Lake Tahoe is known for its summer splendor, but the majestic views are even prettier in the winter covered in snow. And there’s plenty to do to experience the winter wonder.
1. Lake Tahoe Cruises
Just because it’s not warm outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy 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. It operates three cruises daily from the Ski Run Marina in South Lake Tahoe. The cruise company even offers a free shuttle service that will pick you up from your local hotel, so be sure to give them a call to schedule your ride.
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 Emerald Bay. This cruise company also offers a free shuttle from select hotels in the area.
There are also smaller boat companies operating in the area that will take smaller groups, or just couples, on more customized cruises.
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 in South Lake Tahoe. A look at its website and you’ll learn the cafe has been around since the ’60s and 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.
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 scenic lake views all around the lake. There’s pub fare at Tahoe Tap Haus in Tahoe City on the west shore, 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 best restaurants to try.
The scenery from Tahoe’s three ski resorts is unmatched. The views alone are reason enough to go to the top of the mountain. Skiing or boarding down them just makes it more fun!
Ski two states in one day at Heavenly Resort. Located in South Lake Tahoe, it’s 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 boarding aren’t for you, you can still experience the mountain’s majestic views by taking a scenic ride on the Heavenly Gondola. Located in the middle of South Lake Tahoe, the 2.5-mile ride will cost you about $75 (but they do have a senior rate of $60), 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 in North Lake Tahoe in California. 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 riders can grab a glass of bubbly (or apple cider) and toast to new friends and winter adventure. But be sure to get in line early; there are a limited number of free glasses and they go fast!
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 the lines to buy tickets at the base can get very long (especially on holidays and weekends).
Ski Olympic terrain at Squaw Valley in North Lake Tahoe, California. The site of the 1960 Olympics, Squaw 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. 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 games. You can get in free with your tram ticket. Squaw Valley 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.
4. Other Snow Activities
If hitting the slopes isn’t your idea of fun, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the Sierra mountain snow. Strap on some snowshoes to hike along the trails all around the lake. There are plenty of trails you can explore on your own. But there are also guided tours (Tahoe Adventure Company and Tahoe Snowshoe Tours) that will take you to scenic places during the day, allow you to watch the sunset, or let you snowshoe under the stars. All of Lake Tahoe’s the ski resorts also offer snowshoe trails.
Cross-country skiing is another way to explore the area’s trails. One of the best ski centers in North America, according to its website, is Tahoe XC, located on the northwest side of the lake. The cross-country ski area has more than two dozen trails ranging from beginner to expert; some are even dog-friendly!
Experiencing the snow at Lake Tahoe is truly majestic onboard a sleigh ride. The one-hour ride onboard a handmade sleigh leaves from Sand Harbor Nevada State Park on the northeast 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 the lake. 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 that offer each of these activities. Reserving early is your best bet to make sure you get the tour and times you want.
Since part of Lake Tahoe is in Nevada, you will be able to gamble on your vacation. Casinos hug the state line in South 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 around, head either to the Sage Room 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 views.
Another big casino in South Lake Tahoe is Montbleu Resort Casino and Spa. It offers both upscale and laid-back dining, a spa, a lively gaming floor, a nightclub, and concerts -- all with Lake Tahoe as its backdrop. Across the street is the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and smaller Lakeside Inn and Casino. All of the casinos are within walking distance of Heavenly Village in the center of South Lake Tahoe.
Outside of South Lake Tahoe, you’ll find casinos including Crystal Bay, Cal Neva, and the Tahoe Biltmore Lodge and Casino in Crystal Bay in North Lake Tahoe. 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 all around Lake Tahoe. 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 north or south, you’ll be sure to find plenty for everyone to enjoy.