Lake Tahoe and the surrounding region offer incredible destinations for numerous unforgettable excursions, any time of year. The lake’s waters are consistently transparent, the skies are blue and sunny and the weather is beautiful.

During the summer months, the temperatures are warm and skies are as clear as the lake – and in the winter months, temperatures drop and the snow comes out just in time for hitting the slopes. 

Depending on the time of year, traffic can vary significantly – and as an insider tip, it’s typically easier to navigate the roads on a weekday as opposed to busy weekends. Here’s a list of beautiful road trips in and around Greater Lake Tahoe to plan for adventurous exploration.  

Woman Hiking Mt.Rose
The Lake Tahoe Scenic Loop lets you see all the best views © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Start and end is driver's choice, 72 miles, 3 hours

First up is the famous “The Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive,” which is a beautiful paved route that makes a 72-mile loop around Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada, following three highways: US 50, NV 28 and US 89. The loop travels through South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City, Incline Village, King’s Beach and several other notable destinations along the lake perimeter. Since it’s a loop, you can begin the drive anywhere and finish where you started. 

Starting at Incline Village and traveling counterclockwise, continue west on NV-28 for a few miles and stop at Crystal Bay which is a popular spot for watersports. Nearby is the beautiful Kings Beach, with soft sand and cute mountain town shops for dining and exploring. Then, it’s off to Tahoe City,  where you can get out to stretch your legs on Fanny Bridge and see where the Truckee River begins its route from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake. 

The next stop is photo-famous Emerald Bay State Park which is located at the southwestern tip of Lake Tahoe – as well as home to Fannette Island, which is the only island in Lake Tahoe. Then, you’re onto Zephyr Cove with its beautiful sandy beaches and plethora of hiking trails, before passing alongside the crystal-clear waters and Sierra Nevada mountain backdrop of Sand Harbor. 

Finally, you’ll arrive back in Incline Village which is home to the beautiful Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort where you can spend a relaxing evening.  

Top things to do in Lake Tahoe

Dawn in Reno, Nevada
The road to and from Reno makes for a gorgeous drive © 4kodiak / Getty Images

Incline Village to Reno

I-580 N, 48 minutes

Just 45 minutes North of Lake Tahoe, the “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno hosts a variety of exciting opportunities to play. After twisting through the tree-lined mountain road up Mount Rose. which is a ski destination in the winter – and you’ll drive over the summit where you can stop and take in the panoramic sights. 

Once you arrive in the city, stop into one of Reno’s popular local coffee shops, such as Bibo or Coffeebar, or grab freshly made treats from My Favorite Muffin or Perenn Bakery. Plan to spend your afternoon strolling along the Truckee River in The Reno Riverwalk District. Next, explore Reno's MidTown District composed of nearly 50 bars and eateries with street art and culture events occurring year-round. 

Early morning winter sunrise at Commons Beach in Tahoe City, California, Lake Tahoe.
Get started on your drive early in the morning to see the gorgeous sunrise © iStockphoto / Getty Images 

Lake Tahoe Around Placer County

Route I-80, 20 minutes

California’s Placer County is situated along Interstate 80, so visitors from Lake Tahoe can head out to experience this destination’s stunning outdoor activities which include biking, hiking and horseback riding trails. 

Encompassing the northwestern shore of the lake, Placer County’s Tahoe City, Kings Beach and Olympic Valley are must-see stops when in the area. Starting in Truckee, take Highway 89 south to wind along the Truckee River on your way to Tahoe City. 

Detour at Olympic Valley to explore Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, which was site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. In winter it’s a ski paradise – but summer offers just as many adventures such as hiking, mountain biking and climbing the granite face of the mountain on the Tahoe Via Ferrata. 

After a stop at the village, head back toward Tahoe City and take the roundabout to continue on Highway 89 south for a day on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. Tahoe House Bakery and Gourmet is a great place to pop in and grab sandwiches for your day of adventure (pro tip: call your order in advance for faster service).

Continuing along, enjoy lunch outdoors on the patio at Bridgetender Tavern and Grill for a peak of the raft launching point of the Truckee River. Great views across the lake continue as you round the corner and head down the hill from Dollar Point. Next, rounding the corner to Tahoe Vista, grab an ice cream from the Mourelatos Cable Car.  

After checking out nearby Kings Beach, take highway 267 back to Truckee for a full loop around the North Shore area of Lake Tahoe. 

How to get around in Lake Tahoe

Stream in Donner Memorial State Park
Donner Memorial State Park makes a great stop to stretch your legs © Robert Holmes / Getty Images

Route 267 to Highway 80 to Highway 20, 90 minutes

Nevada City is a historic and vibrant town that showcases its past as part of the California Gold Rush towns – the whole downtown district is considered a national historic landmark. Check out the picturesque variety of shops, boutiques, art galleries and museums. 

Departing from Incline Village, you’ll pass through Truckee and pass the Donner Memorial State Park which hosts hiking, camping and boating opportunities. Then you’ll drive past Sugarbowl Resort and Emigrant Gap, before stopping at the Jefferson Creek Scenic Overlook for some sweeping mountain views. 

Next, you’ll arrive in Nevada City, where you must stop at The National Exchange Hotel – a destination itself, originally built during the Gold Rush in 1856. The building’s architecture reflects the style of its Victorian-era roots. Here, guests can check out the 38 unique rooms, the 400 pieces of art or dine at the new restaurant, Lola

Continue onto Grass Valley, where you can stop by another hospitality landmark, The Holbrooke Hotel, which dates back to 1862 and has hosted a wealth of famous guests from the U.S. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield and even authors like Mark Twain. The hotel is also home to the Iron Door, a spectacular hidden speakeasy creating handcrafted cocktails to transport you back in time to the roaring 20s’ (1920’s, that is…). 

Virginia City is a peek into the Old West © Alexander Howard / Lonely Planet

US-50 East, 60 minutes

Whether you begin this journey on the East side of North or South Tahoe, it’s roughly 60 minutes to Virginia City – a historic mining town where the largest silver ore discovery in American history, the Comstock Lode, was found in 1859. 

At its peak, the town boasted a population of more than 25,000 and was known to be the largest city between Denver and San Francisco. Today, visitors can "step back in time" on a mine tour, stroll its wooden board sidewalks, or explore the 19th-century buildings. There are also a plethora of unusual special events to check out each season, such as the annual “Camel Races” which take place each September.

Additional must-see destinations in Virginia City include the V&T Railroad, which takes passengers on a 35-minute round-trip route to Gold Hill and back featuring a narrated history lesson along the way. 

Tahoe's can't miss experiences that cost next to nothing

Job's Peak Reflection in Douglas County, Nevada
Carson Valley is the epitome of the Old West © iStockphoto / Getty Images

Kingsbury Grade Road, 45 minutes

Just 12 miles east of South Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley offers an abundance of experiences and is a true Old West destination with a slower pace of life. There are a whole host of itineraries to experience in just Carson Valley itself. Once you arrive, plan to embark on adventures that can include wild horse tours, biking, bird watching and historic saloon experiences. 

For lunch, drive to The Pink House, which dates back to 1855 and curates a fine selection of artisan grocery items like cheese, charcuterie, beverages and specialty coffees.

After grabbing a bite to eat, pedal your way through town aboard a Freedom Railbike through the historic Virginia & Truckee train route to get a firsthand look at the Carson River Canyon, the historic Eureka Mill location & Halfway House Stagecoach Stop site and the V&T Railway bridge. Head back home the same way you came, enjoying the mountain scenery. 

Best time to visit Lake Tahoe

Exploring Lake Tahoe
Children play and explore among the rocks and beautiful waters of Lake Tahoe right before a storm © Getty Images

Route 28, 45 minutes

Begin your journey at North Lake Tahoe’s Sand Harbor Beach which is just three miles south of Incline Village on state route 28. Hosting 55 acres of long sandy beaches, rocky coves, shady forested areas and panoramic lake views, Sand Harbor offers the quintessential “Lake Tahoe” experience. 

From Sand Harbor, there's a fairly easy hike to Monkey Rock – a family-friendly, three-mile trek with panoramic views of the lake and a unique monkey-shaped boulder.

For lunch, drive to Jason’s Beachside Grille in Kings Beach which serves a range of bites in a setting that’s reminiscent of a classic, cozy Tahoe lodge. 

From Kings Beach, drive to Carnelian Bay to grab a famous Wet Woody slushy rum cocktail at the waterfront Gar Woods. Finally, finish off the day by heading to the nearby The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe for dinner with a view and luxe lodging to relax for the night.  

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