Emerald Bay
photo by Michael

Lake Tahoe is a popular vacation and recreation region straddling the border between California and Nevada. The closest large city is Reno, Nevada. It is especially popular in the summer and winter. Summer activities include golf, boating and hiking. Winter activities include world class skiing, snowmobiling and ice skating. Year round activities include shopping, gambling, eating and taking in the scenery.


Lake Tahoe is a beautiful, crystal-clear blue lake nestled among mountain peaks. It has depths of up to 1,600 feet and the mountain peaks are in the 8,000 to 10,000 foot range. During the summer, boating, camping, and hiking are popular activities. Winter sports are popular during the colder months (December-April).

Lake Tahoe has been a tourist destination since the turn of the 20th century, when steam trains and improving roads made it possible to visit with ease. The 1960 Winter Olympics, held at Squaw Valley, popularized winter sports at Tahoe.


  • Tahoe City - Situated on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe. One of the two main towns on the lake (along with South Lake) this is a smaller more relaxed town with a slight, mountain hippy feel to it. Tahoe City is considerably less crowded and more relaxed than South Lake Tahoe.

  • Truckee - Historic western rail road town located off highway 80 between Route 89 and 237 northwest of the lake.

  • South Lake Tahoe - Located near the border between California and Nevada, you can sleep in California and head up the road to gamble in Nevada.

  • Stateline - is just north of South Lake Tahoe and spans the border of both states and gives you 'walk-to' access for the casinos.

  • Tahoe Vista - A beautiful Lake Tahoe town on the North Shore.

  • Homewood - A quaint west shore resort town west of Tahoe Vista

  • Incline Village - Town on the north shore. Small Population.

Getting there

By plane

Most visitors fly into Reno/Tahoe International Airport , about an hour's drive to Tahoe on Interstate 80.

Major airports are also located in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 4 hours away, and Sacramento, about 2 hours away.

There are also two smaller private airports closer to the Lake, one in Truckee that supports a short runway and mostly propeller airplanes, the second is in South Lake Tahoe and maybe large enough to support small jets.

By car

Getting into the Lake Tahoe region by car is perhaps the most popular method of transportation, but it is not without its hassles and headaches, especially for the first-time visitor.


Be aware that you're driving into a mountainous region that receives heavy snowfall throughout the winter season and other times. Although road conditions are usually clear between April and November, it is not unheard of for heavy snow to fall as late as June, sometimes spontaneously in seemingly warm weather. Always carry snow chains in your car. If roads are slick with snow or ice, CalTrans will inmplement chain control, which usually means you need chains installed on your tires for the affected stretch of highway unless you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle with snow tires. Before planning your trip, check local weather reports as well as the California Highway Information Network (CHIN) (call +1 800 427-7623 in California or +1 916 445-7623 from elsewhere) for traffic conditions. The State of California also provides helpful winter driving tips .

If you are already near or in the Lake Tahoe region without snow chains in your car, but you find that you will need them, try to buy them where the locals might, such as a grocery store or auto part franchise. Prices for chains at gas stations visible from the highway will often be twice as expensive!

Be aware some vehicles cannot accept regular snow chains due to low clearance between the wheel and the wheel well or the suspension parts. Your car's manual will have the necessary information regarding this. You may still be able to use a low-clearance chain such as SSC Super Z6 but ensure that it fits and works properly BEFORE you depart.

During chain control, men in orange jumpsuits will be on hand to install chains for you for a hefty fee of $30 USD (sometimes a little more if they need to cut your chains to fit). If you've never installed chains, the convenience of paying an expert do the job in less than five minutes may outweigh the amount of money you save while shuddering in the cold, hunched over the instructions for half an hour. The choice is entirely yours; a good method of learning how to install chains is to watch someone do it the first time so that you know how it to do it yourself the next time---just consider the $30-$35 your lesson fee. (Or better yet, have an experienced friend teach you before you even leave.)

Four-wheel drive vehicles with snow tires or "mud and snow" tires almost never need chains — Caltrans usually closes the highway altogether for several hours before requiring four-wheel drive vehicles with chains. The latter tires usually have a "M+S" marking on them.

If you are an experienced driver in snow, you may find it ridiculous to be asked to put on chains. But the Highway patrol makes no exceptions unless you have 4wd. You can't argue your way out if it, but you'll get over it and you will laugh heartily at the number of cars spinning out of control (even with 4wd) as inexperienced California drivers attempt to handle the snow by driving as if it isn't there. Take their foolishness realistically - they WILL hit you if they get close. Keep your distance.

Front-wheel drive cars with snow tires on the drive wheels under the weight of the engine do very well.

Rear-wheel drive trucks with no weight in the back do the worst.

Cars with bald tires with chains may still slip and be a major road hazard.

Big rig trucks, the 18 wheelers, can jackknife, and spin and crash, and often are the cause of road closures.

Windshield wipers during snowfall: It's best to find and use special windshield wipers for the snow, where the joints in the wipers are covered up and protected, otherwise, they may freeze, and be useless.

Route highways

To North Lake Tahoe: From the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento, take interstate highway I-80 East toward Reno and exit highway 89 South to Tahoe City. From Reno, take I-80 West toward Sacramento and exit Truckee taking Highway 267 south to the Lake.

To South Lake Tahoe: From the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento, take US Highway 50 East toward South Lake Tahoe.

By bus or shuttle

There is an Amtrak train station in Truckee, California, and bus service from various carriers there to points around the lake. Amtrak offers a combined bus/train service from San Francisco, California (via the Emeryville, California stop) to South Lake Tahoe. Many ski resorts offer bus and shuttle rides from certain pick-up locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Reno, Truckee or from hotels in the Lake Tahoe region. Availability, pick-up locations, schedules and rates vary widely depending on the resort you want to go to. See the Do section below for a list of ski resorts, and check their website or call their office to see what your options are.

By train

Amtrak operates the California Zephyr Train , which goes from Emeryville, CA in the San Francisco Bay Area to Chicago, IL and makes a stop in Truckee.

Traveling around

In North Lake Tahoe there is a Bus service called TART (Tahoe area rapid transit); it does not have the most robust schedule and as cabs can be scarce, so a rental car is a necessity.


See the views of the Lake from the Homewood Chairlifts.

See the mountain valley on the hike up the Emerald bay hiking trail.

Things to do

Ski Resorts

There are many resorts in the Tahoe region for skiers and snowboarders. Lifts are open whenever the snows begin (usually around mid-November) and close when the weather becomes too warm and the snow stops (usually around mid to late-April, though resorts have sometimes closed as late as July 4th). Conditions will vary depending on the resort, and not all mountains are the same.

For an instant overview of the conditions of a number of ski resorts, see Ski Bonk's resort map .

North Shore

  • Alpine Meadows, . On highway 89 between Tahoe City and interstate 80; Alpine is one of the most well established resorts in Lake Tahoe, it boasts a large network of new high speed lifts and enough variety in its terrain to satisfy any level of skier. Alpine also features ticket prices significantly lower than its competitors, while regulating the number of skiers on the mountain to limit crowds.

  • Homewood , +1 530 525-2900. On highway 89/West lake boulevard Homewood is a large resort covering two mountains with variable terrain and many different ski runs, located directly on the lake and producing some of the best views of the lake, 6 miles south of Tahoe City. Typically, Homewood is the least busy resort, has cheaper tickets than most (including a $99 senior season pass). The smaller crowds mean better skiing longer after storms, and more relaxed attitude than some Tahoe areas. Its main downside is that it has no detachable high speed chairlifts, although they have just replaced their oldest and slowest main double chair with a modern triple chair.

  • Northstar , +1 800 GO-NORTH. Lifts open daily from 8:30AM-4PM (weather permitting). Northstar Dr. (off Highway 267, near Truckee), A popular beginner and family-friendly resort, with slopes much less steep than at most other major resorts. Just built "The Village" at the base of the mountain with shops, restaurants, living spaces and an outdoor ice skating rink. Expect large crowds on major holiday weekends.

  • Squaw Valley , +1 530 583-6985. On highway 89 between Tahoe City and interstate 80; Squaw is possibly the most well known resort in all of California, and the setting for the recent book . A complete skier's paradise- magazine favorite for its varied terrain, huge size and massive high speed lift system; and a former Olympic village. Its over sized reputation also presents a downside: crowds that even a on mountain the size of Squaw can swamp the intermediate lifts and result in lines.

South Shore

  • Heavenly - Owned by Vail Resorts, located on the state line (so half casinos, half not)and half the skiing in California and half in Nevada. Beginner, and family-friendly with considerably more terrain than many area resorts, has hosted World Cup ski races.

  • Kirkwood - Located about 45 minutes from South Lake Tahoe, features one of the highest base elevations and most consistent snow packs in the Sierra. Off the beaten path, but not as crowded as Sierra at Tahoe or Heavenly with a larger variety of terrain than either.

  • Sierra at Tahoe , 1111 Sierra-at-Tahoe Road, +1 530 659-7453. Under the same management as Northstar, so a season pass will work at both locations. Slopes are steeper than at Northstar and less well maintained, more of an adventurous place to ski than Northstar is usually not quite as crowded.


  • Diamond Peak - Family-friendly resort with slopes for all ski levels. Great for beginners and kids and has convenient parking, easy, wide slopes and breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe.

  • Mount Rose - Highest base elevation in the Tahoe Basin, and the closest major ski area to Reno it is a favorite of locals, and the site of some of the best chute skiing in Tahoe.

Beyond Donner Pass

If you are heading east from the Bay Area, you have some skiing choices. These resorts are all on Highway 80 going East, before you hit Donner Pass.

  • Boreal Ridge - At the peak on the highway at about 7000 feet, usually one of the first areas to open every year, with extensive night skiing and snow making coverage, this area was one of the first to market with a snowboard terrain Park.

  • Royal Gorge - A cross-country ski area.

  • Sugar Bowl - A resort that consistently among the ski areas with the highest annual snow falls in the US, good varied terrain and an extensive network of high speed lifts, they are also beginning to build a village at the base of Mt. Judah like that at Squaw Valley.

  • Soda Springs - A small area open primarily on weekends near the Mt. Judah entrance to Sugar Bowl.


There are several parks along the shore and nearby, including Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay State Park.

There are many trail in the nearby Desolation Wilderness including Mount Tallac Trail.


  • Sand Harbor, northeast shore.

  • Chamber's Landing, west shore, south of Tahoe City.

  • Meek's Bay, west shore, south of Tahoe City.

  • Tahoe City, North shore, in Tahoe City.

  • Emerald Bay, west shore, south of Homewood on 89.

Boat trips

Several charter services offer boat tours to the mansions that dot the lake shore.

Year-Round Activities

Gambling is a popular activity year-round, many other activities are seasonal. In the winter the skiing in the area is world class and spread across many varied resorts, other winter activities are snow shoeing and snowmobiling. During the summer months boat rentals are available in most towns on the lake. Other activities that draw people to the area are: golf, hiking, mountain biking, and 4-wheeling.


Tahoe City and Squaw Valley have a good selection of bars and nightlife.


Hotels are, of course, an option. Book in advance, especially in the winter or summer seasons. You can get a room for as cheap as $30/night in South Lake Tahoe, get a package at a casino hotel or spend several hundred dollars a night at one of the many resort style hotels on or near the Lake or ski resorts.

Homeowners in the area do a brisk business renting/leasing out their homes, condos and cabins during the winter and summer seasons. They vary in price from a few hundred dollars/night for a short term rental to $800/mo for a 1-room condo and up to $3,000/mo for 4+ bedroom houses with hot tubs and other amenities. Short term rentals and longer term leases are advertised on local travel and tourism web sites, with real estate agencies as well as in the local papers.


You can rent skiing or snowboarding equipment directly at the mountain. However, to save money and increase your available choices, you might want to rent from one of the many Ski Shops in the Tahoe Area Including but not limited to Granite Chief Sports, Squaw Valley Sports, Tahoe Daves, and Porters in Tahoe City. You can also rent from REI, Any Mountain, Helm of Sun Valley, and Marmot Mountain Works in the Bay Area (and probably other places too).


Beware of bears. Do not feed the bears. Do not leave food or food wrappers in your car.

Beware of squirrels and other small rodents as they may carry rabies. Coyotes are also a threat.

Snowstorms blow in quickly and can cause power outages that may last days depending on the remoteness of your location, as well as block off roads with several feet of snow that may fall in a single night. Bring extra food, just in case, and always carry chains in your car as the road restrictions can come up quickly.

Hitchhikers are quite common all around Lake Tahoe.

Contact & location

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The photos displayed on this page are the property of one of the following authors:

Michael, Ville Miettinen, hbp_pix, Mel, St0rmz

Some photos courtesy of: . The photos provided by Flickr are under the copyright of their owners.

This travel guide also includes text from Wikitravel articles, all available at WikitravelView full credits

Peter Fitzgerald, Diann Corbett, Bill Johnson, David, Ravikiran Rao, Evan Prodromou, david walsh, henry lynn, Stacy Hall, Ann, Andrew Zitnay, Tom Holland, Ryan Holliday, Todd VerBeek, lou, Colin Jensen, Simon Frankau, Vahid, Deirdre Golash and Michele Ann Jenkins, Texugo, Schzmo, Jonboy, Huttite, Shorehouse, Nzpcmad, Yosemite and Anca

This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at WikipediaView full credits

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