It can be overwhelming to whittle down what to do at Lake Tahoe because there is just so much to choose from. Do you want history, arts and culture; or beaches, boating and hiking? Eating, drinking and relaxing; or nature-watching, ecology and snow sports? Perhaps, you want it all. Here are the top things to do in and around Lake Tahoe.

Kayak and paddleboard the Lake Tahoe Water Trail

If you really want to experience Lake Tahoe, get on a paddleboard and soak in the mountain beauty on the Lake Tahoe Water Trail. After all, that transparent, sparkling freshwater is likely what called you to Tahoe in the first place. Once you dangle your legs in the cool blue, you’ll soon find yourself lulled by the gentle rocking of the waves. With 72-miles of marked and mapped water routes including 20 “trailhead” signs for put-in and take-out and tips for rentals, there are plenty of opportunities to paddle out for your own peace of mind.

An adult and a child wheel their bikes along a trail that runs beside a lake
Cycling part of the Tahoe East Shore Trail is an essential Lake Tahoe experience © 1000Photography / Shutterstock

Bike the Tahoe East Shore Trail

Though there are four paved bike trails that parallel the lake’s shores, Tahoe East Shore Trail is a favorite because it’s an all-in-one Tahoe summer day of bike-riding and beach-hopping easily orchestrated on a budget. There is plenty of parking and the Tunnel Creek Cafe and Flume Trail Bike rentals are conveniently located at the trailhead to support your outing. The trailhead is located near Incline Village on State Route 28.

The trail begins with an 8% incline (and decline), but after that, it gently undulates over rocky coves and past 16 viewpoints with interpretive signs. The southern terminus is Sand Harbor State Park, Nevada’s most popular. There is a $2 pedestrian fee to access the lake from Sand Harbor, but there’s no need to pay if you find one of a handful of free lake access footpaths along the way. These are less crowded and heaps more adventurous. 

A path lined with huge tall pine trees that leads to a beach.
Pope Beach is packed with great facilities © Bidur Prasad Shiwakoti / Getty Images

Spend the day at Pope Beach

Accessibility, convenience, concessions, space, shade and views make Pope Beach a best-of when it comes to user-friendly beaches at Lake Tahoe. The parking lot ($10 per vehicle) stretches the length of the beach, so no matter where you park, you'll be close to a short wooded trail that leads to nearly a mile of sandy shoreline. It's equipped with picnic tables, barbecues and bathrooms at regular intervals. If you don’t want to pack a meal or lug in your own paddleboards or kayaks, there are food trucks and rental shops nearby. The beach is accessible to pedestrians via the Pope-Baldwin Bike Path.

A cable car carriage on its ascent up a mountain. A large lake is in the background
Climb aboard a gondola for scenic views over Lake Tahoe © Sundry Photography / Shutterstock

Take a scenic gondola ride

Admittedly, a gondola ride with Heavenly is on the pricier side (adult tickets start at $59 per person), but it’s also one of those times when paying a price to optimize the experience is worth the gains (especially if you're traveling as a family with a wilting toddler or tween in your midst, but you still want a smiling group photo).  

Each gondola lifts eight passengers in a four-sided glass cabin from a starting elevation of 6360ft (1938m) to an incredibly scenic 9136ft (2785m). The observation deck along the 2.4-mile ascent offers a stunning place for some iconic Tahoe photos.

The sun sets over a hilly wooded area with a hiking trail running through it
The 170-mile Tahoe Rim trail follows the full circumference of the lake © Dalton Johnson / Shutterstock

Hike and bike the mountain trails

Whether you’re a casual hiker or endurance athlete, the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe are laced with scenic trails – from short and leisurely to long and technical. Family-friendly hikes at Taylor Creek Visitor Center or Fallen Leaf Lake allow nature lovers of all ages to explore Tahoe’s natural wonders in meandering loops and jaunts that are less than a mile long. The popular Flume Trail, a point-to-point 10-14 miler (depending on where you choose to start and stop), is a favorite with mountain bikers since its moderate ascents earn spectacular views of the east side of the lake. For those seeking a longer dash of adventure, the Tahoe Rim Trail offers 170 miles of backcountry exploration around the full circumference of the lake.

A large stone building with a rounded turret surrounded by woodland
Vikingsholm is tucked away on an island in Emerald Bay © SDClicks / Shutterstock

Take a sunset cruise to Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm Castle

Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm Castle top many must-see-in-Tahoe lists. The dramatically curved bay secludes the lake’s only island (Fannette), atop of which sits a surprising stone teahouse that seems to rise out of the granite itself. In the nook of that bending shoreline sits another surprising stone structure – Scandinavian in style – known as Vikingsholm Castle. 

A pleasant alternative to the hassle of parking at Emerald Bay Park is to check out the handful of motorized 2- to 3-hour boat tours ranging from $60 to $100 per person that cruise out into the bay. Rum Runner’s operates from the Camp Richardson Marina in South Lake Tahoe. It is on the lower end of the cost spectrum and operates a smaller, more intimate craft with the option to purchase drinks and light snacks separately. The 500-passenger red and white MS Dixie II paddle wheeler is hard to miss. It’s on the higher end of the cost spectrum and offers dinner and dance cruises with live entertainment out of Zephyr Cove Resort & Marina just over the southern lake border in Nevada.

A huge wooden lodge house in woodland
Spend the day living like the elite at Ehrman Mansion in Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park © Jim Feliciano / Shutterstock

Visit Ehrman Mansion at Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park

Walk the quiet, manicured grounds surrounding the 1902 Ehrman Mansion at Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park for a taste of elite living. With 2000 acres of forested paths and 2 miles of shoreline, it is easy to find a private stretch of beach or shade and imagine this must be the same serenity the Ehrmans and their guests fell in love with over a hundred years ago.  

With a tour of the Ehrman mansion (adult tickets start at $12), visitors learn how Isaias Hellman earned his wealth and acclaim, and how his daughter, Florence Ehrman, ran her summer estate with both precision and grace. Stroll the paved, quarter-mile interpretive trail that meanders the shoreline between the North and South Boathouses, and wade through General Creek. A book, towel and a packed lunch enjoyed on the pier allow you to reach new levels of leisure. After all, you are a most honored guest of the Ehrman’s in this fantasy; the day is yours.

A beautiful turquoise lake with a secluded bay surrounded by tall trees
Sand Harbor hosts the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival © MariuszBlach / Getty Images

Catch a show, festival or local event

Between the casinos, hotels, mountain resorts and breweries, Tahoe attracts world-class as well as home-grown entertainment for all tastes. Thespians and literary buffs will be hard-pressed to find a finer venue for theater than the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor. This summer festival draws crowds of over 30,000 each year to enjoy the lovely lakeside atmosphere with performances taking place under the stars. Brews, Jazz and Funk Fest is an August weekend event at Squaw Valley Resort that represents a more local taste for the mountainside, laid-back good times you might happen upon in Tahoe. Visitors may also want to check casino entertainment schedules; venues like Montbleu bring all genres of music, entertainers and nightlife year-round.

A lodge on the edge of a lake with small boat docked nearby
Thunderbird Lodge was home to wealthy landowner George Whittell Jr. © Michael Marfell / Getty Images

Tour Thunderbird Lodge

Thunderbird Lodge National Historic Site in north Tahoe, once the home of George Whittell, Jr., now offers a menu of tours and experiences. From the lion that rode alongside him in his Murphy convertible roadster to a stint in Barnum and Baily Circus (and a possible role in the stock market crash in 1929),  George Whittell Jr., otherwise known as “Captain,” was no ordinary heir to the family fortune. However, in the same shrewd fashion of his San Francisco patriarchs who amassed the family's wealth before him, he knew how to strike when an opportunity arose and acquired 25 miles of Lake Tahoe shoreline from landowners still recovering from stock market losses. 

The Lodge, constructed in 1936, is the opulent expression of his playboy lifestyle. Now a National Historic Site, there are multiple tours offered through the Lodge. The most unique include chartering the “Captain’s” Thunderbird Yacht with a charitable donation of $5,000 and an exclusive wine and cheese tour of the estate indulged by the selections of a private chef. 

An adult and a child in full snow gear cross-country-ski along a snowy ridge high above a lake
There are all kinds of snow sports on offer at Lake Tahoe's alpine resorts © Shutterstock / Cavan Images - Offset

Enjoy winter snow sports in the alpine resorts

With an average snowfall of over 400 inches, Tahoe undergoes a powdery facelift that converts it to a winter terrain park from December to March. Proximity to a handful of alpine resorts such as Heavenly, Squaw Valley (which will be undergoing a name change sometime in 2021), Sierra-at-Tahoe and Mt. Rose delights visitors with over 11,000 acres of groomed and powder downhill runs. The 18 Sno-Parks around Lake Tahoe and numerous State Parks offer cross-country and snowshoe trails, sledding hills, and trailhead access for snowmobiling and dog-sledding. Snow angels and snowball fights are welcome anywhere.

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