largest alpine lake in North America, and so deep – a whopping 1,644 feet – it could cover the Empire State Building!

Nowadays, Lake Tahoe is a playground that offers everything from thrilling water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding in the summer to adrenaline-pumping snow activities like skiing and snowboarding in the winter. 

Its clear blue waters and the mountains surrounding it, combined with attractions such as Emerald Bay State Park and Heavenly Mountain Gondola, make it a popular destination for West Coastians especially. 

Driving Around Lake Tahoe

Driving around Lake Tahoe is an adventure in itself! The entire loop is approximately 72 miles. It typically takes about 3 hours to complete without any stops. 

But, with the views of the lake and the Sierra Nevada mountains, you’ll want to take your sweet time. That’s why I recommend starting at one end and working your way up only one side (the east side) if you are coming for a day.

Lake Tahoe Road Trip road with the sunsetting in the back

What to Do in Lake Tahoe in One Day

Lake Tahoe truly transforms with the seasons. In summer, soak up the sun on its sandy beaches and go boating. In winter, the snowy wonderland invites you to strap on your skis and carve down its world-class slopes.

Below, I’ll go into more detail about the best things to do in Lake Tahoe, divided by its season and according to the itinerary crafted above.

Summer Lake Tahoe Itinerary

Morning: emerald bay state park.

Emerald Bay State Park is a must-visit in Lake Tahoe, especially in the summer. This park is home to some of the area’s most beautiful landscapes and hikes. 

Start your day snapping a pic at the panoramic views of the bay from the scenic overlook on Highway 89. I’m sure your first sight of the emerald green waters of the bay will amaze you as much as it did for me. 

Travel Tip!  There is a parking fee, and this place gets crowded in the summer.

Vikingholm Castle

Next, descend the trail to the shore, where you’ll find the historic Scandinavian-style mansion, Vikingholm Castle. Built in 1929, this 38-room mansion is one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States. 

Originally built as a summer home, the castle is now a part of California’s state park system and is open to the public. You can reach the castle by a steep one-mile trail that descends about 500 feet from the parking area. 

Then, you can take a castle tour or just wander around alone. 

Travel Tip!  The castle is open for tours from late May through the end of September. 

Eagle Falls Trail

Also within the park is the popular Eagle Falls Trail. This hiking trail is a fan-favorite and one of the best in all of Lake Tahoe. The path leads you to fantastic views of high-altitude lakes and waterfalls towards Eagle Lake. 

Eagle Falls Trail is a relatively easy trail that takes about 2 hours to complete, covering a distance of about 2 miles round trip. After a few minutes, you’ll already have a great view of the lower falls and another amazing one of the Upper Falls at the end. You’ll have a complete panorama of Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, and Lake Tahoe in the distance.

Inspiration Point in emerald bay state park in south lake tahoe

Mid-Day: Lake Activities

After hiking, stop for lunch, then cool off with a refreshing swim. You can stay in Emerald State Park, South Lake Tahoe, or beyond. 

Many activities can be done on or around the lake at many beaches. You can get your adrenaline flowing by renting a speedboat for the day or try out water skiing, wakeboarding, or tubing. 

Here are a few of the best activities:

Sailing Cruise Around Lake Tahoe

There is no better way to take in the beauty of Lake Tahoe than aboard a sailboat. Many sailing cruises depart from various ports around the lake.

Depending on your pick, you’ll get to put your feet up and relax or participate in activities such as winetasting, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, and more.

This sailing cruise on Lake Tahoe is a very popular choice in the area. You’ll go out onto the water for two hours on a 40-foot sailboat.

sunset on sailboat

Kayak or Paddleboarding

For those looking for a bit of activity on the water, head out in your own kayak or paddleboard. The Lake Tahoe coastline is dotted with many rental shops that offer hourly to full-day rentals. Paddle over to hidden beaches and secret coves.

Otherwise, you can take this guided kayak tour from Sand Harbor , where you’ll paddle in a completely transparent kayak.

Day Trip to Lake Tahoe with the trees and two kayakers in the front

Afternoon: East Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive

After an exciting day on the water, go for that scenic drive along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. Head out of South Lake Tahoe, taking Highway 50 towards Carson City. 

Along this route, the road weaves through the mountains with numerous overlooks to stop at.

Zephyr Cove is renowned for its beautiful beach and another place with exciting water sports. The wide sandy beach is perfect for sunbathing or a stroll by the lake. 

The Zephyr Cove Stables also has horseback rides that lead you through beautiful forest trails with amazing lake views. 

Zephyr Cove Beach on a lake tahoe itinerary

A bit further along the road, you’ll find Cave Rock Beach, a massive cavernous rock formation extending into the lake. The rock itself is a spiritual and historic site for the local Washoe tribe and has a unique geology that dates back millions of years.

Cave Rock Beach itself is small but a beautiful sandy beach. It’s also a favorite spot for fishing. The short Cave Rock trail also starts in a small parking lot on the west side of Highway 50 just before you reach the tunnel. 

This moderate hike is about 0.8 miles round trip and goes to one of the most accessible top-down views of Lake Tahoe and its shorelines.

Sand Harbor State Park

If you are following this route, Sand Harbor should be the last major stop on your drive. The park has gorgeous sandy beaches, rock formations that frame the shoreline, and turquoise waters. It’s definitely somewhere I would include in any Lake Tahoe itinerary. 

Another highlight of the park is the Sand Point Nature Trail, a short, half-mile trail that takes about 30 minutes to finish.

You can find any and all water activities here. In the summer, the park hosts a Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. You can catch performances in an open-air theater overlooking the lake. 

From here, if you are headed back towards West California, you can pop out on the north end and keep driving west. If not, you can retrace your steps back to South Lake Tahoe.

Panoramic Views from Logan Shoals Vista Point

Winter Lake Tahoe Itinerary

Winter road conditions might be icy, so going all around the lake or up steep mountain passes can be a bit scary.

All Day: Ski and Snowboard at World-Class Resorts

Lake Tahoe is renowned as a hub for winter sports, hosting an array of world-class ski and snowboard resorts. These resorts cater to all skill levels, from beginner slopes to challenging black diamond runs. 

Many resorts also have other activities like snow tubing and sleigh rides. 

I’m a very big snowboarder and have been since I was 8 years old. Around Lake Tahoe, I went to Palisades Resort and Heavenly, some of my favorites in the country.

Travel Tip!  If you’re going many times a season, I recommend getting the Ikon or Epic Pass as this gives you access to multiple resorts in the area. Or, opt for single-day lift tickets.

Lake Tahoe is home to 15 ski resorts, which is just insane.  But the best would be Heavenly, Northstar, Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley), and Kirkwood. 

catherine xu's snowboard in front of the mountains and slopes of palisades tahoe

The complete list of resorts includes:

  • Alpine Meadows Ski Resort : Known for its diverse terrain and scenic views.
  • Boreal Mountain Resort : A family-friendly destination, Boreal is renowned for its night skiing.
  • Diamond Peak Ski Resort : Breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe.
  • Donner Ski Ranch : One of the West’s oldest and most iconic ski areas.
  • Granlibakken Resort : A historic ski and sled area in a dense forest.
  • Heavenly Mountain Resort : The largest ski resort in California and Nevada.
  • Homewood Mountain Resort : Unobstructed views of Lake Tahoe from every trail.
  • Kirkwood Mountain Resort : Famous for its deep snow and challenging terrain.
  • Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe : The closest ski resort to Reno, NV.
  • Northstar California Resort : Luxury accommodations and high-end dining facilities.
  • Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort : Known for its welcoming atmosphere and innovative terrain parks.
  • Soda Springs Mountain Resort : Great for families and first-timers.
  • Squaw Valley Ski Resort : Hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.
  • Sugar Bowl Resort : One of the oldest ski resorts in California.
  • Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area : A great place for beginner skiers and snowboarders.

Heavenly Gondola and Heavenly Village at dusk in winter

Alternative Activity: Snoeshowing Lake Tahoe

If smashing your tailbone all day isn’t your thing, or you’re just looking for a change of pace, snowshoeing is another fun winter thing to do around Lake Tahoe. 

Hands down, one of the best places to snowshoe is around the frozen Echo Lakes.  Mount Tallac Trail  is an excellent choice as a more challenging option that will take you to the top of Mount Tallac, the highest peak in the area. 

If you have no experience (but are looking to), take this guided snowshoeing tour, which will provide equipment and lessons .

Ice Skating Lake Tahoe

On the list of delightful winter activities around Lake Tahoe, you can’t miss ice skating. I used to compete back in the day, so I always love showing off to my friends who have no clue about my past axel attempts (which, by the way, I never quite nailed).

Around the lake, several outdoor and indoor ice skating rinks cater to skaters of all levels and provide skate rentals. 

Spas Around Tahoe

Rest those burnt-out thighs with a rejuvenating spa treatment. I love going for massages and a sauna after being cold all day, and Lake Tahoe has lots of top-quality spas and services.

Here are a few:

  • Spa at Squaw Creek
  • Stillwater Spa and Salon
  • The Landing Resort and Spa  
  • Elements Spa

Places to Visit with More Time

Other places around lake tahoe.

  • Taylor Creek Visitor Center : A popular spot for nature walks and bird watching.
  • Truckee River : Go rafting, kayaking, and fishing.
  • Tahoe Rim Trail : A 165-mile trail that circles Lake Tahoe.
  • Kings Beach State Recreation Area : A popular place to swim and do watersports.
  • Tahoe City : A quaint town on the lake’s shore.
  • Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park : A vast park with hiking trails and lake overlooks.
  • Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park : A state park with miles of hiking trails, a historic mansion, and a beautiful beach.

Taylor Creek Nature Trails & Visitor Center

Day Trips from Lake Tahoe

  • Sacramento, California : The state’s capital has many attractions, including the historic Old Sacramento Waterfront, the California State Railroad Museum, and the State Capitol Museum.
  • Reno, Nevada : Known as “The Biggest Little City in the World”, Reno has a great arts scene and is home to the National Automobile Museum.
  • Sierra Hot Springs:  Drive down Highway 395 for crazy cool hot springs like Travertine and Wild Willy’s.
  • Virginia City, Nevada : A historic mining town to explore old saloons, visit the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, and try your luck panning for gold.
  • Yosemite National Park : Although it’s a longer drive, the beauty of Yosemite’s waterfalls, valleys, meadows, and giant sequoias is well worth the trip.
  • Napa Valley, California : World-renowned for its vineyards and wineries, go wine tasting and fine dining.
  • Monterey, California : Famous for its beautiful coastlines, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and historic Cannery Row.

Travertine Hot Springs in Highway 395

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe

I stayed in south Lake Tahoe because of how close it is to numerous ski resorts, beaches, and nightlife. I think this is the best place with the most amount of options. So that’s why below I’ve given a few top options based on different budgets.

In the north, Tahoe Vista is more laid-back and is close to several parks, beaches, and hiking trails. Northstar California Resort area is where the luxury experience is at.

Best Hotels in South Lake Tahoe

Is 1 day enough for lake tahoe.

More than one day is needed for Lake Tahoe, especially because you are likely driving in from a few hours away. The region is brimming with activities and attractions in all seasons, and many people vacation here for a week or even more.

A day can be enough if you want to do a highlights tour or go skiing or snowboarding at one of the acclaimed resorts. But with more days, I recommend driving the entire Lake Tahoe Look, going on more hikes, or checking out other activities. 

Camp Richardson Resort Beach

Best Time To Visit

Lake Tahoe really is a year-round destination, so the best time to visit depends on what you want to do. 

In summer (June-August), the weather is sunny and great for hiking, water sports, and beach days. However, this is the peak season, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.

In winter (December-February), Lake Tahoe transforms into a winter wonderland with plenty of snow for skiing and other snow activities. This is also a popular time to visit, especially around Christmas and New Year’s. It also gets crazy expensive. 

How to Get There

Lake Tahoe is situated near several major cities. If you’re flying, the nearest significant airports are Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) in Nevada, approximately an hour away, and Sacramento International Airport (SMF) in California, about two hours away.

Many people go on a day trip to Lake Tahoe from San Francisco or Sacramento through beautiful landscapes. 

I don’t recommend public transportation, but several shuttle services operate from the airports to the Lake Tahoe region. Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit ( TART ) provides service throughout North Lake Tahoe, and Tahoe Transportation District ( TTD ) covers the south.

Final Thoughts: One Day in Lake Tahoe

Whether you’re coming in the summer or winter, come prepared to enjoy the great outdoors. Since I’ve been in both seasons, I can’t even make a final judgement into which I liked better since it was so different. The focus was so much more on the lake in summer, while in winter, it was on the mountain.

And if you have time constraints at Lake Tahoe because you’re seeing other destinations in California, continue to our next article. 

Before you Close That Tab…Where to Next in California?

I’ve lived and vanlifed around, about, and through all of California for 3 years. If you’re looking for more information on California, check out these other destination itineraries.

  • Perfect One Day In Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary
  • Perfect One Day In Redwood National Park Itinerary
  • Perfect One Day In Joshua Tree Itinerary For First-Timers
  • One Day In Death Valley Itinerary For Adventurers
  • Perfect One Day in San Diego Itinerary: What Not to Miss
  • Perfect One Day in San Francisco Itinerary for First Timers

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Catherine, a seasoned travel writer, has lived in 4 different states and explored 36 states and 28 national parks. After spending two years embracing van life, she's now dedicated to sharing her vast knowledge of day trips across America. Catherine's other works has been referenced in major publications like MSN, Self, and TripSavvy.

The World Was Here First

The Ultimate 2 to 3 Days in Lake Tahoe Itinerary

Last Updated on January 11, 2024

by Sarah Dittmore

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we may make a small commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, see our privacy policy.

lake tahoe day trip

Planning a 2 to 3 days in Lake Tahoe itinerary is an excellent way to see one of the most gorgeous alpine lakes in the country. As the largest lake in the Sierra Nevada and the second deepest lake in the United States, it’s no wonder Lake Tahoe draws visitors from all around the world.

Thanks to dedicated activists and community-wide efforts, Lake Tahoe is considered one of the clearest and cleanest bodies of water in the world. The massive, bright blue lake surrounded by towering alpines and endless forests of pines is truly one-of-a-kind.

This route will help you figure out how to spend a few days in and around Lake Tahoe so that you can enjoy the water, the sights, and the local culture. 

Table of Contents

How Many Days in Lake Tahoe?

When deciding how many days to spend in Lake Tahoe, it depends a lot on your goals for your time in the area.

But for most travellers, a few days is enough to get to know the town and see some of the highlights that make it such a sought-after destination.

The area can be split into two key sides of Lake Tahoe: South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe. 2 days in Lake Tahoe will allow you to visit both shores and get to know the shoreline of Tahoe a little better.

For those who want to see what life for the locals is like, 3 days will give you a chance to visit Truckee and see what the mountain lifestyle is all about.

Beautiful Lake Tahoe

Getting To & Around Lake Tahoe

Tahoe is incredibly easy to navigate, whether you’re driving up from San Francisco or further afield. Once you get to the lake, there’s one road that circles the perimeter and connects you to just about every destination in this itinerary.

It’s a very car-heavy destination and getting there (and around) will be much easier if you bring or rent a car. It also will allow you the flexibility to visit places in the surrounding area, such as Eagle Lake or Donner Lake.

If you need to hire a car when visiting Lake Tahoe, we suggest browsing in order to compare prices across a number of different rental companies.

However, Tahoe has made huge strides with its public transport. Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) offers trolley service to Emerald Bay and buses that service Incline Village and Sand Harbor. In North Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Area Regional Transit (TART) has its own app and provides free curb-to-curb service throughout the north shore.

View from Inspiration Point

2 to 3-Day Lake Tahoe Itinerary

Whether you spend 2 or 3 days in and around Lake Tahoe, it will never feel like enough. There’s so much to do and see in this slice of paradise, it’s hard to choose.

But if you follow this Lake Tahoe summer itinerary (the best time to visit Lake Tahoe if you want to hike and swim!), you’ll have a chance to take in Tahoe’s unmatched beauty, enjoy some of its hidden gems, and get to know the local mountain town culture.

Day 1 – South Lake Tahoe

Whether you have 2 days or 3, South Shore is a great place to start. Between Tahoe legends and hidden gems, South Lake Tahoe is full of endless ways to enjoy all the beauty and personality Tahoe has to offer.

Heidi’s Pancake House

Start your day off with one of South Lake Tahoe’s most beloved breakfast spots— Heidi’s Pancake House . This Swiss chalet-inspired spot has been a staple for Tahoe breakfasts since 1964 and continues to serve a mouth-watering menu from 7a-2p.

With a massive menu of differently flavored pancakes, French toasts, waffles, crepes, eggs, and omelets, there’s something for everyone.

Vikingsholm Castle

After breakfast, make your way over to Emerald Bay State Park to enjoy the stunning sapphire waters, sandy beaches, and gorgeous hikes that grace Lake Tahoe’s south shore.

When you first arrive at Emerald Bay, you’ll pull up in the Vikingsholm parking lot. Also known as “Tahoe’s Hidden Castle”, this Swedish-inspired masterpiece has been around since 1929. The property was eventually acquired by the state in 1953 and has been an attraction for Lake Tahoe visitors ever since.

Free, public tours run throughout the summer, so stop by for a chance to see what is considered one of the best displays of Scandinavian architecture throughout the United States.


Emerald Bay Beach

After touring the castle, get settled on the golden shores of Emerald Bay Beach. As one of the most photographed places on Earth, it’s a must for your trip.

Part of what keeps Emerald Bay Beach so beautiful is that it’s only accessible via trail or boat. From the Vikingsholm parking lot, it’s a 1.7 mile descent to the actual castle . From there, it’s just a few feet to the shore.

Once there, you can set up for a relaxing day on the beach, jump off the pier and swim in Lake Tahoe’s famously clear waters, rent kayaks and paddleboards for some water sports or hop on a sailing cruise.

In addition, Emerald Bay has been a designated Underwater State Park since 1994, so if scuba diving is your thing, make sure to plan ahead!  

Fannette Island

Lake Tahoe’s only island, Fannette Island is the perfect addition to any Lake Tahoe summer itinerary. In addition to being naturally gorgeous, Fannette Island is home to the ruins of Mrs. Lora Knight’s 1920s tea house.

Once a 16-foot miniature castle with a roaring fireplace and oak-carved furniture, Mrs Lora Knight would ferry guests of Vikingsholm to the island via motorboat for afternoon tea. Today, the stone husk boasts little of the glamor of the old tea house, but it’s a beautiful sight for those willing to make the trek.

The only way to access Fannette Island is via kayak, paddleboard, or boat. If you don’t have your own boat and don’t want to attempt the six-mile round-trip via paddle, there are plenty of places where you can charter a boat in Tahoe .

Fannette Island

Inspiration Point

As you depart Emerald Bay and drive back to South Shore, make sure to visit Inspiration Point.

Just three minutes east of the Vikingsholm parking lot, this vista towers 600 feet above Lake Tahoe and offers unbeatable views of Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, and Vikingsholm. The walkways are fairly flat, paved, and accessible so it’s a great spot to hit when you’re tired after a day of playing at Emerald Bay.

Just beware—parking can get intense! Try to avoid sunset hour and be prepared to wait for a spot to open up.

Sunset Dinner Cruise

There’s no better way to end the first day of your Lake Tahoe Itinerary than with a sunset dinner cruise on the M.S. Dixie II. Launching from Zephyr Cove, the cruise is by no means cheap. Still, if it’s within the budget, it’s well worth the expense.

The M.S. Dixie II is one of Lake Tahoe’s two authentic paddle wheelers and the cruise features stunning views of sunset on the Lake.

If you’re lucky and the conditions are right, sunset in Lake Tahoe often features a dramatic rainbow of bright pinks, soft purples, and vibrant golds that paint the surface of the water as it reflects the sky and the best way to see this is on the water.

In addition to the views, the sunset dinner cruise includes a three-course meal and drinks available for purchase. If this doesn’t suit, it is possible to visit a Venetian-style gondola ride on the lake, as well!

Sunset on Lake Tahoe

Day 2 – North Lake Tahoe  

While North Shore is more known for its epic winter ski resorts and those planning a winter trip to Tahoe , it’s also full of summer activities that could easily fill all 3 days. Still, if you only have a couple of days and are trying to see the highlights of the lake, make sure you plan a day to visit North Lake Tahoe and enjoy some of its unique natural beauty.  

Breakfast at Sugar Pine Cakery

A hidden favorite of North Shore locals is Sugar Pine Cakery in Tahoe City. This locally owned, mom-and-pop bakery is the definition of a hole in the wall, and it couldn’t be more worth a visit.

Every single item they sell is mouth-wateringly delicious. Start your day here for a pastry and a cup of coffee and order one of their incredible sandwiches to pack away for a picnic at Sand Harbor later in the day!

Tahoe East Shore Trail

Ever since it was completed in the summer of 2019, the Tahoe East Shore Trail has become a must for any trip to Lake Tahoe. This 2.6 mile trail from Incline Village to Sand Harbor is a relatively flat, paved walking and biking trail that takes about an hour to complete.

As it hugs the shoreline, you get incredible views of the water the whole way down. It’s one of the most accessible trails in Lake Tahoe and is a great way to enjoy walking the shoreline without wearing yourself out.

Clear waters of Sand Harbor

Sand Harbor

One of Tahoe’s most famous beaches, Sand Harbor is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. It can be accessed by the Tahoe East Shore Trail, or you can drive there and park for the day. It’s a beloved spot to lounge on the shore, engage in water sports, scuba dive, do a kayak tour or just play in the clear lake waters!

Make sure to check out their event calendar to see if anything’s going on while you’re in town and if you are visiting in July or August, check out their annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival !

Sunset at Hidden Beach

Hidden Beach continues to be one of Tahoe locals’ best-kept secrets and the ideal place to watch the sunset over the water.

The big secret about Hidden Beach is that everything you find on the internet is taking you to the wrong shore. Yes, there is a better-known, sandier shore known as Hidden Beach. It is easily accessible by walking trail and often packed for sunset.

But a small, winding trail off the freeway will take you one cove over to a paradise tucked away from the crowds.

One note to be aware of—as a local secret, Hidden Beach is also one of Tahoe’s few topless beaches. While it’s not often, especially during sunset hour when it cools down, don’t be surprised if you are joined by a topless beachgoer or two.

The easiest way to reach the “real” Hidden Beach is via a small walkway off of Highway 28, just south of the parking lot for Tahoe East Shore Trail, but parking is nearly impossible as there are only a few street parking spots that get snagged pretty early in the day.

More likely, you’ll need to follow the Tahoe East Shore Trail north from Sand Harbor until you reach the well-carved dirt path that takes you to the official Hidden Beach—the sandy one that everyone knows about. Keep going to the next cove over.

The same dirt trail will get you there, just walk past the sandy shore and follow the dirt trail north until it goes down to the water again. You’ll know you’ve found it because of the giant boulders. It does take a bit of scrambling, but once you get settled on the flatter rocks, there’s no better spot to picnic, sip a drink, and watch the sunset.

Hidden Beach in Tahoe

Chambers Landing Bar & Grill

If you’re staying in South Shore, take the western route around Lake Tahoe so you can hit Chambers Landing Bar & Grill on your way back. The oldest bar on the water in Lake Tahoe, Chambers Landing is a part of Tahoe history.

It doubled as a boathouse, bar, and clubhouse in 1875 and has continued to serve Tahoe residents and guests ever since. The dinner selection is great, but whatever you do, make sure to taste the famous Chambers Punches! 

Day 3 – Truckee / Martis Valley

While your first 2 days were focused on the shoreline, it’s worth expanding your reach on the third day to visit Truckee and Martis Valley. About half an hour north of North Lake Tahoe, Truckee is a quaint California town with a main strip reminiscent of the Old West, but filled with modern boutiques, restaurants, breweries, and more.

Breakfast at Squeeze In

Start your day off right with breakfast at one of Truckee’s most beloved spots: Squeeze In . Full of California vibes, this diner-style hub has a delicious menu, friendly staff, and a fantastic reputation across Lake Tahoe.

Martis Creek Trail

Once you’ve fueled up at Squeeze In, head south to Martis Creek Trail for a gorgeous and relaxed hike. This 4.3-mile loop takes you through the unique landscape of Martis Valley where you can enjoy a very different, but equally beautiful, side of Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem.

The trail is pretty flat with only 203 feet of climbing and takes 1.5-2 hours to complete. It’s a great way to get moving and enjoy Tahoe’s fresh air before heading back to Truckee for a day of exploring the shops and local spots!

Historic Hotel in Truckee

Shopping on Donner Pass Road

After your hike, head back to Donner Pass Road to explore the delightful downtown of historic Truckee. You can easily spend a day walking down the main strip, wandering in and out of shops, but there are a few places you don’t want to miss.

Made + Maker is home to both Bespoke and Atelier ; in the front, they sell all artisan goods and carefully curated boutique items. In the back of the store, they have a separate room full of things for the maker—yarns, craft projects, art supplies, and more.

Over at Word after Word you’ll find a truly remarkable bookstore upstairs with a tucked away record store and used books shop in their basement. For a truly Tahoe souvenir, head over to Mountain Arts Collective or Riverside Studios to shop locally made items.

If you’re looking for a coffee break, head just north of Donner Pass Road for a flavored latte at the hip, sunny Coffee Bar or head south for an incredible cup of coffee at the cozy, plant-filled Dark Horse Coffee Roasters .

Dinner and Drinks at 5050

To round out your day in Truckee and wrap up your time in Lake Tahoe, head over to Fiftyfifty Brewing Co for dinner and a beer. This local brewery is beloved across Tahoe, but their pub is located in downtown Truckee and serves classic American grill foods alongside their ever-shifting menu of beers on tap.

Not only is it great food and fantastic brews, it captures the local Tahoe personality and gives you a taste of what life in Tahoe is really about.

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe

The Jeffrey Hotel – This lovely hotel is the perfect mid-range option in South Lake Tahoe. Offering a range of rooms suitable for couples and families, it is located close to the beach and some rooms even have a fireplace!

Black Bear Lodge – This comfortable hotel offers a range of rooms and cottages, perfect for those looking to cook some of their own meals. They can accommodate larger families, with all rooms having a gas fireplace and some coming with a hot tub.

Private Rental – There are plenty of options to suit different levels of budgets for private rentals in Lake Tahoe such as this stunning lakefront condo .

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options near Lake Tahoe!

Emerald Bay

Lake Tahoe is sacred to locals and adored by visitors. The cobalt waters, emerald trees, and laid-back culture make it the perfect place to relax and find peace surrounded by the beauty of this mountain town.

Are you planning to visit Lake Tahoe? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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About Sarah Dittmore

Sarah is a writer for The World Was Here First. A California native, she loves travelling around her home state as well as visiting places further afield. She has spent over a decade travelling the world and writing stories inspired by the people and places she encounters along the way.

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Lake Tahoe   Travel Guide

Courtesy of MariuszBlach | Getty Images

lake tahoe day trip

21 Top-Rated Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

Skiing? Check. Swimming? Check. Golfing? Check. Shopping, dining and nightlife? Check, check and check. The Lake Tahoe area offers the best of all worlds rolled into one vacation destination. Spanning the California-Nevada border, there's

  • All Things To Do

lake tahoe day trip

Emerald Bay State Park Emerald Bay State Park free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Emerald Bay can become very crowded during the day, especially during the summer months. Visitors are frequently ticketed for parking in areas marked "no parking at any time." Arrive early in the day if you wish to avoid crowds and secure parking. – Katie Joll

Carved millions of years ago by passing glaciers, this state park is a must-see for anyone looking to experience Lake Tahoe's beauty. Surrounded by towering trees, this inlet along the southwest shore is known for its monumental granite cliffs and stunning panoramas. Follow Highway 89 south from Tahoe City, California, (about 20 miles) or north from South Lake Tahoe, California, (about 10 miles) and you'll come across the spectacular vistas of Emerald Bay. Make sure you have a camera on hand – the scenery is breathtaking and travelers say there are photo opportunities everywhere you turn. Emerald Bay offers some stunning hikes on popular trails, including the 1.9-mile Eagle Lake Trail, an out-and-back hike that takes visitors about an hour to complete and features waterfalls, granite peaks and even swimming opportunities.

lake tahoe day trip

Sand Harbor State Park Sand Harbor State Park

Visitors who want to see the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe flock to Sand Harbor. This is a great launch point for summer water activities. Swimmers, boaters, scuba divers, and fishers will all find something to enjoy in this beautiful stretch of Lake Tahoe. Picnic areas with barbecues are located in the shade of huge cedars and pines. This is also the site of the annual Shakespeare Festival.

If you're there in winter, Sand Harbor is a picturesque spot for photography, or for a stroll around the interpretive trail. You can expect that there may be snow on the trails during winter.

lake tahoe day trip

Incline Village Incline Village free

Incline Village lies on the northeastern shore of Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side. It is frequently described as an outdoor adventurer's paradise, with access to a range of activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, golf, skiing and water sports.

For those who prefer a more sedate pace, there are several spa options, gambling at the Grand Lodge Casino, lazy beach days, shopping and several well-rated restaurants. One very popular activity is to head a few miles south down Highway 28 to Sand Harbor. The azure waters and sandy beaches are very attractive to visitors, but it's often necessary to arrive early in the day during the summer months to ensure parking. Once there, the clear-sided kayak tours are a well-rated activity that should be reserved ahead.

lake tahoe day trip

Popular Tours

2 Hour Sailing Cruise on Lake Tahoe

2 Hour Sailing Cruise on Lake Tahoe

(472 reviews)

from $ 140.00

Tahoe Coastal Self-Guided E-Bike Tour - Half-Day | World Famous East Shore Trail

Tahoe Coastal Self-Guided E-Bike Tour - Half-Day | World Famous East Shore Trail

(237 reviews)

from $ 87.20

Emerald Bay Helicopter Tour of Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay Helicopter Tour of Lake Tahoe

(163 reviews)

from $ 110.00

lake tahoe day trip

Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum free

The Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum honor one of the darkest moments in American pioneering. Here, you'll find a great stone pedestal commemorating the Donner Party, the legendary pioneers who fell victim to the harsh Sierra Nevada winter of 1846 to 1847. The party (originally consisting of nearly 90 emigrants) was en route to California when their wagon train encountered a severe snow storm. Only half of the pioneers survived (many by resorting to cannibalism). The stone marker near the Emigrant Trail Museum stands 22 feet tall.

For more information about the tragic Donner Party, head to the Donner Memorial State Museum. There you'll also find intricate dioramas detailing the history of railroad development in the Sierra Nevada region. It's a great spot for history buffs, according to recent visitors, though some expressed that they felt parts of the story were sanitized to be more "kid friendly."

lake tahoe day trip

Kings Beach State Recreation Area Kings Beach State Recreation Area free

U.S. News Insider Tip: For the friends and lovers out there, Kings Beach is home to a "love locks" pier. Come prepared with your own padlock if you'd like to add yours to the collection! – Katie Joll

Stretching along Lake Tahoe's northern California shore, this beach is one of the largest in the area. The 979 feet of shoreline is ideal for swimming, sunbathing and boating; plus, there is a picnic area and a playground, as well as restroom facilities. There's also a shop offering kayak, paddleboard and pedal boat rentals, among other crafts.

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Palisades Tahoe Palisades Tahoe

U.S. News Insider Tip: If you'd like a ski-in, ski-out experience and to avoid any parking crowds, a stay at Everline Resort might be for you. The resort has a Palisades Tahoe ski lift in its backyard so guests can quite literally ski out the door. – Katie Joll

Encompassing both Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows, Palisades Tahoe is considered one of the world's finest ski resorts thanks to its nearly 6,000 acres of terrain and its advanced lift system. Plus, it sees about 400 inches of snow per year, meaning Palisades operates one of the longest ski and snowboard seasons in Lake Tahoe. It's no wonder the resort was chosen to host the 1960 Winter Olympics. Formerly called Squaw Valley, it was renamed in 2020 to avoid continued use of the term squaw – a known racist and sexist slur against indigenous women.

lake tahoe day trip

Lake Tahoe Balloons Lake Tahoe Balloons

It's hard to beat Tahoe on a good day, and one of the best ways to see it in clear weather is from up high. Lake Tahoe Balloons inflates, launches and lands on the world's only U.S. Coast Guard-certified aircraft carrier for hot air balloons. That's right: You'll launch from the water. Visitors are awestruck to land on the lake and rate this activity as a top experience and one that shouldn't be missed.

Located at the Tahoe Keys Marina in South Lake Tahoe, the balloon flights operate early in the morning, beginning just before sunrise (between 5:30 a.m. and 7 a.m., depending on the time of year). Typically, they take two flights of passengers so that while one group flies, the other remains on the boat, taking in the sights. Packages include beverages and refreshments, and private flights can be arranged. Guests are advised to wear layers as temperatures can be cold early in the mornings, even during summer.

lake tahoe day trip

Homewood Mountain Resort Homewood Mountain Resort

According to skiers, this small resort on Lake Tahoe's west shore (about 7 miles south of Tahoe City, California) doesn't have the crowds of nearby titans like Palisades Tahoe and Heavenly Resort . Sitting on 1,260 acres, Homewood features 67 runs and eight lifts. But its laid-back atmosphere and spectacular scenery impress visitors, who call it one of the most gorgeous resorts with amazing lake views and a great place to ski through the trees. Some recent visitors did not feel the experience met expectations, noting potential maintenance issues on the mountain, mixed reviews of ski lessons and lack of flexibility when weather prevented them from using prebooked tickets.

Homewood is also the perfect spot for those trying to experience Lake Tahoe on a budget, as lift tickets are cheaper than those at nearby resorts (starting as low as $104 per day for adults). Some travelers did not feel the experience was good for beginner or young skiers, but others describe it as a good place to take lessons.

lake tahoe day trip

Clear Kayak Paddle Tour at Sand Harbor

(30 reviews)

from $ 150.00

Zephyr Cove Helicopter Tour

Zephyr Cove Helicopter Tour

(40 reviews)

from $ 185.50

Electric Dirtbike Adventure in Lake Tahoe

Electric Dirtbike Adventure in Lake Tahoe

(33 reviews)

from $ 200.00

lake tahoe day trip

Van Sickle Bi-State Park Van Sickle Bi-State Park free

Trying to avoid this region's parking challenges? Van Sickle Bi-State Park distinguishes itself from Lake Tahoe's many other outdoor areas in three ways: it is walkable from the casinos , it is open to equestrians and it offers a connector trail to the famous Tahoe Rim Trail. Until the 1990s, the Van Sickle family – which donated the 542 acres to create this state park – operated a stable here with dozens of horses.

Recent visitors delighted in this relatively uncrowded hiking area. Many praised the well-marked trails and opportunity to see a waterfall. The park is popular with visitors staying within walking distance, and several visited it more than once. That's high praise for a lake bursting with beautiful recreation areas!

lake tahoe day trip

Northstar California Resort Northstar California Resort

Although it's smaller than Palisades Tahoe or Heavenly Mountain Resort – boasting a mere 3,170 acres and almost 100 runs – Northstar California Resort is often rated among the top ski resorts in the West. In fact, Northstar had to construct an "express gondola" to accommodate the number of people who couldn't wait to hit the slopes.

Aside from skiing and snowboarding, other Northstar activities include ice skating and snowshoeing as well as swimming and biking in summer. After a long day on the slopes (or the trails or the rink or the pool), catch up on your rest and relaxation with some time at a nearby spa. There is also a movie theater on the property, as well as several shops and eateries. Recent visitors extolled the resort's awesome trails and family-friendly activities, but noted crowds and occasional service issues. Some have complained that accommodations in the village were below expectations.

lake tahoe day trip

Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort

Sierra-at-Tahoe is one of just a few ski resorts in the area that are not owned by large companies like Vail or Alterra. Dating back to 1946, these days Sierra boasts over 2000 skiable acres and 14 chair lifts.

With slopes suitable for beginner to advanced skiers and snowboarders, Sierra-at-Tahoe cultivates a fun atmosphere for all. Among their unique offerings is a mountain tour, targeted at intermediate and above skiers and riders. These tours introduce participants to trails and mountain lore. The company also offers a tubing hill, which is generally open Friday through Monday.

lake tahoe day trip

Lake Tahoe Boat Tours Lake Tahoe Boat Tours

After taking it in from the scenic shoreline, visitors will be itching to get out on Lake Tahoe's gleaming waters. There are plenty of company and tour types to select – from daylong excursions to sunset wine affairs. Many companies also offer tours lasting two to four hours during the day, which may be the most kid-friendly option. Tours typically include a mix of history, sightseeing, and sometimes opportunities to swim or tube in the lake.

Many recent visitors to Lake Tahoe considered this a must-do activity. Some cruises may be on the more crowded side; it is worth looking up reviews and capacity for particular boat tours before booking. Depending on your travel style, you may want to begin a visit with one of these cruises to help orient you to the lake area, or cap off your vacation with this activity. For many travelers it was the highlight of their trip.

lake tahoe day trip

Heavenly Ski Resort & Gondola Heavenly Ski Resort & Gondola

With its summit soaring 10,067 feet above sea level, this wildly popular resort truly is heavenly. The only ski resort on Lake Tahoe's South Shore, Heavenly offers 4,800 skiable acres – with runs appropriate for all levels – as well as a snowboard park, nearly 30 lifts and a 50-passenger aerial tram. The Heavenly Resort also offers daycare programs and children's ski lessons, so feel free to bring the kids along.

While fresh powder and stunning lake views are a key draw, Heavenly's gondola is a year-round (wind-dependent) attraction. These suspended cable cars carry passengers more than 2 miles through the mountains to a 9,200-foot-high observation deck. Rides will cost you a small fortune ($102 for adults, $54 for kids during peak seasons)), but travelers agree that the experience is a must for first-time visitors. In addition, in the summer at the resort's Epic Discovery adventure area, visitors can enjoy zip lines, a mountain coaster, climbing walls and guided hiking tours.

lake tahoe day trip

Private Yacht-Class Boat Tour on Lake Tahoe

(59 reviews)

from $ 600.00

Tahoe Helicopter Tour: Lakes and Waterfalls

Tahoe Helicopter Tour: Lakes and Waterfalls

(76 reviews)

from $ 275.50

Small-Group Day Trip to Yosemite from Lake Tahoe

Small-Group Day Trip to Yosemite from Lake Tahoe

(100 reviews)

from $ 250.00

lake tahoe day trip

Harrah's Casino Harrah's Casino

Sitting just over the border from South Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nevada, Harrah's Casino offers a lively counterpoint to Lake Tahoe's natural peacefulness. There are plenty of gambling options, including table games and hundreds of slot machines, as well as in-house concert venues and nightclubs. Harrah's is also home to a spa plus several upscale and casual dining options.

Some recent visitors praised the cleanliness of this casino and its friendly staff, though many others griped about the age of some of the machines and accommodations. Despite reviewers' comments about the need for a casino face-lift, they still said it was a fun escape after a few days enjoying Lake Tahoe's outdoor pursuits.

lake tahoe day trip

Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park

Visitors searching for dense forests, beautiful lake views and a historic summer home will find all three at Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park. Summer travelers can hike, swim, fish, and stop by the Nature Center to learn about the area's native wildlife and geology. Winter visitors can traverse more than 20 kilometers (nearly 12.5 miles) of marked cross-country ski trails – or explore the shoreline on snowshoes. The Hellman-Ehrman Mansion offers tours from Memorial Day through to Labor Day each year, and visitors can walk the estate year-round.

Recent visitors enjoyed the rustic setting for picnicking and the scenic hikes. Those who visited the mansion, built on historically Washoe Tribal land, found it interesting and worth their time. Visitors noted that the facilities – including bathrooms – are pleasant and well-maintained, and that the park isn't as crowded as other spots around the lake

lake tahoe day trip

Vikingsholm Vikingsholm

The 1929 Scandinavian castle-style residence Vikingsholm differentiates Emerald Bay from other state parks. Lora J. Knight, though not Scandinavian herself, was inspired by the property's fjord-like setting to commission the unusual design. Today, travelers can visit this historic landmark via a milelong trail from the U.S. Highway 89 parking lot in Emerald Bay. It is also accessible by boat.

Recent visitors thoroughly recommend stopping by the mansion while visiting Emerald Bay. Several praised the guided tours. Travelers noted that the hike is steep; wear appropriate shoes. There is an easier 1.5-mile hike from the Eagle Point Campground campfire center, or boat tours may run from Camp Richardson during the summer

lake tahoe day trip

Cave Rock State Park Cave Rock State Park

Boaters, swimmers and snorkelers alike will enjoy Nevada's Cave Rock State Park. The aptly named spot features rocky shoals and a steep shoreline. This setting offers excellent views and fishing opportunities. The nearby Cave Rock trailhead is not accessible from the state park, but instead requires a short drive.

Recent visitors enjoyed the views and hikes, which are moderately strenuous. Many note that this area is a bit trickier to navigate than other parts of the shore, as signage is limited. Parking can be challenging. Some recommend taking a ride-share instead.

lake tahoe day trip

Pope Beach Pope Beach

U.S. News Insider Tip: Be aware of local beach rules before you head out so that you can make the most of your day. Dogs are not allowed on swimming beaches like Pope, and wood or charcoal fires are not allowed. If you're hoping to barbecue, you'll need a portable gas grill. – Katie Joll

Thrifty travelers – and anyone else – staying near the southern shores of Lake Tahoe can conveniently visit Pope Beach. Shrouded by pine trees, this beautiful beach has opportunities for biking and water activities in the vicinity of restroom and picnic table facilities.

lake tahoe day trip

2 Hour Private Boat Charter With Captain

(17 reviews)

from $ 499.00

Stargazing Tour on Lake Tahoe - 2 Hours Private Boat Charter

Stargazing Tour on Lake Tahoe - 2 Hours Private Boat Charter

from $ 750.00

Wild West Day Trip to Virginia City from Tahoe with Train Ride

Wild West Day Trip to Virginia City from Tahoe with Train Ride

(94 reviews)

from $ 90.00

lake tahoe day trip

Tallac Historic Site Tallac Historic Site free

Known as the "Grandest Resort in the World" 100 years ago, today the Tallac Historic Site welcomes the general public to view the historic summer retreat of the wealthy few. Take a tour of the stately Pope House and its grounds for a lesson in what life was like. For those who would rather stay outside, the site has easy access to beaches. There are biking, hiking, picnicking, and water sports opportunities as well. Although the historic site is only open from approximately June through September, winter visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Recent visitors enjoyed stepping back in time with a look at the historic site. Many praised the tour guides, and several combined the visit with other outdoor activities.

lake tahoe day trip

Fallen Leaf Lake Fallen Leaf Lake

U.S. News Insider Tip: If you're visiting in spring, after snow has melted, there are some meadow areas around Fallen Leaf Lake that produce stunning wildflowers. Timing of the flowers changes every year, depending on how heavy snow was during the winter. – Katie Joll

Fallen Leaf Lake is often referred to as a "hidden" gem as the picturesque, 3-mile-long lake is tucked away off Highway 89. Fallen Leaf Lake Road provides some access to the lake, although most areas along the shore are on private land.

lake tahoe day trip

D. L. Bliss State Park D. L. Bliss State Park

Note: In 2023 and 2024, D. L. Bliss State Park will undergo a water infrastructure project. The park will be closed during construction.

U.S. News Insider Tip: The Rubicon Trail, which runs between Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss State Park is one of the most scenic in the area. It's also a relatively mild option for anyone getting used to the higher altitude of Tahoe. – Katie Joll

lake tahoe day trip

Things to Do in Lake Tahoe FAQs

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THE 10 BEST Lake Tahoe (California) Tours & Excursions

Lake tahoe (california) tours.

  • Sightseeing Tours
  • Private Tours
  • Helicopter Tours
  • Up to 1 hour
  • 1 to 4 hours
  • 4 hours to 1 day
  • 5.0 of 5 bubbles
  • 4.0 of 5 bubbles & up
  • 3.0 of 5 bubbles & up
  • 2.0 of 5 bubbles & up
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • Likely to Sell Out
  • The ranking of tours, activities, and experiences available on Tripadvisor is determined by several factors including the revenue generated by Tripadvisor from these bookings, the frequency of user clicks, and the volume and quality of customer reviews. Occasionally, newly listed offerings may be prioritized and appear higher in the list. The specific placement of these new listings may vary.

lake tahoe day trip

1. 2 Hour Sailing Cruise on Lake Tahoe

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2. Private boat tours of Lake Tahoe for up to six guests.

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3. Small-Group Day Trip to Yosemite from Lake Tahoe

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4. Private Yacht-Class Boat Tour on Lake Tahoe

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5. Wild West Day Trip to Virginia City from Tahoe with Train Ride

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6. Full-Day Lake Tahoe Circle Tour including Squaw Valley

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7. Emerald Bay Helicopter Tour of Lake Tahoe

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8. 5 Star Rated Winter Private Tour in Sequoia

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9. Lake Tahoe Small-Group Photography Scenic Half-Day Tour

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10. Ultimate Lake Tahoe Self-Guided Driving Audio Tour

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11. Electric Dirtbike Adventure in Lake Tahoe

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12. Scenic Snowshoe Adventure in South Lake Tahoe, CA

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13. Guided Tour of Historic Virginia City and Carson City from South Lake Tahoe

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14. Zephyr Cove Helicopter Tour

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15. California Audio Tour Bundle Get 4 Audio Tours

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16. Driving Lake Tahoe: A Self-Guided Tour From Incline Village to South Lake Tahoe

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17. See The Whole Lake: 6 Hour Shared Tour of Lake Tahoe by Van

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18. Half Day Snowshoe Hike in Tahoe National Forest

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19. Tahoe National Forest Moonlight Snowshoe Tour Under a Starry Sky

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20. Emerald Bay Sunset Boat tour in the Grateful Red

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21. Stargazing Tour on Lake Tahoe - 2 Hours Private Boat Charter

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22. Introductory Snowshoe Shared Experience

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23. Sunset Wine & Cheese Emerald Bay Boat Charter

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24. Self-Guided Audio Driving Tour in Lake Tahoe

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25. 2 Hour Private Boat Charter With Captain

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26. Tahoe's Sand Harbor Helicopter Tour

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27. 2 Hour Private Lake Tahoe Shoreline Cruise

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28. 2 Hour Private Sunset Boat Charter With Captain

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29. 2 Hours Private Emerald Bay Boat Tour

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30. Kayak Tour of Historic Lake Tahoe West Shore

What travelers are saying.


  • Ultimate Lake Tahoe Self-Guided Driving Audio Tour
  • 2 Hour Sailing Cruise on Lake Tahoe
  • Emerald Bay Helicopter Tour of Lake Tahoe
  • Scenic Snowshoe Adventure in South Lake Tahoe, CA
  • Tahoe Helicopter Tour: Lakes and Waterfalls
  • Lake Tahoe Boat Rides
  • Sail Tahoe Blue Sailing Charters
  • Tahoe Cruises
  • Tahoe Emerald Bliss Boat Tours
  • Tahoe By Design
  • Bleu Wave Cruise
  • Tahoe Gal Cruises
  • Tahoe Wakebusters
  • Tahoe Tastings
  • Action Watersports at Timber Cove Marina
  • Camp Richardson Marina
  • Tahoe Outdoor Advenetures
  • Tahoe Photographic Tours
  • Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks
  • North Tahoe Paddle
  • Alpenglow Expeditions
  • Lake Tahoe Balloons
  • Grand Tahoe Charters, Wild Goose II-Boat Tours
  • Action Watersports at Lakeside Marina

Earn and Explore

Lake Tahoe Day Trip Summer Itinerary: How to Spend One Day in Lake Tahoe

by Lydia | Oct 17, 2022 | Travel & Explore

Lake Tahoe Day Trip, Spending One Day in Lake Tahoe

Planning a Lake Tahoe day trip in the summer? Whether you’ve been there before or this is your first time exploring Tahoe, you can have an adventure-packed day. Of course, there are so many places to see and explore that you can’t do everything in a single day. Nevertheless, one day in Lake Tahoe is enough to hike a little, swim a little, and gaze at the bluest lake water you’ve ever seen. Keep reading for my best tips for visiting Lake Tahoe in one day and the itinerary I’d use for a summertime Lake Tahoe day trip adventure!

Is the Drive Around Lake Tahoe Worth It?

Yes! While South Lake Tahoe might be the most popular tourist destination, you don’t want to miss what the rest of the lake has to offer. The drive around Lake Tahoe is 72 miles and takes about three hours if you don’t stop anywhere. But you’ll want to stop, explore, and take in some of the most beautiful sites you’ve ever seen. Even with one day in Lake Tahoe, you can have a magical time and see the entire thing. 

Which Side of Lake Tahoe is Better?

Honestly, it depends on who you ask and what you enjoy. Personally, I think North Lake Tahoe has the most beautiful beaches and clearest blue waters. It’s breathtaking, and I haven’t found another part of the lake that beats it. However, South Lake Tahoe is definitely more lively and offers countless restaurants, shops, accommodations, and attractions.

The good news is that you can see both sides of the lake, even when you have one day in Lake Tahoe. Whether you start your Lake Tahoe day trip on the south shore or the north shore, you can see what both have to offer. 

How Many Days Do You Need in Lake Tahoe?

You could spend months in Lake Tahoe and not see or experience everything the destination has to offer. However, giving yourself an entire week would provide plenty of time for diverse activities, rest, and relaxation. A long weekend would keep you busy but with less time in the car. Nevertheless, exploring Lake Tahoe in one day is totally worth it and doable if that’s all the time you have. 

Can You Do Lake Tahoe in a Day?

Yes! Although the more time you spend in Tahoe, the more you’ll be able to see and do, a Lake Tahoe day trip still has much to offer. I recommend you start early and plan for a long, busy day to get the most out of your one day in Lake Tahoe.

Where to Go During a One Day Trip to Lake Tahoe

Beautiful Blue Waters on a One Day Trip to Lake Tahoe

Sand Harbor Beach

  • Crystal clear blue water featuring smooth boulders and unbeatable views
  • Watercraft rentals available for an unforgettable adventure on the lake
  • Come early if possible because the parking lot fills up quickly; you can also park for free on the side of the road and walk to the beach

Location: North shore, east side

Price: $20 parking fee; paddleboard/kayak rental fee varies

Hours to Spend: 1-4 hours

Lake Tahoe Day Trip, Lake Tahoe in a Day

Secret Cove

  • The clearest water you’ll see in Lake Tahoe
  • 1-mile, relatively easy hike through a wooded area ( get directions here ) 
  • It takes about 30 minutes to get to Secret Cove
  • Nudity is acceptable on Secret Cove beach (keep in mind if you’re bringing kiddos)
  • You can paddleboard or kayak to Secret Cove from Sand Harbor beach; it’s about an 8-mile round-trip, so make sure you have lots of time and wear lots of sunscreen

Price: Free parking in a small lot or on the road nearby

Hours to Spend: 1-2 hours 

Lake Tahoe in One Day

Inspiration Point (Emerald Bay)

  • One of the best vista points in the area, 600 feet above Lake Tahoe
  • Accessible via paved walkways
  • Views of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, Vikingsholm, and Fannette Island
  • Hiking not required

Location: South shore, west side

Price: Free parking in a small lot (don’t park on the roadway)

Hours to Spend: 30 minutes-1 hour

Lake Tahoe Day Trip Hike

Cascade Falls

  • 1.4-mile out-and-back moderate hike ( get directions here )
  • Trailhead is located at the back of Bayview Campground, across from Inspiration Point
  • It takes about 40 minutes to one hour to get to the falls, depending on your hiking speed
  • Beautiful waterfall at the top with gorgeous views of the lakes below

Price: Free parking in Inspiration Point parking lot (don’t park on the roadway)

Hours to Spend: 2-4 hours

Views from Cascade Falls During Day Trip to Lake Tahoe

Base Camp Pizza

  • The best pizza in South Lake Tahoe
  • Gluten-free crust available, plus other delicious Italian dishes
  • Located in the heart of south lake with shops to explore

Location: South Lake Tahoe

Price: Varies depending on what you order

Hours to Spend: 1 hour

Lake Tahoe Day Trip Summer Itinerary

There are so many amazing beaches, incredible hikes, and breathtaking views in and around Lake Tahoe that it’s impossible to experience everything on a one-day trip. Throw in the shopping, casinos, golf courses, and tourist attractions, and you’d be lucky to explore all Lake Tahoe offers in a week-long trip! Not to mention, a winter Lake Tahoe day trip is a whole different story–you have the ski resorts and lodges to consider exploring. However, if it were me, here’s how I would spend one day in Lake Tahoe in the summer. 

7:00 AM: Arrive at Sand Harbor Beach

My one day trip to Lake Tahoe would start at 7:00 AM on the north shore. I’d arrive at Sand Harbor beach as soon as it opens to secure a parking spot and watercraft rentals. Personally, I’d take a paddleboard on the water, but you can rent other watercraft in the area. Or simply enjoy a nice swim in some of the clearest blue lake waters you’ll ever see.

I’d spend about two hours enjoying the beach without any watercraft and up to four hours if I had a paddleboard or kayak to venture on.

10:00 AM: Drive to Secret Cove Parking & Hike to Secret Cove

It’s a quick five-minute (tops) drive from Sand Harbor beach parking to a small parking lot where you can start your hike to Secret Cove. If there isn’t any parking available, you’ll see cars starting to line up on the roadway.

The nearly one-mile hike to Secret Cove will take about 30 minutes, and you’ll know once you make it. If you thought the water at Sand Harbor was beautiful, just wait until you see what the cove has to offer.

It’s definitely worth spending a few moments relaxing and enjoying the views. I’d spend one hour sun tanning on a beach towel and maybe finding a safe rock to jump off into the water. With the hiking trip, I’d spend two hours exploring this secret cove in Lake Tahoe.

12:00 PM: Drive to Emerald Bay State Park

Next, it would be time for lunch and a long drive down the east side of the lake. I’d pack some sandwiches and snacks to have lunch on the go. You can also pull out along the drive and find a nice place to eat your lunch with a view. If you’re exploring Tahoe on a weekday and you own a location independent business, it’s the perfect time to check emails. Either way, you’ll want to make it to Emerald Bay by 1:30 PM at the latest. 

1:30 PM: Take in the Beauty of Inspiration Point

Because there is parking right next to Inspiration Point–Lake Tahoe’s infamous vista point, 600 feet above the lake–it’s relatively easy to get to and enjoy. 

I’d spend about 15 minutes taking in the views before walking across the street to Bayview Campground. You can keep your car park at Inspiration Point while you hike Cascade Falls.

2:00 PM: Hike Cascade Falls

Make sure you bring lots of water and a snack for your hike to Cascade Falls. The hike will take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how fast you go and if you’re traveling with little ones. As you make your way through the forest and up rocky pathways, you’ll come across Cascade Falls. Make sure to spend some time at the top of the falls and enjoy the fresh air and beautiful sites. 

I’d spend at least 30 minutes to an hour enjoying the lookout views. With the hiking trip, I’d spend two and a half to three hours exploring the area.

5:00 PM: Drive into Town for a Delicious Dinner at Base Camp Pizza

Base Camp Pizza is a quick 25-minute drive back into town, and it is delicious. Plus, they sell more than just pizza, so there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. There is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating at the restaurant, but it’s popular, so you may have a short wait. 

I’d sit back, relax, and savor every bite for up to two hours, depending on how long the wait is to be seated and get my food.

7:00 PM Where to Next?

With just about 12 hours of exploring Lake Tahoe in one day under your belt, it’s time to ask yourself, “Where to next?” Depending on where you’re staying for the night, it will probably be a good time to start your drive. 

If you plan on staying in Lake Tahoe, I recommend booking an Airbnb in Tahoe City. It’s a beautiful town on the west side of Tahoe that isn’t included in my Lake Tahoe one day trip. If you spend the night there, you can enjoy a Lake Tahoe sunset and get one more look at the lake before taking off to your next destination the following day. 

Want a discount on Airbnb? Sign up for Ibotta using my affiliate link to purchase Airbnb gift cards for 3-10% off . You’ll also get $5 for signing up and using the cashback app! Try Ibotta today and get a discount on your Airbnb stay with discounted gift cards.

If you’re heading toward Reno or Sacramento–two of the closest big cities–you’ll need two to three hours to get there, especially while driving in the dark. Be safe on those backroads, and keep an eye out for wildlife! 

Alternative Lake Tahoe One Day Trip Itinerary

Lake Tahoe might be one of the most beautiful lakes, but it is definitely not one of the warmest. By starting your day trip at Sand Harbor beach, you will have to brace for cold waters. It’s not so bad if you’ll be on a watercraft, but if you plan on swimming, you may want to wait until the day warms up a bit. In that case, I’d start the morning at Inspiration Point and Cascade Falls. I’d then drive up the west side of the lake to get to Sand Harbor Beach and Secret Cove. I’d still end my day in South Lake Tahoe at Base Camp Pizza. 

Lake Tahoe is One of My Favorite Destinations to Earn and Explore

Because I own a location independent business , I’m able to visit Lake Tahoe while making money on the road. And it’s one of my absolute favorite places to go! Whether you’re heading to Tahoe for a vacation or just passing through on your way to your next destination, it’s worth spending a day taking in the beautiful sights.

Planning on staying in Lake Tahoe? Enter the Earn and Explore $50 Airbnb gift card giveaway for the chance to win $50 toward your next trip!

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A Scenic Lake Tahoe Itinerary: 1-3 Days in Tahoe

By: Author Taylor Lorenz

Posted on Last updated: 04/29/2022

A Scenic Lake Tahoe Itinerary: 1-3 Days in Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of California’s most beautiful nature spots and a haven for hikers, skiers, and outdoor enthusiasts. As North America’s largest alpine lake (and second deepest after Crater Lake in Oregon), there is undoubtedly much to see and do with 72 miles of shoreline, multiple state parks, and a vast mountain range. But don’t let the abundance of things to do in Lake Tahoe make planning your first day trip or weekend in Lake Tahoe overwhelming.

Fear not, though, as we’re here to share what to do in Lake Tahoe on a short road trip. Read on to discover the best Lake Tahoe itinerary for one, two, or three days.

Table of Contents

Lake Tahoe 1 Day Itinerary

With just one day, your Lake Tahoe itinerary will be pretty fast-paced. While you won’t be able to see everything, you’ll undoubtedly be able to check out the highlights, such as Sand Harbor, Eagle Falls, and Emerald Bay which will take you from North Lake Tahoe to South Tahoe so you’ll get a great idea of the sights on the west coast of the lake.

But first: Just know that I’ve got plenty more California trip guides where this one came from!

lake tahoe day trip

Beaches: Sand Harbor, Secret Cove, Chimney Beach & Zephyr Cove

You have a few beach options to begin your trip! You could spend the morning in the northeast of the lake, enjoying the crystal-clear waters and long sandy beaches of Sand Harbor. The shoreline here gives a magnificent panoramic view of the lake and is beautiful all year round. In the winter, you can enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride along the snow-covered beach.

In the summer, you can rent a kayak or paddleboard from Sand Harbor Rentals and explore the rocky coves. Also, check out Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival to see if there is a show on while you’re here. Outdoor performances happen most evenings in July and August right in the park.

During peak season, Sand Harbor gets pretty crowded, as it’s only 3 miles south of Incline Village, one of the top areas to stay, which is why we recommend beginning your day here. Arrive as early as possible to experience the harbor while it’s still peaceful. Other nearby options (beach hopping anyone?) are Chimney Beach & Secret Cove Beach, but note that Secret Cove Beach is a nude beach!

Or, if you want to escape the crowds altogether, take the nearby Skunk Harbor Trail to discover one of Tahoe’s most hidden beaches. Alternatively, Zephyr Cove is 25 minutes south of Sand Harbor and is a great choice as you can rent lots of water equipment here and it’s closer to the next stop!

lake tahoe day trip

Heavenly Mountain Gondola

The 2.4-mile gondola ride up Heavenly Mountain is undoubtedly one of the most popular Lake Tahoe attractions. The 8-passenger glass cabin departs from Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe and takes you up to an observation deck sitting 9,123 feet above sea level. 

Here you can take in the breathtaking perspective of the lake and incredible views out to Carson Valley and the Desolation Wilderness. There is also a cafe at the observation deck where you can enjoy a coffee or cocktail with the best landscape in town. 

lake tahoe day trip

Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake

Eagle Falls within Emerald Bay State Park is another of the most popular things to do in Lake Tahoe for daytrippers. It takes just one hour to hike from the falls to the lake and back. This natural lake is perfect for cooling off during the hot summer months, and the water has a mirror effect, reflecting the surrounding mountains and trees for a truly breathtaking view.

However, if you’re short on time, you can skip the lake and just drive to the trailhead at the falls to admire the gorgeous waterfall up close. 

lake tahoe day trip

Sunset cruise in Emerald Bay

Conclude your Lake Tahoe day trip by catching the sunset in the best spot in the state, Emerald Bay. As the sun goes down, the lake reflects the sky’s ever-changing colors, creating one of the most memorable Lake Tahoe sights. 

The best way to enjoy the sunset at Emerald Bay is onboard the famous Tahoe Bleu Wave yacht . You’ll cruise 11 kilometers of the lake, see the sky turn from day to night, and maybe even spot some native wildlife.

Lake Tahoe 2 Day Itinerary

On a Lake Tahoe weekend getaway, you can explore extra attractions and spend more time in nature. If you’re visiting in the summer, check out the beaches and coves and enjoy a picnic by the shoreline. Or, if you’re coming in the winter, head up to the mountains and spend a day on one of Lake Tahoe’s famous ski resorts.

lake tahoe day trip

Sunrise at Inspiration Point

Resist the temptation to sleep in, and instead, head to Inspiration Point in Emerald Bay State Park before it gets light. Inspiration Point is set in the tall pines 600 feet above Lake Tahoe. The east-facing direction means you’ll see the sunrise behind the Sierra Mountains in the background. As well as being the best spot to see dawn break, visiting Inspiration Point early in the morning makes for a much more tranquil experience before the crowds arrive. 

Cascade Falls

Cascade Falls is a quieter but equally beautiful alternative to Eagle Falls. Located just by Inspiration Point, it makes sense to check out this waterfall before leaving Emerald Bay. It’s a short and easy walk down to the falls, starting at Bayview Campground opposite the Inspiration Point parking lot. The entire trail is incredibly scenic, too, so be sure to include this natural wonder on your Lake Tahoe itinerary.

Kings Beach

As the most loved beach in the area, Kings Beach is a must-see on any 2-day Lake Tahoe summer itinerary. The long stretch of sand in the north of the lake gets sunshine from morning until late afternoon, giving you plenty of opportunities to catch a tan. However, if it gets too hot, the pine tree backdrop means you don’t have to go far to find a shady spot either. 

The beach is well equipped for visitors, with plenty of parking, public restrooms, and a shaded picnic area with barbecues. It’s a safe spot for swimming, and there are places to rent kayaks and paddleboards from here. What’s more, Kings Beach town is full of independent boutiques and awesome restaurants. So if you don’t fancy the hassle of doing a barbeque on the beach, you can enjoy the splendid food options in town.

lake tahoe day trip

Alpine Skiing

Suppose it’s not beach weather during your Lake Tahoe weekend getaway. In that case, naturally, you’ll prefer to head into the mountains than to the shoreline. There are many excellent ski resorts around Lake Tahoe, but Squaw Valley (Palisades Tahoe) is perhaps the most popular. 

As the 1960 Winter Olympics site, you’re bound to have an incredible skiing experience here, whether it’s your 1st, 10th, or 100th time hitting the slopes. Here you’ll have 34 lifts and 6,000 skiable acres with slopes for all levels and classes available for beginners. Squaw Valley has a super fun ski town feel, too, so be sure to finish the day with an “apres-ski” in one of the resort’s cozy bars. 

Lake Tahoe 3 Day Itinerary

A 3-day Lake Tahoe trip itinerary can feature lesser-known sites like the hidden Vikingsholm Castle. Plus, if you’re an avid hiker, you can use this extra time to tackle one of the longer and more strenuous trails like Rubicon. Alternatively, you might even decide to climb one of the tallest peaks in the park, like Mount Rose or Mount Tallac.

Rubicon Trail

One of the most popular routes for hiking in Lake Tahoe is the Rubicon Trail. The route follows the western shore but is set high above the water, resulting in incredible lake views. If you have the time to complete it, this 10-mile hike from D.L. Bliss State Park to Emerald Bay State Park is an excellent way to see a large part of the lake. 

lake tahoe day trip

Vikingsholm Castle

Most tourists coming to Lake Tahoe for a day totally miss this abandoned castle. Vikingsholm is a 38-room mansion hidden by the trees on the sandy shore of Emerald Bay with a truly enchanting feel. It’s also open for tours during the summer months, so you can check out the fascinating interior. It’s also easy to get to, with a leisurely 1-mile downhill stroll, so it is totally worth adding this cool attraction to your Tahoe itinerary.

Van Sickle Bi-State Park

Van Sickle Bi-State Park sits right on the border of California and Nevada, with the entrance close to Heavenly Resort in South Lake Tahoe. It’s a fantastic place to spend an afternoon as there’s plenty to do and see here. You can go hiking or horseback riding between the two states or explore the park’s ancient buildings, such as the historic barn from the Van Sickle farm.

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe

There are several best places to stay in Lake Tahoe , but the most popular area is undoubtedly South Lake Tahoe. Here you are close to all the attractions of Emerald Bay State Park, the famous Heavenly Ski Village, and plenty of restaurants and bars. So, no matter what you’re coming for or what time of year, you’ll always be in the heart of the action in South Lake Tahoe.

Here are the top picks for hotels and resorts in South Lake Tahoe, covering all budgets.

lake tahoe day trip

Luxury: The Landing Resort and Spa is a beachfront hotel with 5-star views, service, and facilities. The resort has an on-site spa with a hot tub, a heated outdoor pool, and a rooftop terrace. 

lake tahoe day trip

Mid-range: The 3-star Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel offers value for money suites with private balconies in one of the most convenient locations, at the base of Heavenly Mountain Resort. Highlights include an expansive breakfast buffet spread, an indoor heated pool, and a hot tub.

lake tahoe day trip

Budget: Bluelake Inn in Heavenly Village offers clean and comfortable motel-style rooms for an excellent price. Guests can enjoy the use of the seasonal outdoor pool and hot tub and tasty breakfast each day, too.

Lake Tahoe FAQs

If you’re tight on time, 2 days in Lake Tahoe will suffice, but if your timeline allows it, it’s best visited over a long weekend, 3 days being ideal. Of course, more time can always be spent here, there’s enough to do!

This destination is spectacular to visit year-round thanks to the numerous activities that change with the seasons. The shoulder seasons offer the best time to visit Lake Tahoe, from March-May, and Septmber-November. Both seasons offer good weather and fewer crowds.

Enjoy your trip to Lake Tahoe!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which I earn a small commission from and are at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure policy for details. Thank you for supporting my small business!

Disclaimer: Taylor’s Tracks is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.Com and affiliated sites.

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Blessed with sparkling natural beauty, Lake Tahoe is considered the jewel of the Sierra Nevada and has been named one of the best adventure vacations , one of the best family vacations, one of the best ski vacations in the United States and more in the United States by the U.S. News & World Report . Tahoe is known for the clarity of its water and the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains on all sides. At 6,229 feet above sea level, Lake Tahoe is the highest lake of its size in the United States, measuring 22 miles long by 12 miles wide, with a surface area of 191 square miles and 72 miles of shoreline. Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States, with a maximum depth of 1,645 feet, trailing only Oregon’s Crater Lake.

In addition to its awe-inspiring size, Lake Tahoe features unique Lake Tahoe dining experiences, local art galleries , and a broad selection of boutiques and shops.

Conveniently located just 30 minutes from downtown Reno, Lake Tahoe and all it has to offer is just a short drive , whether you want to grab lunch, see a concert or spend the day exploring hiking and biking trails. Looking to pay a visit? Discover where to stay in Reno Tahoe .

Things to do in Lake Tahoe

Lake tahoe outdoor activities.

lake tahoe

The best way to see Lake Tahoe is to get out there and experience it! Offering countless opportunities to venture to the highest peaks or dive deep below the water, it’ll be hard to just choose one.

During the winter months, visitors flock from around the globe to experience world-class skiing and snowboarding . A handful of lakeside towns are spread along the shores of the lake including Incline Village, Kings Beach, South Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Tahoe City.

During the summer months, there is everything to do from hiking and kayaking to whitewater rafting , to lounging on the beach or even backpacking the Sierras . Popular beaches in Lake Tahoe include Kings Beach, Chimney Beach, Hidden Beach and Sand Harbor State Park. Sand Harbor , in particular, is a favorite among visitors and locals, offering a boat launch, picnic areas and a beautiful sandy beach. During July and August, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor offers plays set against the breathtaking backdrop of Lake Tahoe. If you are looking for other ways to explore the lake from the water, there are several shops in the area to rent stand-up paddleboards , kayaks and other water toys.

Another fantastic way to experience Lake Tahoe is on foot. There are a number of trailheads around the lake, offering hikes for beginners to advanced. A fun one to check out is Spooner Lake trail, a family-friendly hike where you can really appreciate the flora and fauna of the area. Another local favorite that offers one of the best views you can get of the lake is the Mount Rose Trail. Not for the faint of heart, this 9.5-mile round trip hike climbs 2,444 feet in elevation to awe-inspiring 360° views of Reno and Lake Tahoe.

These are just some of the limitless amazing outdoor activities that the Lake Tahoe area offers. Check out more Lake Tahoe outdoor activities .

Lake Tahoe Arts and Culture

What better way to experience the lake, than to see it through someone else’s eyes? Lake Tahoe’s arts and culture scene offers a selection of local art galleries and performing arts centers allow visitors to see art in its many forms. Dramatic photography and print, impressive sculpture and interpretive performance are just some of the ways that the lake inspires locals and non-locals alike.

Lake Tahoe Shopping

There is nothing like taking in the fresh mountain air while window shopping in Northstar Village , picking up some new snow gear at the Village at Palisades Tahoe or strolling through Truckee or Tahoe City for a unique Tahoe souvenir. The various Lake Tahoe shopping selections are as unique as the areas in which they reside. You won’t find big box stores or large shopping malls here, but what you will find is a cool selection of locally-owned shops, thrift stores, and outdoor marketplaces.

Lake Tahoe Dining

Lake Tahoe has a dining option for everyone’s taste buds, ranging from fine dining to cheap eats. If you have the chance, lead your own food tour by eating your way around the lake. Start with a cup of locally brewed coffee in Reno and take a short drive over Mount Rose Highway to get lunch at T’s Mesquite in Incline Village, a favorite among locals. No day exploring Lake Tahoe is complete without a refreshing Wet Woody at Gar Woods Grill & Pier in Carnelian Bay with views overlooking the lake. Cozy up next to a beachside fire pit for a cocktail and s’mores at Lone Eagle Grille in Incline Village.

More Places to Visit in Lake Tahoe

Incline village.

Incline Village is named for the Great Incline Tramway, built by loggers in the late 1870s. Incline’s proximity to Sand Harbor and Diamond Peak, both known for their stunning views of Lake Tahoe, means you can soak up the lake views year-round from the slopes or the shoreline.

In summer, theatergoers flock to see the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at nearby Sand Harbor State Park. Mountain bikers and hikers can explore perfect trails, such as the Flume trail, which ends near Sand Harbor, just south of Incline Village. Winter sees snowboarders and skiers making turns at Diamond Peak and Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe  only a short drive away.

Tahoe City is perched on the north shore of Lake Tahoe at the headwaters of the Truckee River (the only river outlet for Lake Tahoe). A concoction of lively year-round activities awaits every visitor. Bike, walk, jog or skate the unspoiled trail system along the lake, across the historic Lake Tahoe dam and down the river. Soak up the summer sun with a host of challenging water sports, family fun, outdoor concerts, art shows, movies at the beach, farmers markets, lakeside camping, backcountry hiking and mountain biking. Also, don’t forget to feed the colossal trout from Fanny Bridge!

Crystal Bay

The Lake Tahoe neighborhood of Crystal Bay serves its namesake and sits upon a magnificent peninsula scattered with granite boulders, straddling the California and Nevada border. This area caters to everyone from the outdoor enthusiast to the low-key vacationer with a handful of outdoor rental companies, lively casinos, and many delicious dining options. One of the newest additions to this area, the Border House at Crystal Bay Casino offers luxury lodging, a world-class entertainment venue, and a high-end steakhouse .

If you are looking to get out during the day for a one-of-a-kind outdoor adventure, visit Tahoe Adventure Company in Crystal Bay for anything from kayak and SUP rentals to hiking and guided tours.

Carnelian Bay

Boating is to Carnelian Bay what blue is to Lake Tahoe. In summer, it is life. The Sierra Boat Company –  considered a premier U.S. wooden boat builder – opened here in the early 1950s and draws boat fanatics from around the world each year to see their classic wooden boats at the Concours d’Elegance wooden boat show for a weekend of nostalgic cruising and flair.

The town was christened Carnelian Bay in 1860 because of the semi-precious yellow and red stones sprinkling the shoreline. Today, a plentiful prize of vacation rentals contour the bay as well. Carnelian Bay is also considered the place where big, hungry Mackinaw trout can be found lurking in the depths.

Emerald Bay State Park

Emerald Bay State Park is a popular location for tourists to get some fantastic views of the bay’s jewel-toned waters. Emerald Bay is home to Fannette Island (Lake Tahoe’s only island). Located in South Lake Tahoe , just a short distance from DL Bliss State Park , Emerald Bay State Park offers water sports, hiking, biking, and some of the best views. Tip: Get there early. Parking around Emerald Bay is limited and fills up fast!

Best Time to Visit Lake Tahoe

best time to go to lake tahoe

The best time to visit Lake Tahoe depends on what you want to do while you’re there. During the warmer weather months of June through August, there are plenty of summer activities, and December through April are usually best if you are a winter sports enthusiast. Spring and fall are also great times to visit since the weather is mild and there are fewer crowds. There really is no “bad” time to visit Lake Tahoe .

From sno w-c apped mountains surrounding the clear water of the lake in the winter to warmer weather and lots of sunshine in the summer, you will enjoy your trip to Lake Tahoe no matter what time of year it is. Visiting the area in the fall? The Lake is one of our fall favorites in Reno Tahoe , with patches of aspens turning brilliant gold, making hikes here a breathtakingly beautiful experience.

Lake Tahoe Seasonal Averages

The mean annual precipitation ranges from more than 55 inches in watersheds on the west side of the Lake Tahoe basin to about 26 inches near the lake on the east side of the basin. Most of the precipitation falls as snow between November and April. There is a pronounced annual runoff of snowmelt in late spring and early summer, the timing of which varies from year to year.

The warmest season in Lake Tahoe is usually between July and August, with August sustaining an average high temperature of 77.2°F (25.1°C). The coldest month is typically January, with an average high of 38.7°F (3.7°C). No matter what type of weather you prefer, whether you love summer or winter , it’s always a great time to visit Lake Tahoe .

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Lake Tahoe FAQ

Got a question? We’ve got the answers. Check out the most frequently asked questions below about Lake Tahoe.

What Can You Do in Lake Tahoe in One Day?

There are plenty of things to do in Lake Tahoe in one day. Here are some ideas:

  • Visit Crystal Bay, Sand Harbor or Kings Beach
  • Check out ski resorts like Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe , Northstar California Resort , Diamond Peak and more
  • Discover Lake Tahoe hiking trails like the Tahoe Rim Trail, Mount Rose Trail, Tunnel Creek Trail or Tahoe East Shore Trail
  • Visit Truckee , Incline Village or Tahoe City and enjoy local shops and restaurants
  • Hit up local breweries, including Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company, Alibi Ale Works or Bear Belly Brewing Company. Check out the Reno Tahoe Brewery Map for more information
  • Fish for brown trout and Kokanee salmon at a depth of 1,645 ft on a Lake Tahoe fishing charter

Can You Go Swimming in Lake Tahoe?

places to visit in lake tahoe

In the summer months, swimming in Lake Tahoe will certainly leave you refreshed and cooled off. Since Lake Tahoe gets its water from snow run-off from the surrounding mountains, the water is clear and very cold. While that first jump in may leave you catching your breath, swimming in Lake Tahoe is an unforgettable experience.

Is Lake Tahoe a Natural Lake?

Yes, Lake Tahoe is a natural lake. The water level of the lake is regulated by Lake Tahoe Dam in Tahoe City, where the Truckee River begins.

Is September a Good Time To Visit Lake Tahoe?

Looking for a less crowded time to visit Lake Tahoe? While Tahoe doesn’t technically have an “off-season,” September is a great time to visit because summer crowds have left and you’re more likely to have trails and beaches to yourself. For those looking for a relaxing trip to Lake Tahoe, visiting in September might be right for you, with fewer crowds and lower room rates.


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Your Trip to Lake Tahoe: The Complete Guide

lake tahoe day trip

Outdoor athletes and adventure-seekers love Lake Tahoe . Skiing and snowboarding steal the show in the winter when a snowstorm can be followed by blue skies perfect for skiing knee-high fresh powder. Nearly every day in the summer is warm and sunny as tourists and locals alike hit the trails and beaches to float, bike, camp, and enjoy the area’s extensive trail systems. Aside from outdoor adventure, the region has stunning vistas, historical towns, and lively social and restaurant scenes that shouldn’t be missed. 

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit completely depends on what you want to do , but September is generally recommended for most non-skiers as it has summery weather and smaller crowds. February and March are best for skiing and July and the first two weeks of August will provide the warmest weather for the beach and outdoor activities. 
  • Language: English
  • Currency: US dollar 
  • Getting Around : Nearly everyone drives around the north shore as the public transportation system can be slow and has limited evening hours. Taxis and rideshares are an option but you may have to wait a few minutes for your ride. On the south shore, you can walk to most businesses and restaurants in Stateline and South Lake Tahoe (around Heavenly Mountain Resort’s base area) and taxis and rideshares are readily available at any time. 
  • Travel Tip: Around 2.7 million people visit Lake Tahoe each year  and as such, the towns around Tahoe get extremely crowded on summer weekends in July and August and during three-day weekends in the winter. Try to avoid those periods unless you want to spend hours sitting in traffic. Make sure you have chains and know how to use them if you’re driving a 2WD vehicle in a storm. 

Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

Cold-Weather Activities: Because Tahoe gets an amazing amount of snow (Truckee averages 2024 inches of snow each year  ) the resorts in the area have incredible skiing and riding conditions . Combine that with tall mountain peaks that look onto the lake, and you’ll see why it’s a popular ski destination. There are 12 downhill ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, the highest concentration in the entire U.S.   The major resorts are Northstar California Resort, Mount Rose Ski Tahoe, Diamond Peak, Heavenly Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Homewood Resort, Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Sugarbowl, and Boreal. Most ski shops in the area rent snowshoes and cross-country skis, too. 

Warm-weather activities:  There’s not much limit to what you can do in the summer. In fact, sometimes you can even ski in July! There are dozens of beaches along Tahoe’s 72 miles of shoreline and incredibly extensive trail systems, like the Tahoe Rim Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Desolation Wilderness protected area trails, just to name a few. For non-athletes, there’s live music, weekend yoga and beer festivals, historical cities like Virginia City, and enough restaurants and waterfront bars to please every palate. 

What to Eat and Drink 

Between North and South Lake Tahoe, you can find just about any international cuisine you’d like. There are many more restaurants on the south shore than the north, but both have plenty of options to ensure you’ll never have to eat at the same place twice. American food is the most common, and locally sourced and organic dishes are quite easy to find. Vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free eaters should have no problem at most restaurants. 

California is known for its beer culture and Tahoe does its part to keep that reputation alive. On the north shore, popular breweries include Alibi Ale Works and FiftyFifty Brewing Co. On the south shore, try some California brews at South Lake Brewing Company, Stateline Brewery, or the Brewery at Lake Tahoe. Expect most restaurants to have fairly extensive California-forward beer and wine menus, too. 

When visiting Tahoe, you’ll either stay on the north or south shore. The north shore is generally more expensive and luxurious, less crowded, and more focused on outdoor adventure and nature. On the south shore, expect more affordable lodging and dining plus better options for nightlife, clubs, and casino entertainment. The lake is split between Nevada on the east and California on the west. If you want to gamble, stay on the Nevada side. Most hotels in Stateline are within walking distance of plenty of bars and restaurants, but you’ll probably need a car on the north shore. Skiers staying in the villages at Northstar, Squaw Valley, or Heavenly Resorts can walk to a variety of restaurants and shops without leaving the resorts. 

Lake Tahoe is about 3.5 hours east of San Francisco, so it’s an easy drive from the city. Otherwise, most people fly into Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The airport is a 35-minute drive to North Lake Tahoe or about 90 minutes to South Lake Tahoe. With heavy snow, the drives can take much longer. 

You can also fly into Sacramento International Airport and drive about 90 minutes to either north or South Lake Tahoe, but both Highway 50 (the route to South Lake) and Highway 80 (the route to the north shore) are subject to closures in heavy snow. 

If you want to drive around the lake or do any sightseeing, you’ll need a car. Almost all visitors to Tahoe rent cars, though much of Stateline (on the south shore) is walkable. If you’re flying in, both Reno and Sacramento International Airports have very convenient car rental desks. It usually only takes a few minutes to pick up your car and be on your way. 

Money-Saving Tips 

  • If you’re planning to ski in Tahoe, you’ll usually save 10-15 percent off the cost of the lift ticket if you buy it in advance online. If you’re going to ski more than five or six days, it may be cheaper to buy a season pass rather than day tickets. 
  • Choose a flight that arrives very early into the Reno airport. Some resorts will give you a free same-day lift ticket when you show your boarding pass.
  • Expect significant price swings at hotels based on seasonality; it’s not unusual for a $159 per night resort to cost $600 or more on a summer weekend. Come mid-week if you can to save on lodging.
  • Many festivals at ski resorts are free to attend, so check in advance to see what’s happening during your stay.
  • January is “Learn to Ski and Ride Month,” so most ski resorts offer fantastic packages for first-time skiers. You can get a lesson, rentals, and lift ticket at major resorts for around $70 to $90—an excellent deal when a lift ticket alone costs $130 or more.

The Official Lake Tahoe Bureaus. "Lake Tahoe Fun Facts."

Western Regional Climate Center. "TRUCKEE RS, CALIFORNIA (049043)." 2016.

North Lake Tahoe Visitors Bureau. "General Fact Sheet."

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15 budget tips for visiting Lake Tahoe

Anita Isalska

Apr 13, 2024 • 9 min read

lake tahoe day trip

Plan your budget visit to Lake Tahoe with our guide to daily costs and money-saving tips © Andrew Peacock / Getty Images

Sapphire blue and encircled by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is almost mirage-like in its beauty.

Its reputation for world-class ski resorts, lake beaches and hiking trails precedes it. But in this popular alpine beauty spot, it’s all too easy to carve a canyon-sized hole in your bank account. 

Planning a budget trip to Tahoe is a balancing act. Bus travel is cheap, but being car-free can limit your ability to reach out-of-town budget hotels. On the other hand, driving gives you greater flexibility to choose budget accommodation, but you risk being stung by high fuel costs and parking charges.

However, bargains exist and there are plenty of ways to stretch your dollars. Here’s how to halve your costs so you can focus on splashing, schussing and strolling around the USA’s second-deepest lake.

People skiing on top of a mountain with view of Lake Tahoe on a snowy winter day, with trees fully cover by fresh snow

Daily costs

  • Hostel bed: $37
  • Tent site: $25–35
  • Basic room for two: $110–200
  • Ski lift ticket: from $94
  • Park and ride shuttles: free
  • Coffee: $3–5
  • Sandwich from a cafe: $10–13
  • Dinner for two at a casual sit-down restaurant: $65
  • Pint of craft beer: $6–8 

Average daily cost: $150 – 350

1. Travel by bus or train for big savings

Swapping car rental for bus or train travel can help you stash your cash. You can reach lively, old-timey Truckee (CA), 15 miles north of the lake, from San Francisco for $30 by booking in advance with Greyhound . There are also weekend coach services from the Bay Area through Tahoe Ski Trips (from $95) and Sports Basement (from $99).

Coming from Los Angeles ? With ample time and a high pain threshold for public transit, mixed bus-train routes to Truckee start at $62 with Amtrak . 

2. Look for carpool buddies on winter sports forums

As soon as the first snowflakes settle in the Sierra, NorCal’s skiers and snowboarders start feverishly planning their trips to Tahoe. That means plenty of potential carpool buddies! Browse forums like Snowpals to connect with drivers offering rides for gas money or passengers who could lighten your own driving costs.

One gigantic warning: if you’re trusting another driver, ask if they have winter tires or carry chains (and know how to use them). Each winter sees unprepared drivers spinning off the road because their vehicle can’t handle icy conditions; don’t be one of the statistics.

3. Fill up your tank before getting to Tahoe

Gas stations in towns like South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City (both CA) tend to charge higher prices than elsewhere; “I should have filled up in Reno/Carson City/Placerville” is a common lament. You can also use an app like GasBuddy to identify the best-value places to pump up.

A road and car park next to a massive lake backed by a mountain range

4. Plan your parking carefully 

In summer, beaches and hiking top the list of free things to do in Lake Tahoe , but parking often isn’t free – and the dollars add up if you’re hopping between multiple sights in a day. No wonder there’s a lively economy of drivers surreptitiously handing over their parking stub as they depart a state park lot.

The best strategy is picking a base for each day. Bring a picnic to Emerald Bay State Park ($5 daily parking fee) and you can easily fill a day with hiking, beach time and seeing stately Vikingsholm Castle . Likewise, Donner Memorial State Park (daily parking fee $5 winter, $10 summer) has an engrossing free museum about pioneers crossing the Sierra as well as 8 miles of hiking trails. 

You can also seek out hikes with free parking: there are shoulder-side spots along Fallen Leaf Lake Road, which leads to the stunning namesake lake.

5. Hop aboard free shuttles to Tahoe’s ski resorts

South Lake Tahoe is ideal for car-free skiers, as you can walk straight to the gondola that whisks you up to Heavenly Ski Resort . Other towns have weekend shuttles that get you to the snow for zero cents (bonus points for no parking costs and the ability to grab a couple beers on the mountain). Check schedules for the TART Park & Ride , which connects Truckee and Tahoe City to Palisades resort.

6. Sleep for cheap along Highway 50 

One of the perks of having your own vehicle is more flexibility in where you book your accommodation. The cost of South Lake Tahoe hotels rises the closer you get to either the lake shore or the ski lifts, but there are cheaper rooms (think $110 on winter weekends) dotted along Hwy 50 south of town.


7. Crash in Carson City instead

On summer weekends, you’ll be lucky to score a room in South Lake Tahoe for less than $300. Instead, you can save big by staying in Carson City (NV; 28 miles northeast of South Lake Tahoe). Nightly room rates for motels there can drop as low as $110 on summer weekends ($80 in winter) but think highway-side chain motels rather than charming alpine B&Bs. Other spots to hunt for bargain accommodation are Minden and Gardnerville (NV, 20 miles east of South Lake Tahoe).

8. Gamble on a trip in April, September or October 

The most expensive times of year to visit Tahoe are summer (June through August) and winter sports season (December through March). Outside of these times, there’s no guarantee of beach weather or good snow, but the savings are immense and there are always things to do in Lake Tahoe . 

Businesses typically roll out April deals to keep boarders and skiers interested while the powder snow dwindles. These range from discounted Lake Tahoe hotels to prix fixe menus and kids riding free on snowmobile tours; find some of the best on Visit Lake Tahoe’s deals page . 

Fall weather is unpredictable (pack shorts, and thermals, and sunscreen…) but Lake Tahoe hotels haven’t yet raised their rates to dizzy winter heights, local life is more laid-back, and hikes, such as Eagle Falls Trail and the 9.5-mile Truckee River Legacy Trail, blush scarlet and gold.

Plan the best time for your visit to Lake Tahoe with our seasonal guide

9. Stay on a Sunday night

Every Monday, Tahoe’s coffee shops fill with folks toting laptops. Many of them are weekend visitors who have capitalized on low Sunday hotel rates, and drive back to the Bay Area after clocking in remotely. The most expensive nights to stay in Tahoe are Fridays and Saturdays; for lower hotel costs, plan your weekend trip to straddle a Sunday.

Paddleboarders float out on an alpine lake as the sun shines

10. Pick one summer activity per day

Kayaking, SUPing, cycling… the gear rental costs all add up. Choose one activity per day for maximum bang for your buck. 

When we last checked, Olympic Bike Shop offered the cheapest by-the-day rentals ($44) for you to tackle view-laden paths like the beachside Tahoe East Shore Trail and pine-forested Pope-Baldwin Bike Path. If you’re getting a kayak, doubling up can be highly economic. Two people renting a double kayak for the day costs around $120 (compare it to renting two single kayaks for $200). Rental outfits like Kayak Tahoe have multiple spots around the lake.

11. Do the math to maximize your ski pass

The cost of ski passes can bulldoze your budget, so take time to weigh up your options. If you’re on a short trip and just want a taste of Tahoe snow with views of the lake, some of the most economic resorts are Homewood and Sierra-at-Tahoe , where day passes for adults start at $104 and $94 respectively. Compare that to Palisades where a day pass begins at $167 on weekends ($142 on weekdays). 

For a few days of skiing, consider the IKON Session Pass ($449), which gets you four days of skiing at Palisades with the option to use one or more of your days at other ski resorts in North America and beyond.

More than a week of skiing is the tipping point where it makes sense to buy an entire season pass. For example, the Tahoe Local season pass is $621 with access to Tahoe resorts Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar, as well as other resorts in Colorado and Utah.

12. Frolic in the snow without a ski pass

Traveling with the family can get expensive, but if you just want your kids to experience the snow there’s no need to pony up for ski passes. The Tahoe area has five SNO-Parks (we especially like the forest scenery at lakeshore Blackwood Canyon SNO-Park). All you pay is a $15 permit cost then you and the family can sled, make a snowman or introduce your pup to the snow. Buy your pass online and make sure you arrive early to secure a parking spot.

13. Chow down for cheap at bars and pizzerias

Tahoe is a popular playground for the rich, and you could easily sink your cash into multicourse fine dining overlooking the lake. Fortunately for frugal travelers, there are also plenty of casual dining and mid-range spots.

In South Lake Tahoe, grab $5 burritos at Taqueria Jimenez or good-value pies and cocktails at Base Camp Pizza . Over in Tahoe City, check out Mountain Slice , where it’s $5 for a cheese-heavy pizza wedge, or the Fat Cat Bar & Grill for meatball subs or its infamous donut burger (save money by still being full come breakfast time!). There are sub-$20 dinner options in Truckee, too, like Maki Ali ’s poke bowls.

14. Dodge expensive on-mountain dining

Skiers and boarders are a captive market. Breathless from gliding through powder snow, they’re likely to pay anything for a hot meal and a coffee at Tahoe’s on-mountain restaurants. But the cost is as steep as that double-black diamond trail. 

Coming prepared with protein bars or a sandwich lunch is an easy way to avoid the inflated price tags. You can grab picnic ingredients at grocery stores at major towns around the lake, like the Safeway in Tahoe City and Raley’s in South Lake Tahoe. 

15. Hit local happy hours

Save your toasts for late afternoon, when happy hours light up Tahoe’s bars. Around South Lake Tahoe you can satisfy both hunger and thirst at Stateline Brewery with $6 draft beers and $10 pizzas (3 to 5pm Thursday to Sunday). Kalani’s does $4 beers and $8 cocktails (5 to 6pm Monday to Friday) while the Emerald Bay Bar & Grill keeps vibes high and drink prices low for three very happy hours (3 to 6pm daily); check its website for other specials, too. 

Meanwhile in Tahoe City, it’s well worth hitting family-run stalwart Jake’s on the Lake (4:30 to 6:30pm Sunday to Thursday) or Tahoe Wine Collective for $2 tasting pours (4 to 7pm), plus regular happy hours and occasional free live music.

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  • Last Updated On
  • September 5, 2023

15 Best Day Trips From Lake Tahoe — Places Nearby!

Emily Appelbaum

Lake Tahoe is a shimmering jewel of the Sierra Nevadas. 

I have to admit, after sashaying around every inch of that big blue beauty, I found myself yearning for just a pinch more adventure. 

Luckily, Tahoe’s prime straddle between California and Nevada makes it an A+ jump-off point. 

I took to the road, and I found some pretty spectacular spots. 

We’re talking hidden gems that’ll make your heart sing. 

And guess what?

I’ve wrapped them up in a neat little package for you. 

Ready to add a dash of spice to your Tahoe adventure? 

Discover the best day trips from Lake Tahoe that I’ve personally experienced and adored below.

Best Day Trips From Lake Tahoe Compared

Looking for the perfect day trips from Lake Tahoe? 

You’re in luck. 

Check out our top picks for unforgettable adventures that will make your family getaway truly spectacular.

Editor’s Choice

lake tahoe day trip

Yosemite National Park

Situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this park stretches for 768,000 acres. It’s home to beautiful meadows, waterfalls, and geological formations.

  • Family friendliness: 5/5
  • Safety: 4/5
  • Affordability: 3/5
  • Accessibility: 2/5
  • Fun factor: 5/5

#2nd Best Choice

lake tahoe day trip

Virginia City

Virginia City’s development came about in 1859 with the discovery of Comstock Lode, a rich deposit of silver ore.

  • Family friendliness: 3/5
  • Affordability: 5/5
  • Accessibility: 4/5
  • Fun factor: 4/5

#3rd Best Choice

lake tahoe day trip

Located at the head of the Truckee River, this mountain town is home to gorgeous nature spots and a wide array of dining options.

  • Safety: 5/5
  • Affordability: 4/5
  • Accessibility: 5/5

Here are the top 15 day trips from Lake Tahoe.

1. Yosemite National Park (Editor’s Choice)

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley, CA 95389 (209) 372-0200 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

Ratings Criteria

  • Breathtaking natural beauty: Yosemite National Park offers awe-inspiring landscapes, including iconic granite cliffs, majestic waterfalls, and serene meadows.
  • Outdoor adventure: With numerous hiking trails, rock climbing spots, and scenic drives, Yosemite allows families to immerse themselves in the great outdoors.
  • Crowds: Yosemite is a popular destination, especially during peak seasons, resulting in large crowds that can diminish the tranquility of the experience. 
  • Accessibility challenges: While Yosemite is accessible by car, some areas require additional transportation or shuttle services.

Situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this park stretches for 768,000 acres.

It’s home to beautiful meadows, waterfalls, and geological formations.

By car, you can get to Yosemite National Park in 3 hours and 53 minutes.

You and the kids won’t run out of things to do even if you spend an entire day in Yosemite National Park.

And that’s why it’s one of the best day trips from Lake Tahoe for families.

Head out to Glacier Point, where you can get incredible views of Yosemite Falls and Clouds Rest.

If you’re not in the mood for hiking, just bike a portion of the 12 miles of paved routes across the park.

Check out the Nature Center at Happy Isles, too.

The center features exhibits of the park’s beautiful wildlife and native ecosystems.

After viewing the exhibits, walk along the interpretive paths outside.

You’ll see for yourself what a talus habitat looks like.

Recommended Hotel: Yosemite Valley Lodge

2. Virginia City

Virginia City

Virginia City, NV (775) 847-7500 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

  • Historical charm: Virginia City takes visitors back in time with its well-preserved 19th-century architecture and fascinating history from the silver mining era.
  • Entertainment and activities: From Old West reenactments to train rides, it provides a wide range of entertaining activities that appeal to both kids and adults, ensuring a fun-filled day trip. 
  • Limited natural scenery: Unlike some other day trip options, Virginia City lacks the stunning natural landscapes typically associated with outdoor destinations.
  • Limited family-friendly attractions. Family activities are fewer compared to other destinations, as some attractions may not cater specifically to children.

Now it’s the seat of Storey County and is a go-to place for its Old West vibe.

You can get to Virginia City from Lake Tahoe in 44 minutes if you travel by car.

Looking for things to do outside Lake Tahoe?

Why not relive the 19th century in Virginia City?

Check out the Chollar Mansion, built between 1861 and 1863 in its impressive Italianate Victorian style.

First staked in 1859, the Chollar Mine is a must-see, too.

Go underground and see where some people struck gold (or real silver in this case).

To end your day adventure, hang out in the Ponderosa Saloon.

Don’t forget to enter the 1864 bank vault for the complete Old West experience.

Recommended Hotel: Virginia City Inn

3. Tahoe City

Tahoe City

Tahoe City, CA (530) 583-3348 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

  • Family-friendly amenities: It offers a range of family-oriented amenities, including beaches with designated swimming areas, playgrounds, picnic spots, and easy access to boat rentals.
  • Diverse recreation options: Whether it’s hiking, biking, kayaking, or paddleboarding, Tahoe City provides ample opportunities for outdoor activities.
  • Busy tourist season: Tahoe City can get crowded during peak tourist seasons, leading to crowded beaches, limited parking, and longer wait times at popular restaurants.
  • Higher cost of living: As a popular tourist destination, Tahoe City tends to have higher prices for accommodations, dining, and activities compared to some other nearby towns.

Tahoe City is famous for its continental Mediterranean climate.

If you’re coming from Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City is a 23-minute drive.

Here’s one of the most unforgettable Lake Tahoe day trips.

When you get to Tahoe City, you’ll see only nature’s beauty around you.

Rent a boat at the Tahoe City marina and soak in the gorgeous California skies from the water.

Go biking on the Truckee River Trail for incredible views of tall trees and green spaces.

Then end your day’s adventure with a bang by playing nine holes at the Tahoe City Golf Course.

The lake and mountain views while you’re playing are just breathtaking.

Recommended Hotel: Sunnyside Resort and Lodge


Genoa, NV (775) 782-8696 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

This unincorporated town is at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Range.

It’s the oldest permanent settlement in Nevada, known for its historical structures and natural beauty.

It’s just a 29-minute drive from Lake Tahoe to Genoa.

Explore Genoa, and you’ll see why it’s one of the best places to visit near Lake Tahoe if you’re a history buff.

Just check out the Genoa Historic District, which includes beautiful late Victorian architecture.

The Genoa Community Church is still standing since its construction in 1910 after the previous structure burned down.

The Genoa Courthouse Museum has survived for years since its opening in 1969.

The Mormon Station Historic Park is a must-see, with its painstaking reconstruction of the 1851 trading post.

Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Minden, an IHG Hotel

5. Carson City

Carson City

Carson City, NV (775) 687-7410 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

Spanning over 92,499 acres, the city is the sixth largest in Nevada.

Also, the state’s capital, it’s home to beautiful museums, lakes, and historical structures.

Carson City is 20.6 miles from Lake Tahoe, so you can get there in 25 minutes if you drive a car.

Make beautiful memories with friends on this one day trip from Lake Tahoe that you’ll never forget.

After all, there’s no shortage of things to do in the city.

Marvel at the beautiful Nevada State Capitol, built between 1869 and 1871 in the Neoclassical Italianate style.

If you’re more of a nature person, hike the 2.4-mile Skunk Harbor trail together for incredible views of mountains and serene waters when you get to the end.

Don’t forget to drop by Casino Fandango.

You can play until you drop with the facility’s almost one acre of gaming space.

Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Carson City

Related: Activities in Lake Tahoe

6. Markleeville


Markleeville, CA Open in Google Maps

This census-designated place is the capital of Alpine County.

Stretching over 4,000 acres just south of Lake Tahoe, the community features museums and nature attractions.

If you’re traveling by car from Lake Tahoe, you can get to Markleeville in 44 minutes.

This is one of the best Lake Tahoe trips you can’t miss.

Markleeville exudes a charming small-town vibe that’s perfect for people who just want to relax.

Picture a downtown composed of quaint wooden structures lined up along the main road.

You can easily experience nature in Markleeville, too.

The Grover Hot Springs State Park is just 10 minutes away.

Look for the natural hot springs on the eastern side of Sierra Nevada.

After your nature adventure, check out the Alpine County Museum for local history.

You’ll love the exhibits on the Old Webster Schoolhouse, built in Markleeville in 1883.

Recommended Hotel: CREEKSIDE LODGE


Reno, NV Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

Located along the Nevada-California border, this city is a popular tourist destination for its casinos and vibrant downtown.

It derives its name from Civil War Union Major General Jesse L. Reno.

If you’re using a car, you can get to Reno from Lake Tahoe in 47 minutes.

Reno is one of the best places to see near Lake Tahoe if you love the big city.

Head to the city center, and you’ll understand what I mean.

You’ll feel like you’re in Las Vegas with the tall buildings, colorful signs, and shiny lights around you when you get there.

There are over 20 casinos to choose from in the city, too.

But if you don’t like playing, don’t worry.

Just explore downtown and soak in the beautiful city sights and sounds.

Or you can just go on a food adventure and sample all the local delicacies.

Whatever you do, by the end of your trip, you’ll see why the place is The Biggest Little City in the World.

Recommended Hotel: Atlantis Casino Resort Spa

Also See: Best Day Trips From San Jose Best Day Trips From Fresno

8. Hope Valley

Hope Valley

Hope Valley, CA Open in Google Maps

This broad mountain valley is in Alpine County.

The valley sits at 7,000 feet on the eastern portion of Carson Pass.

If you’re coming from Lake Tahoe, you can reach Hope Valley in 33 minutes by car.

Don’t look any further for the best day trips from Lake Tahoe for couples.

Hope Valley is the perfect destination, with its beautiful forests and alpine lakes.

Hike the 4-mile out-and-back trail that cuts through gorgeous yellow and orange Aspen groves.

Take in the beautiful green meadows and blue skies along Blue Lakes Road.

After your visit, you’ll agree Hope Valley is one of the most scenic places near Lake Tahoe.

It’s the perfect place to spend a romantic daycation with your significant other.

Recommended Hotel: River Park Manor

Also See: Fun Day Trips From San Francisco Day Trips Around San Diego Best Day Trips From Orange County


Truckee, CA (530) 587-8808 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

Founded as a small area called Gray’s Station in 1863, Truckee is now an incorporated town in Nevada County, California.

It stretches over 20,691 acres and is home to museums and historical structures.

It will take 25 minutes to get to Truckee from Lake Tahoe by car.

Although a relatively small town, you’ll never run out of activities when you get to this place.

Visit the Donner Memorial State Park for the ultimate nature immersion.

But before you walk a portion of the trails, check out the visitor center.

It features exhibits on the park’s cultural history.

After your hike, drop by downtown Truckee.

The town center is the perfect last spot to explore during your visit, with its refreshing Old West vibe.

You might find the perfect souvenir here, too.

Recommended Hotel: Gravity Haus Truckee-Tahoe

Related: Beaches in Lake Tahoe

10. El Dorado County

El Dorado County

El Dorado County, CA (530) 621-5885 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

This county, situated in the Sierra Nevada, stretches for over one million acres.

It is home to beautiful parks, wineries, and mountains.

If you’re traveling by car from Lake Tahoe, you can get to El Dorado County in 1 hour and 21 minutes.

El Dorado County is your escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

It’s nature at its finest.

Its green spaces filled with conifers and pines run for miles.

Then apart from the Sierra Nevada, you have Mount Price and Talking Mountain in the background.

Don’t forget the vineyards.

The county is its own American Viticultural Area.

That means you don’t just get delicious wine.

You get incredible views of huge plantations filled with grapes.

Recommended Hotel: National 9 Inn – Placerville

11. Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

1170 CA-4 Arnold, CA 95223 (209) 795-2334 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

Established in 1931, this park stretches for 6,498 acres.

It is home to two groves of giant sequoias, considered the largest trees in the world.

You can reach Calaveras Big Trees State Park from Lake Tahoe in 2 hours and 51 minutes.

Have a full nature experience here.

Take your pick from the seven maintained hiking trails in the park.

The trails come in varying degrees of difficulty.

They’ll also take you to different park features, such as the Stanislaus River and the Lava Bluffs formation.

If you want to see the giant sequoias, hike the North Grove Trail instead.

It’s a gentle 1.7-mile loop that will take you to the enormous trees discovered by a backwoods hunter in the spring of 1852.

Recommended Hotel: Mountain Retreat Resort, a VRI resort


Bodie, CA (760) 616-5040 Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

This gold-mining ghost town near the Nevada border houses original 19th-century structures.

It became a National Historic Site and a State Historic Park in 1962.

Bodie is 2 hours and 12 minutes away from Lake Tahoe by car.

Want to see something different?

Why not check out Bodie on your Lake Tahoe vacation?

Walk the deserted streets of the town that once had over 10,000 residents.

Deliberately preserved in a state of “arrested decay,” the abandoned structures have their original interiors, too.

They’re also full of the same goods they had before people left.

Recommended Hotel: Virginia Creek Settlement

13. Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake, CA Visit Website Open in Google Maps

Located in the Angeles and Los Padres National Forests, Pyramid Lake is a reservoir formed by a 386-foot-tall dam on Piru Creek.

Pyramid Lake spans 1,360 acres.

From Lake Tahoe, it will take 1 hour and 11 minutes to get to Pyramid Lake if you’re using a vehicle.

The reservoir is a visual treat, with its gorgeous blue waters allowing perfect recreational activities.

Rent a boat at the marina.

Then just float around on Pyramid Lake for a relaxing experience.

You can go fishing on Pyramid Lake, too.

You might bring home a striped bass or a trout as your souvenir.

Recommended Hotel: Hotel Corque

Related: Weekend Trips in California

14. Amador County

Amador County

Amador County, CA (209) 223-6470 Visit Website Open in Google Maps

This county in the Sierra Nevada stretches for over 387,000 acres.

It features stunning nature landmarks and historical sites.

Travel by car from Lake Tahoe, and you’ll get to Amador County in 1 hour and 55 minutes.

Seeking a holistic adventure?

Visit Amador County.

You can do everything in this place.

Want to see nature?

Check out the Mokelumne Wilderness, with its beautiful volcanic and green landscapes.

If you want to experience history, just explore the county’s streets.

The Amador County Courthouse consists of two buildings dating back to the 1800s.

Visit the Kennedy Goldmine, too.

Operating until its closure in 1942, the goldmine is now a popular tourist spot.

Recommended Hotel: Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort

Related: Weekend Trips From San Francisco

15. Placerville


Placerville, CA Visit Website Social Media Open in Google Maps

Formerly called the Old Dry Diggings, this city in northern California was a gold rush town in the late 1840s.

It’s home to historical structures like the Combellack-Blair House and Confidence Hall.

You can reach Placerville from Lake Tahoe in 1 hour and 21 minutes if you travel by car.

The city’s charming historical vibe makes this one of the best day trips from Lake Tahoe.

Explore Main Street and its old structures, such as the Fountain and Tallman Museum.

Don’t forget to check out the Bell Tower.

It stands as a monument for the city’s volunteer firefighters.

The bell has a rich history, too.

The city used it as its fire alarm system way back in 1865.

Recommended Hotel: Historic Cary House Hotel

Related: Weekend Getaways Near Sacramento

Day Trip Guide 

Comparing destinations: which one is right for you.

While soaking in Lake Tahoe’s tranquil beauty, I decided to venture out on day trips. 

Yosemite’s jaw-dropping cliffs had me pondering my existence in this vast universe. 

In contrast, Virginia City was like stepping into a charming history book, filled with well-preserved saloons and a unique Wild West vibe. 

Meanwhile, Tahoe City was a harmonious blend of nature and urban charm, perfect for families. 

While all three were unforgettable, if you’re a nature-loving family, I’d edge towards Yosemite. 

If history and nostalgia spark your interest, then Virginia City is your stop. 

But for a balanced, easy-going family day, Tahoe City shines.

How I Picked The Destinations

When selecting the best day trips from Lake Tahoe, I wanted to ensure that I was recommending experiences that I had personally explored and enjoyed. 

I didn’t rely solely on my own experiences, though. 

I also conducted extensive research, consulted with locals, and spoke to fellow travelers to gather valuable insights. 

This combination of personal experiences and thorough research allowed me to handpick these destinations with confidence. 

So, rest assured that the day trips I’ve chosen have been carefully curated to provide you and your family with unforgettable adventures.

Our Rating Method

I rate these destinations based on the following criteria.

  • Family friendliness: This criterion assesses the family-friendly appeal of every destination. Does it offer attractions suited for the whole family? Does it have facilities and services that entertain and engage all age groups? I use these questions to evaluate family friendliness. 
  • Safety: I use this to evaluate safety and security. Does the area have a low crime rate? Is public transportation secure? Are local authorities reliable and helpful? I ask myself these questions when evaluating safety. 
  • Affordability: This is used to assess affordability. Will visitors get a lot of bang for their buck? Is it cheaper compared to the other options? I consider these factors when rating affordability. I consider these factors when rating affordability.
  • Accessibility: This criterion evaluates the accessibility of every location. Is it easily accessible by public transportation? How walkable is the area? How far is it from the base? These are the questions I ask myself when assessing accessibility. 
  • Fun factor: I use this to evaluate how enjoyable the day trip is for visitors. Will it create positive and memorable experiences? Does it offer attractions that promise fun experiences for the whole family? Are there theme parks, beaches, and hiking trails? I use these questions to evaluate this criterion.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What other attractions are near lake tahoe.

Near Lake Tahoe, visitors can explore several other attractions and destinations. Emerald Bay State Park offers stunning views of the lake and the iconic Fannette Island, while the Heavenly Mountain Resort provides opportunities for skiing and snowboarding in the winter and hiking in the summer. Additionally, nearby attractions include the historic town of Virginia City, the scenic Donner Lake, and the picturesque Truckee River.

What California City Is Close To Lake Tahoe?

The city of South Lake Tahoe is located in close proximity to Lake Tahoe in California. It is situated on the southern shore of the lake and serves as a popular tourist destination with its resorts, casinos, and access to outdoor recreational activities. South Lake Tahoe offers a convenient base for exploring the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding region.

What Month Is Best To Visit Lake Tahoe?

The best months to visit Lake Tahoe are typically from June to September. During this period, the weather is generally pleasant with warm temperatures, making it ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, boating, and swimming. Additionally, the summer months offer longer daylight hours, allowing visitors to fully enjoy the stunning landscapes and recreational opportunities that Lake Tahoe has to offer.


Let’s wrap this up with a dollop of love and a sprinkle of wisdom. 

Based on my heart-tickling escapades, the best day trips from Lake Tahoe are brimming with fun, adventure, and oodles of family goodness. 

But listen up: Yosemite National Park is the dazzling star atop this delightfully layered cake. 

I mean, its natural beauty had me doing mental cartwheels. 

Virginia City is a darling jaunt down memory lane, and Tahoe City is a fab family haven. 

But Yosemite’s majestic landscapes? 

They’ll cradle your soul. 

So pack that picnic, grab your peeps, and let Yosemite whisper sweet nothings to your wanderlust heart.

15 Best Day Trips From Lake Tahoe — Places Nearby!

Soak in the vitamin D

Day Tripping from Lake Tahoe & Beyond

By: Cam Schilling

It’s no secret that Lake Tahoe is the place to be for thrilling, year-round outdoor excursions. It’s an adventurer’s dream come true – enthralling mountains form a lakeside playground yielding a recipe for endless entertainment – you know this. What you may not know is just how much more Lake Tahoe and the surrounding areas have to offer.

If you love the Lake Tahoe life and would like to see and learn more about this area, there are a plethora of day trips that are well worth your time. Within just a short drive from the lake, you can find some of the country’s finest state parks & landmarks, hundreds of years in history, and various obscure hideaways to explore. Whether you’re a local, a transplant or tourist for the day, be sure to get out and take advantage of it all.

Discover something new this weekend, to get you started we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite day trips below.

Virginia City

With its riches first located in1859, Virginia City's Chollar Mine (later the Chollar-Potosi) was one of the leading producers on the Comstock. Over the next 80 years, miners blasted and carted out some $17 million in gold and silver. | Photo courtesy of Virginia City Tourism Commission

Speaking of history, Virginia City has it all. In its heyday, this little city of silver and gold was a mining bonanza responsible for turning many poor, struggling men into comfortable millionaires. In turn, the city became a vital piece in funding the Civil War – it was even the richest city in the world from about the 1860’s-1880’s. Check out the blog from our day trip to Virginia City and you’ll find many more reasons to make a visit.

Genoa Nevada

Historic Genoa, Nevada is nestled at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Range, just 25 minutes east of beautiful Lake Tahoe and one hour south of Reno. The small town boasts many local amenities and shops, and welcomes visitors for a day trip or longer, restful stay. Learn about Genoa’s past with a visit to Mormon Station State Historical Park Museum and Genoa Courthouse Museum. Stop by the Genoa Cemetery or the infamous Hanging Tree. Stroll through a variety of shops, and be sure to make time for a leisurely lunch or dinner.

Carson City

lake tahoe day trip

Located at the base of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains, Carson City is the capital of the Silver State and offers year-round recreation, museums, and gaming while boasting a rich historical presence with several museums and art galleries. Bike-friendly streets make Carson City a perfect place for the whole family.

Carson Valley

lake tahoe day trip

Just 12 miles east of South Lake Tahoe and nestled near the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Carson Valley is the perfect place for those looking to get away from the crowds. With miles of (relatively) low-elevation hiking trails and access to unforgettable adventures like glider rides and wild horse tours, this little valley is a must-see for those looking to expand their horizons beyond the Lake Tahoe Basin.

El Dorado Winery Touring

lake tahoe day trip

Here in El Dorado County, we know a thing or two about wine. The county is an American Viticultural Area specifically designated as a wine grape-growing region for its optimal geographic features among other factors. Lucky for you, this means access to some of the country’s top-notch wine. Boasting over 2,000 acres of vines and approximately 50 wineries, the hard part will be choosing the best places to spend your time – visit for a full list of wineries, current events/tours, and even contests.

The Most Beautiful Drive in America

Cave Rock State Park

Can’t get enough of Lake Tahoe? Consider what is often referred to as the Most Beautiful Drive in America and cruise the 72 mile route around the lake. There is no shortage of jaw-dropping views or exciting pit-stops anywhere you look along the way. If you’re strapped on time, the drive around Emerald Bay alone is a must see. Once you’ve arrived at the bay, you’ll quickly realize why it is one of the most photographed places in the world. From here you can hike into the scenic Eagle Falls trail, tour the spectacular Vikingsholm Castle , kayak out to Fannette Island, or simply take it all in from the comfort of your car.

Get out. Get stoked. Repeat.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

You’ve probably heard of the Giant Sequoias and all their majesty, but did you know that they were first widely reported as being seen in Calaveras Grove ? Many of these trees are thousands of years old and offer a unique look into some seriously cool natural history. Visitors are welcome to hike, bike, fish, and explore all four seasons, but according to Visit California , ‘spring offers showy white dogwood blossoms, and the colorful leaves of autumn create a striking contrast with the russet sequoia trunks.’ If this isn’t the experience you’re looking for, opt to take some time strolling around the quaint shops, restaurants or wineries of Calaveras County.

Donner Memorial State Park and the Abandoned Railroad Tunnels

Donner memorial state park and the abandoned railroad tunnels / Credit: Cam Schilling

Although you could easily spend two separate days trekking around either of these spots, their proximity makes for an exceptional trip to do all at once. The Donner Memorial State Park is home to TONS of early pioneer and gold rush history, Native American artifacts, and of course the eerie tales of the Donner Party. Although the views from the road are spectacular, there is a nice little park down by the water – you’ll be near the same site that the infamous harsh winter expedition took place, where a brutal snowfall and some miscalculated decisions forced pioneers to resort to cannibalism just to survive!

The abandoned Donner Pass Railroad Tunnels offer a truly unique hike through what was once a heavily used series of railroad tunnels. Start at the China Wall for a look into the past which honors the backbreaking work that these laborers put into constructing the tunnels over 150 years ago. Before you venture into the tunnels, don’t miss the Native American Petroglyphs left by ancestors of the Washoe People – the park visitor center has some worthwhile videos that delve much further into this rich history.

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A Day Trip to Lake Tahoe from Reno

December 4, 2021

A Day Trip to Lake Tahoe from Reno

If you happen to be in the Reno Nevada area, then a day trip to Lake Tahoe is a must. Within a short drive you will find some amazing scenic routes, views over Lake Tahoe, and some great places to stop for lunch.

While staying a little longer in Lake Tahoe or the Carson Valley area is a great idea, here is my guide on how to visit Lake Tahoe from Reno for the day.

Payton at Lake Tahoe

Getting to Lake Tahoe from Reno

The drive to Lake Tahoe from Reno is only 38miles, which takes about 45-50 minutes along the 550 and 431 highways. The easiest way to reach Lake Tahoe is by car, as you can then also drive some of the scenic byways around the lake.

However, there are a number of shuttles to the area , including the year-round North Lake Tahoe Express. You could then combine the shuttle with a guided tour of Lake Tahoe to see a lot in a short time.

View out over Lake Tahoe

Things to do in north Lake Tahoe on a day trip

Driving the 75 mile loop around Lake Tahoe takes a little over 2 hours if you drive it straight. But there is so much to discover, we suggest you add in some hiking, scenic look-outs and eating along the way…

There are lots of hikes around Lake Tahoe, for all levels of fitness. For day-trippers, I would recommend the sub-30-minute hike to some beautiful spots; perfect for short trips, and maximum impact for minimal effort. Here are some of our favorite spots:

  • Historic Stateline Fire Lookout – This is a steep but relatively easy paved hike up to the State Line lookout. It’s about 20-30 minutes to reach the top, depending on your fitness level.
  • Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park –

Payton hiking at Lake Tahoe

Scenic Overlooks

Here are some of the best scenic overlooks in Lake Tahoe.

  • The Lake Tahoe Scenic Overlook , Mt Rose Hwy, Incline Village, NV – THE best view over the whole of Lake Tahoe. On a clear day you can see all the way over to the Sierra Nevada mountains in the south of Lake Tahoe.
  • Emerald Bay State Park Lookout , 1805102, South Lake Tahoe, CA – With a spectacular view out over Fannette Island, the Emerald Bay lookout showcases the bays and coves of southern Lake Tahoe.
  • Cave Rock , 1430 US-50, Glenbrook, NV – Cave Rock is on the east side of Lake Tahoe, above Zephyr Cove on the Nevada side. It’s a great spot from which to watch the sunset.

Scenic Overlook at Lake Tahoe

Boating and Water Sports

If you’re visiting in the warmer months and fancy a day of adventure, you could try some of the boating and water sports on offer during your day in Lake Tahoe.

There are parasailing adventures , kayaking tours , kayak rentals , jet ski rentals , and public and private boat tours to explore the lake.

Boats on Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Beaches

If action and adventure isn’t your thing, why not relax at one of the many beaches.

North – Kings Beach State Recreation Area is a great all-round beach. There’s is kayak and stand-up paddle board hire nearby, picnic tables and a pier.

South – Pope Beach is one of the best in the southern area of Lake Tahoe.

East – Sand Harbor Beach on the Nevada side is a family favorite. While the sand is still pebbly, the clear waters and conveniences nearby make it a popular lake beach option.

West – Sugar Pine Point Beach is a haven on the west coast. A rocky beach with a pier, it’s great for exploration rather than sunbathing.

Lake Tahoe beach

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Best places to eat in Lake Tahoe

There are many wonderful places to dine at Lake Tahoe. From casual diners, to food trucks with picnic spots, and fine dining with amazing views. Here are some of the places we have visited and loved:

  • Gar Woods Grill & Pier , 5000 N Lake Blvd, Carnelian Bay – with panoramic windows overlooking the lake, and a lovely pier, Gar Woods Grill serves delicious Californian fare in a stunning setting.
  • Edgewood Restaurant , 180 Lake Pkwy, Stateline, NV – if you’re looking for refined fare in a beautiful upscale setting, Edgewood is a great option.
  • Char Pit OR Yard Hen , Kings Beach – If you’re looking for a relaxed picnic style meal, try Char Pit for an excellent burger and fries; or Yard Hen for fab breakfast burritos and vegan tacos from this cool food truck.

Burger and fries - Photo by Aleisha Kalina on Unsplash

Love road trips? Check out my bumper post on East Coast itinerary ideas !

A day trip to Lake Tahoe from Reno

If you manage even half the ideas in this blog; you’ll already be having a hugely packed day of fun at the lake. A day trip to Lake Tahoe from Reno will wow you with amazing landscapes; and will clear your mind with the peace and tranquility.

Let us help you plan your next trip, with our full service Travel Agency !

A Day Trip to Lake Tahoe from Reno

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2 thoughts on “A Day Trip to Lake Tahoe from Reno”

I am Nandini from India. I want to visit Lake Tahoe from Los Angles in the month of October 2023. Please guide me. We are 3, adults. We can spend 2 / 3 days only. Please let me know the details with total cost in Indian currency.

Hi Nandini, if you would like to engage our travel agency services, please contact me on [email protected] – thank you

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A Day Trip to Lake Tahoe from Reno


Complete 4 Day Lake Tahoe Travel Itinerary

Disclosure Policy : Some links are affiliate links meaning I may make a small commission at no cost to you. I appreciate your support!


Growing up in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, I thought I’d have a good understanding of what Lake Tahoe would be like.  Wrong!  The second deepest alpine lake in the US, Lake Tahoe is on an entirely different level.  Because of its depth, the water is a stunning blue and, in some spots, turquoise.  It would take you about 3 hours to drive around the entire lake so it’s BIG. 

The best time to visit if you like water sports would have to be summer so you can enjoy the rather chilly water in maximum temps. We visited in September and lucked out with summer-like weather to enjoy all the activities the lake area has to offer.

Table of Contents

What should I know?

  • We flew into Reno Nevada and rented a car to drive about one hour to Lake Tahoe’s North Side. 
  • The north side of the lake has more rustic cabin accommodations while the south side is more commercialized.  That being said the south side does have a lot of cute renovated motels and B&B options.   I suggest staying a couple nights in each location for the full experience.
  • Lake Tahoe is not cheap!  A good way to save money is by renting a cabin with access to a kitchen either to make your own food or at least store leftovers.
  • If you want to visit Sand Harbor, you either need to go really early to find a parking spot or else park in Incline Village and be prepared to walk or bike ~3 miles each way. We parked in Incline Village and walked and it was actually a great way to see the lake. 
  • You can rent kayaks or paddleboards at Sand Harbor. Another popular place to rent paddleboards is at Wild Society.

Day One: North Tahoe

Arrive into Reno Airport, pick up rental car and start driving the ~1 hour towards North Tahoe.

Check in to your accommodation.  We stayed in a cabin at Rustic Cottages and I highly recommend them! They’re not fancy but they’re updated, clean, feel homey, have sweets and lemonade in the afternoons plus a nice breakfast spread to start your day.

lake tahoe day trip

It’s beach time! Drive to Sand Harbor and, if the lot isn’t full, park at the parking lot which costs $10 per vehicle. Otherwise park at the east side of Incline Village (you’ll backtrack to do this but it’s not long) and walk to Sand Harbor.  It’s 2.7 miles each way but you’ll have amazing views.

Enjoy the afternoon swimming/kayaking/paddleboarding in some of the most beautiful, clear water.  There is a concession bar for snacks and drinks or else bring your own picnic. You can rent paddleboards and kayaks directly at the beach if interested from Sand Harbor Rentals . 

lake tahoe day trip

For dinner, check out Lanza for delicious, hearty Italian food. We each ordered a main but honestly could have shared one! Delicious and a local favorite.

lake tahoe day trip

Day Two: Mountain Bike + Lakeside Hike

Today, rent mountain bikes from Flume Trail Tahoe to bike the scenic – you guessed it – Flume Trail.   It’s rated as one of the best trails in the country and for good reason – the views are amazing!  This was our very first experience mountain biking and it was thrilling! We had to walk some parts that were narrow and on the side of the mountain but for the most part we managed just fine. We do hybrid bike on paved trails frequently so that may help a little. 

The company is great as they’ll fit a bike to your height/weight and shuttle you to the start of the trail.  The end of the trail is conveniently right where the bike shop is so you can easily drop off your bikes when you’re done and be on your way.

lake tahoe day trip

After you wrap up mountain biking (should take around 2-3 hours), grab a bite to eat at Tunnel Creek Café which is right by the bike shop. 

lake tahoe day trip

If you’re up for more exploring, drive 10-12 minutes south to Chimney Beach and hike around. You can also pull off to see the iconic Bonsai Rock which is just north of Chimney Beach.

Tonight, head to La Mexicana Grocery Store for a casual dinner.  It’s some of the best Mexican food I’ve had.  It’s no frills but they have seating outside so you can enjoy dining al fresco. For a post meal treat, grab an ice cream at Sweet Tahoe Time Treat and then walk along the lake to enjoy the sunset on the lake.

lake tahoe day trip

Day Three : Emerald Lake + South Tahoe

Enjoy a hearty breakfast because today is about hiking to some of the most gorgeous viewpoints at Lake Tahoe.  After breakfast, drive along the west side of the lake towards the Rubicon Trailhead in DL Bliss State Park .  Parking is ~$10.  From here, hike along the Rubicon Trail (out and back) for some stunning scenery en route to Emerald Bay.   Eagle Creek Falls trail is connected to the Rubicon Trail at Emerald Bay and would add ~2 miles onto your hike for a total of ~10 miles.  We did not opt to do this but heard great things about the views!

lake tahoe day trip

After your hike back to the trailhead, continue driving on to South Tahoe and check in to your accommodation.  We stayed at Coachman Hotel which I highly recommend! note – this is an affiliate link, I appreciate your support!   It’s a recently renovated motel with really cool décor, a pool and hot tub and nightly s’mores.  They also have a great continental breakfast including waffles which were delicious.  It’s within walking distance of the town but they do offer bikes for rent.

lake tahoe day trip

You’re likely extremely hungry at this point so I’d suggest heading to the Shops at Heavenly Village for Base Camp Pizza . It’s delicious and you can eat guilt free from all the calories burned hiking!

lake tahoe day trip

Day Four : South Tahoe

After breakfast, stop at The Free Bird for a chai tea latte – it’s one of the best I’ve had! If you have time, walk along the southern shores of Lake Tahoe, rent kayaks on the southeastern shore or take the scenic gondola from Heavenly Village up for amazing views. 

lake tahoe day trip

Grab lunch from Sprouts Natural Food Café – it’s delicious and healthy.

At this point, we began a road trip to Carmel, which you could easily add on to your trip too!

Happy Travels!

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8 best day trips near lake tahoe.

There’s plenty to see and do, not only in Lake Tahoe, but also in the surrounding area. It has almost everything you could want in a relaxing vacation or a fun adventure. Hence, we’ve put together a list of the best 8 day trips near Lake Tahoe that could help you plan your itinerary.

Our top picks are Virginia City, Carson City, Yosemite National Park , and Reno City, all of which are well-known around the world for good reason.

Big trees in Calaveras Grove, day trips near lake tahoe

Are you planning your trip to Lake Tahoe?

If you’re  traveling to Lake Tahoe , ensure you have lodging and tours booked ahead of time! Below are some of our top picks to help you plan!

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe (and Nearby):

  • Deerfield Lodge at Heavenly  (South Lake Tahoe 9.6/10 Exceptional)
  • Marriott Grand Residence Club  (South Lake Tahoe / 1 to 3 bedrooms & penthouse)
  • Cedar Glen Lodge  (9.4/10 Exceptional / Tahoe Vista; North Lake Tahoe)

Best Tours and Experiences in Lake Tahoe:

  • Self-Guided E-Bike Tour of the World Famous East Shore Trail (5⭐️ reviews)
  • Sunset Hike and Photography Tour in South Lake Tahoe (moderately challenging 2-hour trek with breathtaking sunset views)
  • Clear Kayak Tour of Lake Tahoe (in completely transparent kayaks!)

Lake Tahoe has long been a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike. It’s home to many breathtaking views, crystal clear waters, and beautiful beaches. But there are also many mountains, forests, and towns that surround the lake. There are many state parks, landmarks, and hideaways nearby as well. All of which are accessible from the lake.

That’s why, whether you enjoy skiing or hiking, boating or fishing, there’s something for everyone here. If you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, then head out to these 8 best day trips near Lake Tahoe!

» You might like these 14 Top Weekend Getaways from San Francisco.

Looking for more info? See our full destination guide as well as posts on Lake Tahoe in Winter , Lake Tahoe in Summer , the best times to visit Lake Tahoe , and the 15 best hikes in the area.

Our Recommended Lake Tahoe Hotel

Marriott Grand Residence

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Marriott Grand Residence Club ✔️ Located inside Heavenly® Village ✔️ Heated pool & hot tub

Day Trips Near Lake Tahoe

1. virginia city.

Virginia City cemetery looking toward town

Why not begin your journey with a rich historical experience?

Virginia City is a popular historic destination best known for the discovery of silver ore during the 1850s. As a result, it earned its nickname “Silver State.” It’s a Nevada town full of cultural sights and events commemorating its deep ancient ties.

In addition, the city is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It’s because of the many wonderfully preserved Victorian homes, mansions, churches, cemeteries, saloons, mines, and various antique shops.

This makes the place ideal for a whole day of museum-hopping and ghost-hunting. Fortunately, it’s only about 40 minutes to an hour away from Tahoe by car. This gives you more time to explore!

So, don’t miss the chance to stop by the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, Comstock Gold Mill, Silver Queen Hotel, Silver Terrace Cemetery, and Washoe Club & Haunted Museum.

2. Carson City

Landscape around Carson City

We have another piece of good news! Carson City is just a mere 28 miles (a 45 minute drive) away from Lake Tahoe. It’s the capital of Nevada, so after Virginia, Carson is the best place to go next!

A walking tour of the Kit Carson trail will take you to at least 50 landmarks. It will truly be like walking through history as you explore each attraction. These include century-old Victorian-style homes, mansions, and churches.

However, what makes Carson City so appealing are the modern structures that carefully complement the majestic classical settings of the place. Aside from museums, exhibitions, libraries, theaters, and art galleries, the city also has fine restaurants and shopping centers.

Plus, if you want to spice up your day, there are challenging golf courses and a variety of table games and slot machines to choose from!

3. Yosemite National Park

Vernal Falls at Yosemite National Park

It could be intimidating for anyone who isn’t fond of traveling long distances to hear that Yosemite National Park is four to seven hours away from Lake Tahoe. However, we’re here to tell you that it’s well worth the effort.

With such enchanting scenery along the way, you might not even notice how far you’ve traveled! Some of the most popular stops that are snap worthy are Yosemite Valley and Heavenly Mountain Resort. There are other sights, like the Mariposa Grove, Tioga Pass, and Bodie State Historic Park.

Nevertheless, our most recommended is Glacier Point. It’s an overlook with a magnificent view of the ancient giant sequoia trees, stunning falls, and vast meadows. Just make sure you travel during the best months, which is from May to September, when the park is open but not overcrowded.

Other must-see destinations include Half Dome, Tunnel View, Tuolumne Meadows, Merced River, and El Capitan. Yosemite National Park provides a variety of  lodging and camping so you can stay and enjoy the scenery awhile.

4. Calaveras Grove

Calaveras Big Tree State park

The Calaveras Grove, also known as the Calaveras Big Trees State Park , is a two-hour drive from Lake Tahoe. True to their name, they’re one of the world’s largest trees, reaching heights of more than 300 feet and widths of up to 20 feet.

The park covers approximately ten square miles. It includes two groves of spectacular giant sequoia trees, two expansive campgrounds, a few picnic areas, and a number of paved trails. The entire area would take several days to explore, but there are 1.5 miles of the self-guided loop you can hike in a single afternoon.

Otherwise, if you’re not a fan of hiking, boating, camping, kayaking, and fishing, Calaveras County is just nearby. There’s an impressive ironstone vineyard and mysterious Mercer and Moaning Caverns that can be quite fun to tour.

In addition, there are several hidden gems in the county, such as museums, lakes, and community parks that aren’t well-known but promise exciting adventures!

5. El Dorado

Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, El Dorado California

El Dorado , or “the golden,” got its name after the discovery of gold in 1848. It resulted in the California Gold Rush, which catapulted the county into what it is today. At the same time, El Dorado is also notorious for its wine production.

After driving southwest for more than an hour from Lake Tahoe, you can visit the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. This is where the first sawmill was discovered, and a replica of it can be found on the riverside. Here, they allow visitors to try a bit of gold panning.

Of course, you shouldn’t waste the opportunity to stop by Apple Hill afterward. It’s one of the sources of the apples and berries used to make spirits, beers, and wines. You can sample all these amazing crafts in Miraflores Winery , Sentivo Vineyards , Narrow Gate Vineyards , and Solid Ground Brewing .

However, if you’d like some fun outdoor trips, you can also go on a scenic hike in Eldorado National Forest . Perhaps you’re even interested in camping. Here are some options: Camp Lotus, Coloma Resort, and Camp Nauvoo.

6. Reno City

Reno at sunset

Reno City , also known as “The Biggest Little City,” is an hour’s drive from Lake Tahoe and is famous for its casinos. Nonetheless, there’s more to this city than its neon lights and gambling. Among the best things to do in Reno are kayaking, rafting, swimming, and tubing.

That’s why it would certainly be a shame if you don’t experience Truckee River White Water Park while you’re there. The Riverwalk District is ideal for strolling. To pass the time, there are numerous local shops, restaurants, boutiques, entertainment venues, pubs, and self-guided tours available here.

Of course, you should take a photo at the Reno Arch, the city’s flashiest and most recognizable landmark. Plus, if you like the amazing wonders of the galaxy and stars, you’ll be mesmerized by the displays of meteors, black holes, and constellations in the Fleischmann Planetarium .

Finally, you can spend time in the Animal Ark, where you can learn more about exotic animals, like cheetahs and tigers. You may get a close look at bobcats, black bears, and owls! They’re all injured animals being cared for by a non-profit organization, because they cannot be released into the wild.

7. Tahoe City

Tahoe City

Tahoe City is located on the shore of Lake Tahoe and is only a short 50 minute drive from South Lake Tahoe. It’s not a stretch to say the crystalline waters of the Commons Beach, Meeks Bay, and Lake Forest Beach are among the best in the world. The views around the hike through Eagle Falls Trail, Alpine Meadows, and Inspiration Point Vista are unparalleled.

You may think that Tahoe looks gorgeous in the summer and spring, but there’s also an indescribable magic to the place whenever winter arrives. There are dozens of activities waiting to be explored in either season.

8. Sierra Hot Springs

A hot spring in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

After all those satisfying and exhausting excursions, you might be looking for something more relaxing, like a serene hot springs .

Sierra Hot Springs has an inviting and quiet atmosphere that will calm both your body and mind. You can enjoy soothing hot soaks and relaxing cold plunges while you’re there.

The pools are fantastic and the surrounding views add to the charm of the heartwarming place.

The vibe is pretty chill, making it a perfect final day trip to consider from Lake Tahoe.

» Looking for more inspiration along the route? Check out all our guides to San Francisco , Los Angeles , Santa Barbara and San Diego. Find the best beaches in Monterey , waterfalls in Southern California , and national parks.

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Vernal Falls Yosemite national Park

Laura is a travel fanatic who loves seeing and doing new things. She lives in Ventura, CA, and spends a lot of time exploring California’s cities, beaches, and national parks.

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1 thoughts on “ 8 Best Day Trips Near Lake Tahoe ”

Your list of day trip ideas near Lake Tahoe is a valuable resource for travelers seeking to explore the surrounding areas. It provides a diverse range of options, ensuring there’s something for every type of adventurer. Thanks for sharing these exciting opportunities to enhance the Lake Tahoe experience! ️

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The Perfect Itinerary for 2 Days in Lake Tahoe in the Summer

Your detailed Lake Tahoe itinerary for a summer weekend in the Sierras, including the best things to do, places to eat, and where to stay.

Lake Tahoe Summer Itinerary

summer in Lake Tahoe 2 day itinerary

Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular places to visit in California and a favorite weekend getaway from San Francisco . And it’s easy to see why with the amount of natural beauty to be found in the area and the year-round attractions for families, couples, and adventurous travelers around the lake.

Nestled in the Sierra Nevadas, Lake Tahoe straddles the California and Nevada state line. Since gambling is legal in Nevada, numerous casinos have popped up on the Nevada side of the lake for those who are looking to test their luck. But gambling isn’t the only thing that makes Lake Tahoe such an attractive destination to visit in California.

From snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, gondolas, and cozy cabins in the winter, to hiking, water sports, lazy beach days, and hot weather in the summer, there’s a lot to love about Lake Tahoe – no matter the season.

When people say Lake Tahoe, they’re usually referring to South Lake Tahoe. The lake is huge (72 miles) and takes three hours to drive around, so visitors tend to base themselves in South or North Lake Tahoe.

South Lake Tahoe is by far the most popular area of the lake to visit and has a lot of attractions, beaches, and hikes to enjoy, so I always recommend starting there if it’s your first time in Lake Tahoe.

For that reason, this 2-day itinerary focuses on how to spend a summer weekend in South Lake Tahoe to soak up the best scenery and attractions in the area.

Let’s dive in!

Travel Tips for Lake Tahoe

  • Book accommodation early and expect it to be busy – Summer is Lake Tahoe’s high season so expect it to be fairly busy. In the summer, there’s usually some traffic to and from Lake Tahoe. It’s also good to book accommodation far in advance. If you can visit Lake Tahoe during the week instead of the weekend, even better. If you go on the weekend and you’re coming from San Francisco, try to leave before noon on Friday from the Bay Area.
  • Bring layers and a warm jacket – Even during the summer when the weather is hot during the day, nights are often cool. Make sure to bring a jacket to bundle up once the sun goes down. It’s also good to bring at least one pair of warmer shoes besides flip flops that can be used for activities and easy hikes around the lake ( I’m personally a fan of Allbirds ).
  • Drink plenty of water – At over 6,200 feet, the higher elevation of South Lake Tahoe means that dehydration is common. Drink more water than you normally would and bring extra water with you if you plan to go hiking.
  • Protect yourself from the sun – It’s easier to get sunburned at higher altitudes, so lather on plenty of sunscreen, bring a hat, sunglasses, and some aloe vera just in case (especially if you tend to sunburn easily like me).
  • Plan how you want to get around – If you’re staying near downtown South Lake Tahoe, it’s a fairly walkable area that can easily be explored by your own two feet. If you want to explore outside the downtown area though, it’s best to have your own car. There is public transport in Lake Tahoe but it’s not the fastest or most convenient way to get around. It also won’t take you to the more off-the-beaten-path trailheads and beaches. There are both Lyfts and Ubers in South Lake Tahoe too, which are ideal to use after a night at the casinos or bars.
  • Check conditions ahead of time for the possibility of forest fires – In the summer, it’s not uncommon for forest fires to happen near Lake Tahoe. Check conditions and air quality ahead of time before you head up to the lake.

A 2-Day Itinerary for Lake Tahoe in the Summer

Lake tahoe itinerary: day 1.

Eagle Falls South Lake Tahoe in the summer

The hike starts near Emerald Bay, from the parking area on the west side of Highway 89. It’s only around 2.5 miles roundtrip but full of generous views and plenty of local flora and fauna to make it a worthwhile hike. Since this is one of the most popular hikes in Lake Tahoe it’s recommended to get to the parking lot before 9am as it fills up quickly.

Also, this hike goes into the backcountry of the Lake Tahoe area, called Desolation Wilderness. Because of this, you’ll need to pick up a permit (which you can do on the trail) as soon as you reach the backcountry portion of the trail.

Kayak or SUP to Fannette Island

Fannette Island in Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe in summer activities

This is the only island in Lake Tahoe and it’s close enough to the shore to paddle to either via kayak or a standup paddleboard (depending on your preference). You can rent kayaks or standup paddleboards near Vikingsholm and paddle out directly from the rental location.

Emerald Bay State Park is one of the most scenic state parks around Lake Tahoe, so make sure to give yourself time to soak up the views on the way to the island. Once you get to the island, hike to the top of the hill to find an abandoned tea house at the top and stunning 360-degree views of the bay, before heading back towards Vikingsholm.

Visit Vikingsholm

After you drop off your kayak, sign up for a tour of Vikingsholm . This 38-room Viking-inspired castle is nestled in the dramatic scenery of Emerald Bay State Park. It’s a quirky sight to visit next to the bay and features one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States.

The castle was built in 1929 and commissioned by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight, who drew similarities between Lake Tahoe and the fjords of Scandinavia. It became the summer home for Mrs. Knight and her family for 15 years until her death. And if you’re visiting in the summer, you can take a tour of the property.

D L Bliss State Park in South Lake Tahoe vacation

If you have the energy to squeeze in one more short hike, head to D.L. Bliss State Park , on the west side of the lake. This beautiful park is the perfect place to further explore the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe and get some fresh air and exercise in the afternoon.

There are numerous trails you can tackle at D.L. Bliss State Park, but I’d recommend doing the Rubicon Lighthouse Trail. This easy 1.5-mile trail takes you up 250 feet in elevation to the historic Rubicon Lighthouse that was built in 1919. Along the way, you’ll get stunning bay views that peak out from green forests. Most of the trail is shaded and it’s easy to do within an hour.

Explore Heavenly Village and Ride the Gondola

Head into Heavenly Village for an afternoon of shopping, eating, and gondola riding. With over 40 shops featuring international and local brands, there are a lot of boutiques to poke your head into.

And even more than the shops, Heavenly Village is a lively place to get a good feel for the Lake Tahoe community. There’s often live music, as well as ice skating, spas, and mini-golf around the village. The Village is also where you’ll find some of the best restaurants in the region, such as The Loft and Base Camp Pizza Co. Time your visit around dinner time to taste test what the Tahoe culinary scene has to offer.

Once you’ve explored Heavenly Village thoroughly, hop on the Heavenly Village Gondola for expansive views over the Lake Tahoe area.

Optional: Ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster

A fun add-on to the scenic gondola, especially in the summer when skiing and snowboarding aren’t happening, is to ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster at Heavenly Ski Resort.

This high altitude gravity-powered coaster will not only give you a good adrenaline rush but also stunning views looking out over the lake from Heavenly Mountain.

Gambling at a Casino on the Nevada Side

To end your day in Lake Tahoe, try your hand at the slot machines or blackjack tables at one of the many casinos that line the Nevada side of the lake. A few of the most popular casinos in Lake Tahoe include Montbleu, Harrah’s, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Even if you’re not that into gambling, similar to Las Vegas, it’s a fun activity to do at Lake Tahoe because it’s such a big part of the culture.

Finally, there are various dance clubs and bars in and near the casinos if you want to experience the Lake Tahoe nightlife before calling it a night.

Lake Tahoe Itinerary: Day 2

Road Trip Around the Perimeter of the Lake

There’s no better way to start a morning in Lake Tahoe than by exploring the perimeter of the lake.

The scenic 72-mile drive around Lake Tahoe takes around three hours with no stopping, but I’d give yourself at least five hours so you can take your time.

Hit the road early to avoid traffic and enjoy the viewpoints around the lake without the crowds. I’d also recommend driving the lake clockwise so you’re always driving on the right side of the road closest to the lake.

A few popular stops that can be added on to your Lake Tahoe road trip are Meeks Bay, Sugar Pine Point State Park (and the Ehrman Mansion), the Tahoe Maritime Museum, Gatekeeper’s Museum, Watson Cabin Museum, Kings Beach, Crystal Bay, Stateline Lookout, Mt. Rose Lookout, Memorial Point, Sand Harbor, Spooner Lake, and Cave Rock Vista Point.

If you have a couple of extra hours, I’d also add on a trip to the Olympic Museum at Squaw Valley, the Donner Party Museum, and the historic railroad town of Truckee.

Optional: Horseback Riding at Camp Richardson Corral

If you have the time to squeeze in an hour-long activity onto your road trip around the lake, sign up for a horseback ride through the Lake Tahoe wilderness at Camp Richardson Corral .

In operation since 1934, this family-owned corral is the place for scenic guided horseback rides or summer hay wagon rides for the little ones.

Their standard trail rides leave hourly in the summer and start at $56 per person. With tours lasting about an hour, you’ll see the best parts of South Lake Tahoe by horseback, as well as ride through the lush national forest, meadows, and see stunning lake views along the way.

Head to the Beach at Zephyr Cove

 Zephyr Cove Lake Tahoe

This is the perfect spot to relax for a couple of hours. You can go swimming in the transparent alpine water, enjoy parasailing or jet skiing, play a game of beach volleyball, or simply soak up the sun, read a book on the beach, and breathe in the fresh mountain air.

Dinner Cruise on The MS Dixie II PaddleWheeler

Wrap up your time in Lake Tahoe with a dinner cruise on The MS Dixie II PaddleWheeler, which leaves from Zephyr Cove. The cruise usually leaves around 5pm every night and lasts for three hours so you can see the lake in daylight and at dusk.

On the cruise, you’ll enjoy live music, champagne, dancing, and a nice dinner on the water. The best part about this cruise is that you’ll be able to watch the sky change as it transitions into dusk from the water.

If you’re lucky and the cloud cover isn’t too low, you might luck out with being able to see one of Lake Tahoe’s multi-hued sunsets that light up the sky on your way back to the dock. Just make sure to bring layers and a warm jacket because the lake gets chilly at night.

Where to Eat in Lake Tahoe

Alpina Coffee Cafe – One of the best coffee shops in Lake Tahoe, Alpina Coffee Cafe is a good spot to get your caffeine fix and start your day in a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. The cafe is located in a cottage and offers the usual cafe fare, decent coffee, and even mimosas, wine, and beer if you’re looking to imbibe.

Base Camp Pizza Co – For some reason, Lake Tahoe has a ton of pizza places (I guess eating pizza near a beautiful lake isn’t the worst thing ever). One of the tastiest is Base Camp Pizza Co . Besides pizza, they have a good selection of other Italian fare that comes out in generous portions. This is a lively place that often has live music and an outdoor patio, perfect for those long and hot summer days.

Simple Bliss – For anyone looking for something a little healthier than pizza and burgers, Simple Bliss is South Lake Tahoe’s first and only vegan cafe. On the menu, you’ll find organic, soy-free, and gluten-free dishes that are full of colorful veggies. They also have a decent selection of vegan desserts and fresh juices and smoothies, as well as coffee and tea.

The Loft – A popular place for dinner and a show in Lake Tahoe, The Loft features bistro-style dishes and a casual setting full of friendly service, good food, and entertainment. They’re most well known for their nightly magic shows that are a fun way to spend an evening in Heavenly Village.

Heavenly Donuts – If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, there’s no better place than Heavenly Donuts . The guys who own this shop have been making donuts for 30 years and they’ve now expanded to six locations on the West Coast. This is all to say that they know their stuff when it comes to donuts. At their location in Tahoe, you’ll be able to find every type of traditional donut your heart might desire.

Where to Stay in South Lake Tahoe

Although cabin rentals and Airbnbs can be a fun way to go when you’re staying in Lake Tahoe, especially if you’re traveling with a group, sometimes it’s nice to have the luxury of a hotel. These are some of my top picks for accommodation in Lake Tahoe for all budgets.

7 Seas Inn at Tahoe – The best word to describe this accommodation is charming . At 7 Seas Inn, you’ll find the friendliness and feel of a bed & breakfast but with an affordable price tag. Another plus to this inn is that it’s centrally-located. The property is only a seven-minute walk from the lake and just a few blocks from the most popular South Lake Tahoe casinos. Click here to read reviews and click here to see latest prices .

Grand Residences by Marriott – If you’re looking for a little more luxury, the Grand Residences by Marriott is a good mid-range accommodation option in South Lake Tahoe. Located right in the heart of Heavenly Village, there are various shops, restaurants, and the ski resort (and its scenic gondola) just steps away. Click here to read reviews and click here to see latest prices .

Hotel Azure – For a more luxe weekend getaway accommodation that won’t break the bank, Hotel Azure is a solid choice in South Lake Tahoe. Conveniently located right on Lake Tahoe Boulevard and right across the street from the lake, this recently remodeled accommodation oozes comfort and relaxation. The property features two hot tubs, a heated pool, a small gym, and a game room. It’s also dog-friendly if you’re looking for a hotel to bring your pooch. Click here to read reviews and click here to see latest prices .

Author’s Bio

Mimi McFadden is a travel blogger, avid yogi, and paneer enthusiast. Originally from California, she has been slow traveling the world and blogging about it since 2013.

After living abroad for five years in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Greece, and Portugal she has finally found a home in San Francisco, California. You can find her on Instagram , Facebook , and her blog, The Atlas Heart .

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Lake Tahoe looks and sounds amazing! Definitely added it to our bucket list.

Wow what a gorgeous place Patti and Mimi. Tahoe has been on my list because the Sierras are in-demand, in my household. Huge Bigfoot fan 😉 This guy is often spotted in that region.

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Perfect 3 Days In Lake Tahoe Itinerary

by Melissa Giroux | Last updated Apr 7, 2023 | North America , Travel Tips , United States

Traveling to Lake Tahoe soon? In this post, we’ll discuss the best time to visit Lake Tahoe and we’ll present our recommended itinerary for 3 days.

Lake Tahoe is a hidden gem in the United States’ western part, sitting between Nevada and California. It’s a massive lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, 6,000 feet above sea level.

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Surrounding the lake, you will find endless activities, viewpoints, restaurants, nature, and fun. The best part – it is a year-round destination, as it has activities for both the snow and the sun! 

In this guide, you’ll find the perfect itinerary for 3 days in Lake Tahoe . It offers everything from skiing to beaches. 

Anyone who visits is amazed by its natural beauty. Beautiful nature, crystal clear water, and endless activities, why would anyone want to leave?

Before we start, let’s talk about the best time to visit Lake Tahoe and the recommended length of stay.

Lake Tahoe

Best Time To Visit Lake Tahoe

As mentioned before, Lake Tahoe has numerous outdoor and indoor activities all year round!  If we had to pick the best time to visit Lake Tahoe, we would say the summer!

The summer, mainly July and August, is the peak season for tourists and it can get really crowded! The end of May and early June are quieter, and you can still enjoy the gorgeous weather without the large crowds.

If you prefer colder activities, the winter is a great time to visit. You can do all the winter classics, snowboarding, skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and so much more!

After deciding when to visit, you can think about where you want to stay . The South shore is more touristy with casinos, budget hotels, and more nightlife.

The North shore has more outdoor activities and is quieter as it has more local people. However, you will find the area more expensive. Wherever you stay, you can access sites anywhere in the area.

How Many Days In Lake Tahoe

If you’re wondering how many days in Lake Tahoe you’ll need, we recommend a minimum of 3 days. Of course, it depends on the activities you want to do in Lake Tahoe as well as your arrival and departure time.

This is why we recommend you make a list of the things you wish to do in Lake Tahoe and you’ll have a better idea of your ideal length of stay. 

If you wish to hike around, take it easy or just enjoy the views, you may want to add a couple of days.

The following Lake Tahoe Itinerary is for 3 days. You can adapt it to the number of days you’ll have.

Lake Tahoe Day 1 

Our first day will start with a visit to Emerald Bay State Park . Emerald Bay State Park is about a 25-minute drive from South Lake Tahoe, and there is enough to do for you to spend the whole day here.

This is a stunning site – a gorgeous turquoise lake with spectacular mountains painting the backdrop for this stop.

There are many things to do in this state park, but one of the most popular attractions is Vikingsholm Castle. The history and architecture of the castle make it a sought-after attraction.

If you enjoy history, make sure to check out this castle!

There are so many activities to do in Emerald Bay State Park! Numerous hikes, water sports, biking trails – choose your favorite activity and cater the experience for you!

Of course, one of the best ways to experience the beautiful lake is to get in it!

You can take a relaxing boat cruise to sit back and take in the views. If you’re looking for a little more action, you can rent a paddleboard or a kayak.

Now for the hikes, there are so many options! Hike Eagle Lake Trail , which will lead you to Eagle Falls. You’ll find some beautiful views – waterfalls, lush green scenery, fantastic rock formations, and more to enjoy. 

Rent a kayak to get to Fannette Island , which is the only island on Lake Tahoe.

There is a small house at the top of the island, which gives you an amazing 360 view of your surroundings. There are also numerous points to jump off into the lake for added fun.

Travel Tip – Download the All Trails App on your phone to make the most of all the trails and make sure you don’t miss out!

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Day 2

Today, visit Van Sickle Bi State Park , which is a stunning state park overlooking Lake Tahoe. The park sits between Nevada and California. You can even stand on the line between the two states!

The Van Sickle Trail is great for hikers of all abilities. For a shorter hike, hike to the waterfall and appreciate the beauty of the waterfall along with views of the Lake – visitors can do this hike in 90 minutes.

If you’re looking for a longer trek,  continue to follow the trail to enjoy more vista points and breathtaking views.

If you are looking for winter activities, you can check out Squaw Valley . Squaw Valley was the site for the 1960 Winter Olympics. There is an aerial tram ride, giving you gorgeous views of the mountains and Lake Tahoe.

A hotel, The Village, offers excellent restaurants and lots of activities! 

A short drive away from Squaw Valley is the town of Truckee , a cute stop with a lovely old town area. Truckee is a touristy town with lots of cute shops and restaurants – a great place to relax after a busy day!

If you still have some energy left, there is a river in Truckee you can go tubing down. 

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Day 3

To end your trip in Lake Tahoe, time for a challenge – hiking Mount Tallac . It’s the largest mountain in Lake Tahoe. If you are a complete beginner at hiking, you will find this hike challenging.

Even seasoned hikers may find this hike demanding but the result is worth it.  When you reach the mountain’s summit, everything is amazing- the views, the atmosphere, the calmness – all of it! 

The hike is about 10 miles in total. There are a few viewpoints on the way to the top, but the real beauty is at the top.

Make sure to bring a lot of water and wear the appropriate clothing – it can get cold at the top!

Lake Tahoe

Final Thoughts On Lake Tahoe Itinerary

Travelers cannot understand Lake Tahoe’s beauty until they go and see it for themselves! There are numerous activities for you to enjoy the outdoors, no matter what time of year. 

We hope you enjoyed this Lake Tahoe itinerary and that you’ll enjoy your vacation in Lake Tahoe!

By the way, did you know that Lake Tahoe is an excellent destination for a honeymoon or to elope? Read our guide to find out how to elope in Lake Tahoe .

Need more travel inspiration? Read one of the following blog posts:

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lake tahoe day trip

lake tahoe day trip

4-Day South Lake Tahoe Itinerary

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  • South Lake Tahoe in 4 days
  • 1-Day South Lake Tahoe Itinerary
  • 2-Day South Lake Tahoe Itinerary
  • 3-Day South Lake Tahoe Itinerary
  • 5-Day South Lake Tahoe Itinerary

lake tahoe day trip

Table of contents

Day 1: most popular attractions.

  • Day 2: East side of town
  • Day 3: Off the beaten path
  • Day 4: Proximity is everything

Heavenly Mountain Resort

lake tahoe day trip

The Landing Tahoe Resort & Spa

lake tahoe day trip

Lakeside Beach

Azul-latin kitchen, hotel becket south lake tahoe, sprouts café, thomas f. regan memorial city beach, where to eat, california burger company, rocket fizz.

Best Itinerary for 4 Days in Lake Tahoe

Posted on September 27, 2023

Today I want to share my travel itinerary for 4 days in Lake Tahoe with you. Right on the border of California and Nevada, this large freshwater lake is one of the most popular places to visit in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s the perfect destination if you love getting outdoors and into nature. With breathtaking scenery, beaches, hiking trails, and ski resorts, it has something for everyone. I’m here now and I can’t wait to share my itinerary with you. I’ve included a map, too.

4 Days in Lake Tahoe

4 Days in Lake Tahoe

If you’re wondering how many days you need at Lake Tahoe, 4 days is a great length for a stay. It’s enough time to see the highlights on and around the water, do all kinds of mountain activities, shop, dine, and more.

If you feel like being active, you can do everything from guided tours to day hikes, biking , and sightseeing boat cruises . You can even take a side trip to Yosemite . It’s an ideal amount of time to get an overview of what Tahoe has to offer visitors.

My itinerary for 4 days in Lake Tahoe will show you a range of things to do and see while you’re here. You can use it as a template for your trip and tailor it to make it perfect for you.

Lower Echo Lake Kayaker

Where to Stay in Tahoe

I’m staying with friends and their dogs at Crystal Pines Lodge , a house in the Country Club Estates area of South Lake Tahoe. With 5 bedrooms, a hot tub, generous patios, and spacious living and dining areas, this bright, modern place is a great choice for accommodation.

As if that’s not enough, Crystal Pines Lodge is in an ideal location near the lake, Heavenly Village, and the famous Emerald Bay. It’s also in easy driving distance of restaurants, shops, bike rental places, golf courses, and ski resorts.

If that all sounds good, you can book your stay here . The property books up well in advance during the peak seasons, so make sure to reserve ahead of time. You can also see a range of accommodation in Lake Tahoe and book here .

Lake Tahoe House

My 4-day Lake Tahoe trip originates in San Francisco . My friends and I leave the city after work on a Thursday, and it takes us 3.5 hours to get to South Lake Tahoe. There’s no traffic on the way, which is refreshing for a drive from the Bay Area.

Emerald Bay

The next morning our trip officially begins. We make brunch in the spacious kitchen in Crystal Pines Lodge , then set off to explore Tahoe for the day.

Our first stop is Emerald Bay, which is 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe. There’s a beautiful viewpoint above the water, and we park along Highway 89 to walk over to it. We’re rewarded with stunning panoramas of the bay and the jeweled Fannette Island in the middle.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

We walk around for a bit, soaking up the views and catching a glimpse of Lower Eagle Falls before moving on.

Our itinerary for 4 days in Tahoe continues with a trip to Kiva Beach. This dog-friendly beach in Lake Tahoe is the perfect place to bask in the sunshine and dip our toes in the water.

We reach the sand via a short, flat trail from the parking lot. Once on the shore, we spend time playing fetch with the pups and taking in the mountain views across the water.

Kiva Beach, Lake Tahoe

This beach is popular with dogs and humans alike, and it’s a fun place for both species to swim and sunbathe.

Tallac Historic Site

From Kiva Beach we hop back on the trail and walk along the Tallac Shoreline to the Tallac Historic Site. It’s comprised of the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate, and the Valhalla Estate.

In the 1920s this place was the summer retreat for three of the San Francisco Bay Area’s socially elite families. There was also a resort here. In its heyday, the Tallac Resort included two large hotels, a casino, and numerous outbuildings. It was referred to as the “Grandest Resort in the World”.

Tallac Historic Site

Today the Tallac Historic Site is home to a museum, the heritage Pope House, walking paths with informational signs, gardens, a pier, and a number of buildings, cabins, and boathouses. It’s a peaceful place to wander around and get a glimpse of Tahoe’s past, and we enjoy our time here.

Back at Crystal Pines Lodge , we soak in the hot tub, cook a big dinner, and play board games until bedtime. It’s the perfect end to a great day in Tahoe.

The next morning our itinerary for 4 days in Lake Tahoe continues as we head out for a hike. There are lots of hiking trails around the lake, and we’re excited to get outdoors in the Sierra Nevada.

Lower Echo Lake Canoe

Lower Echo Lake

We start off on a short hike that will take us to Lower Echo Lake. We park in the lot at Echo Lake Sno-Park, then walk the dogs up Echo Lakes Road to get to the water. It takes us around 30 minutes to cover the 1.3-mile distance, and we pass rustic cabins and tented campsites along the way.

When we reach the shore, we take in the activity. There are people boating, rafting, and stand-up paddle boarding. We also spot a small shop and post office, as well as water taxis ferrying passengers from Lower Echo Lake to Upper Echo Lake.

We spend time exploring the area and taking in the stunning mountain scenery. There are trails on either side of the lake, including the famous Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.

Lower Echo Lake

After walking back down to Echo Lake Sno-Park, we drive to Heavenly Village for lunch. This place is buzzing with activity. There are more than 40 shops, restaurants with outdoor live music, miniature golf, art galleries, the Heavenly Gondola, and more.

We walk around and pop into stores selling everything from chocolate to clothing before settling in for an al fresco lunch at Base Camp Pizza Co. The cocktails are delicious and the pizzas hearty, and we enjoy it all to the sound of a local guitar duo.

After lunch we take the dogs to Kiva Beach for more swimming before heading back to Crystal Pines Lodge for a stint in the hot tub and another big dinner.

Heavenly Village Gondola

The next morning our itinerary for 4 days in Lake Tahoe continues with a trip to North Lake Tahoe. I spent a lot of time here when I was growing up since my family had a place in Tahoe City. It’s still one of my favorite places in the Sierra Nevada.

We drive past highlights like Emerald Bay and Homewood before reaching Tahoe City. Once there, we stop to take in the views from the waterfront and explore the shops.

Commons Beach is dotted with sunbathers, and above it we admire the historic facade of the Watson Cabin Museum. We walk by the eclectic Rosie’s Cafe, which has been here for as long as I can remember, and stop for ice cream as we make our way to the European-inspired Cobblestone Center.

We wander around, taking in the clock tower, alpine-themed mural, and shops selling everything from jewelry to art and clothing.

Tahoe City Shops

After getting our retail fix, we hop in the car and drive to Carnelian Bay. We’re here to have lunch at a lakefront restaurant called Gar Woods. I’ve eaten at this place a million times, and I’m excited to be back.

Despite a grumpy reception by the hostess, we enjoy our lunch on the big waterside deck. From lobster deviled eggs to crab cakes and steak salad, the food is welcome sustenance after a busy morning.

Afterwards we take the dogs to Carnelian West Beach, which is right next to the restaurant. It’s a pretty stretch of pebble shoreline that’s perfect for soaking up the sun.

Carnelian West Beach

Leaving Carnelian West Beach, we drive over towards Truckee to get to The Village at Northstar. I used to ski here a lot when I was growing up, and it’s fun to be back.

There are mountain bikers everywhere, and people roller skating in the big rink in the middle of the village. All around us are shops selling everything from candy to clothing and ice cream. Restaurants with outdoor seating fill in the gaps.

We explore the village for a while, then drive up the mountain to see The Ritz-Carlton . This luxurious ski-in / ski-out hotel features everything from a spa to outdoor swimming pools and a range of restaurants.

Village at Northstar

From the hotel we drive back to South Lake Tahoe for another soak in the hot tub, a home-cooked dinner, and a movie night in the game room at Crystal Pines Lodge .

On the last of our 4 days in Lake Tahoe we go hiking. We enjoyed our quick jaunt to Lower Echo Lake so much we head back over to hike along the waterfront, into Desolation Wilderness, and out to Tamarack Lake.

Echo Lake Hike

We park at the lot right above the lake this time. After walking down to the water, we fill out free day-hike permits from a stand by the shoreline and hit the trail with the dogs.

Echo Lakes

We’re hiking on the Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, which hug Lower Echo Lake and offer beautiful views across the water. After a short, moderate climb at the beginning, the trail is relatively flat as it takes us from the lower lake to the upper one and into Desolation Wilderness.

Here the trail gets rocky and a bit steeper before a spur path drops us down a short hill to reach Tamarack Lake. We find a sunny granite slab to use as a picnic table then enjoy lunch in the fresh mountain air.

We soak up the views of the small lake and the tall rocky peak in the background, then hike back to the trailhead. The whole trek is around 7 miles and it takes us just under 4 hours to complete it, including our stop for lunch.

Tamarack Lake

Back at Crystal Pines Lodge , we pack up our things and load the cars for the drive to San Francisco. As we prepare to make our way to the city via Sacramento , we depart with heavy hearts and heads full of ideas for things to do on our next trip to Tahoe.

I hope my itinerary for 4 days in Lake Tahoe has inspired you to visit this part of California and discover the highlights of this famous mountain lake in the Sierra Nevada. From beaches to natural beauty and hikes, this corner of the Golden State has a lot going for it.

Lake Tahoe Itinerary Map

As promised, I created an interactive Google map of all the places I visited on my Lake Tahoe itinerary. You can see it here . I hope it helps you plan your own fun trip to the lake !

Emerald Bay Lookout

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Strike it rich on this California Gold Country road trip from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe

Tamara Gane

April 17, 2024 // By Tamara Gane

By Tamara Gane April 17, 2024

Gold Rush Days in Old Sacramento celebrates California Gold Country

The California gold rush was one of the most exciting times in U.S. history, defined by prospectors, outlaws, and enterprising madams who journeyed to towns like Placerville, Folsom, and Sacramento with dreams of striking it rich.

Today, this history is preserved throughout California. On this California Gold Country road trip, you'll explore towns in Sacramento and El Dorado counties, stopping at museums, pop culture landmarks, and wineries, before ending in South Lake Tahoe.

Note: Although you can start and stop anywhere, budget at least two days to explore each town.

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Rancho Cordova and Sacramento

Old Sacramento features historic buildings and remnants of California Gold Country

Start your California Gold Country tour in Rancho Cordova. During the gold rush, the town was a significant supply stop between Sacramento and Folsom. It remains the ideal place to gear up for a road trip since there are dozens of shops, restaurants, and hotels in Rancho Cordova. (Most Rancho Cordova hotels are chains, so keep those loyalty numbers handy.) While you're here, check out the city's vibrant beer, wine, spirits, and mead scene in the Barrel District of Rancho Cordova .

A short distance away, visit historic gold rush buildings dating back to the mid-1800s in Old Sacramento. Today, these buildings hold shops, bars, restaurants, museums, and other tourist attractions. Top attractions include the Sacramento History Museum , the California State Railroad Museum , and a riverfront park with a carousel and waterfront Ferris wheel.

Where to stay in Rancho Cordova: The Courtyard Sacramento Rancho Cordova provides easy access to the freeway and the area's shops and restaurants.

The historic train depot in the Folsom Historic District is a significant stop in Gold Country

Ten miles from Rancho Cordova, the Folsom Historic District bursts with gold rush-era architecture in upscale boutiques, eateries, coffee shops, inns, and museums. The town square offers a slice of California Gold Country with a historic train depot, turntable, and seasonal activities like gold panning and blacksmithing.

Folsom was founded in 1849 but didn't become a household name until 1955 when Johnny Cash released his single, "Folsom Prison Blues." The singer later recorded two shows and a live album here, cementing its status as one of the most famous penitentiaries in the world. Folsom still operates as a prison, and you can hike or bike past its walls on the wheel-chair accessible Johnny Cash Trail .

Where to stay in Folsom: Bradley House , a bed and breakfast in the middle of Folsom's historic district, is within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and The Square.


Gold Country mining artifacts sit on display at the El Dorado County Historical Museum

Twenty-five miles away from the Folsom Historic District, Placerville blossomed from a mining camp to California's third-most populous city during the gold rush.

Today, Placerville is one of the best-preserved Gold Country towns in California. You can easily spend a day admiring the architecture and popping into museums, restaurants, and eclectic shops. Don't miss the El Dorado County Historical Museum , which features artifacts and life-sized displays to showcase the area's history.

The Gold Bug Park and Mine carries visitors on a journey back in time with a mining museum, blacksmithing demonstrations, gold panning, and a mine tour.

When it's time for lunch, stop by The Original Mels Diner , part of the nostalgic restaurant chain featured in movies like "American Graffiti" and the television series "Alice." After, head to Apple Hill , where you'll find lovely pastoral views and a collection of farms, orchards, and wineries.

Where to stay in Placerville: The gold rush-era Historic Cary House Hotel offers reasonably priced rooms within walking distance of museums, restaurants, and old-time saloons.

The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park offers lessons on gold panning

When you leave Placerville, drive 10 miles via Highway 49 to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. That's where the California gold rush ignited in 1848. At its peak, 10,000 people called this area home; today, Coloma only has about 200 year-round residents. Historic buildings include two churches, a tiny post office, a schoolhouse, and a blacksmith shop. There are also several replica buildings, including a sawmill and a cabin.

The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park museum tells stories of the California gold rush through interactive exhibits, artifacts, and live events. Guided walking tours, gold-panning lessons, and a junior ranger program are among the most popular programs in the park.

Where to stay in Coloma: Coloma Resort offers accommodations for nearly every type of traveler. Guests can choose between campsites, cabins, or glamping options in tent or wagon villages.

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is a famous stop in California Gold Country

End your California Gold Country road trip in South Lake Tahoe, about 70 miles from Coloma. The area exploded with commerce during the gold rush due to its prime location between the Comstock Lode in Virginia City and the Central Pacific Railroad near Truckee.

By the time the gold rush waned, many fortunes were made, and wealthy families began summering in Lake Tahoe. You can get a glimpse of what their lives were like at the Tallac Historic Site , a 74-acre lakefront property with three historic estates and the ruins of what was once advertised as "The Grandest Resort In The World."

From May through October, a free museum, special events, and tours of one of the residences are available. The property is free, open to the public year-round, and connects to beaches and hiking trails.

Where to stay in South Lake Tahoe: The century-old Camp Richardson Resort offers traditional hotel rooms, cabins, and campsites within a mile of the Tallac Historic Site.

Tamara Gane

About Tamara Gane

Tamara Gane is an expert panel member for 10Best Readers' Choice Awards. She's based in Reno/Lake Tahoe and in addition to USA Today 10Best, her work has been published in Travel & Leisure, Fodor's Travel, The Washington Post, SF Gate, Houston Chronicle, Lonely Planet, and more.

Read more about Tamara Gane here.

Connect with Tamara via: Instagram

lake tahoe day trip

10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary With Scenic Stops

  • Planning a road trip through California requires accounting for its size and allowing enough time for both driving and enjoying each stop.
  • Los Angeles is an accessible place to start a road trip with plenty of scenic areas to explore, such as Malibu Creek State Park and downtown LA.
  • Joshua Tree National Park is a must-visit on a 10-day California road trip, offering unique desert landscapes and opportunities for hiking and scenic driving.

California is one of the most beautiful and varied states in the US. Given its size and variety of attractions, it’s no wonder road trips are a popular way to explore the state. Indeed, there are a number of scenic road trips through California that explore every corner of the various landscapes.

The hardest part of planning a road trip through California is accounting for its size. Drivers need to allow enough time to navigate the coastal and mountain roads while also leaving enough time to actually enjoy each stop.

While a 10-day road trip through California may seem like ample time, those hoping to really explore their stops will have to pick and choose where they go. With such long distances to explore, this 10-day California road trip itinerary has balanced driving time with exploration. By sacrificing some of the more extreme driving distances to the north and south, this California road trip itinerary has four days without point-to-point driving, allowing travelers plenty of time to hike, take scenic drives, or explore spontaneous side trips.

Those with more time on their hands may consider starting further south in San Diego or moving further north past San Francisco to Redwood National and State Parks near Humboldt.

Related: 10 Scenic Road Trips In California And Their Best Stops

Day 1: Los Angeles

No driving, downtown sites and activities, nearby beaches and state parks.

Los Angeles is one of the most accessible places to start a road trip through California. Home to several major airports and a variety of places to stay, Los Angeles makes an ideal entry point to the rest of the state.

Despite being known for its major traffic jams and miles of concrete jungle, Los Angeles and the surrounding area is also a surprisingly scenic place to spend the first day of a California road trip. Long Beach, Malibu, and a variety of state parks within half an hour of downtown LA prove that even in Los Angeles County, there are a number of scenic areas to be one with nature .

Whether exploring the former M*A*S*H film site at Malibu Creek State Park near LA , or walking the downtown streets in the city itself, there is plenty of scenery to enjoy before even officially hitting the road.

  • Driving Distance: 0 miles
  • Straight-through Drive Time: 0 hours
  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in and around Los Angeles: Malibu, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Malibu Creek State Park, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Scenic Hikes, Hollywood Sign

Malibu Creek State Park’s fees are determined by how long visitors intend to stay. Free to visit on foot, parking at Malibu Creek State Park costs $12 for a full-day parking pass , with cheaper options for one- and two-hour stays.

Day 2: Joshua Tree National Park

Distance: 131 miles, desert scenery, and night sky stargazing.

One of the challenges of planning a California road trip is trying to explore the wide variety of landscapes in this oversized state. While not every national park can fit in a 10-day California road trip, Joshua Tree National Park, which has plenty of activities to fill a full day’s itinerary, is a must.

Home to a number of ancient Joshua trees and a one-of-a-kind desert landscape, Joshua Tree National Park , which costs $30 per private vehicle , is perfect for hiking, biking, or even more scenic driving.

On day two of the 10-day California road trip, travelers can either spend the night near Joshua Tree ( which makes it easy to enjoy the night sky at Sky’s The Limit Observatory And Nature Center ) or get a head start on the next leg of the journey, as the drive to Big Sur is the longest driving day on the road trip.

  • Driving Distance: ~131 miles
  • Straight-through Drive Time: ~ 2.25 hours
  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in Joshua Tree National Park: Scenic Desert Landscapes, Joshua Trees, Wildlife Watching, Joshua Tree National Park Scenic Hiking Trails , Dark Sky Stargazing

Looking to cut down on the 8-hour drive coming the next day? Leaving Joshua Tree National Park for Bakersfield or Santa Clarita cuts two to three hours off the upcoming drive and points drivers toward Highway 1.

Day 3: On The Road To Big Sur/Carmel Valley

Distance: 475 miles. drive the pacific coast highway for historic landmarks and ocean views.

Road trips are one of the best ways to see a variety of highlights in one vacation, but they do require plenty of time on the road to make a reality. With a state as big as California, at least one day of driving is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a beautiful day.

One of the best ways to turn the drive from Joshua Tree National Park to Big Sur into a scenic day is to head towards the coast and connect with the famous Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1). Taking CA-58 W to I-5 N, drivers can steadily move towards the coast while still making their way towards Big Sur. Connecting to Highway 46 W, drivers connect to Highway 1 just north of San Luis Obispo.

The Pacific Coast Highway is a scenic “stop” in and of itself, but additional detours can make this day on the road even better. Popular stops like Hearst Castle , which is open from 8 am to 6 pm every day and costs from $30 per person per tour , are right off the highway, and a guided castle walk may prove the perfect break in a long day on the road.

  • Driving Distance: ~475 miles
  • Straight-through Drive Time: ~ 8 hours
  • Scenic Things to Enjoy on the Road to Big Sur: Pacific Coast Highway, Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Slates Hot Springs , Pacific Ocean Views and Overlooks

Day 4: Big Sur, Carmel Valley, And Monterey

No driving, explore scenic beaches, state and national parks, and spot unique wildlife.

No scenic California road trip is complete without a little time taking in the ocean views. Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea are some of the most popular beachfront areas, with rocky coastline and sandy beaches all in one place.

There are a number of scenic hikes in Big Sur , and just 40 minutes away, Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a variety of coastal activities to enjoy as well. Of course, Monterey and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium (which costs $59.95 per adult ) neighbors Big Sur as well, providing a scenic and educational experience on the California road trip route.

If these beachfront destinations somehow aren’t enough to fill the full day, Pinnacles National Park lies just an hour inland and offers a chance to see a number of rare animals, including the California Condor. After a full day on the road, a day in and around Big Sur is undoubtedly one of the most scenic parts of a California road trip.

  • Driving Distance: 141 miles
  • Straight-through Drive Time: ~2.5 hours
  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in and around Big Sur: Big Sur beaches, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Pfeiffer Beach State Park , Pinnacles National Park, Public Beaches around Big Sur

Pinnacles National Park has a $ 30-per-vehicle entrance fee .

Related: 10 Affordable Resorts & Hotels That Offer Scenic Views In Carmel-By-The-Sea, California

Day 5: San Francisco

Distance: 141 miles. enjoy the port city experience and visit scenic, historic islands.

Moving further up the coastal side of the Golden State, adventurers on a California road trip will find their next major stop in San Francisco. A true must-see stop on a cross-country road trip , San Francisco is as exciting as it is scenic.

In San Francisco itself, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 49 are considered some of the most popular attractions, as is the iconic and walkable Golden Gate Bridge. Meanwhile, the Pacific Ocean surrounds even more unique attractions to enjoy near San Francisco. Those who plan ahead can enjoy a boat tour around the infamous Alcatraz Island or even set foot on the famed prison grounds themselves.

Just outside the city, Muir Woods National Monument provides a scenic alternative to the busy city streets, with a variety of hiking trails and quiet picnic areas in the redwood forest. In the forests or on the downtown streets, there is no doubt that San Francisco is a scenic place to spend the day on a California road trip.

  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in San Francisco: Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 49, Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, Chinatown, Scenic San Francisco Hiking Trails , Golden Gate Bridge

Muir Wood National Monument has a $15 per person entrance fee .

Day 6: South Lake Tahoe

Distance: 188 miles. drive through the mountains and enjoy the mountain lake.

Leaving the coastal towns and ocean views, the 10-day California road trip moves inland for a change of scenery. Leaving the sandy beaches behind, the journey moves towards the Sierra Nevadas, home of towering granite structures and miles of pine forests.

One of the most popular and scenic parts of the Sierra Nevadas is Lake Tahoe, the cleanest lake in California and an exceptional year-round road trip stop. Many visitors planning to stay the night set up camp (or book a hotel) in South Lake Tahoe, the biggest city near the lake on the California side.

Driving from San Francisco to South Lake Tahoe may seem straightforward on paper, but the actual driving can be a little more complicated. Despite being less than 200 miles, the intense mountain drive and variable traffic patterns mean that drive time varies widely, taking anywhere from three to five hours.

After spending the first half of the day on the road, California road trip travelers can dip their feet into the water at one of the free public beaches around Tahoe . With another day in the mountains ahead, there is still plenty of time to make the most out of this road trip stop.

  • Driving Distance: 188 miles
  • Straight-through Drive Time: ~3.5 hours
  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in South Lake Tahoe (Day 1): Public Lake Beaches, Lake-side scenic walkways, Downtown South Lake Tahoe

Only interested in spending one day in Lake Tahoe? Consider stopping in Napa Valley from San Francisco instead of going straight to Tahoe. Just an hour north of San Francisco, Napa Valley is the heart of California’s wine country and an exceptionally scenic place to spend a day. Road trip travelers can then leave from Napa for a single-day outing at Lake Tahoe.

Day 7: Lake Tahoe

No driving, exploring hiking trails, nearby angora lakes, and spending time on the water.

After two days in a row of heavy driving, travelers on a 10-day California road trip may find themselves needing a break from the car. Thankfully, Lake Tahoe has plenty of activities to entertain for a full day, even for those who started their adventures the afternoon before.

The second day in Lake Tahoe is the perfect chance to truly explore this scenic part of the Sierra Nevadas. Numerous Lake Tahoe hikes with scenic views exist for every skill level, while the rustic yet modern town of South Lake Tahoe is perfect for wandering.

Nearby, the Angora Lakes offer plenty of reasons to visit for those wanting a quieter day on the water. Even those just hoping to spend a second day on the water itself, either by swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, or boating, will find plenty of ways to spend the day at this scenic California road trip stop.

  • Straight-through Drive Time: None
  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in and around Lake Tahoe (Day 2): Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails, Angora Lakes, Emerald Bay State Park, Paddleboarding, Kayaking, Boating, Fishing, Sand Harbor

Day 8: Yosemite National Park

Distance: 180 miles. spot iconic natural landmarks like firefall and glacier point.

On the road again, and this time headed for the most visited national park in California. Yosemite National Park is the poster child for scenic California, with sprawling evergreen forests, unusual granite formations, and even a fire waterfall (one of the best waterfalls in Yosemite !).

At nearly 750,000 acres, most of which is true wilderness, Yosemite requires at least a day and a half to fully explore. Getting to Yosemite National Park can be a challenge and another example of mountain roads elongating a deceptively short drive.

The drive from South Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park will take a minimum of four hours to safely do. Fortunately, the drive is almost as scenic as the destination and provides plenty of chances to turn off and simply take in the grand nature of the Sierra Nevadas of California.

  • Driving Distance: 180 miles
  • Straight-through Drive Time: ~4 hours
  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in Yosemite National Park (Day 1): Tunnel View, Bridal Veil Falls, Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, Wildlife Watching, Birding

Yosemite National Park charges $35 per private vehicle entering the park. This entrance fee is good for up to seven days after purchase, covering both days of this road trip itinerary.

Day 9: Yosemite National Park

No driving. enjoy hiking trails, horseback riding, and more scenic views.

Yosemite is a grand destination with a number of activities, including various Yosemite National Park scenic hikes , charming driving routes, and wildlife-watching areas. Guests can opt to either stay in the park itself or at one of the nearby hotels and lodges.

In addition to the scenic hikes and drives, those with a full day to spend in Yosemite National Park can take advantage of additional activities offered through the National Park Service , including guided tours and horseback riding outings.

Lucky visitors who have planned ahead can also participate in the permit-only hike in Yosemite, the Half Dome day hike , which has multiple route options, all of which are classified as strenuous. A 10- to 12-hour adventure straight up the granite formation, this hike is one of the most unique ways to spend the day at this scenic California road trip stop.

  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in Yosemite National Park (Day 2): Half Dome, El Capitan, Scenic Hiking Trails, The Yosemite Firefall, Wildlife Watching, Backpacking Trails

Worried about drive time? Visitors looking to maximize the time of their last day of the California road trip in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks can start their Yosemite activities early and then do the drive to the next stop that night. This way, travelers can spend their entire last day at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Day 10: Sequoia And Kings Canyon National Parks

Distance: 138 miles. visit two national parks, views of river gorges, mountain lakes, & giant redwoods.

All good things must come to an end, but that doesn’t mean they can’t end with a bang. The last day of the 10-day California road trip takes travelers through the Valley of the Giants. Neighboring Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are home to not just the largest trees in the state but the largest trees in the entire world (by weight).

The 47-mile Sequoia Scenic Drive is one of the best ways to visit the highlights of these national parks in a short time frame. Visiting General Sherman himself, as well as stunning views of Kings Canyon, mountain lakes, and various other giant sequoias, this byway is the perfect scenic spot to wrap up a California road trip.

  • Driving Distance: 138 miles
  • Straight-through Drive Time: ~2 hours 45 minutes
  • Scenic Things to Enjoy in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: General Sherman, Giant Sequoias, Kings Canyon, Rae Lakes, Sequoia Scenic Road

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are frequently grouped together, and this is also true for their entrance fee. The $35 private vehicle entrance fee gets visitors into both Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park for seven days.

10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary With Scenic Stops


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  14. Your Trip to Lake Tahoe: The Complete Guide

    January is "Learn to Ski and Ride Month," so most ski resorts offer fantastic packages for first-time skiers. You can get a lesson, rentals, and lift ticket at major resorts for around $70 to $90—an excellent deal when a lift ticket alone costs $130 or more. The Best Time to Visit Lake Tahoe. Article Sources.

  15. 15 budget tips for visiting Lake Tahoe

    The cost of ski passes can bulldoze your budget, so take time to weigh up your options. If you're on a short trip and just want a taste of Tahoe snow with views of the lake, some of the most economic resorts are Homewood and Sierra-at-Tahoe, where day passes for adults start at $104 and $94 respectively. Compare that to Palisades where a day ...

  16. 15 Best Day Trips From Lake Tahoe

    You can reach Placerville from Lake Tahoe in 1 hour and 21 minutes if you travel by car. The city's charming historical vibe makes this one of the best day trips from Lake Tahoe. Explore Main Street and its old structures, such as the Fountain and Tallman Museum. Don't forget to check out the Bell Tower.

  17. Day Tripping from Lake Tahoe & Beyond

    Historic Genoa, Nevada is nestled at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Range, just 25 minutes east of beautiful Lake Tahoe and one hour south of Reno. The small town boasts many local amenities and shops, and welcomes visitors for a day trip or longer, restful stay. Learn about Genoa's past with a visit to Mormon Station ...

  18. A Day Trip to Lake Tahoe from Reno

    Things to do in north Lake Tahoe on a day trip. Driving the 75 mile loop around Lake Tahoe takes a little over 2 hours if you drive it straight. But there is so much to discover, we suggest you add in some hiking, scenic look-outs and eating along the way…

  19. Complete 4 Day Lake Tahoe Travel Itinerary

    Day Three: Emerald Lake + South Tahoe. Morning. Enjoy a hearty breakfast because today is about hiking to some of the most gorgeous viewpoints at Lake Tahoe. After breakfast, drive along the west side of the lake towards the Rubicon Trailhead in DL Bliss State Park. Parking is ~$10.

  20. 8 Best Day Trips Near Lake Tahoe

    Deerfield Lodge at Heavenly (South Lake Tahoe 9.6/10 Exceptional) Marriott Grand Residence Club (South Lake Tahoe / 1 to 3 bedrooms & penthouse) Cedar Glen Lodge (9.4/10 Exceptional / Tahoe Vista; North Lake Tahoe) Best Tours and Experiences in Lake Tahoe: Self-Guided E-Bike Tour of the World Famous East Shore Trail (5⭐️ reviews) Sunset ...

  21. The Perfect Itinerary for 2 Days in Lake Tahoe in the Summer

    Lake Tahoe Itinerary: Day 2 . Road Trip Around the Perimeter of the Lake . There's no better way to start a morning in Lake Tahoe than by exploring the perimeter of the lake. The scenic 72-mile drive around Lake Tahoe takes around three hours with no stopping, but I'd give yourself at least five hours so you can take your time. ...

  22. Perfect 3 Days In Lake Tahoe Itinerary

    Lake Tahoe Day 3. To end your trip in Lake Tahoe, time for a challenge - hiking Mount Tallac. It's the largest mountain in Lake Tahoe. If you are a complete beginner at hiking, you will find this hike challenging. Even seasoned hikers may find this hike demanding but the result is worth it. When you reach the mountain's summit, everything ...

  23. 4-Day South Lake Tahoe Itinerary

    South Lake Tahoe is a small, cosmopolitan city nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, just a few miles from the Nevada border. Known as the "City of Festivals," South Lake Tahoe offers year-round events and activities for all ages. The area features a wide variety of outdoor recreation, including boating, jet skiing, biking and hiking.

  24. 4 Days in Lake Tahoe, California

    Day 1. My 4-day Lake Tahoe trip originates in San Francisco. My friends and I leave the city after work on a Thursday, and it takes us 3.5 hours to get to South Lake Tahoe. There's no traffic on the way, which is refreshing for a drive from the Bay Area. Emerald Bay. The next morning our trip officially begins.

  25. Lake Tahoe

    Yosemite + Lake Tahoe | 5-Day Camping Trip, a 5 days tour from Reno to Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe and 1 destination. Best Selection - Best Price - Trusted Payments. Deals of the Week European Long Weekends Up to 50% OFF. Deals end: 18 Apr, 2024. 0. Destinations.

  26. Strike it rich on this California Gold Country road trip from

    On this California Gold Country road trip, you'll explore towns in Sacramento and El Dorado counties, stopping at museums, pop culture landmarks, and wineries, before ending in South Lake Tahoe. Note: Although you can start and stop anywhere, budget at least two days to explore each town. Advertisement.

  27. 10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary With Scenic Stops

    Road trip travelers can then leave from Napa for a single-day outing at Lake Tahoe. Day 7: Lake Tahoe No Driving, Exploring hiking trails, nearby Angora Lakes, and spending time on the water