Tahoe is surrounded by granite snowcaps and pine trees. There’s plenty of opportunities for adventure, yet it remains cozy and inviting. You can ski, climb, bike, run, camp, off-road, or take part in water sports. Tahoe has something special—there are no wrong answers here.
Lake Tahoe, California. Elevation: 6225’. Population (estimate): 53,000.
Tahoe has something you just can’t put your finger on. It sits cupped in the granite snowcaps of the Sierra Nevada, surrounded on all sides by huge pine trees and lush greenery. There is an incredible variety of opportunities for adventure and great accessibility – the good stuff is all conveniently close to society. The landscape is equal parts inspiring and cozy. Being part of it will leave you stuck between wanting to get out and see it all and wanting to just watch time pass. And in Tahoe, there are no wrong answers. Skiing, climbing, biking, running, camping, off-roading, and water sports are all right at home here.
For off days, there’s ample civilization surrounding the lake to unwind in. Tahoe is a place for slowing down, taking it all in, and choosing your own adventure. With beautiful summer weather and snowy winters there is a season to fit every activity. You won’t run out of high points, cliff walls, miles of trail, snow, or water easily here – there’s plenty to go around.
Local Adventure Vibe
For an isolated alpine lake deep in the Sierra, the Lake Tahoe area is somewhat densely populated. South Lake Tahoe alone has a population of over 20,000. Truckee, to the north, has another 16,500. And there are more than a handful of small towns and cities all the way around the lake. Year-rounders are diehard about their adventure sports, and there’s a big culture around the outdoors on both sides of the lake. The mountains around the lake are home to eight ski resorts, which draw huge crowds in the winter. In the summer, Tahoe is a hub for climbing, running, and 4x4ing. Marathons, trail running ultra races, climbing competitions, and the annual Jeep Jamboree happen on a near-weekly basis in Tahoe.
Tahoe’s most unique feature is, of course, the lake itself. It’s the largest alpine lake in the United States, and the second deepest lake. This abundance of water, as high as it is in the mountains, is what makes it all possible. The beauty of Tahoe is in its variety. Over the elevation gradient of the Sierra a whole swath of options opens up for adventuring. You can be mountain biking in the desert around Reno in the morning, and paddleboarding in Emerald Bay in the afternoon. The climbing season runs all year long, with big trad routes to tackle in the summer and decent ice in the winter. The skiing is also diverse, with a strong difficulty gradient that will appeal to everyone from crosscountry enthusiasts to downhill beginners, racers, freestyle nuts, and big mountain enthusiasts. Tahoe will spoil you for choice, year round.
Food & Drink
Tahoe has a wonderful selection of food and drinks on all sides. You can grab a pint of suds at South Lake Brewing Company, the premier local brewery in South Lake Tahoe. On the north end of the lake is Alibi Ale Works, a top notch brewery and taphouse. In Tahoe City, there’s Jake’s On The Lake, a lakefront restaurant with all-American grub, seafood, great cocktails, and a patio. Also in South Lake Tahoe is Tep’s Villa Roma Italian Restaurant, a charming old world eatery. In Carnelian Bay is Gar Woods Grill And Pier, serving Californian food and cocktails on a pier over the lake.
Places to Stay
If you feel more like roughing it, there are plenty of options around the lake too. Consider these campgrounds, found on thedyrt.com.
Fallen Leaf Campground is situated between Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake, just west of South Lake Tahoe. For access to the Highway 50 corridor, hiking, and proximity to the water, its location is top notch. The campground offers tent and RV sites as well as yurts. There are showers, flush toilets, and potable water available on site. Rates range from $36 to $87 depending on which accommodation you choose.
Emerald Bay State Park is a classic Tahoe destination. Loomed over by colossal pines, the placid waters are perfect for paddleboarding and relaxing on the water. The park offers two campgrounds, one at Eagle Point, which is accessible by car, and another on the lakeshore, which is accessible only by boat. The park allows pets, fires, and has sites for both tents and RVs. Camping is available seasonally – visit The Dyrt for more details.
Rated highly for its convenient location and amenities, the Tahoe Valley campground in South Lake Tahoe is a winner for those looking to be closer to town. The campground offers cabins, tent cabins, RV and tent sites, firewood, an on-site market, flush toilets, showers, and wifi. You won’t often find this many small conveniences all in once place, all within biking distance of the bar. Visit the link above for more details.
On the Nevada side of the lake, you’ll find Zephyr Cove. This campground is operated by the Zephyr Cove Lakefront Resort and Marina. It offers the general spread of options including tent and RV spaces, as well as cabins, tent cabins, and group sites. Pets and fires are allowed. The marina offers great access to the water, and immediately to the east is a huge swath of National Forest land for recreation. Get in touch at the link above for reservations and details.
Best Guided Adventures on 57hours
If you’re looking to go on a full-blown adventure, but lack the resources or know-how, 57hours.com is a great resource. They connect clients with trained guides to help beginners break new ground and experts reach new heights. There’s no shortage of new things to try in Tahoe. Here are some of the best guided trips available in the area on 57hours.
Tahoe is well-known for its skiing, and for good reason. But resorts come with their own set of drawbacks, first and foremost being crowds. If you want to escape the lift lines and ski untracked snow in the vast Tahoe wilderness, backcountry skiing is the way to go. This adventure offers three options – a private intro to backcountry skiing, a customized day of private guided backcountry skiing, and advanced tours and mountaineering. Each trip costs $205 per person per day. This adventure caters to skiers of all ability levels, making sure everybody gets a piece of the action. Also available is an Intro to Backcountry Skiing Class, meant for experienced resort skiers to learn the skills necessary to start venturing out of bounds. The class runs around $180 for a day.
Rock climbing is the classic example of an epic adventure, and the area surrounding Tahoe is ripe with incredible walls, including the famous Lover’s Leap. This trip offers options for climbers of all abilities. Whether you’re new to the sport or you’re an experienced climber looking to tackle something big, this adventure will give you a memorable experience. Rates range from $120 per person per day for half days climbing with a private guide, to $200 for full days, to $300 per day for a day of multi-pitch climbing.
If you’re interested in planning your own backcountry skiing trips, the first step (aside from buying all the gear you need) is learning about avalanche safety. These courses (AIARE Avalanche 1 and 2) will cover everything you need to know to manage and mitigate risks while traversing the backcountry in the winter. Each course takes place over three days, and go for $525 (Avalanche 1) and $499 (Avalanche 2). Also offered is the AIARE Avalanche Rescue course, meant for people who have taken Avalanche 1 and want to brush up on their rescue skills.
And for advanced backcountry skiers, there is an opportunity to tackle the behemoth objective of the Truckee Skyline Traverse. The tour is typically done in two days, but is now being offered as a single day, which can take 7-10 hours to complete. The route traverses the northern Sierra Nevada from Donner Summit to Squaw Valley, covering some of the most sought-after terrain in the range. To be clear – this trip is not intended for beginners. Physical fitness is a must. This is no small undertaking, but by the end of the day you will have accomplished something truly special, and skied some amazing lines in the process.
There are good walls in Tahoe pretty much everywhere you look. On top of that, the lake is surrounded by good boulders, and in the winter there are some good ice routes to put your axes and crampons to use. Here are some must-see climbing routes in the area.
Highway 50 Corridor
South of the lake is the Highway 50 Corridor, where some of the biggest and best climbing in the area is found. Foremost among these is Lovers Leap, a 400-foot tall wall featuring classics such as Bear’s Reach (5.7), Corrugation Corner (5.7), and Traveler Buttress (5.9). Also along Highway 50 are the Phantom Spires and Sugarloaf Area, with plenty more outstanding routes.
North of the lake, the I-80 Corridor has its fair share of good climbing as well. Donner Summit is a highly diverse area with a huge wealth of routes to explore, both trad and sport. Classics include Composure (5.6) and One Hand Clapping (5.9).
Boulder problems account for a third of all the climbing in the Tahoe area. Two major concentrations of good boulders are the West Shore and South Shore. Some of the best problems in the area are found here, including Bliss Arete Bliss Arete (V4), The Brain (V0), and Flying Birdie (V5).
Tahoe is nestled in a huge expanse of public land, crisscrossed by trails, lakes, and campgrounds. Here are some of the best hikes and backpacking routes around the lake.
The Desolation Wilderness is located south and west of the lake, comprised of rolling high points and over a hundred lakes. This allows for a lot of easily customizable options for overnight trips, but if you’re new to the area, try some of the classics. Aloha Lake is a popular destination that can easily be approached several ways. Another great option is Velma Lake, doable via an 11.7 mile loop beginning and ending at Emerald Bay.
Genoa Peak/Tahoe Rim Trail
Genoa Peak is a short, but more difficult trail with several approaches. Many choose to stick entirely to the Tahoe Rim Trail to gain the summit. Doing the rim trail in its entirety is a long, beautiful backpack totaling 174.6 miles. From the summit of Genoa Peak you’ll get views across the lake into the Desolation Wilderness, a worthy objective either as a day hike or as part of the Tahoe Rim Trail.
Granite Chief Wilderness
North of the Desolation Wilderness is the Granite Chief Wilderness, a more remote area nonetheless well worth the effort to see. One classic you can seek out is Whiskey Creek Camp, a 7.3 mile out and back which passes directly between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows resorts. Along the trail you’ll pass Five Lakes, a scenic stopover to refill your water bottle.
You can do just about every type of biking in the Tahoe area, including overnight bike tours. Be sure to check out Bikepacking.com for routes, tips, and general information to get you going.
The Tahoe Twirl
In the Tahoe area, there’s one multi-day bike tour to rule them all. The Tahoe Twirl, a 187 mile loop comprised of 90% unpaved trail, 35% of which is singletrack. Rated an 8/10 for difficulty, it’s no minor task, ascending a total of over 19,000 feet. The route begins and ends in Reno, going west through the mountains, south along the west edge of the lake, and back up the other side – on top of the mountains. Over four to five days, the Twirl will whip you into shape. You’ll cross through a massive elevation gradient, several different ecosystems, and truckloads of dirt. This route will absolutely leave your head spinning.
We’ve already mentioned a few times that the skiing in Tahoe rocks. Here’s what all the fuss is about.
Concentrated around Tahoe are some of the best ski resorts in the United States. Squaw Valley, host of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Alpine Meadows, and Heavenly, the fourth largest resort in the US, are definite standouts. These mountains feature the best of everything you could want as a resort skier, from world class terrain parks to perfect tree runs to serious big mountain lines. But you won’t go wrong with any of the resorts around the lake. Sierra-at-Tahoe, Northstar, Mt. Rose, Homewood, and Diamond Peak are all worth a look if you’re planning a winter trip to the lake.
And of course, the backcountry in Tahoe is also outstanding. Here are some noteworthy runs we haven’t mentioned already. Minden Mile, a four and a half mile steady blue run from Monument Peak down the east slope of the Sierra is a classic. Relay Peak is another local favorite, ascending from the highway to a solid top out at the summit, and descending through a decently steep bowl. At 2.3 miles it’s a quick, easily accessible tour that’s sure to get your blood pumping.
From alpine to desert, the Tahoe area has a slew of mountain biking options. The season generally runs year-round, as down in the valley around Reno is often viable even in the winter. Here’s the scoop on where to go biking in Tahoe.
West Side/Donner Summit
There are plenty of good moderate to difficult trails on the west side. Get ready for some big climbs, and trails that change between pavement, dirt road, and singletrack. Tahoe City-Truckee Gravel Grinder is a 36.6 mile loop from the west shore to Donner Summit and back, through Squaw Valley. The Tahoe Rim Trail is also doable by bike, beginning at Mt. Baldy and ending at the wilderness boundary. For a sporty rip on the west shore check out the West Shore Backcountry Lakes Tour, starting and ending in Tahoma, with some lovely scenery on the way.
East Side/Highway 50 corridor
The main draw on the east side of the lake is the Tahoe Rim Trail, which you can ride continuously from the Mt. Rose Highway to South Lake Tahoe. The Spooner to Town section is a favorite, rated difficult, totaling 17.7 miles. Further south is the Armstrong to Strawberry trail, another highly rated route that descends from the hills outside South Lake Tahoe to Highway 50 over 38.7 miles.
Reno also features some choice offerings, with plenty of wide open space for great singletrack. Here are a few highlights. The Super D Total Recall trail, used for the Reno Wheelmen Twilight mountain bike race is a local legend, descending nearly 1,500 feet over less than four miles. Another trail seen in the Wheelmen Twilight race series is the Peavine Challenge Medium XC Course, a longer (14.1 mile), and hillier trail rated intermediate.
Tahoe hosts a number of stellar races throughout the year. The trails around the lake are perfect for long, fast paced days covering large distances, and there are plenty of high points to tackle.
The Tahoe Rim Trail is an obvious choice for trail running. Accessible from anywhere around the lake, the trail can easily be cut into smaller pieces for a long single-day outing. Check out the link above for maps and established sections.
Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)
The Pacific Crest Trail, which joins up with the Tahoe Rim Trail, is another solid stretch that can be easily be broken into more manageable pieces for those not wanting to run an entire ultra. Meandering through the mountains west of the lake, the trail passes through some of the best landscapes in the Sierra.
Difficult Peaks and High Points
If you fancy yourself a high pointer, Tahoe will provide more than enough new notches for your belt. Rubicon Peak, Mount Tallac, Pyramid Peak, and Maggie’s Peak are all challenging ascents worth investigating.
The Tahoe area draws 4WD enthusiasts from around the world to explore the hills around the lake. Here are some good starting places.
For greenhorns, Genoa Peak will provide a solid introduction to Tahoe 4x4ing. It’s a prominent peak with excellent views, and at 9.7 miles, it can be done in a half day.
The main event. The Rubicon Trail is often called one of the best 4WD trails on earth, and draws thousands each year to test their mettle on it. It is rated as extremely difficult in its entirety, so much so that obstacles on the trail have had to be removed in order to prevent extended rescues. If you’ve been in the 4×4 community for a while, you already know, this is Mecca. If the Rubicon isn’t already on your bucket list, make room for it.
Enough Adventure For A Lifetime
Once you get a taste of what Tahoe has to offer, you’ll be hooked. There is always more to do – more unique experiences, more adventures, and more perfectly lazy days in between. Tahoe truly has something to fit every mood, every season, and everyone. Ready to come see for yourself?
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