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Lake Tahoe for Families

Get high above the lake (no exercise required)
Lake Tahoe for Families
For a make-everybody-happy family vacation, Lake Tahoe fits the bill perfectly. Parents and kids who want to get outside and play in the mountains have a huge array of options. All around the Tahoe basin are miles of hiking and biking trails for active families, plus a huge array of water sports on the region's rivers and lakes. Tahoe's big alpine ski resorts cater to families year-round, whether it's snowboard lessons for the kiddies, ziplines for teenagers and adventurous parents, or pool time for everybody in the azure lagoon at Squaw Valley's High Camp. Or, if you'd rather take part in a pastime that measures zero on the adrenaline level, you and the kids can always enjoy some retro fun with a few rounds of miniature golf. 




By Ann Marie Brown, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Ryan Killackey/Visit California
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    Get high above the lake (no exercise required)
    Get high above the lake (no exercise required)
    Wanna climb a mountain without breaking a sweat? Even families with small children can get to the higher elevations and enjoy stunning vistas over Lake Tahoe, thanks to some engineering ingenuity. In South Lake Tahoe, Heavenly offers year-round scenic gondola rides with shore-to-shore mountain views. Activities at the top of the gondola include snow-tubing in winter and a ropes course and zipline in summer. In North Lake Tahoe, an aerial tram whooshes visitors uphill to Squaw Valley's High Camp. Once there, you can enjoy an array of activities from ice-skating to swimming to roller skating. (Or just kick back and order cocktails at the bar.) 




    Photo courtesy of Ryan Killackey/Visit California
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    Fly like an eagle, float in a balloon
    Fly like an eagle, float in a balloon
    There is no better way to put Lake Tahoe into perspective than by getting up a couple thousand feet into the air above it. Families who want to soar with the eagles can sign up for a helicopter tour with Pacific Northwest Helicopters out of South Lake Tahoe Airport. You'll be staring down at Emerald Bay or Fallen Leaf Lake from the same angle that bald eagles do. Want more thrills? Try nose diving, barrel rolling and dog fighting right over the lake in an aerobatic plane. (Your pilot at Sky Combat Ace may even let your teenager take the controls.) Or, for a more serene adventure, take the whole clan on a sunrise hot air balloon ride with Lake Tahoe Balloons. The company launches its balloon from a large boat in the middle of the lake, so this adventure is a two-for-one: balloon ride and boat ride. 


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    Paddle the lake in a kayak
    Paddle the lake in a kayak
    The waters of Lake Tahoe provide hours of pleasure for parents and kids as they tool around its shimmering surface in colorful, lightweight kayaks. Much of the beauty of the experience lies in being self-propelled, gliding smoothly along the lake without the noise and distraction of an engine. Kayaks can be rented for an hour, a half-day, or a full day at almost any Tahoe marina. But the crown-jewel kayaking experience is to explore the azure waters of Emerald Bay, then pull up your boat on Fannette Island for a picnic lunch.


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    Spend the night under the stars
    Spend the night under the stars
    Kids love to camp, and parents love to camp—sometimes, and if the conditions are just right. Many of Lake Tahoe's campgrounds are perfectly set up for family vacations, with easy access to swimming holes and hiking trails and convenient amenities like hot showers and clean restrooms. Reserve a site at D. L. Bliss State Park near Emerald Bay and your family can swim at Calawee Cove, paddle kayaks, hike the scenic Rubicon Trail, and roast s'mores under the stars. Nearby, General Creek Campground at Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park is one of the few Tahoe campgrounds that's open for year-round camping. In winter, cross-country ski or snowshoe right from your tent, and in summer, hike or mountain bike through hundreds of acres of conifer forest. 



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    Ziplines and ropes courses
    Ziplines and ropes courses
    Take your kids on a zipline adventure and they'll think you're the coolest parents on earth. On Heavenly's Blue Streak Zipline, gravity will zip your kids down the mountain at speeds approaching 55 miles per hour. The 70-second-long thrill ride travels a distance of 3,300 feet. If you're worried grandpa might have a heart attack, consider a high-flying adventure with more controlled speed, like Heavenly's Ropes Challenge Course. These monkey-style-climbing courses are designed for all levels of fitness, so even little kids can have fun. One guarantee: Your triceps will be sore the next day. Or, for a hybrid experience, try combined zipping and swinging at Treetop Adventure Park near Tahoe City. Strap on a harness and helmet and then challenge yourself on a variety of courses featuring rope bridges, cargo nets, ladders, walkways, and swinging logs.
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    Float down a river
    Float down a river
    Whitewater rafting in Tahoe runs the gamut from the wild to the mild, so you can choose the right level of adrenaline for your family. On the wilder side, the lower Truckee River offers Class II and III rapids almost all summer long. Tahoe Whitewater Tours and Tributary Whitewater Tours offer guided white-water trips on this fast-and-furious stretch. On the milder side, the river between Tahoe City and River Ranch Lodge is a mellow, trail-your-fingers-in-the-water float. For a great summertime family-bonding activity, rent a do-it-yourself raft from Truckee River Rafting and explore this gentle waterway. Because the river is controlled by the sluice gates of the dam at Tahoe City's Fanny Bridge, flows can vary, so check on conditions before you go.
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    Biking adventures for the whole family
    Biking adventures for the whole family
    Lake Tahoe has bike trails to suit every level of rider, whether you ride like you're Lance Armstrong (minus the steroids) or you just want to pull your two-year-old around in her little pink trailer. An easy paved path starts at Anderson's Bicycle Rental near South Lake Tahoe and cruises past historic Camp Richardson and three lovely beaches. Another easy-pedaling trail, suitable even for tricycles and training wheels, runs alongside the Truckee River from Tahoe City to Squaw Valley. If you want to get your whole clan out on real mountain trails—the dirt- and rock-covered kind—take everybody to Northstar California, where riders and their bikes are whisked via gondola to mid-mountain, and it's all downhill from there. A skills development area with log and ladder ties helps riders learn how to negotiate the technical stuff, and a mid-mountain "jump park" is designed for those who like to catch some air.