things to do in North Lake Tahoe - kayaking

What Are the Best Things To Do in North Lake Tahoe?

Imagine a dreamy landscape of a crystal-clear lake with secluded beaches along its shores, fragrant pines on the hills above, and snow-capped mountains on the horizon. Lake Tahoe is a natural playground where nature’s best paintings exist in the same gallery. It is the perfect setting to escape or to find soul-soothing outdoor recreation. We will explore the top things to do in North Lake Tahoe so you can customize your getaway.

Where is Lake Tahoe?

Lake Tahoe stretches across the borders of California and Nevada. It is less than an hour’s drive from Reno, Nevada, and about three and a half hours from San Francisco.

Why is Lake Tahoe Special?

Enjoying a view of Lake Tahoe from a walking path
Savoring the view. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Beyond Lake Tahoe’s alluring beauty, it boasts some distinctive measurements. In 2022, the average annual clarity was nearly 72 feet, making the cobalt lake one of our planet’s purest bodies of water. It is North America’s largest alpine lake and the second-deepest lake in the United States, with a depth of 1,645 feet.

Lake Tahoe delivers unparalleled outdoor recreation. Its two main attractions are the lake itself and the surrounding mountains. Winter offers world-class skiing, while summer presents mountain biking and water sports.

The area has a rich history. Palisades Tahoe, formerly Squaw Valley, hosted the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. Those were the first nationally televised Olympic Games.

What is the difference between North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe?

Large boulders along shore of Lake Tahoe
Rocky shore along part of North Lake Tahoe. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

All of Lake Tahoe yields stunning scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities. South Lake Tahoe has a reputation as a bustling entertainment district with casinos and a nightlife scene. 

North Lake Tahoe is renowned for its serene, laid-back vibe. Its quaint towns feel like a community. If you aim to relax, get lost in the wilderness, or tackle outdoor adventures, North Lake Tahoe is calling your name.

When is the Best Time To Visit Lake Tahoe?

Sitting on a wall to enjoy a view of Lake Tahoe
Julie soaks in the view. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Lake Tahoe has two primary seasons: summer and winter. Both are fantastic.

To a large degree, the decision comes down to whether you want to spend time in the mountains or the lake. You can partake in world-class skiing or snowboarding in winter.

Summer offers a chance to catch rays on the beaches or enjoy water sports. Try mountain biking if you desire something more challenging.

The lake gets busy when the summer season peaks in July and August. Visitors decline in autumn. 

Eager guests take to the slopes in winter. Ski season usually runs from late November to late April but varies from year to year. Mother Nature dictates the timing and duration.

If you aim to avoid crowds, consider visiting during shoulder season from March to May or September to November.

Please do not let the fear of crowds prevent you from visiting. Lake Tahoe is vast, as are the surrounding mountains. There is plenty of room for you to relax or recreate. The stunning vistas and the recreational opportunities easily outweigh any negatives due to higher crowds.

What Should You Pack for Lake Tahoe?

With an elevation of more than 6,000 feet above sea level, the weather can change quickly in Lake Tahoe. Pack light layers to stay comfortable and adapt as needed.

Bring your favorite pair of sunglasses. The sun shines brightly, reflecting off the lake and mountains. Consider wearing a hat to shield your eyes further from the sunlight.

Be sure to have water and sunblock with you at all times. They will be your two best friends, protecting you from sunburn and dehydration.

Between the cool mountain air and the elevation, you may only realize you are sunburnt or dehydrated once it is too late.

If you pack appropriately, protect your eyes and skin from the sun, and drink plenty of water, Lake Tahoe provides the setting for a memorable vacation.

Things To Do in North Lake Tahoe

Although many activities are seasonal, North Lake Tahoe offers plenty of things to do for visitors in summer and winter.

Ski at Palisades Tahoe

Mountains in the background of The Village at Palisades Tahoe
The Village at Palisades Tahoe. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Skiers may think they are in heaven. North Tahoe boasts eleven downhill ski resorts, the largest concentration in North America. Each offers an excellent skiing experience. 

Palisades Tahoe is the top ski resort due to its history, Olympic village, and world-class slopes. The Olympic spirit still lives in the vibrant town of shops and eateries. 

Take a ten-minute aerial tram ride to Palisades Tahoe’s High Camp, where you have stunning views and access to the Olympic Museum and those famous ski slopes.

If you visit during summer, the aerial tram ride is a thrilling experience. It is worthwhile to gaze upon Lake Tahoe nestled between the mountains. Kids can enjoy roller skating at High Camp while you savor the views.

Tahoe Gal Cruise

Tahoe Girl cruise ship at Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe Gal. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

A relaxing summer cruise on an iconic paddle-wheeler is a fantastic way to experience Lake Tahoe’s beauty firsthand. The Tahoe Gal cruises daily from Tahoe City along the North and West Shores to the alluring Emerald Bay. Options include brunch, lunch, happy hour, and dinner voyages. 

Learn about the region while you enjoy the gorgeous lake and mountain views. In Emerald Bay State Park, you will discover Vikingsholm Castle, unique rock formations, and a cascading waterfall.

Scenic Bike Ride

Surrounded by beautiful scenery, Lake Tahoe is the perfect setting for a memorable bike ride. Two North Lake Tahoe bike trails stand out from the crowd.

The Truckee River Bike Trail traces the Truckee River between Olympic Valley and Tahoe City. Visitors can rent bikes from Olympic Bike Shop in Tahoe City or Truckee River Bikes in Olympic Valley. 

A paved, mostly level path takes you on a blissful five-mile journey through the forest. The scent of towering pines and the sound of rushing water is a feast for the senses. 

The Tahoe East Shore Trail runs from Incline Village to Sand Harbor State Park. It is paved, ten feet wide, and nearly three miles each way. The path accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Visitors can learn about the region’s geology, history, flora, and fauna by reading informative panels. The breathtaking scenery reveals sandy beaches, scattered boulders along the shoreline, and emerald coves. It is dubbed “America’s Most Beautiful Bikeway.”

Chickadee Ridge

things to do in North Lake Tahoe - feed chickadees from your hand in Chickadee Ridge
Julie feeds a chickadee from her hand in Chickadee Ridge. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Suppose you seek something different, head to Chickadee Ridge near Incline Village. It is part of Tahoe Meadows and the Tahoe Rim Trail, about a half mile from the Mount Rose summit. 

Chickadee Ridge is an excellent area for hiking. In winter, you can try snowshoeing and sledding. Both are a blast. However, the real magic in Chickadee Ridge is feeding birds out of your hand. 

So, bring birdseed with you. Hold out your seed-filled hand and quietly do your best statue imitation. Soon chickadees will flutter down for a nibble. The experience is a surefire way to put a smile on your face, whether you are a kid or an adult.

Sand Harbor Beach

things to do in North Lake Tahoe - go to Sand Harbor Beach
Sand Harbor Beach. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Widely recognized as one of the most beautiful spots along Lake Tahoe, Sand Harbor Beach is a must. Massive boulders dot the coastline of sandy beaches as crystal clear water gives way to surreal mountains on the horizon.

With these views, you could easily spend the day relaxing on the beach. It is also the perfect spot for all water sports, from swimming to paddling. 

The beach sits within Sand Harbor State Park in Washoe County, Nevada. When ready for a break from the beach, head to the park’s picnic area shaded by cedars and Jeffrey pines. 

These are two of the most fragrant trees you will find. To most, Jeffrey pines generate a scent reminiscent of vanilla or butterscotch. It is an excellent place to relax while enjoying lunch or snacks.

Rent a Boat at Tahoe City Marina

Renting a boat and spending a day on the water is the best way to fully experience the lake in summer. Where can you find boat rentals on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe?

Tahoe City Marina is one of the largest and oldest marinas on Lake Tahoe. It rests in Tahoe City near a shopping and dining hub. 

Depending on your preference, the marina rents sailboats and powerboats. Either way, the breathtaking scenery will leave you with a memory for a lifetime.

Play a Round of Golf

Surrounded by natural beauty, a relaxing round of golf may be just what the doctor ordered. Tahoe Donner Golf Course in Truckee received course improvements over the past two years, including new greens and wider fairways. 

The 18-hole par-72 championship course is known for scenic fairways and fast greens. Tahoe Donner offers a fun but challenging course among towering pines.

North Lake Tahoe blesses visitors with other excellent courses, including Incline Village Championship Golf Course, Old Brockway Golf Course in Kings Beach, and Tahoe City Golf Course. Each offers beautiful scenery and a fun round of golf.

Play a Round of Miniature Golf

North Lake Tahoe has two fantastic options if you prefer miniature golf or want to work on your putting. Kings Beach Miniature Golf in the heart of Kings Beach is a family-oriented facility with two courses. 

It was established in 1957 and is Lake Tahoe’s oldest mini-golf course. After a fun game, you can enjoy ice cream or candy.

Magic Carpet Golf and Arcade sits in Carnelian Bay. The facility boasts two 19-hole courses and a monstrous 28-hole course overlooking Lake Tahoe. 

You will discover many unique structures and challenges during your game. After a fun round of golf, you can play pinball and video games in their arcade.

Cobblestone Center Shopping Mall

Blooming golden chains in Tahoe City
Blooming golden chains at The Cobblestone Center. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

For those who seek a leisurely afternoon of shopping, head to The Cobblestone Center in downtown Tahoe City. It oozes charm with Bavarian-style architecture and a village clocktower. Quaint boutique shops sell everything from souvenirs to jewelry.

You can make pottery and crafts at The Hot Spot and sample delicious wines at Uncorked. Enjoy California pub fare and local craft brews at the Tahoe Tap Haus as you take a break from your shopping excursion.

Nearby, you will discover Tahoe City Marina, many other eateries, and paved paths along the cobalt lake.

Hiking

Hiking is a popular North Lake Tahoe activity due to the abundant forests and mountains. Here are two of the area’s best hiking trails.

Monkey Rock

The name alone is intriguing. Monkey Rock is a moderate 2.5-mile round-trip hike with an excellent view of Lake Tahoe  and a rock formation resembling a monkey’s head popping out of the ground. 

Although the rock is interesting, the stunning perspective of the lake makes the trek an absolute treasure.

You will encounter a 500 feet elevation change each way. The trail sits at the Bullwheel parking lot along Highway 28, about two miles south of Incline Village.

Tunnel Creek Cafe nestles near the parking lot. Please note some GPS apps identify the lot as the Tunnel Creek Trailhead.

When hiking to Monkey Rock, you will start on the Tunnel Creek Trail before taking a spur trail to the namesake rock. A few other routes also intersect Tunnel Creek Trail. The paths are well-marked. 

Eagle Rock

Located along the lake’s west shore five miles south of Tahoe City near Homewood, Eagle Rock Trail is an easy to moderate 0.7-mile out-and-back trail. The summit is 6,286 feet, yielding magnificent views of the sparkling lake with towering pines. 

Eagle Rock is a popular area for birding and snowshoeing. Some hikers spot bald eagles or peregrine falcons from the peak.

Parking is available on CA-89 and is well-marked. The trail has an elevation change of approximately 250 feet. It is a short but rewarding hike.

Tahoe City Winter Sports Park

If you seek fun for the whole family in winter, check out Tahoe City Winter Sports Park. It offers sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

The park is perfect for families who find downhill skiing intimidating but still want to enjoy outdoor recreation. It is also an excellent option when children vary in age or interests, allowing everyone to find their activity and have fun. The park has some dog-friendly trails for those traveling with a pet.

Please note you must make advanced reservations at Tahoe City Winter Sports Park.

Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks

Winter is not the only time of year for thrillseekers. Visit Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks in Tahoe City, Olympic Valley, or Tahoe Vista. Each location delivers a unique experience.

These parks offer challenging courses of zip lines and various bridges in the towering pines. Visitors can choose from beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses. Adventures are for ages six and up. For those who do not fear heights, it is a blast.

Kayak Tour with Tahoe Adventure Company

Kayaks along the shore at Lake Tahoe
Kayaks on Sand Harbor Beach along Lake Tahoe. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Tahoe Adventure Company in Tahoe Vista offers outstanding stand-up paddleboard and kayak tours. You can choose from a selection of excursions. We recommend the Thunderbird Lodge kayak tour.

The tour provides a shuttle service to Sand Harbor State Park from the North Tahoe Nevada Welcome Center. A guide will lead you on a kayak tour along the crystal clear lake to the only undeveloped section of Lake Tahoe. Here you will tour the Thunderbird Lodge, a National Historic Site. 

Before returning to Sand Harbor Beach, you will enjoy lunch with a breathtaking view of jagged mountains on the horizon and sparkling waters in the foreground.

During the journey, you will paddle between giant boulders in the water. One of those boulders is the iconic Bonsai Rock. It is a perfect photo opportunity.

Fire Sign Cafe

Fire Sign Cafe - restaurant in Lake Tahoe
Fire Sign Cafe. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

If you only eat out once for breakfast, visit Fire Sign Cafe in Tahoe City. It has the atmosphere of a cozy cabin, the friendly service of a quaint town, and the delicious food of a high-quality mountain resort restaurant.

The diner serves breakfast and lunch from 7 am to 2:30 pm. Texas-sized portions cover nearly every centimeter of the plate. 

Fire Sign Cafe serves many classic breakfast dishes, including pancakes, waffles, French toast, omelets, benedicts, scrambles, crepes, breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal, granola, fruit, and giant breakfast burritos. Lunch items include healthy salads, homemade soups, sandwiches, and burgers. 

The food is delicious, and everybody in the establishment grins from ear to ear. To start your day right, eat breakfast at Fire Sign Cafe.

Gar Woods Grill & Pier

things to do in North Lake Tahoe - eat at Gar Woods Grill & Pier
Fish tacos with a view at Gar Woods Grill & Pier. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

For a tasty lunch or dinner with an excellent view, head to Gar Woods Grill & Pier in Carnelian Bay. Although they have nice indoor seating, they shine with their outdoor deck and long pier. Enjoy California fare and fruity rum cocktails with your stunning view of Lake Tahoe.

Popular lunch menu items include a Hawaiian chicken sandwich, a French dip sandwich, and fish tacos. Dinner menu highlights include ribeye, filet mignon, and lobster. Finish your meal with divine warm chocolate croissant bread pudding.

Go to a Casino

Although South Lake Tahoe is more renowned for casinos, you have a few options on the Nevada side of North Lake Tahoe. The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa & Casino sits in Incline Village. Their famous Grand Lodge Casino houses over 270 slot machines, 17 table games, and a full-service sportsbook.

In its namesake town, the Crystal Bay Casino boasts the most trendy casino along Lake Tahoe. They offer fine dining, entertainment, and 30 state-of-the-art plasma television screens. Crystal Bay has slots, table games, and an extensive sportsbook. They also provide a smokeless gaming center for non-smoking slot players.

Where To Stay in North Lake Tahoe

places to stay in Lake Tahoe - The Village at Palisades Tahoe
Balcony view from a room in The Village at Palisades Tahoe. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Visitors have many accommodation options in North Lake Tahoe, including ski resorts, lodges, inns, and boutique hotels. The Village at Palisades Tahoe offers a unique experience. It is located at the base of a mountain and provides on-site shopping and dining. Guests have excellent mountain views and quick access to outdoor recreation.

Steeped in Olympic history, the lodge and its accompanying village of restaurants and shops generate an energetic vibe. Walking through the grounds with mountains soaring on the horizon instantly draws a smile.

It is the perfect place for skiers, delivering world-class terrain. The mountain views offer peace for those who do not enjoy skiing, while the shops and eateries extend an invitation to relax. Food options in The Village include pizza, coffee, pub fare, Mexican cuisine, Irish dishes, acai bowls, and more.

Most rooms have a full kitchen, fireplace, and private balcony. Guests can eat in their room while savoring the view or quickly walk to any on-site restaurant. After a delicious meal, you can soak in any of their eight outdoor hot tubs.

A ten-minute ride on the aerial tram takes guests to the summit, yielding exquisite views of Lake Tahoe between peaked ridges. This area, dubbed High Camp, houses the Olympic Museum and ski slopes for all skill levels.

You will find plenty to do in The Village and High Camp. However, within a short drive, you can quickly access Lake Tahoe, additional shops and eateries, beaches, and trails for hiking and biking.

Wrap-Up: Things To Do in North Lake Tahoe

North Lake Tahoe is a fantastic destination for anyone who loves the outdoors. Summer delivers water sports, beach time, and mountain biking, while winter brings world-class skiing. If you prefer to relax, North Lake Tahoe displays some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. Regardless of your seasonal preference, desire to relax or recreate, or if you prefer mountains or the lake, North Lake Tahoe welcomes you with open arms and plenty to do.

This article originally appeared on Savoteur.

Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey

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Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey

Scott And Julie McConkey

After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!
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