Tucked in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is known for its summer splendor, but the majestic views are even prettier in the winter covered in snow. And there are plenty of outdoor activities that allow you to experience Lake Tahoe’s winter wonder.
1. Lake Tahoe Cruises
Just because it’s not warm outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the blue waters of Lake Tahoe. There are year-round cruises — both big and small — that will take you on a scenic and educational ride.
Tahoe Cruises operates the Safari Rose, and you can choose from scenic lunch tours and evening sunset champagne tours around the south and west shores. According to its website, the 80-foot yacht was built in the 1950s and has a heated salon and even a cozy fireplace to keep you warm. A popular sightseeing cruise is the Emerald Bay Day Cruise, which takes you around the historic Vikingsholm Castle and offers scenic vistas of the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. Tahoe Cruises operates daily from the Ski Run Marina on the south shore.
Also in South Lake Tahoe is Zephyr Cove Resort, where the M.S. Dixie II launches its 2.5-hour tour of Emerald Bay. Opt for the daily lunch tour or the nighttime Dinner and Dance Cruise. Enjoy dinner and live music inside the heated boat while learning about the history of Vikingsholm Castle and Emerald Bay State Park. This cruise company offers a free shuttle from select hotels in the area.
There are smaller boat companies operating in the area that will take smaller groups, or just couples, on more customized cruises.
2. Local Dining
From breweries to dining with spectacular views of the lake, you could literally spend your entire vacation eating in Lake Tahoe and still need more time. The food around the lake is almost as amazing as the views.
Start your morning at Driftwood Cafe, a local’s favorite in Heavenly Village at the base of Heavenly Ski Resort on the south shore. The cafe has been around since the ’60s but moved to its current location in 2007. It serves up large comfort dishes (the Huevos del Driftwood are a personal favorite) that are sure to fill and warm you up before your winter activities. Get here early because there is almost always a wait, but the line does move quickly.
At the end of the day, warm up next to the large outdoor fire pit at Azul Latin Kitchen. Here you’ll nosh on California-style Mexican dishes while enjoying craft cocktails. There’s also live music and games outside. If you don’t want Mexican food, there’s a California Burger right next door, where you can find specialty burgers, games, and local art.
There are local eats with views of Lake Tahoe all around the Lake Tahoe area. On the west shore, there’s pub fare at Tahoe Tap Haus in Tahoe City. While it’s not its own brewery, it does pride itself on offering beers brewed within 100 miles. Find seafood at Jake’s on the Lake on Tahoe’s north shore, and more upscale dining in Incline Village, like Bite American Tapas and Lone Eagle Grille.
A hidden gem near the north shore is The Old Post Office Cafe. Tucked in Cornelian Bay, the cozy spot operates out of an old post office building. It has all your breakfast favorites: biscuits and gravy, pancakes, and eggs, large portions, and a friendly, local atmosphere.
Want more restaurant suggestions? Read up on eating local in Lake Tahoe.
The scenery from Tahoe’s three ski resorts is unmatched. The views of the clear waters alone are reason enough to go to the top of the mountain. Skiing or snowboarding down them just makes it more fun!
Heavenly Mountain Resort
Ski two states in one day at Heavenly Mountain Resort, also known as Heavenly Ski Resort. Located in South Lake Tahoe, it’s on the largest mountain in the area with a whopping 4,800 skiable acres straddling Nevada and California. There is a wide range of terrain, too. From easy, groomed trails to harder chutes, it truly is an all-level mountain. If skiing or snowboarding isn’t for you, you can still experience the mountain’s majestic views by taking a scenic gondola ride on the Heavenly Gondola. Located at the base of Heavenly Mountain Resort, the 2.5-mile ride will cost you about $90 (but they do have a senior rate), but it’s good all day. The first stop is the observation deck, and the second stop will take you to the tubing hill and Tamarack Lodge — where you can grab a hearty lunch or catch its famous happy hour with live music and drink specials.
Northstar Resort is located just outside of Truckee, California, on the lake’s north shore. Its main peak is Mt. Pluto, an inactive volcano whose eruption some 2 million years ago created Lake Tahoe. On the slopes, the mountain has 20 lifts, and the majority of its terrain is rated intermediate. It’s also home to the area’s ski-up champagne bar, Tost. Every day at 2 p.m., skiers and snowboarders can grab a glass of bubbly (or apple cider) and toast to new friends and winter adventures. But be sure to get in line early; there are a limited number of free glasses and they go fast! (But if you do miss out, there are champagne and small bites available for purchase.)
Heavenly and Northstar are both part of Vail Resorts, so you can use the same pass for both resorts. Your best bet is to go online and buy your passes before you travel because for the 2022/2023 ski season, the resorts are limiting daily sales of lift tickets.
Ski Olympic terrain at Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley) in North Lake Tahoe. The site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, the mountain has a variety of terrain from beginner to expert. It also has an aerial tram ride if you just want to soak in the views of the Lake Tahoe area. The 10-minute ride will take you up to 8,200 feet for about $50. At the top, be sure to check out the Olympic Museum for memorabilia and stories from the Olympics. You can get in free with your tram ticket. Palisades bought nearby Alpine Meadows resort back in 2011, meaning you can use the same pass to ski both areas, and buying online is your cheapest option.
If hitting the slopes isn’t your idea of fun, there are plenty of other outdoor activities in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Strap on some snowshoes, head to a trailhead, and hike around the lake. Have a self-guided adventure by exploring trails on your own. Alternatively, Tahoe Adventure Company or Tahoe Snowshoe Tours will lead guided tours to scenic places during the day, allow you to watch the sunset, or let you snowshoe under the stars. All of Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts also offer snowshoe hiking trails.
5. Cross-Country Skiing
The Lake Tahoe area has the highest concentration of cross-country skiing trails in North America, with trails on both the California and Nevada side of the lake. Tahoe XC, located on the northwest side, has more than two dozen trails across 40 miles ranging from beginner to expert; some are even dog-friendly! The trails are groomed daily and offer sweeping views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe. If you need a break, grab a free hot chocolate or tea in one of the three warming huts.
6. Sleigh Rides
Experiencing the snow at Lake Tahoe is truly majestic onboard a sleigh ride. The one-hour ride aboard a handmade sleigh leaves from Sand Harbor Nevada State Park on the Nevada side of the lake. Cozy up under a blanket while your driver entertains you with history, stories, and maybe even some songs while steering the beautiful draft horses through the forest to epic views of Lake Tahoe. Be sure to book reservations in advance because they do fill up!
Other winter activities include snow tubing, fat-tire biking, and snowmobiling. There are companies all around the Lake Tahoe area that offer each of these activities. Reserving early is your best bet to make sure you get the tour and times you want.
Gambling is allowed in the Lake Tahoe area, but only on the Nevada side! Casinos hug the state line on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, with Harveys and Harrah’s literally across the street from neighboring California. These two are both owned by Caesars Entertainment, and they are some of the bigger casinos in the area. They have lively floors filled with slot machines and gaming tables, plus a sportsbook and poker room. For some of the best views of Lake Tahoe around, head either to 19 Kitchen and Bar on the 19th floor at Harveys or Friday’s Steakhouse on the top floor of Harrah’s. Both are upscale steakhouses with impeccable food, service, and view.
Other big casinos in South Lake Tahoe are Bally’s Lake Tahoe (formerly Montbleu Casino Resort & Spa) and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. All of the casinos offer dining and lively gaming floors, as well as spas, nightclubs, and concerts, all with Lake Tahoe as its backdrop. And all are within walking distance of Heavenly Mountain Village.
Outside of this area, you’ll find casinos like Crystal Bay and the Tahoe Biltmore Lodge and Casino. In Incline Village, the Hyatt Regency has an alpine-themed casino called The Grand Lodge, which offers table games, slots, and a sportsbook.
Pro Tip: There’s plenty to do on a Lake Tahoe getaway. But since the area can get a lot of snow, the roads around the lake (which are often two-lane roads) can become difficult to navigate, so planning your trip to one area is your best bet. Whether you choose the north or south shore, you’ll be sure to find plenty for everyone to enjoy.
If you’re visiting Lake Tahoe, here’s more to fill out your trip — from rentals to day trips: