3-Day Lake Tahoe Itinerary: The Perfect Summer Weekend

Being one of California’s most family-friendly destinations, Lake Tahoe is a gorgeous place that you must see for yourself.

Lake Tahoe has a lot of really great beaches, which is something a lot of other lakes lack. That means not only can you partake in a bunch of usual watersports, but you can even lounge, beach, picnic, and sunbathe. It is truly a premier getaway destination and an adventurer’s paradise at the same time!

We are so blessed to live just 3 hours away from this magical landmark. This means we’ve been able to explore the heck out of Lake Tahoe to bring you the best recommendations in this post!

If you’re planning a 2 or 3-day Lake Tahoe itinerary, let me tell you upfront, it is no easy task. There’s simply too much to choose from! However, we’ve compiled our version of a 3-day itinerary based on our multiple trips to the Tahoe area.

We hope you’re able to get some inspiration and find some new activities to add to your own Lake Tahoe itinerary!

This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!


WHY VISIT LAKE TAHOE?

Situated right between the states Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe is 1,644’ deep, making it the second deepest lake in the USA, just behind Crater Lake in Oregon. And not only is it super deep, but it’s also HUGE. The lake is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide, and has 72 miles of shoreline.

Lake Tahoe is the only lake I’ve visited that actually looks tropical. I mean, from the looks of these photos, you would think we’re hanging out in the turquoise waters of Cancun or the Caribbean. Well, you’d be completely wrong!

This incredibly clear turquoise water belongs to Lake Tahoe, California. It’s truly a gorgeous, laidback destination that you must see for yourself.

Lake Tahoe also has a lot of really great beaches, which is something a lot of lakes lack. That means not only can you partake in a bunch of usual watersports, but you can even beach and sunbathe!

That’s right–if you’re like me and not a good swimmer by any means, Lake Tahoe doesn’t judge. There are chill, shallow spots by the lake perfect for you!

No matter the season, Lake Tahoe offers up a ton of fun. During the warmer seasons, you can get your fill of swimming, water sports, golfing, cycling, mountain biking, and hiking. During the winter season, there’s snowshoeing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, and world-class downhill skiing.

All year round, visitors can also enjoy the buzzing, energetic towns dotted all around the lake. Hanging out in these parts of town is the perfect end to a day of outdoor recreation.


WHEN TO VISIT LAKE TAHOE

The great thing about Lake Tahoe is that it is one of those rare places that’s considered a year-round destination! No matter when you visit, there will be lots of buzzing energy as well as lots of outdoor activities to engage in.

One important thing to note is that Lake Tahoe tends to have longer winters and shorter summers, which is really good news if you’re looking for a winter or skiing/snowboarding trip! It’s no wonder why Lake Tahoe is a world-class destination for skiing and snowboarding in the winter.

If you’re looking for an awesome trip filled with hot cocoa, cozy cabin life, and snow activities, the best time to visit Lake Tahoe is from December to February.

Depending on the snowfall from the previous winter, the snow should melt from most of the area’s low-elevation areas by the month of June. June usually marks the start of summer in the area, where you can expect daytime temperatures to be between the 70s and 80s F (21 to 26 C).

In the summer, the major highlight is the lake. You can sunbathe on the beaches, kayak, swim, and even stand-up paddleboard on the water. In addition to all the lake activities, camping is super popular as well as hiking on all the scenic mountain trails.

There’s so much happening around the lake in the summer that it’s impossible to list it all. You can easily expect there to be an event at a resort or a festival every weekend.

The best time to get in on all the summer fun is during the months of June to August. While the weather is perfect for summer activities, crowds are at an all-time high. You can expect prices on hotels to double or even triple in the summer, when demand is highest.

The shoulder seasons are in the spring and fall when it might be a bit too chilly for water activities, yet not cold enough for snowboarding or skiing. This is still a really great time to visit!

We especially like visiting during the months of September and October. It’s still warm enough for all the typical summer activities, but the huge crowds have gone home and lodging prices have dropped. You can expect the popular Autumn Food & Wine Festival as well as lots of Oktoberfest celebrations (the biggest ones are held at Squaw Valley and Camp Richardson)!

Lake Winnemucca Hike - 3 Day Lake Tahoe Itinerary - TravelsWithElle

However, there is one slight drawback–especially for those of you looking to camp! Nights during these months can drop below freezing.

You may begin to see bits of snow on the highest peaks in early October. From there, the lake will be too cold to enjoy. Most ski resorts will aim to open by mid-November.

Our Lake Tahoe itinerary will be more geared towards a visit during the warmer months where you can enjoy more of the water activities and actually get into the lake.


HOW TO GET TO LAKE TAHOE

There are a few different ways to get to Lake Tahoe and the best way to get there will depend on where you’re coming from.

BY PLANE

If you are far enough away where it makes sense to fly, the closest airports to Lake Tahoe are:

  • Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) – about 50 miles to North Tahoe and about 60 miles to South Lake Tahoe. The drive from Reno to Incline Village (North Lake Tahoe) takes about 45 minutes.
  • Sacramento International Airport (SMF) – about 119 miles to North Tahoe and 114 miles to South Lake Tahoe
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – about 246 miles to Reno/Lake Tahoe
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK) – about 246 miles to Reno/Lake Tahoe

From any of these airports, simply rent a car and be on your merry way.

We like to rent from Hertz. Why? Well with their Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program (completely free to join), you’ll get counter-free pickup at select locations, and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive. Book your rental car with them here!

BY CAR

If you’re departing from somewhere in California, Lake Tahoe is easy enough to get to by car. In terms of convenience, driving is definitely the best way to get to Lake Tahoe.

Once you get to Tahoe, you’ll appreciate having a car to explore the area since many attractions are spaced far apart. Plus if you’re trying to do the entire drive around the lake, it takes at least three hours to drive around the entire shoreline of Lake Tahoe.

The route you take to get to Lake Tahoe will depend on if you’re visiting North or South Lake Tahoe first.

Here’s an example if you’re coming from the San Francisco, the Bay Area, or Sacramento area.

  • If you’re visiting North Lake Tahoe (Tahoe City), you’ll take the I-80 East to Highway 89 South.
  • If you’re visiting South Lake Tahoe, it’s a better move to take Highway 50 East. There are great views along the way!

BY TRAIN

Amtrak is the one and only train line throughout the year that connects the Bay Area to South Lake Tahoe, California. The schedule is relatively limited as the train only runs once or twice a day.

You’ll need to take the Amtrak train from Richmond to the Lake Tahoe area on the “California Zephyr”. Lake Tahoe area stops include South Lake Tahoe, Stateline, and Truckee.

If you’re heading to South Lake Tahoe, your destination will be South Lake Tahoe, CA. If you’re heading a bit further east to the Stateline, NV, get a ticket to the Stateline Transit Center.

If you’re heading to North Lake Tahoe, your destination will be Truckee, CA. Once you’re in Truckee, you can use the Truckee Area Regional Transit bus service to get to the main attractions and ski resorts of Lake Tahoe.

BY BUS

If you’re traveling to Lake Tahoe during the ski season, you can very easily hop on a ski bus from San Francisco. Several companies make it possible to go on a skiing day trip by bus including Tahoe Ski Trips and the Sports Basement ski bus.

The only other bus option during other parts of the year is to take a Greyhound bus from various parts of the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, Vallejo) to Truckee, CA which is about a 5 to 6-hour ride. Again, once you’re in Truckee, you can use the Truckee Area Regional Transit bus service to get to the main attractions and ski resorts of Lake Tahoe.

While it does take a bit longer, this is the cheapest option for getting to Lake Tahoe.


WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE TAHOE

There are many small towns along the shores of Lake Tahoe you could stay in, such as South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village, Kings Beach, and Tahoe City. Alternatively, there are also many larger cities in close proximity to the lake such as Reno, Truckee, and Carson City.

From any of these cities, it’s relatively easy to get to the lake. The larger cities will require a bit more driving to reach the lake but lodging is usually cheaper than staying in a town directly on the lake.

3-Day Lake Tahoe Itinerary - Where To Stay In Lake Tahoe

If you’re looking for the best places to stay, both Incline Village (north) and South Lake Tahoe (south) make for a great base of operations because you will be in the middle of everything. However, because of their convenient locations, a lot of the lodging options can also skew towards the pricier side.

If you aren’t traveling on a budget, these are some of the best hotels in the Lake Tahoe area.

  • Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort (Incline Village, NV) – Featuring a 24-hour casino, various bars/restaurants, a year-round outdoor heated pool and 2 hot tubs
  • Basecamp Tahoe South (South Lake Tahoe, CA) – modern rooms, stylish rustic furnishing, and a rooftop hot tub! S’mores are available to guests.
  • Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel (South Lake Tahoe, CA) – features spacious guest rooms, a restaurant, indoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center. Guests also have access to the three garden atriums.
  • Hotel Azure (South Lake Tahoe, CA) – features gorgeous, rustic rooms with a private balcony or patio featuring lake views in many of the rooms.
  • Marriott Grand Residence Club, Lake Tahoe (South Lake Tahoe, CA) – Located in Heavenly Village just steps from Heavenly Resort’s ski gondola. All units offer well-equipped kitchens, separate living and dining areas, and a cozy fireplace! There is an on-site spa, heated outdoor pool, and wellness center on the property.

For budget travelers looking for the best value, consider booking the accommodations as early as possible (to catch rooms at the best prices) or consider camping.

Camping will definitely be the cheapest option. Fortunately, Lake Tahoe has loads of great campgrounds, some of which are right on the water!

  • Eagle Point Campground – This campground is in the iconic Emerald Bay State Park itself, which is often considered the best park in Lake Tahoe! NOTE: While dogs are not allowed on trails or beaches in the state park, they are allowed at this campground.
  • D.L. Bliss State Park Campground – Located very close to the iconic Emerald Bay State Park, this campground is another great option. You’ll be close to a ton of epic hikes and beaches.
  • Campground by the Lake – If you want to be super close to town, this private campground is a good option. The Safeway grocery store is one block east of the campground and directly across the street is a small convenience store, cafes, and sandwhich shops.

For more camping options, check out the Tahoe South site. They provide a pretty comprehensive list of campground options.

Tahoe Road Trip Views - SF To Lake Tahoe Reno Road Trip Stops - TravelsWithElle

Another good option if you don’t mind driving is to stay in Reno, NV. You will often find more affordable accommodations here.

We ended up staying in Reno during one of our two Lake Tahoe trips last year. Not because we were looking to save money, but because of how limited lodging options were in Lake Tahoe during the summer! (To be fair, our trip was extremely last minute. Totally our bad.)

Our first choice in Reno is the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino. Search for availability and prices for Reno hotels here.

Pro Tip: Learn from our mistake–do not underestimate the summer crowds and book accommodations early! Lake Tahoe is a popular and rather touristy destination, so costs for accommodations can get pretty high. Save money by booking hotels/vacation homes as early as possible or by camping instead.


LAKE TAHOE ITINERARY: DAY 1

Today will be all about South Lake Tahoe. South Lake Tahoe provides a completely different experience compared to North Lake Tahoe and Incline Village. Along with access to the great outdoors and miles of beaches, this side of the lake offers casinos, late-night dining, and festive nightlife options. No matter the time of day, South Lake Tahoe is always buzzing with energy.

Morning: coffee and breakfast

Black Velvet Coffee - Mammoth Lakes, CA - TravelsWithElle

If you don’t need much for breakfast (but do need your coffee fix), head to Cuppa Tahoe. This unique spot not only serves up heartwarming coffee but also doubles as a bookstore and a relaxing reading spot!

If you want to pair your morning cup of joe with more sustenance, head to Revive Coffee & Wine. They serve up really delicious pastries, paninis, small plates and desserts along with artisan coffee and fine wines.

Take a hike at Emerald Bay State Park

Lake Tahoe Road Trip Stops - TravelsWithElle

In terms of hiking, one of the best options here is the Rubicon Trail (not to be confused with the other 22-mile long, four-wheel-drive Rubicon Trail west of the lake). The Rubicon Trail in South Lake Tahoe connects two of the most beautiful state parks in all of California, D.L. Bliss SP and Emerald Bay SP.

This is a 6.5-mile one-way trail, and the best way to hike it is with 2 cars (one parked at each state park). This allows you to hike the trail as a 6.5-mile one-way instead of a 13-mile out and back.

Don’t feel like doing an intense 13-mile hike? Don’t worry, you can also shorten it by turning around at any time.

Another shorter but equally as great of a hike is the 1.4-mile Cascade Falls Trail. This beautiful trail leads to a gorgeous waterfall within Emerald Lake State Park on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on a leash.

The hike to Vikingsholm Castle is another really popular short hike. The walk down to the castle is manageable and is well worth the effort if you love castles! They give tours in the warmer months as well. In fact, the only way for the public to enter the Vikingsholm is by tour.

Pro Tip: Pack a picnic lunch for your hike! If you’re able to pick up sandwiches or picnic snacks the night before or the morning before you head to Emerald Bay State Park, you’ll be able to enjoy lunch among the scenic trees and lake views.

Ride bikes on the Pope-Baldwin Bike Path

 Pope-Baldwin bike path - 3 Day Lake Tahoe Itinerary - TravelsWithElle

One of our favorite summer activities in Lake Tahoe is bike riding! And one of the easiest and most family-friendly places to enjoy a bike ride is on the Pope-Baldwin Bike Path.

This bike path starts approximately one mile north of Highway 89 and the Lake Tahoe Boulevard intersection, also known as the “Y.” On this scenic ride, you’ll be meandering through old-growth forests on a nice cement road. There are some quick ups and downs you’ll have to watch out for in the road, but the path is relatively flat and kid-friendly.

The really cool thing about this bike path is that it’ll take you past multiple entrances to various beaches, as well as the Tallac Historic Site and Camp Richardson. Along the way, you will see signs letting you know which roads provide beach access.

One of our favorite stops along this path is Kiva Beach! Beach access is free if you’re arriving via bike and they have bike parking, so be sure to bring a lock if you want to enjoy some time on the beach before riding back.

On our last trip, we decided to skip the bike rentals and instead brought our own bikes. If you need to rent bikes, you can rent at nearby shops like Camp Richardson Outdoor Sports or Anderson’s Bicycle Rental.

Pro Tip: Biking to the beaches on this bike path is one of the best transportation options during the busy summer months. Car traffic and parking can get pretty crazy on the weekends.

Stop in Camp Richardson for ice cream

Camp Richardson Ice Cream Parlor - 3 Day Lake Tahoe Itinerary

Before heading back to your hotel, vacation home, or bike rental shop, stop by Camp Richardson’s ice cream parlor!

This place is near and dear to my heart as there is no better way to end a bike ride than with a scoop of thick and creamy old-fashioned ice cream. They offer 18 flavors of premium Crystal Creamery ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sherbet to choose from. While all the flavors look great, I can never seem to stray away from my favorite–cookies and cream!

While the ice cream scoop prices have increased over the years (I still remember visiting when a single scoop was $1.99!), it’s still such a steal. You get so much ice cream for just ‘one’ scoop!

They are open Memorial Weekend through Labor Day.

Eat dinner in South Lake Tahoe

You’ve probably worked up an appetite after all the outdoor activity from today. After getting showered and spending a few moments relaxing at your hotel, it’s time to head back out to South Lake Tahoe for dinner.

What you’ll find is that there are many, many restaurants on the south shore. There are so many options that you can rest assured you’ll never have to eat at the same place twice!

Head to Himmel Haus, the best German restaurant and bierhaus in Tahoe, for classic German eats and beers. For a Scottish pub type of night, head to MacDuff’s Pub to try traditional dishes like corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, cottage pie, and shepherd’s pie. If you’re feeling more like Thai, we love My Thai Cuisine!

If you want to try the local brews, head to South Lake Brewing Company, Stateline Brewery, or the Brewery at Lake Tahoe.

After enjoying the ambiance of South Lake Tahoe and maybe downing a couple of beers, it’s time to head back to your lodging. Rest up and get ready for another action-packed day tomorrow!


LAKE TAHOE ITINERARY: DAY 2

Enjoy a sit-down breakfast

Today, let’s kick it off with a casual, sit-down breakfast meal! The Getaway Cafe, Bert’s Cafe, or Heidi’s Pancake House are three really great breakfast options. Since they are all good, choose the one that’s either closest to you or has what you’re looking for on the menu.

And don’t be afraid to really eat because you’ll need a lot of fuel for what’s to come today!

Hike the Lake Winnemucca Trail

Lake Winnemucca Hike - 3 Day Lake Tahoe Itinerary - TravelsWithElle

This hike brings you away from the hustle and bustle of Lake Tahoe to another smaller lake in the El Dorado National Forest area, Lake Winnemucca. Lake Winnemucca from Carson Pass via Pacific Crest Trail is a 5.1 mile out and back trail that features beautiful wildflowers and picturesque lake views.

We initially found this off-the-beaten-path hike because we were searching specifically for dog-friendly hikes. Having enjoyed it so much, it is actually now one of our favorite hikes in the entire Lake Tahoe region!

As you hike, you may begin to notice how reminiscent the terrain is to Mount Rainier National Park. The bright green meadows are absolutely gorgeous! You will also be passing by a few lakes, so if you or your dog have it in you to jump in, you can get a really refreshing swim in (and by refreshing, I mean cold)!

Lake Winnemucca Hike - 3 Day Lake Tahoe Itinerary - TravelsWithElle

Swim at Secret Cove

Secret Cove - Lake Tahoe Road Trip Stops From SF - TravelsWithElle

Secret Cove is one of those unbelievably picturesque Lake Tahoe spots and you can easily see why! This photogenic little cove is surrounded by granite boulders, sandy shoreline, and crystal clear waters.

Among the dressed sunbathers and swimmers here, you can oftentimes find nude sunbathers and swimmers! That’s right, Secret Cove is also a nude beach. But who cares, we’re all there for the same thing– to enjoy the gorgeous lake!

One other thing to know about Secret Cove is that it takes some effort to access. We’re always up for an adventure, so a small hike in order to access a lake was a no-brainer for us. The 1-mile walk over was so worth it. Just take a look at the beauty of that view!

How To Get There: There are multiple ways to get here. Secret Cove is accessible by parking at the Secret Harbor Parking area and walking down the access road until you reach the vault toilet. From here, take the trail to the lakeshore (0.5-mile walk from the toilet). We followed other hiking directions, parked at the Chimney Beach Trailhead parking lot and took the Chimney Beach access trail over to Secret Cove (this parking lot is across the street from the trailhead). This was a longer walk over to the cove, but the walk was easy and mostly flat.

Explore Stateline and Heavenly Village

After your swim at Secret Cove, head back to your hotel/lodging and get cleaned up.

From there, it’s time to explore a different part of Lake Tahoe. We’re heading across state lines to Nevada! Don’t let that intimidate you–the drive from South Lake Tahoe (California) to Stateline (Nevada) is a mere 5 minutes.

Head to Stateline, NV where the resorts/casinos like Harrah’s, Bally’s, and Hard Rock are located. If you want to try your luck at the casinos, now is the time. If not, head a few minutes south, back to the California side to explore Heavenly Village. The Shops at Heavenly Village are great for shopping, live music, and more.

Heavenly also has a scenic gondola ride that you can take 2.4-miles up if you’re looking for a different perspective of the lake. Stop at the Observation Deck for photos and grab yourself an afternoon pick me up at Cafe Blue.

Get dinner in the Stateline area

Tonight, you can enjoy dinner in the Stateline area. A lot of the restaurants here are fancier than in South Lake Tahoe, so tonight is the night to get dressed up if that’s your thing!

Some of the best options here include The Oyster Bar (same one as the one in Las Vegas!), Ivano’s Italian Restaurant, and Chart House (a fine dining restaurant serving seafood/steak, famous for their restaurant views).

For something on the more casual side, California Burger is not to be missed!


LAKE TAHOE ITINERARY: DAY 3

Kayak or paddle at Sand Harbor

Sand Harbor is a small but beautiful park, featuring a huge beach and really packs a punch in terms of views. Sand Harbor Beach offers amazing views and the opportunity to photograph all of the natural beauty, crystal-clear water, and interesting rock formations.

In fact, most of the photos you’ve seen of Lake Tahoe that feature people paddle boarding or kayaking through crystal clear water with giant boulders were probably taken at Sand Harbor.

Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available for rent at Sand Harbor during the summer from Sand Harbor Rentals.

You can also pay for guided tours. One of the coolest tours offered is the kayak tour to Bonsai Rock in a clear-bottomed kayak! Check out all the awesome tours offered by Clearly Tahoe here.

It costs $10 to enter Sand Harbor, but it’s well worth it. While there is a designated parking lot, it fills up really early in the summer. You can expect the lot to be completely full by 8:30 am on summer weekends and even some weekdays during July and August. Head here as early as possible, preferably first thing in the morning.

Sand Harbor Beach - Lake Tahoe Road Trip Stops From SF - TravelsWithElle

Pro Tip: If you choose to drive to Sand Harbor, head there early. I cannot emphasize that enough. Once the parking lot fills up, they won’t allow cars to enter. You’ll either have to find side-of-the-road parking, get dropped off, take a shuttle, or get there by some other non-motorized way. During the summer, there is a shuttle bus to Sand Harbor from Incline Village.

Coming from Incline Village? You can also take the new 3-mile East Shore Trail from Incline Village to Sand Harbor. This trail provides non-motorized access to the many public beaches, coves, and trails along the shoreline. Despite only being three miles long, this project has taken decades to accomplish, so you better take advantage of it if you can (it looks like a great lakeside strolling opportunity)!

Explore Incline Village

Incline Village - Lake Tahoe Road Trip Stops From SF - TravelsWithElle

After your early morning adventure on the lake, it’s time to refuel!

Head towards Incline Village and grab a seat at Sage Leaf, one of the best brunch/lunch spots in town. We got an order of the steak and eggs as well as the Incline Scramble on our last trip. Both were good, but wow was the steak here delicious! We’d definitely eat here again the next time we’re in town!

After lunch, take a stroll through the residential area of Incline Village, stopping to admire the sheer size of the cabins in the neighborhood. For thrifters, we recommend peeking into a nearby thrift store tucked in a small plaza called Tahoe Forest Hospice Gift & Thrift. There are always such good finds there, especially if you’re in the market for used outdoor brands!

Spend your afternoon exploring your way

If you didn’t have time for a hike or a landmark listed above, now is the time to fit it into your Lake Tahoe itinerary.

If you want to spend this time shopping, exploring the South Lake Tahoe town area, or kicking back at one of the many breweries in Lake Tahoe, go for it! It’s your last day in Lake Tahoe, so spend it how you want to.

Catch the sunset at Zephyr Cove

Located off Highway 50 on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, Zephyr Cove is an iconic spot to catch the sunset. If you’re staying close to Stateline or South Lake Tahoe, this is your best bet for sunsets. No hike is required to get to Zephyr Cove which makes this the obvious choice for groups with children/the elderly.

Once you get to the Zephyr Cove area, simply park your car along Highway 50 and walk down to the water. Don’t forget your camera and some snacks! For a romantic date night, pack a full-on dinner picnic.

If you’d rather be on the move while catching the sunset, take a leisurely strong along the East Shore Trail!

And that essentially wraps up this 3-day Lake Tahoe itinerary!

Before you leave, don’t forget to pick up a “Keep Tahoe Blue” sticker from one of the many gift shops in Tahoe! It only costs a $2 donation to the movement.

Fact: The League to Save Lake Tahoe is a team of Tahoe advocates who are focused on solving the challenges facing Tahoe (maintaining a balance between enjoyment/tourism of the lake today and its preservation for future generations). Not only do they spread awareness, but they also advocate for environmental protections and policies that ensure Tahoe stays resilient in the face of the climate crisis.


IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME…

If you have more time to spare on your Lake Tahoe weekend itinerary, consider checking out a few of these fun nearby destinations.

CARSON CITY, NV

30-minute drive from Sand Harbor & Secret Cove, Lake Tahoe

After our last Lake Tahoe trip, we discovered Carson City, the capital of Nevada, on our way back to Reno. There is so much to see here!

With an average of 265 days of sunshine a year and mild weather year-round, Carson City is a great place for travelers to enjoy the outdoors, whether that be in the park or the mountains. “Charming” is often used when describing the adorable little downtown area. With boutique shops, a wide variety of dining options, and incredible mountain views, it’s a must-see when visiting.

Carson City is also home to numerous museums and galleries. If you’re traveling with children or are just a big history buff, there’s a ton of good stuff here for you.

There’s the Nevada State Museum, the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada, the Nevada State Railroad Museum, and the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum. And if you’re looking to combine adventure and history into one, there’s only one right option–the Carson Canyon Railbike Tours!

The Kit Carson Trail, a historic self-guided walking tour, is another one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Lastly, if you haven’t gotten your fill of water, head to Carson Hot Springs. With more natural hot springs than any other state, visitors and locals here love a good soak. If it’s history, convenience, and affordability you’re after, you’ll find your perfect soak at Carson Hot Springs.

Pro Tip: Before visiting Carson City, be sure to check out the events calendar— there are numerous events held downtown year-round.

RENO, NV

45-minute drive from Incline Village, NV (North Lake Tahoe)

Reno and Lake Tahoe Road Trip - TravelsWithElle

While Reno may historically be known for its bright lights, vintage casino vibes, and cheap cigarette smells, the city is definitely starting to get a facelift. Today, there is quite an impressive selection of modern restaurants and hip bars to enjoy!

Midtown Reno is a neighborhood we recommend checking out–it sure has character and soul. This neighborhood, conveniently located between South Virginia Street and Holcomb Ave, features an eclectic range of businesses from one-of-a-kind restaurants to mom-and-pop shops. Some of Reno’s best-kept secrets are in Midtown!

While you’re here, be sure to grab a tiki drink or two at Rum Sugar Lime (RSL). They have such eclectic tropical drinks! Next door is Melting Pot World Emporium, Reno’s coolest counter-culture store since 1996.

Back towards the downtown area, be sure to grab dinner at Liberty Food and Wine Exchange followed by cocktail drinks at Blind Dog Tavern. Looking to grab a pint instead? Head to The Eddy, a super lively beer garden in downtown Reno.

And you definitely cannot leave the area without trying your luck at the midway games inside of Circus Circus! We won so many stuffed animals that we absolutely didn’t need or want (it’s a good thing we know of a toddler who would love our prizes).

And if you’re an outdoor lover like myself, you’ll be happy to know that there’s also a Patagonia Outlet here. For art lovers, The Nevada Museum of Art is a must (it’s the only accredited art museum not just in Reno, but in the whole state).

TRUCKEE, CA

30-minute drive from Incline Village, NV (North Lake Tahoe)

Truckee, named after the nearby river, is a cute little mountain town known as the gateway to the Sierra Nevada. This historical town packs a ton of history regarding the Donner Party.

Truckee makes a great base for year-round outdoor activities–think cozy cabins and epic hiking trails! With the Truckee River flowing in the warmer season and the snowcapped mountains in view in the colder season, this historic town is worth visiting at least once in your life.

Donner Lake is a great place to ski and snowshoe in the wintertime. It’s also a great place to camp, picnic, fish, and hike in the spring and summertime! Just a five-minute drive from Truckee sits Donner Memorial State Park, a National Historic Landmark (where the members of the tragic Donner Party set up camp in the winter of 1846-1847).

After you get your fill of nature and history, it’s time to head to Old Town! This place is probably super cool to wander around–while enjoying the shops and art galleries, you might even hear a few trains whistling in the background. We recommend grabbing lunch at Morgan’s Lobster Shack.

VIRGINIA CITY, NV

1-hour drive from South Lake Tahoe, CA and Stateline, NV

Virginia City - SF To Lake Tahoe Road Trip - TravelsWithElle

Virginia City is one of my favorite old-timey towns, like ever. This is a town of under 1,000 people, known for its Victorian buildings that were built during the 19th-century mining boom.

Home of the Comstock Lode, Virginia City is located just 40 minutes from Reno and apparently also filled with haunted spots that ghost hunters and paranormal enthusiasts will love. But we’re not going to focus on that scary stuff today (no thanks)!

The minute you step out of your car, you will immediately be transported back to the 1800s. There is probably nothing more iconic about Virginia City than its wood-planked sidewalks on C Street, the main road through town. C Street is where most of the historic buildings are located, today housing numerous businesses that offer drinks, food, kitschy shopping, and entertainment of all sorts.

During a stroll down C Street (and it’s a long street), you’ll find restaurants, saloons, casinos, antique shops, jewelry stores, mercantile shops, museums, and even an outdoor theater that hosts gunfight shows. So incredibly fun especially for the kids, and people like me!

If you plan on visiting Virginia City, definitely allocate at least a few hours exploring everything the town has to offer. There’s a lot of stuff to do here, such as taking a ride on the V&T Railroad steam train, enjoying the Way It Was Museum, exploring the Mackay Mansion, taking a mine tour or two, and even taking a ghost tour.

I was actually shocked when I witnessed with my own eyes how many activities this town offered. Virginia City itself could eat up 4-5 hours of your day just by itself!

If you wanted to partake in a few of these activities (which I highly recommend you do), you can actually save money by picking up a Comstock Adventure Pass at the Visitor Center. They have a few different passes to choose from, and each pass gives you a combo of mine tours, mansions tours, train rides, museums, and more!

As we left Reno a little later than anticipated on our last trip (darn you bubble craps), we didn’t get the chance to take advantage of the Comstock Adventure Pass. However we did promise ourselves that the next time we head back to Virginia City, we were going to explore the Way It Was Museum, take the steam train, and catch the Virginia City Outlaws Outdoor Comedy Show!

We did, however, spend a great amount of time hanging out at the Bucket Of Blood Saloon, in existence since 1876! They have awesome live music events and make a mean guava daiquiri. We could have stayed there all day listing to rag-time piano tunes

HISTORY: No other type of business dominates the landscape of VC as the saloons, where during the town’s heyday there once were as many as 115 bars and saloons! Many saloons have maintained their 19th-century appearance, and stepping through their doors is like stepping through a time machine.

Unless you want to be potentially living out a real-life episode of Ghost Adventures, I would avoid staying in Virginia City. You know, just in case!

Read More: 15 Fun Things To Do In Virginia City, Nevada


LAKE TAHOE: ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS

  • The best time to visit Lake Tahoe depends entirely on what you are looking for
    • February and March are best for skiing and other winter sports.
    • July and August will provide the warmest weather for the beach and outdoor activities. Looking to avoid the throngs of summer tourists?
    • September is recommended as it still has summery weather, but with the added perk of smaller crowds.
  • Lake Tahoe is huge, spanning more than 70 miles of shoreline. Because of its size, the distance it takes to get to certain sides of the lake will be greater than with most other lakes.
  • The towns around Tahoe get extremely crowded on summer weekends, especially in July and August and during three-day weekends. Try to avoid those periods unless you want to spend hours sitting in traffic.
  • The drive from Reno to the northern part of Lake Tahoe takes about 45 minutes and is hilly. You can expect a good amount of driving on an incline, so make sure your car is ready to handle it.
  • You will need to pay a day-use fee (or use a state park annual pass) for many of the beaches in Lake Tahoe. Most day-use fees in the area are $10 per car. This is a list of popular beaches and their respective government jurisdiction:
    • California State Park beaches – D.L. Bliss, Sugar Pine, King Beach
    • Nevada State Park beaches – Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park Beach
    • US Forest Service beaches – Baldwin Beach, Tallac Historic Site and Kiva Beach, Camp Richardson/Pope Beach, Meeks Bay, William Kent Beach, Secret Cove, Zephyr Cove, Nevada Beach
  • Dogs are not allowed at many places in Lake Tahoe. While there are places to take your dog, a lot of the popular spots are not dog friendly. Do some research beforehand, especially if you plan on hiking with your dog.
  • Make sure to check the road conditions before you go. Some of the local roads close during the winter months due to snow, so be aware of the current weather reports.
  • In the wintertime, make sure you have chains and know how to use them if you’re driving a 2WD vehicle (in case of a snowstorm).
  • Expect significant price swings at hotels based on seasonality. A room at a resort that typically ranges from $100-$160 per night can cost $600+ on a summer weekend. Visiting mid-week can definitely save you money on lodging.
  • It gets hot here, so be sure to bring a good cooler with you. Not only will be extremely convenient for the road trip (storing drinks, sandwiches, fruits, and other perishables), but it will also help with keeping your lakeside picnicking goods nice and cool!
  • No matter which direction you are coming from, your road trip to Lake Tahoe will be very scenic. You’ll pass several points of interest along the way, so make sure to bring your camera!
  • If you’re planning to ski in Tahoe, you’ll usually save 10-15% off the cost of the lift ticket if you buy it in advance online.

LAKE TAHOE: ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST

Aside from the normal clothing and toiletries you’d pack for any regular trip, here are the things I’d recommend you not leave home without for your Lake Tahoe trip:

  • License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
  • Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
  • Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
  • Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
  • Flashlight | You never know when you’re going to be stranded on the road at night, out hiking late, or even exploring a dark cave. Leaving a flashlight in your car can really come in handy when you’re faced with unexpected situations.
  • Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip, but especially on California summer road trips. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
  • Roll-up Picnic Mat | Probably one of the best inventions since sliced bread, and one of my best investments for the summertime! Not only are these picnic mats super-portable because they roll up into themselves, but their water-resistance factor is a game-changer. No need to worry about wet-grass-butt anymore!
  • Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
  • First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
  • Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
  • Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
  • Water Hiking Shoes (for men and women) | Some of the lake access points are rocky, so if you’d like a bit of foot protection, you’ll want these. Your feet will thank you later.
  • Lots of water and snacks | Candy, gummy bears, Hot Cheetos! And for something a bit more sensible, Stinger Waffles are one of my favorite sources of quick and delicious energy.
  • Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any outdoor adventure. You’ll be in the mountains and the desert, so nights here can get cold. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
  • Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
  • Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
  • Sunscreen | Sunscreen is absolutely necessary for Lake Tahoe. Even if it’s overcast or cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors. No matter where we go, we like a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that damage our environment. For the face, we are absolutely obsessed with Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen.
  • Hat or Buff | Sun protection is key for any California destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a baseball cap, fancy sunhat, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
  • Mini survival kit | Get one that’s pre-made like this one, or make your own. Be sure to carry this with you in your daypack. Don’t forget the bandaids!
  • Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need when you’re hopping from being barefoot in the lake to regular shoes or simply need to dry your feet off. This one here is a great option.
  • Hand Sanitizer Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
  • Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike (or even after a walk outside on a scorching hot day) but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel so much better after wiping away the day. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
  • Headlamp / Flashlight | Being able to find your way through the wilderness in darkness is essential, so you should always carry a light source with you, even if you don’t plan on staying out past sunset. An LED headlamp allows you to hike hands-free and is my preferred source of light. FYI, the flashlight on your smartphone is not an adequate substitute– the light is not bright enough, plus it’ll drain your battery life, which may be critical in an emergency. Always carry extra batteries.
  • Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the funky roadside stops and eateries… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
  • Travel Adapter | If you’re traveling from abroad, a universal travel adapter is a necessity. This 5-in-1 travel adapter is perfect for travel use with cell phones, laptops & other devices anywhere in the world.
  • Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. Hydroflasks can be heavy and can add to the weight of your bag, which is why I love the packability of these bottles!
  • Medications | Motion sickness pills for those windy roads; painkillers, anti-inflammatories, etc.

HOW MANY MILES IS IT AROUND LAKE TAHOE?

The distance around Lake Tahoe is 72 miles. The drive will take you about three hours to complete without any stops, but scenic drives are better when you actually take your time to stop to take in the views!

If you’re going to do the drive around the lake, be sure to visit popular spots around the lake including:

  • King’s Beach
  • Incline Village
  • Crystal Bay
  • Tahoe City
  • Sugar Pine Point State Park
  • D. L. Bliss State Park
  • Emerald Bay State Park Lookout
  • South Lake Tahoe
  • Zephyr Cove
  • Sand Harbor and/or Secret Cove

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DRIVE AROUND LAKE TAHOE?

If you drive it straight through, it will take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours. But of course, what kind of fun would that be?

You should plan to take the full day driving and stopping at the various state parks, alpine towns, beaches, and vista points around the lake.


ARE DOGS ALLOWED AT LAKE TAHOE?

While there are definitely dog-friendly places to take your pup, a lot of the major / popular spots in Lake Tahoe do not allow dogs to be off-leash. It is best to do some research ahead of time to make sure where you want to go allows dogs off-leash.

Some dog-friendly spots include:

  • Kiva Beach (South Lake Tahoe)
  • Winnemucca Lake Trail and the rest of Carson Pass / Mokelumne Wilderness (South Lake Tahoe)
  • Zephyr Cove, North End (Glenbrook)
  • Echo Lakes (South Lake Tahoe)
  • Patton Beach (North Lake Tahoe)

And that concludes our 3-day Lake Tahoe itinerary! Ready to explore Lake Tahoe? Get ready for a heavy dose of fresh air, pristine waters, gorgeous views, and exciting recreation!

Happy travels, and remember to do everything you can to KEEP TAHOE BLUE! What are some of your favorite activities around Lake Tahoe?

Read More:

8 Lively California Gold Rush Towns You Must Visit

15+ Fun Things To Do In Gold Country Near Yosemite (Tuolumne County)

The Best Things To Do In Lake Tahoe/Reno: Stops From San Francisco To Lake Tahoe

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