Things to do with the Family in Lake Tahoe
All year, Lake Tahoe brings out the kid in all of us. Tahoe is a limitless outdoor playground for all ages, with towering alpine peaks offering mind-blowing vistas, endless snowbound excitement, and extraordinary hikes, as well as shimmering waters beckoning from below.
Celebrate summer in the Sierra by taking a hike to Emerald Bay State Park or splashing around at Pope Beach. At Heavenly Village and Ski Resort, discover why Tahoe winters are legendary for skiing and holiday fun. If you want to avoid the crowds during the peak season, come to Lake Tahoe in the spring to ski in sunglasses and a t-shirt, or in the fall when the mountains are decorated in autumn colors and hiking is at its greatest. Whatever time of year you visit, there are plenty of Lake Tahoe activities to enjoy.
Tahoe Snowtubing and Sledding
Many resorts have tubing parks and charge for use. There are also free places for snow play and sliding. West of the summit on Mt. Rose Hwy. 431, the hill across from Tahoe Meadows is a popular free play area. It’s roadside parking only, so get there early on weekends and holidays. Blizzard Mountain at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort is South Lake Tahoe’s premier family sledding and snow play area, great for kids and kids at heart. Two tubing lanes, a large snow play area, and a concession stand with Tahoe’s best hot cocoa add up to a full day of fun!
Northstar California Resort has a separate tubing hill located mid-mountain. Squaw Valley Snow Tube Park rents custom snow tubes and provides a variety of thrill levels on two tubing lanes. At Soda Springs, kids 10 and under enjoy the “Planet Kids” tubing carousel and moving carpet. Kids ages 6 to 12 can ride pint-sized snowmobiles on a circular track. Kirkwood Family Tubing Park has a tubing hill and small terrain park for kids. Tubes are provided. Granlibakken’s sled hill and snow play area in Tahoe City offers affordable family fun. Saucer rental and use of the sled hill is just $10 a day.
Getting to the Heavenly Adventure Peak is an adventure itself. A Gondola ride up the mountain offers spectacular views of Lake Tahoe. Once there, you’ll find snowtubing, sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and a 25-foot rock climbing wall.
Biking in Tahoe
There are certain experiences in life that should not be passed up, and biking in Lake Tahoe is one of them. There are paved and marked trails as well as unending miles of uncharted opportunity for adventure. Around each bend lies another discovery – a mountain meadow filled with wildflowers, a rapid creek brimming with spring runoff, a single track traversing giant pines and cedars, and the view of mighty Lake Tahoe, serene and quiet from a vantage point 1,000 feet above.
For serious riders, Lake Tahoe is your scene. Biking is not a sport in Lake Tahoe. It is a lifestyle. The Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition’s mission is to “promote livable and sustainable communities by encouraging more bike/pedestrian-friendly facilities,” and they hold different events in the Lake Tahoe area to pump up awareness and encourage people to get out there and ride together. They also provide a detailed map of the different trails accessible to bikers. To see a calendar of events or to download a printable version of their map, visit www.tahoebike.org.
As for families with little ones and less experienced bikers, there are plenty of paved trails maintained by the Lake Tahoe Parks and Recreation Service. The trail that runs from Tahoe City to Sugar Pine Point State Park is among the longest of the paved trails, stretching 9 miles along West Shore Boulevard. Stop along the ride for a picnic at Kilner Park, where kids can climb on the playground and adults can enjoy tennis, fishing, and boating. Access to Ward and Blackwood Canyons also await you at the end of this trail.
For something a little shorter, the paved, multi-use Tahoe City to Squaw Valley Trail runs 4 miles along the Truckee River. This trail is popular due to the river water lapping the edges of the pavement along the ride, and it is mostly flat and considered one of the easiest paths. This trail also provides access to picnic areas, fishing spots, and even a river entrance for whitewater rafting.
For more experienced riders, one of the most historic and popular rides, for good reason, is the appropriately named Great Tahoe Flume Trail Ride overlooking the east shore of Lake Tahoe. Its track follows along the original wooden flume that supplied water to the gold and silver mines of Virginia City in the 1870s. There is a beautiful view of the lake below, and it’s only accessible by mountain bike. Take a deep breath and hop on.
Bike shops also dot their way around the lake. Rentals, demos, and great deals on new bikes are available along with a wealth of expertise. On the way to Emerald Bay, Camp Richardson’s Mountain Sports Center has all the gear available for an enjoyable outing. Keep in mind that weather conditions can change rapidly in Tahoe. Be prepared with the proper clothing, wear suntan lotion, and bring lots of water. Everyone is advised to wear a helmet, but they are mandatory for children under the age of 18. Now, what are you waiting for? Get out there and ride!
Ice Skating in Tahoe
Turn circles on an ice rink and glide your way to a fun-filled day. The Squaw Valley Olympic Ice Pavilion offers year-round skating, rentals and lessons at 8,200 feet. The rink is open-air in winter and has sweeping views of the valley and mountains. Also in Squaw Valley, the Resort at Squaw Creek has an outdoor exhibition rink that rents figure and hockey skates.
Truckee Ice Rink, in an outdoor setting under tall pines, features overhead lights and music to skate by. This family-friendly rink offers public skating, skate rentals, snack bar, group and private lessons for all ages. An outdoor ice rink in Northstar Village is surrounded by upscale shops, restaurants, and two open-air lounges. A mini ice rink in Heavenly Village is also surrounded by boutique shops, restaurants, and a multiplex cinema. The rink is open daily during winter, and skate rentals are available.
For indoor skating, South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena is a regulation NHL rink with locker rooms, snack bar, retail store, arcade, party rooms, ice-skating and hockey lessons, and public skate sessions.
Lake Tahoe Water Adventures
With translucent colors that reflect a changing personality, Lake Tahoe has water activities for everyone: from the extreme sports enthusiast to those who would be more content sipping a cocktail while cruising on a plush yacht at sunset.
The lake is third in size in North America, with a surface area of 122,628 acres. The average depth is 989 feet, and temperatures range from 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The newest craze to hit Lake Tahoe is stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP for short. Imagine yourself standing balanced on a much larger-than-average surfboard, paddling along Tahoe’s scenic shoreline.
Maybe sitting down is more your style. Be sure to rent a kayak or canoe to explore the lake’s tranquil blue waters. If some serious horsepower is more your speed, waverunners and powerboats are also available to rent all over the lake. Most of the powerboats available for rent are suited for 8 to 10 passengers, so grab that cooler, the sunblock and the kids for some wakeboarding, tubing or just sightseeing.
If you prefer parasailing, hook in and hold on as you ascend high over the lake’s shores. Float over the shoreline, check out Tahoe’s lakefront estates, and glide in for a landing.
Fishing the lake or surrounding streams is often a passion among visitors. Grab a big Mackinaw or the prized Kokanee salmon. Fishing is year-round at Lake Tahoe and the surrounding backcountry lakes. Tahoe Sportfishing, located at both Ski Run Marina and Zephyr Cove Resort, will get you all set up for a great day.
Boat excursions abound around the Tahoe basin. If kicking back and letting someone else show you around is how you see yourself enjoying Lake Tahoe, you have a boatload of options. From stunning yachts such as the Safari Rose, offering one of the most complete tours, to the ever-impressive team of paddlewheelers known as the MS Dixie II and the Tahoe Queen, you’re sure to enjoy the beautiful blue waters of Lake Tahoe as much as the captains who cruise them every day.
What are you waiting for? Dive in and enjoy the excitement and splendor of Lake Tahoe!
Tahoe Sleigh Rides
Bundle up in warm blankets and off you go, “over the meadow and through the woods…“ Borges Family Sleigh Rides delight visitors at South Lake Tahoe with tales of Tahoe, poems, songs, and spectacular views. Five handmade sleighs vary in size, from a cozy two-seater to a festive 20-passenger sleigh pulled by beautiful Belgium Draft horses or one of the family’s rare Russian Baskir Curlies. Dinner rides to a lakeside restaurant are available. The Borges family also runs sleigh rides from Kirkwood Stables. From the Resort at Squaw Creek, families enjoy sleigh rides through picturesque Squaw Valley Meadow with towering, snow-covered mountains all around.
Lake Tahoe Trails
On the trails of Lake Tahoe, hikers glimpse some of the most beautiful sights in the world – cliffs, beaches, wildflowers, blue water and skies, and snowcapped mountaintops. Mark Twain said that Lake Tahoe’s air was pure enough for angels and that the lake surely must be the “fairest picture the whole world affords.” Hiking the trails of Lake Tahoe allows visitors to glimpse this immortal beauty.
For a leisurely hike, choose East Peak Trail on the South Shore. It is located on Highway 50, just one block from the casinos. Hikers ride the Heavenly Gondola up to this trailhead. It is the gentlest of three choices and is just under a mile long. The locals’ inside tip: be sure to hike the extra 100 feet behind the ski patrol building at the Vista Point signs because this is where you can find the most stunning view of Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley.
On the West Shore, be sure to visit the Rubicon Trail. It is an easy hike and measures just over 3 miles in length. This path is made of crushed granite, and just south of Rubicon Point hikers will see a 600-foot granite cliff, a true untamed shoreline. Here, hikers can see rocks cleverly named by locals, such as “Frog Rock,” “Sleeping Lady,” and “Old King Cole.” Be sure to bring a bathing suit and a picnic basket with you as all along the trail there are coves where you can stop and take a dip or lie out on the smooth rock eating some lunch and taking in the sun. To find Rubicon Trail, take Highway 89 ten miles north of South Lake Tahoe to D.L. Bliss State Park. There is a small fee for parking.
Located just above Emerald Bay along Rubicon Trail is the Vikingsholm Castle. Lora Josephine Knight built Vikingsholm as a summer home in 1929 but wanted to make sure the architecture complemented the beautiful setting in which it would stand. She traveled to Scandinavia to gather inspiration for building, and she eventually enjoyed her first summer on the bay with 15 staff members and a plethora of guests in 1930. Today, tours of the home are conducted from 10:30am to 4:30pm seven days a week and cost $8 for adults, $5 for children 6-12. Children under 6 are free. There is also a parking lot at the home for those who do not wish to hike there. From the shores of Emerald Bay, visitors can also glimpse the only island on Lake Tahoe, Fanette Island, where Ms. Knight built her “tea house” to take tea with her distinguished guests. The island and the bay have been declared a National Natural Landmark.
Hikers who would like a bit more of a challenge should visit Shirley Canyon in Squaw Valley on the North Shore. This is a moderate-level 2-mile hike with beautiful waterfalls and cascades flanking the trail. Picnickers can enjoy the smooth flat rocks of Shirley Canyon with their four-legged friends and stop off in the pools along the way for a swim. For those who choose not to complete the full round-trip hike, a cable car is available to ride. It is $10 on the way down and can cost as much as $24 going up, but dogs are also allowed to ride faithfully with their masters.
Another trail that welcomes canine companions is the Skunk Harbor Trail on the East Shore. It is an easy mile-and-a-half walk to the Skunk Harbor dog-friendly beach. Along this trail, hikers view the George Newhall summer “party” home constructed in 1922 just before reaching the pristine shoreline. Once you reach the water, an old pier and large boulders only enhance the beauty of the scene. To find this trail, take Highway 28 from Highway 50 north approximately two miles. Look for an iron pipe gate on the lake side of the highway.
No matter which shore or which trail, Lake Tahoe has some of the most beautiful views in the world. Be sure to take in the fresh air, enjoy some exercise, and don’t forget the suntan lotion!
Dog Sledding in Tahoe
No need to travel to Alaska for a dog sled adventure. Veteran sled dog musher Dotty Dennis and her dogs of the Husky Express take you on an exciting five-mile winter adventure in the scenic Hope Valley, east of South Lake Tahoe. Experienced guides and energetic Siberian Huskies at Running Creek Sled Dogs mush through the meadow at the entrance to Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Wilderness Adventures Dog Sled Tours and experienced musher Brian Maas lead dog sledding adventures at Sugarbowl and across Squaw Valley Meadow.
A winter trek through Tahoe’s meadows and forests is a great way to commune with nature and small feathered creatures. Kids strap on their own snowshoes, and parents can carry babies in backpacks.
Tahoe Meadows is a favorite spot for free snowshoeing on the south side of Mt. Rose Hwy. 431. Trails through the woods lead to sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail along ridges overlooking Lake Tahoe. Look for flocks of Chickadees eager to perch on your hands for a nibble of birdseed or nuts. Around Spooner Lake on Hwy. 28, you’ll find easy groomed trails – perfect for snowshoeing. More challenging trails climb through North Canyon to Marlette Lake above. Rent snowshoes at the Nevada State Park day lodge near Spooner Lake where you’ll pay a small fee for use of the trails.
On the South Shore, Mountain Sports Center at Camp Richardson Resort offers terrain for all skill levels and marked snowshoe trails with beautiful lake views. They also provide rentals and lessons. The Kirkwood Cross Country Center rents snowshoes for those who wish to drive to the Carson Pass, only 5 miles from the resort. There you’ll find lots of snow, plus great views and an occasional bald eagle sighting. Be sure to bring binoculars.
Tahoe Festivals, Parades, and Special Events
Everyone loves a parade. And no one does it better than North Lake Tahoe SnowFest. From March 2 to 11, numerous resorts and communities will stage dozens of wild and wacky events, including three spectacular parades and a Polar Bear Swim . . . brrrr! Squaw Valley kicks off the ten-day extravaganza with an evening laser light show, torchlight parade, and fireworks.
Events the whole family will enjoy include “Paint the Bear” at North Tahoe Arts Center, an ice cream eating contest, dog pulls, snowman building contest, ice castle “lighting” and coloring contest, pancake breakfast, Broomball tournament, and Wacky Winter Human Bowling, complete with costumes! For a listing and description of all events, times and locations, visit www.tahoesnowfestival.com.
If you prefer to have someone else plan your outing, Sierra Adventures is a one-stop shop for customized tours, including dog sledding, sleigh rides, tubing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, snow cat expeditions, and more.
USA Today named Lake Tahoe one of the top five domestic destinations for vacationers. Give it a try; you’ll find out why and make plans to come back real soon