Lake Tahoe has been the playground of Northern California for decades, drawing visitors from San Francisco and beyond to enjoy the pleasures of the largest alpine lake in North America, surrounded by forests and jagged granite peaks that were sculpted in the last ice age. With more than 300 days of sunshine and a plethora of activities to choose from it’s no wonder that many families come here year after year.
The clear, blue water of the lake and its massive size (being the largest lake in the U.S. after the Great Lakes) means that it’s a water sports haven for boaters, kayakers and stand up paddleboarders. Hikers and backpackers take advantage of the extensive wilderness trail system through National Forests and protected lands. During the winter skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling dominate the scene but in the summer, when the wildflowers boom and temperatures are mild, the number of activities multiplies exponentially. There’s something for just about everyone, from horseback riding to rafting. They can’t all be contained in a Top 10 list but the following represents some of the most popular things to do in North Lake Tahoe in a summer weekend visit.
- Hike to Five Lakes: The trailhead near Alpine Meadows has ample parking along the road and the five small lakes at the end of the steep two-mile ascent is the perfect reward. Bring a picnic and, if you’re brave, go for a dip in the chilly waters. The trail connects to the Pacific Crest Trail and accesses the Granite Chief Wilderness, which offers backpacking opportunities along gurgling creeks and lovely lakes.
- Ride horses: Horseback riding is available at Alpine Meadows Stables, which has served the community since the 1940s when it was a pack station. Guides lead rides on gentle horses through the scenic forests.
- Float the Truckee River: Warm summer days find a stream of brightly colored rafts floating down the Truckee River from morning until late afternoon, ending at the popular River Ranch, where a large deck allows revelers to watch the action. Rafts can be rented in Tahoe City at Truckee River Rafting and Truckee River Raft Company. The outfits shuttle rafters from River Ranch back to Tahoe City.
- Visit Squaw Valley: There’s a lot to do in Squaw Valley in the summer. The tram whisks visitors to High Camp at 8,200 feet, where decisions have to be made: swim in the pool, hike the trails, play tennis, go geocaching, play 18 holes of disc golf or get a bite to eat. Events in the village are scheduled every weekend in the summer, from yoga festivals to concerts, with plenty of weekday events too.
- Ride bikes: Bring your own or rent bikes in Tahoe City, Truckee or other communities around the lake. Ride the easy Truckee River Trail, challenge yourself on the Flume Trail or explore the mountain bike trails at Northstar.
- Go to the beach: The north shore sports beautiful beaches, including the accessible Tahoe City Commons Beach, which has a children’s play area, grass and a sandy beach, and concerts are held there throughout the summer.
- Get on the lake: Sparkling Lake Tahoe is beautiful to look at but to really enjoy it you should get on the lake, whether it’s by kayak, paddleboard or boat. Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented at Tahoe City Kayak and other spots around the lake. Sailboat rides, including sunset cruises, are offered with experienced captains at Tahoe Sail.
- Play golf: Golf courses are plentiful, with ten courses around the lake and 14 more nearby, giving golfers plenty to choose from. They range from local 9-holers to championship 18 hole courses.
- Go fishing: Lake Tahoe offers great fishing opportunities in Lake Tahoe, as well as in local rivers, streams and smaller lakes. Popular game fish include kokanee salmon ,mackinaw, rainbow and Brown trout.
- Swing through the trees on a zip line: Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park offers two aerial courses, one for smaller kids and the other for adults and teens. Sixty five platforms high in the trees are connected by a network of zip lines and bridges.
For those who prefer less strenuous activity a pleasant day can be spent visiting any of a number of historic sites, from the excellent historical museum at Donner Memorial State Park, to the grand Vikingsholm mansion at Emerald Bay State Park, to the Wild West town of Truckee where you can comb the boutique stores for treasures to take home. In Tahoe City you can peruse the small Gatekeepers Museum and Indian Basket Museum at the site where the Watermaster used to control the flow of water from Lake Tahoe.
The fittest among us appreciate challenging themselves by biking the Flume Trail, backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness, rock climbing and bagging peaks such as the 9,735 foot Mt. Tallac or 9,983 foot Pyramid Peak.
Whatever you like to do, you’re sure to find something to do in Lake Tahoe that will make you feel rejuvenated and reconnected.
To reach North Lake Tahoe from San Francisco by car (approximately 4 hours, depending on traffic and weather):
- Take Interstate 80 east (stay on 80 through Sacramento).
- Exit at Truckee onto Highway 89 south following signs to Lake Tahoe/Tahoe City
- Arrive at Tahoe City