Lake Tahoe may be best known as a winter ski destination, but when the white blanket of the Sierra Nevada townscape is pulled back, it is then that the vibrant beauty of the land is revealed. With so many incredible outdoor things to do in Lake Tahoe under the shining sun, this year-round destination can best be enjoyed in the summer and fall. Lake Tahoe presents a serenity like no other; green alpine trees stacked on rugged terrain as far as the eye can see are met with the most crystal clear blue waters of the largest alpine lake in North America. For those who cherish the great outdoors, there is no better place on earth than Lake Tahoe.
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The Top 10 Outdoor Things to do in Lake Tahoe
A sanctuary and playground rolled into one, Lake Tahoe feels both fast and slow, cultured yet untouched, and completely, unapologetically beautiful in all her glory. The 72-mile shoreline that spans across the California and Nevada state line is split into the populated areas of the laidback North Lake Tahoe, the bustling South Lake Tahoe, and the mountainous Truckee. Each with its own unique character, you can plan to spend your entire time in one of these towns, or explore all throughout. Here are the top 10 outdoor experiences to enjoy in Tahoe this summer or fall.
10. Hit the Trails.
Whether you prefer hiking, biking, or horseback riding, there are miles upon miles of scenic trails all around Lake Tahoe suitable for all levels. No matter the trail, you’ll be surrounded by astounding views, the serenity of nature, and thriving wildlife. Some of my favorite trails in Lake Tahoe include:
Truckee: Tahoe Donner offers over 60 miles of trails on a wild and beautiful terrain. It is also a great mountain biking trail for beginner bikers looking to rent and hit the trails for the first time like I did!
Tahoe North: Flume Trail is especially loved by experienced mountain bikers for its spectacular vistas and varied terrain.
Tahoe South: Van Sickle Bi-State Park is a Stateline park with trails that can be hiked, biked, or rode on horseback, and leads to epic views and a peaceful waterfall.
9. Get out on the lake.
Of course, when visiting Lake Tahoe you’ll want to spend some time on the beautiful, crystal clear waters. Of my favorite Lake Tahoe summer activities, kayaking is one of the top, but Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is an extremely popular activity here, too. Likewise, renting a boat is also a must-do whether you’re looking to party or just to relax. The best locations for lake activities include:
Tahoe North: The Tahoe Adventure Company at Tahoe Vista Recreation located on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe offers both kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals both with unguided or guided tours. Their guides are extremely knowledgeable and you’ll get a chance to learn about Lake Tahoe along with seeing the most scenic points.
Tahoe South: Clearly Tahoe offers both guided and unguided kayak rentals in clear, glass-bottom kayaks. Their variety of tours (definitely recommend) include scenic shoreline, bonsai rock, eco discovery, sunset, nighttime stargazing, and several others.
Tahoe Boat Rentals
Lake Tahoe Boat Rides is the premier boat charter company whether you are looking to charter a party boat, luxury yacht, sightseeing tour, or a beautiful sunset dinner cruise. They also offer wakeboarding and water skiing for adventure-seekers looking for something a little more active.
8. Play or visit a golf course.
Some of the most beautiful golf courses in the world can be found in Lake Tahoe. You can visit to play a round, hit some balls on the driving range, or simply just to visit for lunch and take in the vast greenness of the setting. Here are some of the best golf courses in Lake Tahoe:
Truckee: Tahoe Donner Golf Course was voted “Best Golf Course in Truckee” and was nominated by Golf Digest Magazine for “Best Remodeled Golf Course in America.” The course offers scenic fairways against a tree-lined mountainous backdrop. The course’s restaurant, The Lodge, is also one of the best restaurants in Truckee and worth the visit even if not playing golf.
Tahoe North: Incline Village Championship Golf Course is a top-rated course in both Tahoe and all of Nevada, offering beautiful lake views on a par-72 course.
Tahoe South: Edgewood Golf Course found at the renowned Edgewood Tahoe Resort is home to the American Century Championship Celebrity Golf Tournament and easily one of the most beautiful courses to play. The 17th hole, in particular, offers one of the best sceneries in Lake Tahoe, as the perfectly manicured green nudges up against the sandy treelined beach.
7. Ride around town on an electric bike, motorcycle, or slingshot.
There is no better way to get around and experience the beauty of Lake Tahoe than with a little wind in your hair.
Rolling Freedom Motorcycles in South Lake Tahoe offers your choice of motorcycle, scooter, hyper electric bike, and slingshot rentals. You can take your pick of Harley Davidson, Ducati, or my personal favorite, the Polaris Slingshot. The exhilarating ride while zipping around the lake and through the towering treelined streets is easily one of my favorite experiences in Lake Tahoe, and the best way to see the lake! Driving around the lake from the South to the North offers one of the most scenic drives in California and Nevada, so why not do it in style?
6. Chase all the amazing Lake Tahoe views.
It seems as though no matter where you are in Lake Tahoe, you can’t escape the spectacular views. The shades of blue water, the deep green of the evergreen trees, and the lightly snowcapped mountains in the distance offer postcard-perfect snapshots at every turn. You can spend a whole day chasing the many amazing Lake Tahoe views — I’ll show you how:
Emerald Bay State Park is where you’ll want to spend the start of your day. The early morning light here is the best for photos, and for witnessing the differing hues of the sparkling Lake.
The Heavenly Gondolas is where you’ll want to go next. The scenic gondola ride provides some of the best views of the lake, and stops at an observation deck for even more panoramic views before ending at the Tamarack Express, where you’ll have access to hiking trails and a mountain coaster.
Cave Rock is where you’ll end your day hiking to the top for sunset. Lake Tahoe waters surround you from below as you watch the sky turn from blue to shades of pink and purple above you. The hike itself is not long, but a little changeling, and definitely one of the best spots to catch the sunset in Lake Tahoe.
5. Dine outside at some of the best Tahoe restaurants.
Lakefront, mountainside, on a golf course, resort, or in town, there are so many great outdoor dining options in Lake Tahoe. There is something for everyone when it comes to cuisine, and more often than not it will come with a great view. Here are a few of my favorites:
Truckee: The Lodge Restaurant and Pub at Tahoe Donner Golf course is a lovely neighborhood bistro with a great local and seasonal menu, craft drinks, and pleasant views of the course.
Tahoe North: Gar Woods Grill & Pier is one of Tahoe’s best restaurants and is home of the famous “Wet Woody” — a rum runner frozen cocktail that is a Tahoe staple. Their food is great, and the lakefront views are even better. An excellent spot for a fun sunset dinner.
Tahoe South: Tahoe Tavern & Grill is an awesome casual and local spot that serves comforting bar food and strong drinks, perfect for after a long day at the beach. Their extensive menu will be sure to satisfy even the pickiest eaters.
4. Explore town.
The quaint neighborhoods within the different towns of Tahoe are where you really get a feel for local life. Many neighborhoods with local shops, restaurants, cafes, and breweries can be found throughout Tahoe for your perusal and leisure. The great thing about these areas is how local and unique each business is. You won’t find many big chain establishments in Tahoe, which makes it easy to support the local economy. Here are some of my favorite areas to stroll through:
Truckee: Downtown Truckee is where you’ll find artisan shops perfect for gifts and souvenirs. There are also several specialty boutiques found here too, such as an Oil & Spice shop and tasting room.
Tahoe North: Tahoe City is home to several art galleries, museums, gift shops, and boutiques. If that’s not enough, you’ll find more shopping at Kings Beach and Incline Village, too.
Tahoe South: Heavenly Village is a vibrant pedestrian area with shops, entertainment, and restaurants. There’s live music, rides and games for kids, spas — entertainment for the whole family.
3. Visit a rope and zip lining course.
Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks (Tahoe Vista) in Tahoe North was named as one of the best activities to do in North Tahoe. This aerial adventure park is both challenging and fun for all ages with ropes courses and zip lines of various heights and difficulties. The treetop and lake views are an added bonus as you make your way from platform to bridges and through towering trees.
2. Spend a day at the beach in Lake Tahoe.
Sandy beaches of all kinds can be found all around the lake, each with its own unique vibe. Whether you are looking to sunbathe, swim, have a picnic, or enjoy a rum rummer, here are a few of the best beaches on Lake Tahoe:
Truckee: Although there are no Lake Tahoe beaches in Truckee, there are some nice beaches on Donner Lake. You also have the Truckee River, which is awesome for tubing and river rafting.
Tahoe North: Hidden Beach and Moon Dunes Beach (which has white sand!) are two picturesque beaches perfect for relaxing and taking in the scenery. For a more popular spot, Kings Beach is one of the largest in North Lake Tahoe and a great beach for swimming.
Tahoe South: Roundhill Pines Beach has a great restaurant and beach bar to enjoy those famous rum runners. If you’re looking for something quieter, Kiva Beach is perfect and known as a hidden gem.
1. Enjoy one of the amazing day trips from Lake Tahoe.
Although Lake Tahoe has so much to offer in both scenery and activity, the greater Reno-Tahoe area and the Sierra towns that encompass it are filled with captivating, unassuming gems. One of my favorite day trips from Lake Tahoe is to Carson Valley, a charming small town with so much history and character. My favorite things to do in Carson Valley include:
- Go on a glider or hot air balloon ride to enjoy the views from the skies.
- Go vintage and antique shopping. Carson Valley has quite a few unique options for antique shopping. One favorite is Cheshire Antiques – a massive two-story, multi-room antique “mall” with thousands of antique and vintage treasures of all kinds. Another unique shopping experience is Eddy Street Vintage Market, a once-a-month vintage, antique, and craft pop-up that changes inventory every time with a mix of items both old and new in age.
- Get active and enjoy nature and the scenery of the beautiful mountainous backdrop on the various hiking and biking trails, or golf courses.
- Take a wildlife photography tour to see the famous Carson Valley wild horses.
In Carson Valley, there are also plenty of great dining options to be enjoyed, like at the historic Pink House, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and serves great wine, cheese, and charcuterie; or Cook’d, a local favorite restaurant and sports bar offering homemade classics and comfort food on an extensive menu. There are also several unique places to grab a drink, like Bently Heritage Distillery, which has a tasting room and offers tours of their gorgeous and impressive distillery. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Genoa Bar and Saloon — Nevada’s oldest thirst parlor in Nevada’s oldest settlement. This bar is full of great history, stories, and great drinks including their famous 10-secret-ingredients Bloody Mary!
With so many unique experiences to be had in this small but vibrant town, you may find that one day is not enough. In this case, the Carson Valley Inn is a great choice to rest your head during your Carson Valley visit.
What I love about the Carson Valley Inn: The location is great, and they offer many options for dining and entertainment.
Lake Tahoe Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
How to get to Lake Tahoe:
If flying, Reno-Tahoe International Airport is the closest airport to Lake Tahoe — about a little under an hour drive. Several car-rental agencies are available so you can easily drive from the airport and have a car to get around (Highly recommended!) If you prefer not to rent a car, there is shuttle transportation available via the North Lake Tahoe Express. You can easily get an Uber/Lyft in Lake Tahoe, and in Tahoe North there is a free, on-demand shuttle service that runs through the popular areas.
Before making your way to Tahoe, I recommend spending some time in Reno if your schedule permits. Reno, Nevada is so fun and spirited — it is no wonder they call it the biggest little city in the world.” One of my favorite activities to do in Reno include visiting the Nevada Museum of Art, which displays amazing contemporary exhibits and permanent collections, and is responsible for the famous Seven Magic Mountains outdoor installation near Las Vegas. Car enthusiasts will also love the National Auto Museum, which is one of the top 10 in America.
There is also a variety of great local restaurants in Reno, such as Brasserie Saint James, where an artisan well runs underneath the restaurant, and from which they brew their own beer!
And if you’d like to spend more than a day in Reno, I recommend staying at the iconic, Peppermill Resort, which has many great dining and entertainment options under one roof.
What I love about the Peppermill: The luxurious and massive 3-story, 33,000 square-foot spa, which was rated the 3rd best hotel spa in the country by USA Today.
Truckee vs. Tahoe North vs. Tahoe South:
There are many different towns that make up Lake Tahoe with the major ones being Truckee, Tahoe North, and Tahoe South. Something to keep in mind when planning for your trip is that it can take up to an hour to get from one end of the lake to the other, and about 3 hours to drive around the entire lake (72 miles.) The best way I like to describe each of these areas are:
Truckee: A serene mountain town near North Lake Tahoe with both high-end resorts and locally-owned accommodations. The Truckee River runs through and adjoins with the lake.
Tahoe North: A local feel, slightly quieter and slower-paced than Tahoe South. Great for a romantic or peaceful getaway, or even a Lake Tahoe honeymoon.
Tahoe South: Equally beautiful in terms of nature but more developed. You’ll find casinos here as you enter the Stateline from California to Nevada, and there are more options for entertainment and nightlife. This scene is a little more lively but with lots of access to nature and solitude. Great for friends, families, or young (and young at heart) couples.
Altitude in Lake Tahoe:
The altitude in Lake Tahoe is 6,224′ in elevation. It may take you a few days to adjust and acclimate to this altitude. Exercising and being active may feel more difficult, which is normal. Remember to drink extra water to not get dehydrated or suffer from altitude sickness, and don’t forget to pack the sunscreen!
Where to stay in Lake Tahoe:
There are so many great hotels in Lake Tahoe that each offer something unique. Where you stay will largely depend on which area you decide to base your trip from. For longer stays, you may consider splitting up your time in North and South Lake Tahoe. Here are some of the hotels I personally recommend:
Truckee: Resort at Squaw Creek (Olympic Valley)
What I love about it: The gorgeous mountainscape, large outdoor pool, and that it is a luxury Hyatt destination hotel.
North Lake Tahoe: Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort
What I love about it: Their amazing private beach which hosts live music and all-inclusive amenities such as kayaks, paddleboards, yoga, hydrobikes and so much more.
South Lake Tahoe: Harvey’s Lake Tahoe
What I love about it: Their rooftop is one of the best places in Lake Tahoe for watching the sunset.
How many days in Lake Tahoe to plan for:
The amount of the lake you want to cover and the type of trip you want to have will determine the amount of days you should plan your trip for. You can easily do a relaxing two-night getaway in either North or South Lake Tahoe or Truckee, or you can spend the whole summer! If you can’t get enough of nature, I’d recommend at least 4 or 5 nights.
The last thing you should know before visiting Lake Tahoe is how to travel responsibly. Because of its beauty and outdoor appeal, Lake Tahoe is subject to over-tourism which threatens the preservation of the Lake. A few things to keep in mind while visiting Tahoe are:
- Pack in / pack out and leave no trace. Take all your trash with you. You may not always have access to trash bins and don’t want to overflow a receptacle where bears and other wildlife can gain access to the trash.
- Reduce plastics and bring a reusable water bottle. The tap water in Lake Tahoe is amazing, and the lake itself is 99.994% pure. Let’s keep it that way!
- Respect and keep the wildlife wild. Don’t feed or interact with any animals for your own protection and theirs. The wildlife’s survival is dependent on their natural habitat, and it may only take one time of feeding an animal for them to start associating people with food.
- Be fire safe. Consult fire restrictions before lighting a campfire or starting a grill, and know the permitting rules ahead of burning anything outdoors.
- Demonstrate mindful travel and know before you go. Visit mid-week and during the off-peak seasons, support local businesses, and check weather conditions and operational modifications by state (CA/NV) ahead of your visit. Also note that the summer is construction time in Lake Tahoe, which may result in closures and delays.
For more on responsible travel in Lake Tahoe and to take the sustainable travel pledge click here.
Lake Tahoe is easily one of the most beautiful places on earth, and it is our responsibility to keep it that way to ensure the survival of this beautiful natural environment and those who inhabit it. Summer and early fall are the best times to experience the varied and natural landscape, but no matter what time you visit or where in Tahoe you go, all your senses including your sense of adventure will be taken to new heights and will leave you longing to return time and time again.
Disclaimer: This trip was kindly sponsored by Tahoe South, North Lake Tahoe, Visit Truckee Tahoe, Reno-Tahoe, and the generous lodging, dining, and activity partners mentioned in this post. As always, all opinions are strictly my own.
Affiliate Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my Disclosures page.
Want more Lake Tahoe content? - Check out my South Lake Tahoe Guide here. - Check out my North Lake Tahoe Guide here. - Check out my Off the Beaten Path Reno-Tahoe & Carson Valley Guide here.