Nestled among snow-capped peaks and towering pines, Lake Tahoe’s cerulean waters have long beckoned travelers to the Sierra Nevada. Formed more than 2 million years ago by the tumultuous movement of Earth’s crust, this large, freshwater body is unique for many reasons: At 22 miles long and 12 feet wide, it’s the largest alpine lake in all of North America. It’s also the second-deepest lake in the United States, trailing only behind Crater Lake. Lake Tahoe is among the oldest lakes in the world, and its 39 trillion gallons of water are so clear that researchers can see a 10-inch white disc submerged up to 70 feet deep. Lake Tahoe also spans two states, California and Nevada.
But these and other superlatives aside, Lake Tahoe attracts 15 million visitors each year because of the sheer breadth and diversity of activities the region offers. From bustling casinos and lively breweries to nearly silent hiking trails and peaceful sunrises, this destination delivers on whatever type of vacation you crave.
During the winter months, Lake Tahoe overflows with peppy skiers and snowboarders eager to hit the slopes at the dozen or so ski resorts encircling the lake. As the snow melts, the festive, outdoor-focused vibe remains the same, but the focus shifts to warm-weather pursuits like boating, mountain biking, and golfing. Ready to visit Lake Tahoe in the spring, summer, or fall? Here’s how to make the most of your trip.
Fly into Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which offers nonstop flights from more than 20 destinations, including New York, Chicago, Seattle, and San Francisco. Upon arrival, hop on either the North Lake Tahoe Express shuttle or the South Tahoe Airporter for drop-offs at the many charming cities and towns around the lake. Several private car services also operate in the area, or you can request a ride via ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft.
Depending on your plans, you may also want to consider renting a car. Travelers tend to stick to one side of the lake or the other—the north side is considered more chill and laidback, while the south side runs livelier—but with a car, you can easily go between the two. Plus, the 72-mile drive around Lake Tahoe itself is stunning.
Road-tripping to Lake Tahoe is another popular option, particularly for travelers coming from the Bay Area. From San Francisco, the 218-mile drive typically takes about three-and-a-half hours, though traffic can slow down the journey. Plan to spend between seven and eight hours on the road if you’re driving from Los Angeles (470 miles away) or Las Vegas (440 miles away).
What to do
The lake is the big draw during the warmer months. Water-centric pastimes range from lounging on the sand at Pope Beach and Commons Beach to water skiing, parasailing, kayaking, jet-skiing, paddle boarding, and fishing. Outfitters like Lake Tahoe Boat Rides also offer charter boat rentals, which include a captain to drive around your crew and toys like a floating mat and standup paddle boards. No matter which watersport you choose, remember that the water stays pretty chilly here, even during the peak of summer, with its warmest temperatures hovering between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.