Best Places to Visit in Tahoe

Best Places to Visit in Tahoe

Up in the Sierras, America’s largest alpine lake is a scenic freshwater beauty spot that straddles California and Nevada, more than 6,200 feet in elevation at its crystal clear surface. Ringing the intensely blue Lake Tahoe, a backdrop of mountains are pretty in summer green and majestic in snow-covered winter white, making this a year-round destination. Visitors are wise to keep the high elevation in mind, staying well-hydrated and resting on hiking trails.

Featured Photo Credit: Max Whittaker/Visit California

North Shore

Thunderbird Lodge

Completed in 1939, this National Historic Site, located in Incline Village, is the stone “summer cottage” of George Whittell, Jr., a wealthy and eccentric playboy who was the heir to two families who made their fortunes during the California Gold Rush. On 75-minute tours of the property, offered May 31 through October 14, visitors can see the main house, along with a 600-foot-long tunnel that leads to the boathouse, home to Whittell’s classic 1950 wood boat, the Thunderbird yacht, and other structures on the lakefront property. Boat tours on the Thunderbird yacht are also offered during the summer months. Tip: No private cars are allowed at the Thunderbird Lodge; shuttles to the property leave from the Incline Village Visitors Center, at 969 Tahoe Blvd.

Sand Harbor State Park

Part of the Nevada State Parks system, Sand Harbor State Park near Incline Village treats visitors to a gorgeous swath of white sand beach, crystal-clear water and intriguing rock formations. There are two ramps for launching boats at the park, as well as picnic sites equipped with barbecues and the casual Kokanee Bar & Grill. The park also hosts the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival every summer. Tip: Bike to the beach from Incline Village on the scenic, paved, 3-mile Tahoe East Shore Trail.

Kings Beach State Recreation Area

This large, sandy beach in downtown Kings Beach is perfect for families. Amenities include 18 picnic tables, restrooms, a playground, a basketball court and a boat ramp. Tip: alcohol and charcoal fires aren’t allowed at this park, however propane and gas barbeques are permitted in the picnic areas.

South Shore

Emerald Bay Tahoe
Photo: Eric Philbin/Flickr

Emerald Bay State Park

138 Emerald Bay Rd., South Lake Tahoe

Sharp curves on narrow roads lead to one of the outstanding spots on South Lake Tahoe. At 600 feet above the lake, Inspiration Point provides views of shimmering watery deep blues set against a striking backdrop of green mountains, with an island thrown in for good measure. Take a kayak, SUP, or a glass-bottomed paddle wheeler boat ride to the little tea house on Fannette Island. Tip: One mile down the road, historians will want to see Vikingsholm, the original Lake Tahoe residence that’s a 1920s landmark and a fine American example of classic Scandinavian architecture.

Photo: Max Whittaker/Visit California

Heavenly Valley

4080 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe

Straddling the California-Nevada border, skiers can wind up in either state at the end of a run. Heavenly is known for its outstanding views, best appreciated on skis or through the windows in one of the resort’s eight-person gondolas. Halfway up the 2.4 mile ride, non-skiers can hop off at an observation deck at mid-station to appreciate the sapphire and emerald Tahoe beauty scene. When the snow is gone, there are hikes galore, zip lines, rope courses, climbing walls, 4×4 tours, and a summer tubing hill. And, of course, casinos on the Nevada side. Tip: Stop at the observation deck on the way up in the gondola, because it doesn’t stop on the way down.

Photo: Visit California

Pope Beach

1209 Pope Beach Drive, South Lake Tahoe

No trip to Tahoe is complete without dipping your fingers and toes in the crystal clear water. Forty public beaches ring the lake; this popular one has the longest shoreline. Dotted with dunes and pines, the sandy beach is on State Highway 89, convenient to South Lake Tahoe. Nearly a mile long, it has trees for shade, swimming (the water’s clear but cold), paddleboard and kayak rentals, picnic tables, food concessions, restrooms and parking (fees apply). There’s live music in summer. Tip: A National Park Service pass gets you a 50% discount on parking fees.

Photo: Matt Whittaker/Visit California

Van Sickle Bi-State Park

Park Avenue and Lake Parkway, South Lake Tahoe

Only five minutes’ walk from the village at Heavenly, you’re in Nevada. This park has easy trails with terrific lake views — so good in fact, that this 575-acre park connects to Tahoe Rim Trail, picked by National Geographic as one of the top 10 in the U.S. Along the way, outcrops of granite rock protrude, allowing perches not blocked by trees to expose breathtaking views of the lake. For more hearty hikers, a further 1.3 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain, are rewarded with a pretty waterfall. Tip: The park also has biking and horseback riding. Good for the whole family, it’s the right choice if you only have an hour or two.

West Shore

The Gatekeeper’s Museum

Housed in a log cabin in Tahoe City, the Gatekeeper’s Museum in Tahoe City boasts the largest Native American Basket collection in the Lake Tahoe Basin. It also features new maritime, movie and resort exhibits, along with the Sierra Ski Museum upstairs. The North Lake Tahoe historical Society operates both the Gatekeeper’s Museum and the historic Watson Cabin, which dates back to 1908 and is located about 2 miles away. Open Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 4pm. Tip: The museum’s excellent book shop offers a large selection of books on a variety of topics, including Native American basketry, Lake Tahoe and California history, winter sports, science, mystery and children’s books.


Donner Memorial State Park

Set against the majestic backdrop of Donner Lake in Truckee at an elevation of about 6,000 feet, Donner Memorial State Park memorializes the ill-fated Donner Party and the California emigrants who traveled west during the mid-1800s, at the Pioneer Monument, completed in 1918. But along with this somber historical landmark, the park offers outdoor enthusiasts a wealth of activities to enjoy, including camping, picnicking, boating, fishing, water-skiing, and 8 miles of hiking and over-the-snow trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Tip: The park’s visitor center provides informative exhibits on the Donner Party, the local Washoe tribe and the Chinese construction of the railroad.

Northstar California

A year-round destination near Truckee for adventure lovers, the ski resort offers world-class downhill skiing and snowboarding with epic lake views, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, while summer pursuits include golfing, mountain biking and hiking. The village is a big draw as well, with its festive ice-skating rink ringed by fire pits and a bar, along with a movie theater, candle-making studio, variety of shops, and plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from. Tip: Ice skating is free at Northstar, however there’s a fee to rent skates if you don’t have your own.

Photo: Matt Whittaker/Visit California

Palisades Tahoe

Home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, the ski resort and village formerly known as Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in Olympic Valley is a year-round draw for its skiing, snowboarding and scenic Aerial Tram. In 10 minutes, up to 110 passengers ascend over 2,000 feet to get panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra. In summer, meadows are ablaze with wildflowers along hiking trails leading to waterfalls. In winter, 29 mountain lifts attract all levels of snow enthusiasts. Above the village, Via Ferrata is a guided, protected rock climbing experience using permanent steel anchors and cables. Tip: New for the 2022-2023 ski season, the Base to Base Gondola now connects the two valleys of the resort, a scenic ride that takes 16 minutes and traverses 2.4 miles and 3,105 vertical feet.

Looking for more things to do in the area?

Visit our Tahoe page for inspiration and local tips!

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