The Top Attractions in and around Lake Tahoe
No matter the season, Tahoe beckons nature lovers, adventurers, and those looking to unplug. Skiers and snowboarders flock to the area each winter, while hikers, mountain bikers, and lake devotees return every summer.
4080 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
This engineering marvel whisks sightseers up Heavenly Mountain Resort in a mere 12 minutes, offering cheap thrills and panoramic lake views. On the uphill ride, be sure to disembark at the overlook and check out the view from 9,123 feet, which takes in Desolation Wilderness to the west, the Carson Valley and desert to the east, and the entire south-to-north expanse of Lake Tahoe. From the top of the gondola in winter, you can ski, ride, snowshoe, sled, or just enjoy a hot toddy at the lodge. In summer, make like a monkey on the ropes course—just expect to have sore triceps the next day.
Highway 50 Stateline Avenue, Stateline, NV 89449, USA
A 5,000-seat amphitheater, the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys hosts an impressive musical lineup every summer. Under the starry Tahoe sky just a few blocks from the lake, locals and visitors alike pack in for headliners like Paul Simon, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Lenny Kravitz, The Who, and Imagine Dragons. If you’re more partial to laughs, Harveys is also home to the Improv Comedy Club, which hosts live shows four nights a week.
1 Heritage Way, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
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725 Granlibakken Rd, Tahoe City, CA 96145, USA
Defy gravity by climbing and zip-lining your way through a canopy of conifers at Tahoe City Treetop Park. The attraction features 65 tree platforms, which visitors reach by way of suspension bridges, catwalks, and short zip lines, some as high as 50 feet off the ground. There are a variety of courses for kids and adults, and no experience is necessary. Guests simply pay a flat fee for 2.5-hour sessions, the first 30 minutes of which are spent getting outfitted in a helmet and harness and learning the ropes. Younger kids then head for the Flying Squirrel courses, which include three graduated levels, while older children and adults attempt the Monkey courses, which feature five grades. Especially fit beginners can knock out all the levels in one day but it’s certainly a workout.
The clean cracks and faces of Donner Summit, west of Truckee off Old Highway 40, offer 400 different climbing routes for all levels. Whether you opt for bouldering or multi-pitch crack climbing, you’ll be following in the footsteps of giants—many of the legendary climbers of the 1970s and ’80s, like Warren Harding and Royal Robbins, used this pristine granite as their playground. Accessing the routes is easy since you can drive right up to the rock face and start climbing a few feet from the pavement. If it’s your first time, however, sign up for a class with the pros at Alpine Skills International.
1115 Tunnel Creek Rd Suite B, Incline Village, NV 89451, USA
Carved into the side of a precipitous slope, the Flume Trail was once a square-box logging flume, used to carry water and timber from Lake Tahoe to the Virginia City silver mines in the late 1800s. Today, it’s a world-famous mountain biking trail along Tahoe’s east shore, which can be done as an adrenaline-pumping 24-mile loop or, with the help of a shuttle bus, a 13-mile point-to-point ride. No matter which route you choose, however, expect postcard-perfect views from way up high, and near-vertical drop-offs to the lake below. The point-to-point trail starts at Spooner Lake State Park and follows a wide dirt road for five miles to Marlette Lake before connecting to the longer loop. After about five more miles of stunning yet challenging riding, bikers descend on Tunnel Creek Road to Incline Village. To get back to your car, hop on the Flume Trail Bikes shuttle, which departs from Tunnel Creek Café.
9411 Pahatsi Rd, Soda Springs, CA 95728, USA
North America’s largest cross-country ski resort offers 100 groomed trails spread out over 9,000 forested acres. With a base elevation of 7,000 feet, Royal Gorge typically sees an annual snowfall of more than 600 inches, meaning the cross-country season lasts all the way from December to April. Sign up for a lesson, or just head out into the snowy wilderness—you can ski all day and not even come close to exploring all the trails. When you need a break, there are three trailside cafés and eight warming huts situated at convenient resting spots. For something different, rent a fat-tire snow bike and take a ride on the groomed winter trails.
100 Northstar Dr, Truckee, CA 96161, USA
For family-oriented skiing—plus tons of other outdoor winter activities—Northstar is a winner. The resort’s sprawling village features a 9,000-square-foot outdoor skating rink surrounded by fire pits and cabana bars; a bevy of upscale restaurants and shops; and the tony Ritz-Carlton hotel, with 170 rooms, a 17,000-square-foot spa, and its own gondola to whisk skiers up the slopes. The mountain itself is equally impressive, with 3,170 skiable acres, 100 trails, two gondolas and 20 lifts, and the largest snowmaking system in North Lake Tahoe. In summer, it transforms into a biker’s mecca—with more than 100 miles of trails, it’s the largest mountain-biking park in Northern California.
Olympic Valley, CA 96146, USA
The undisputed king of Tahoe’s big mountain resorts has always been Squaw Valley, even more so since it merged with neighboring Alpine Meadows in 2012. The combined resorts have a whopping 6,000 acres of terrain, with the longest run topping out at 3.2 miles. Beginners should head to High Camp, with its large, open bowls and views of Lake Tahoe, while more experienced skiers and riders can test their mettle on challenging slopes like KT-22, Granite Chief, and Broken Arrow. If you’re not one for snow sports, visit the small ski museum, which celebrates Squaw’s history as the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, or visit in the summer, when the mountain offers everything from hiking and mountain biking to fly-fishing.
100 Lake Pkwy, Stateline, NV 89449, USA
The 18-hole, par-72 Edgewood is frequently named among America’s top 100 golf courses. You may have seen photographs of its 18th hole, which is surrounded by so much water that it’s practically an island. Built by architect George Fazio and his nephew Tom Fazio in 1969, the course hosts the American Century Championship every July, with Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, and John Elway as frequent contestants. A round here isn’t cheap—expect to pay about $250 for 18 holes from June to September—but the course does offer special deals in the spring and fall. Even if you don’t play, tag along with someone who does and hang at Brooks’ Bar & Deck, where you can enjoy sweeping views of the course and lake.
Mt Tallac, California 96150, USA
Tallac’s imposing 9,735-foot summit beckons to be climbed, but be forewarned—you’re in for a challenging 9.4-mile hike with a 3,400-foot elevation gain and hordes of other hikers on weekends. The trail is deceivingly easy in the beginning as it climbs the glacial moraine that hems in beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake. After 1.5 miles, you’ll reach grassy Floating Island Lake and, one mile later, tiny Cathedral Lake. Rest and fuel up here because, in the next 2.2 miles, you face a punishing 2,100-foot gain. Your thighs will burn as you traverse Tallac’s southwest ridge, then climb the jagged metamorphic rocks that mark the very top. The summit vistas don’t disappoint, though: To the east is Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake, to the west the lake-filled lands of Desolation Wilderness.
2435 Venice Dr E, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
Get up, up, and away with Lake Tahoe Balloons. The company launches its colorful hot air balloons not from land but from the surface of the lake via the Tahoe Flyer, the world’s only certified balloon launch-and-recovery boat. Trips begin with a 5:30 a.m. boat ride to the mid-lake launch site. Once the balloon is in the air, passengers and pilot float up to 3,000 feet above the water’s surface for bird’s-eye views of the entire Tahoe basin. On the clearest days, views extend southward all the way to Yosemite National Park. After the flight, everybody celebrates with a champagne toast—then heads back to their hotel for a nap.
138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
Leave behind the powerboats roaring around Lake Tahoe and find your bliss by kayaking the sparkling waters of Tahoe’s biggest bay. The water is typically calm here, especially in the morning, so even beginners can have fun. Pick up a rental from Kayak Tahoe, located right on the beach next to Vikingsholm Castle, and start paddling around Emerald Bay. When your arms get tired, pull up on the shores of Fannette Island for a picnic lunch. If you’d rather go with a group, Kayak Tahoe also offers guided tours, including sunset and full-moon options.
138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
Constructed of native stone and timber and topped with multiple turrets and towers, this Scandinavian-style castle is tucked into trees on the sandy back cove of Emerald Bay. Wealthy Chicago widow Lora Josephine Knight built the 38-room mansion in 1928 and spent 16 summers there until her death in 1945. It apparently wasn’t enough for her, though, as she also built a stone teahouse on Emerald Bay’s single island, Fannette, where she and her friends would sip Earl Grey and discuss the news of the day. Now a part of Emerald Bay State Park, Vikingsholm Castle can be visited by hiking one mile down—and then back up—a dirt-and-gravel road. Tours of the castle interior are offered daily in the summer.
9881 CA-89, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
This state park offers all the ingredients for a great family trip to the mountains. For starters, there’s the beach at Calawee Cove, with its gently sloped sand, crystal-clear water, and rounded granite boulders that make for sublime swimming. There’s also the famous Rubicon Trail, a 16.4-mile path that meanders along the lakeshore, offering postcard-worthy views of rocky inlets, sandy covers, and boats bobbing in turquoise water. Those wanting to hike should know that there are plenty of shorter walks as well, including the quick trip to Balancing Rock, a 130-ton boulder that sits precariously on a small rock pedestal. The park even has family-style campsites with hot showers and clean restrooms should you wish to spend the night.
12593 Donner Pass Rd, Truckee, CA 96161, USA
Every Californian knows the story of the Donner Party, the ill-fated emigrants who took what they thought was a shortcut while making their way westward from Illinois in 1846. Caught in a series of early-season snowstorms near Donner Pass, the wagon train was forced to make camp and find a way to survive the brutal winter. Several members died, and some of the survivors ate their deceased companions to keep from starving to death. This epic tragedy is remembered at the Emigrant Trail Museum, located near the shores of beautiful Donner Lake. Exhibits here detail the difficulties faced by emigrants heading west across the Sierra, the construction of the railroad by Chinese workers, and the daily life of the Washoe tribe, in addition to tales of individual members of the Donner Party. You can also visit the Murphy family’s cabin, where 16 Donner Party members waited out the arduous winter.
2005 NV-28, Incline Village, NV 89704, USA
In Sand Harbor State Park, a $2 million, state-of-the-art amphitheater sits on one of Tahoe’s loveliest beaches. It’s here that world-class Shakespearean actors present two different plays each summer while audience members sink their toes in the sand. Choose seats to suit your desires, from casual lawn chairs in the upper galleries to premium Adirondack chairs and café tables next to the stage, which come with drink and snack service. An adjacent concession stand sells gourmet food, but you can also bring your own picnic. The festival runs from mid-July to mid-August, leaving plenty of time to catch one of The Bard’s masterpieces in this stunning setting.
5000 NV-28, Incline Village, NV 89451, USA
At Thunderbird Lodge, you can marvel at the eccentricities of the fabulously wealthy real estate magnate George Whittell, Jr., who built this 16,500-square-foot mansion on Tahoe’s east shore to house himself, his pet lion, and a small elephant. Walk through the 20-plus rooms and the 600-foot-long underground tunnel that connects the main house to the cavernous boathouse, which Whittell constructed for his 55-foot-long speedboat, the Thunderbird, a gorgeous 1939 woody that’s still available for charter cruises. Also on the 140-acre lakefront property are a lighthouse and several guest cottages. Guided tours are offered five days a week from mid-May to mid-October; arrive via boat or shuttle bus from Incline Village, or kayak over from Sand Harbor State Park.
900 Ski Run Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
Go for a two-hour spin on the lake in a luxurious 80-foot yacht, passing posh lakefront homes like the Henry J. Kaiser estate, where The Godfather: Part II was filmed. The Safari Rose has all the comforts of a millionaire’s home, including six bathrooms, a sundeck, and a heated salon for chilly evenings. Built in 1959 for bigwigs at the 3M Company, the yacht has sailed the Great Lakes, the Caribbean, and the Panama Canal. As you cruise Lake Tahoe, the crew will teach you about the area’s natural and human history. While the Safari Rose offers several daily cruises from Ski Run Marina in South Lake Tahoe, the best option is the sunset sail, which includes gourmet appetizers and drinks.