For serious ski slope square footage at a winter vacation destination that’s decidedly not serious, Lake Tahoe is it. Boasting seven major ski resorts (as well as a handful of smaller ski areas) and surprisingly affordable, there’s good reason that seasonal powder makes Lake Tahoe a winter household word. But don’t sell this pretty alpine lake and its frame of peaks short. Lake Tahoe is also glorious in summer when temperatures hover just above 70 degrees and the days are blissfully sunny. Then, beach-hoppers, bikers, hikers and boaters turn out in full force to enjoy the area’s snow and ice-free assets. Golf and gambling optional; fun, not.
So yes, it’s definitely worth coming in winter. But to do right by Lake Tahoe, you’ve got to visit again in summer. Leave yourself plenty of time to circumnavigate the lake’s water trail. And catch a concert on a community beach. Days left to spare? Think farmer’s markets, historical sites, cultural attractions and a day of fishing for elusive brown trout. Tempted? You ought to be.
Skiing & Boarding
It’s true: most people come to Tahoe for the slopes. And you can’t blame them. Lake Tahoe boasts the most ski slopes per area in North America for a total of 17,520 skiable acres. That’s a lot folks. With a ski season that runs from November to May and an average snowfall of 420 inches, along with plenty of winter sunshine, it’s no wonder that the 7 Ski Lake Tahoe resorts do brisk business. To maximize your week in the area, consider a Ski Lake Tahoe Six-pack, which offers a deal on six days of skiing at the seven main resorts (and you probably thought we were talking about beer). Usually the individual resorts offer special deals as well, so for a relatively affordable ski holiday - let it snow.
There’s good reason to swoon over the glorious Sierra Nevada wilderness - it’s stunning, for starters. And while it’s accessible on snowshoes or skis in winter, it’s more comfortably penetrated by hikers during the warmer months. Between mountain peaks and comparatively easy going around the lake itself there’s enough variety to suit the needs of all types of hikers. Backpackers bound down the Pacific Crest Trail, mountaineers and meandering families should all feel specially treated. Just remember that permits are required for trips into wilderness areas.
For a hot evening on the town, you’ll want to book Lady Luck, particularly if you plan on venturing into any of the five casinos which light up the night around Lake Tahoe South Shore. The casinos are all just over the Nevada side of the border, of course, but readily accessible from both tiny Lake Tahoe Airport and South Lake Tahoe on the California side. In case you burn through all your vacation funds in an hour and need to make a quick get away to another state. Remember: never split your 10s.
From June to September at lake level the average temperatures hovers just above 70 degrees, one of the reasons that bikes are a popular alternative mode of transport in these parts. Tahoe offers miles of bike path, but also good road biking and no shortage of mountain biking trails.In fact, it’s also easy enough (provided you’ve got the stamina) to circumnavigate the 72-mile circumference of the lake - with stops along the way as needed for a cooling dip.
With all that crystal-clear water to consider, it’s no wonder that anglers frequent Tahoe in search of big lunkers. While lake trout (aka mackinaw), rainbow trout and kokanee salmon are not uncommon catches, you’ve got to do your time (or get really lucky) if you want to reel in one of the lake’s more elusive brown trout.
The dilemma to boating on Lake Tahoe is deciding between the many options. To help with the decision making process, ask yourself this probing question: paddle or horsepower? If you answered paddle, the choicest option is a multi-day canoe or kayak trip along the Lake Tahoe Water Trail, which takes in the 72-mile long shoreline of this lovely lake. For those of you who picked horsepower, the obvious solution is to rent (or otherwise acquire) a motorized watercraft and do whatever it is that motor boaters like to do. Ski, go fast, parasail, you know, the works. If all this leaves your head spinning, find middle ground on a paddlewheeler cruise (which puts paddling and power together nicely); wedding, champagne and dancing optional
There are six championship courses and four executive golf courses set around the North Shore of Lake Tahoe alone, with a further five to be found on the south side of this small lake. For the effort of a 72 mile circuit around the lake, that’s easy access to, well, enough golf to keep you teed-off for some time.
Truckee River runs
Lake Tahoe too tame for your tastes? Catch a little white water action on the Truckee River, one of the top rafting runs in the region. Though tour operators organized guided floats down the frothier sections of river, there are also stretches through the North Lake Tahoe forest that are placid enough for self-guided runs. Rafts can be rented from local outfitters for your convenience.
Itching to spend some time sunning on the shores of that glittering gem, Lake Tahoe? Well we don’t blame you. And you’re in luck, because this alpine lake has a genuinely enviable selection of beaches where you can do just that. While there are a few private access areas, the majority of Tahoe’s balmy beaches are open to the public. In summer, some of the broader sandy strips play host to city-sponsored concerts, theater productions and movies; others, beyond reach of the road, are hike-in only and can be downright secluded on a weekday morning.
So it’s true, most of Lake Tahoe’s best sights are natural. But if you take the time, you’ll discover a fascinating cultural side to the place that includes local history, traditions and oddities. I mean, where else can you find a Scandinavian-style castle (Vikingsholm Castle), an exhibit on the Washoe people and Valhalla (Valhalla at Lake Tahoe) all a quick bike ride apart? There’s also an informative environmental research center (UC Davis Tahoe)and a Tahoe Maritime Museum which collectively should keep the whole family occupied on those rare days when the sun fails to shine.