Lake Tahoe is a gem in the Sierra Nevada mountain range straddling both states of California and Nevada. This stunning region is an outdoor haven and there are plenty of things to do in Lake Tahoe all year round.
Winter in Lake Tahoe is a white winter wonderland of fun while summer in Lake Tahoe offers activities like kayaking, swimming, hiking and mountain-biking in beautiful countryside.
The slopes have breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe’s stunning alpine lake framed by snow-capped peaks.
To top it off, 300 days of sunshine and an average annual snowfall of 10.67 metres just about guarantee a fantastic time on the snow.
One of the unique things about Lake Tahoe is it is spread across two US states.
South Lake Tahoe (California) and North Lake Tahoe (Nevada ) are also known as the California Side or the Nevada Side.
- 16 Incredible Things To Do In Lake Tahoe In Winter
- 1- Go on the most beautiful drive in America
- 2- Ski across the California-Nevada border at Heavenly
- 3- Enjoy the fairytale atmosphere of Squaw Valley’s Village
- 4- Go ice skating at Northstar
- 5- Go on a Snowmobile adventure
- 6- Ski like an Olympic champion at Squaw Valley
- 7- Visit the Olympic Museum at High Camp
- 8- Snowshoe in the moonlight
- 9- Try your luck on the casino strip
- 10- Soar in a glider over the high Sierras
- 11- Relax in a day spa
- 12- See the city lights of Reno
- 13- Get active at the Winter Sports Park
- 14- Go dog sledding
- 15- Party at the Snow Globe Music Festival
- 16- Go backcountry skiing at Kirkwood
- 17- Soak in a hot pool
16 Incredible Things To Do In Lake Tahoe In Winter
USA’s Golden State has world-class ski resorts offering record-breaking snowfall, exciting après-ski activities and a variety of lodging options to fit all budgets.
There’s no doubt California is home to some of the country’s best ski slopes and Lake Tahoe’s winter wonderland has the largest concentration of ski resorts anywhere in the USA.
With 12 ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, there are plenty of options for skiing, snowboarding and other activities like snowmobiling and snowshoeing.
The varied terrain of the spectacular Sierra Nevada mountain range offers fun on the slopes for all levels, from gentle slopes for beginners to thrilling backcountry skiing and terrain parks with steep slopes, chutes and mogul fields.
Popular winter resorts in Lake Tahoe are Northstar (great for families), Heavenly Mountain (which has the highest vertical drop in California), Sugarbowl (close to San Francisco) and Squaw Valley.
1- Go on the most beautiful drive in America
As the California-Nevada state line cuts through the middle of Lake Tahoe, the 116-km drive around North America’s largest alpine lake passes through two states.
The lake is massive.
At 35 kilometres long by 19 km wide, it contains enough water to flood California to a depth of 35 cm.
At 1897 m above sea level, “The Most Beautiful Drive in America” is a marketing label that doesn’t oversell the area’s natural beauty.
There are plenty of lookouts from which to admire breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains along with sparkling bays.
Rumour has it the water is so pure that a white dinner plate can be seen as far down as 24 metres.
During the winter months, hire a four-wheel drive sports utility vehicle with all-weather tires equipped to handle wintry conditions.
2- Ski across the California-Nevada border at Heavenly
Board the gondola at the base of Heavenly Mountain for a trip with a view of Lake Tahoe that would make the angels sing.
The most unusual aspect about Heavenly Mountain is that it’s located partly in California and partly in Nevada.
On the California side, the sapphire-blue waters of Lake Tahoe surrounded by snow-capped peaks are a page from a picture-book.
The Nevada side is great for skiing through forests of giant snow-covered pines while the sunburned desert lies in the valley below.
The contrast of wintry alpine and harsh desert vistas is a sight to remember.
Aside from views of the glistening lake, from The Deck, which is a viewing platform 2780 metres above sea level, you’ll be able to see the Desolation Wilderness with its alpine forest, granite peaks, glacial valleys on the California side and views of Carson Valley on the Nevada side.
Peek through high-powered viewing telescopes available to the public for a closer look at landmarks like Emerald Bay, Mount Tallac and Cascade Falls.
Stay at Deerfield Lodge, a luxurious rustic hideaway located a short distance from the Heavenly gondola base.
3- Enjoy the fairytale atmosphere of Squaw Valley’s Village
World-famous for its role as the host of the VIII Olympic Winter Games held in 1960, Squaw Valley offers steep scenic skiing and lots of winter activities for non-skiers.
Olympic Games fans can swap skis for ice skates and glide around the Olympic Ice Pavilion, or pay tribute to the Winter Olympic champions at High Camp’s Olympic Museum.
Enjoy the fairytale atmosphere of a charming ski village framed by picture-perfect snow-covered slopes as you meander around the Squaw Valley village.
The village’s après-ski buzz is alluring in winter, making it one of the best places to visit in California.
Wander along cobblestone walkways to its up-market boutiques, restaurants and cafes.
There are activities for children, a good range of shops, lots of dining choices as well as live music events almost every night of the week.
4- Go ice skating at Northstar
Another village that has a delightful winter wonderland ambience is the village at the base of Northstar at Tahoe.
The picturesque village is centred on a year-round skating rink with luxury condominiums, stylish boutiques, art galleries, cafes and restaurants around it.
When the sun goes down, Northstar-at-Tahoe is one of the best places to trade in the skis or snowboard boots for dancing shoes.
If you’re an ice skater, you’ll love it and even if you’re not, watch the ice-skaters whiz by as you warm your toes by a fire pit while sipping on a hot chocolate is a fun thing to do when visiting Lake Tahoe.
It’s the perfect spot to roast mouth-watering s’mores (creamy melted marshmallows sandwiched between chocolate squares and graham crackers).
Northstar has terrain parks and snow sports such as alpine and telemark skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and tubing.
The après skiing scene at Northstar’s village is vibrant with live bands, special events, festivals and loads of parties.
5- Go on a Snowmobile adventure
Join an exciting snowmobile expedition through pristine wilderness filled with snow-covered pine forests.
The two-hour guided convoy stops at viewpoints on Mount Watson that provide unsurpassed spots from which to photograph the lake.
Speed hounds will get the chance to push the pedal to the metal and tear across a frozen lake.
A snowmobile tour is heaps of fun, with plenty of photo stops along the way and the chance to be awed by views of Lake Tahoe, where pale snow-topped mountains are a tantalising teaser for what is to come.
The forest is breathtakingly beautiful but you could easily get lost so you need to go with a guide.
Most tours have a guide at the front of the group and one at the back, to make sure no one is left behind.
Watson’s Lake is a frozen lake that is a great spot for snow mobile races and if you have the urge to satisfy a need for speed, this is the spot to do it.
6- Ski like an Olympic champion at Squaw Valley
Ski the awe-inspiring terrain that was tackled by the Olympic competitors during the 1960 Winter Olympics held at Squaw Valley.
For expert skiers, Squaw Valley is one of the top places to ski in the USA.
During these games, Jean Vuarnet became the first Olympian to compete on metal skis, a pair of Allais ’60s, winning gold for France in the Men’s Downhill.
This is where the USA won its first gold medal in ice hockey.
Keen skiers will appreciate the night skiing facilities and the resort’s chairlift that provides direct access to the winter Olympic slopes while gently undulating hills at the top of the mountain are a perfect learning playground for beginners.
7- Visit the Olympic Museum at High Camp
If you’re not an expert skier, you can still enjoy Squaw Valley by riding the cable car to High Camp., where there are views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains.
High Camp has an ice-skating pavilion, a heated open-air swimming lagoon and an Olympic Museum which has displays with information, photographs and paraphernalia from the 1960 Winter Olympic Games.
One of the best places to stay at is the Resort at Squaw Creek, a picturesque ski-in and ski-out resort located at the base of the slopes.
For non-skiers, the resort’s Nordic Centre runs dog sled tours, snowshoe tours through a magical forest of pine trees, ice skating and cross-country skiing.
8- Snowshoe in the moonlight
For something out of the ordinary, join a full-moon snowshoe tour.
Northstar at Tahoe has one of the most comprehensive cross-country and snowshoe trails.
Northstar’s terrain is perfect for beginning skiers but avoid weekends and public holidays as the slopes can get overcrowded with California day-trippers.
9- Try your luck on the casino strip
Drive across the border to Nevada and try your luck at one of South Lake Tahoe’s 24-hour casinos.
Cash in your chips and enjoy a cabaret show or live music performance by household names like Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt and Robin Williams.
The casinos are only a few minutes drive from the South Lake Tahoe ski resorts such as Heavenly Valley, Kirkwood and Sierra at Tahoe.
10- Soar in a glider over the high Sierras
Soar above the mountains in a two-person non-motorised glider for a birds-eye view of Emerald Bay and Carson Ridge.
In winter, flying over the high Sierras offers jawdropping scenery and is an experience for your bucket list.
11- Relax in a day spa
In winter, there’s nothing more comforting than to luxuriate in a warm spa as you submit your body to the ministering of an expert masseur.
For a hot stone massage, try The Spa at the Resort at Squaw Creek.
Trilogy Spa at Squaw Valley village is tucked along a cobblestone walkway and specialises in Hawaiian treatments.
The Stillwater Spa at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort offers a barefoot massage where the therapist walks along your back with the aid of two bars mounted on the ceiling.
12- See the city lights of Reno
For a city fix, head to Reno. Known as the “Biggest Little City”, Reno’s casino strip is a mini Las Vegas with well-known casino brands like Circus Circus, Harrah’s and The Sands.
Its lively Riverwalk arts district has galleries, boutiques, eateries and a bustling nightlife.
13- Get active at the Winter Sports Park
The Tahoe City Winter Sports Park is the place to go for an all-inclusive day of winter fun.
It offers a myriad of activities, including fat biking, ice skating, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The entry price to the park allows you to try a bit of everything.
14- Go dog sledding
Sit back in a sled pulled by a team of huskies as a musher guides the dogs through forests and meadows.
Dog sledding in the Sierra Nevada mountains is an adventurous way to enjoy winter scenery while being outdoors.
You’ll be amazed at the athleticism of the dogs and their eagerness to run through the snow.
Several companies offer dog sledding, including Running Creek Dog Sled Rides in Kirkwood, Sierra Adventures and many of the ski resorts can arrange your dog sledding tour for you.
15- Party at the Snow Globe Music Festival
One of the things to do in Lake Tahoe you won’t forget is to usher in the new year at the Snow Globe Music Festival.
The three-day festival attracts top musicians who flock here to help create fantastic music in the mountains across multiple stages.
The final celebration is the New Years Eve event, where you can dance the night away at this super cool EDM music festival and watch the fireworks.
16- Go backcountry skiing at Kirkwood
Black diamond skiers take note.
At 2377 metres, Kirkwood Mountain Resort has the highest base in California and an annual snowfall of around 15 metres.
The snow here is light and dry, making it a top spot for deep-powder skiing.
There are plenty of challenging chutes, cliff drops, and high-pitch bowls and glades offering some of the best advanced and expert terrain in the country.
The backcountry education program offers courses on snow safety, avalanche terrain awareness, and transmitter and transceiver use.
Those who want to experience the thrill of camping out overnight can join a new snow-camping class to learn gear and site selection, packing strategies and cold-weather cooking.
Kirwood’s cat skiing operation offers skiers the opportunity to seek out fresh powder on the Powder Cat Tour to Martin Point and Red Cliffs.
17- Soak in a hot pool
It’s about minus 6°C.
Yesterday’s fresh dump of snow has deposited powdery mounds around the pool and jacuzzis.
I’m wrapped up like a mummy in an oversized white bathrobe, looking a frightful sight with my black woollen beanie and fur-lined hiking boots. But even so, I’m still shivering with cold.
The tendrils of hot steam rising like a Scottish mist above the warm jacuzzi is just enough incentive for me to throw off my bathrobe and slip into whirlpool.
The water embraces me in a warm and wet cocoon.
It seems bizarre to be sitting in a hot pool while gazing at metres of snow but when in Rome, or rather when in Lake Tahoe, it’s best to follow the lead of the locals.
There’s nothing more rewarding than plunging into a heated jacuzzi after an active day out in the snow.
The only problem is that I’m so warm and snug in the water I can’t bring myself to get out.
For more things to do in California see:
Lake Tahoe is 780 kilometres from Los Angeles, around eight hours driving time.