Planning Your Time in Lake Tahoe

The San Francisco Bay Area is a top vacation destination for people from all over the world. So where do people who live there take their vacations? Tahoe.

Emerald Bay and South Lake Tahoe. Photo © Christopher Arns.
Emerald Bay and South Lake Tahoe. Photo © Christopher Arns.

Sparkling blue Lake Tahoe and its surrounding mountains, lakes, ski resorts, hiking trails, hot springs, charming mountain towns, casinos, and varied wilderness areas say “vacation” to just about anyone. Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide, and 1,645 feet deep at its deepest point, with a surface elevation of 6,225 feet. It’s the 10th-deepest lake in the world and the second-deepest in the United States, after Crater Lake in Oregon. Sixty-three streams flow into the lake, and the Truckee River flows out, carrying Lake Tahoe’s waters to Pyramid Lake. Even though Lake Tahoe’s water temperature ranges 41-68°F, the lake is a great place for all sorts of water activities.

The Tahoe area has an international reputation as a skiing paradise, with some of the finest ski resorts in the nation—second only to the Rockies for vertical drop, quality of snow, and the number of resorts. It offers many opportunities for skiers, snowboarders, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers, as well as for playing in the snow with the kids.

Tahoe is slightly less crowded in the summer months than during ski season, and the weather is gorgeous every day. Between the pristine lake and the unspoiled wilderness areas, it is a delight for wakeboarders, water-skiers, campers, hikers, and families to swim, sun, play in the sand, rent kayaks, or just be in a beautiful place.

Californians often refer to Lake Tahoe simply as Tahoe, but the locals get more specific—it’s all about the North Shore, with ski resorts, the South Shore, with its sprawling town, and East Shore, with glittering casinos just across the state line in Nevada.

It’s possible to drive all the way around the lake, stopping at both the South and North Shores and enjoying the eastern and western perspectives as well as the attractions and natural beauty of both California and Nevada. Whether you’re looking for radical recreation or traditional relaxation of the more restful kind, you can find it at Tahoe year-round.

Planning Your Time

Lake Tahoe has numerous recreation options and is usually accessible year-round. Weekend jaunts are popular, but many people take even longer trips to Tahoe. One- to two-week vacations are common because there’s so much to see and do.

The number-one reason people come to Tahoe is for the snow. The North Shore boasts the most downhill ski resorts, many of them clustered near the small historical town of Truckee.

Skiing in Lake Tahoe. Photo © Myleapyear/Dreamstime
Skiing in Lake Tahoe. Photo © Myleapyear/Dreamstime

Summers are usually sunny and clear, but thanks to the elevation around the lake (5,000-7,000 feet), the temperature never gets too high. In the summer months the average highs stay around 80°F with nights getting down to the 40s. The South Shore offers great lakeshore parks with numerous opportunities to enjoy the water in the summer. The lake is not exactly warm, but in the summer it’s usually warmer than the Pacific Ocean, and people do enjoy swimming in it for a few months of the year.

One thing to remember about mountain regions—summer doesn’t last as long as it does elsewhere. In Tahoe, summer usually means June-August, and sometimes less. When the Donner Party was famously delayed here by severe weather in 1846, it was only October. It’s not unheard of to run into a snowstorm on Memorial Day, so unless you’re going for Fourth of July weekend, put your snow chains in the car.

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