Straddling the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe attracts nearly three million visitors a year. About four hours by car from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe is one of the largest, deepest and clearest freshwater lakes in the entire world. The summer months (early June to mid September) offer ample opportunities for boating, watersports, golfing and hiking, while the winter snows (usually appearing in late November and lasting until mid May) make for some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the United States. For those with less outdoorsy ambitious, Lake Tahoe offers gambling, shopping, fine dining, and, of course, stellar views of the lake and surrounding mountains all year long.
Lake Tahoe is a beautiful, crystal-clear blue lake nestled among mountain peaks. It has depths of up to 1,600 feet and the mountain peaks are in the 8,000 to 10,000 foot range. During the summer, boating, camping, and hiking are popular activities. Winter sports are popular during the colder months (Late November-Mid May).
Lake Tahoe has been a tourist destination since the turn of the 20th century, when steam trains and improving roads made it possible to visit with ease. The 1960 Winter Olympics, held at Squaw Valley, popularized winter sports at Tahoe.
Most visitors fly into Reno/Tahoe International Airport , about an hour's drive to Tahoe on Interstate 80.
Major airports are also located just south of San Francisco, about 4 hours away, Oakland, about 3 hours away, and Sacramento, about 2 hours away.
There are also two smaller private airports closer to the Lake, one in Truckee that supports a short runway and mostly propeller airplanes, the second is in South Lake Tahoe. The South Lake Tahoe airport used to host commercial flights, and its runway is long enough to facilitate a 737 jet. There used to be several commercial airlines that flew into the South Lake Tahoe airport, but due to noise abatement and other political issues, and the fact that the Reno/Tahoe International Airport is only an hour's drive away, these flights have ceased to operate altogether.
Getting into the Lake Tahoe region by car is perhaps the most popular method of transportation, but it is not without its hassles and headaches, especially for the first-time visitor.
Be aware that you're driving into a mountainous region that receives heavy snowfall throughout the winter season and other times. Although road conditions are usually clear between April and November, it is not unheard of for heavy snow to fall as late as June, sometimes spontaneously in seemingly warm weather. Always carry snow chains in your car. If roads are slick with snow or ice, CalTrans will implement chain control, which usually means you need chains installed on your tires for the affected stretch of highway unless you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle with snow tires. Before planning your trip, check local weather reports as well as the California Highway Information Network (CHIN)  (call +1 800 427-7623 in California or +1 916 445-7623 from elsewhere) for traffic conditions. The State of California also provides helpful winter driving tips .
If you are already near or in the Lake Tahoe region without snow chains in your car, but you find that you will need them, try to buy them where the locals might, such as a grocery store or auto part franchise. Prices for chains at gas stations visible from the highway will often be twice as expensive!
Be aware some vehicles cannot accept regular snow chains due to low clearance between the wheel and the wheel well or the suspension parts. Your car's manual will have the necessary information regarding this. You may still be able to use a low-clearance chain such as SSC Super Z6 but ensure that it fits and works properly BEFORE you depart.
During chain control, men in orange jumpsuits will be on hand to install chains for you for a hefty fee of $30 USD (sometimes a little more if they need to cut your chains to fit). If you've never installed chains, the convenience of paying an expert do the job in less than five minutes may outweigh the amount of money you save while shuddering in the cold, hunched over the instructions for half an hour. The choice is entirely yours; a good method of learning how to install chains is to watch someone do it the first time so that you know how it to do it yourself the next time---just consider the $30-$35 your lesson fee. (Or better yet, have an experienced friend teach you before you even leave.)
Four-wheel drive vehicles with snow tires or "mud and snow" tires almost never need chains — Caltrans usually closes the highway altogether for several hours before requiring four-wheel drive vehicles with chains. The latter tires usually have a "M+S" marking on them.
If you are an experienced driver in snow, you may find it ridiculous to be asked to put on chains. But the Highway patrol makes no exceptions unless you have 4wd. You can't argue your way out if it, but you'll get over it and you will laugh heartily at the number of cars spinning out of control (even with 4wd) as inexperienced California drivers attempt to handle the snow by driving as if it isn't there. Take their foolishness realistically - they WILL hit you if they get close. Keep your distance.
Front-wheel drive cars with snow tires on the drive wheels under the weight of the engine do very well.
Rear-wheel drive trucks with no weight in the back do the worst.
Cars with bald tires with chains may still slip and be a major road hazard.
Big rig trucks, the 18 wheelers, can jackknife, and spin and crash, and often are the cause of road closures.
Windshield wipers during snowfall: It's best to find and use special windshield wipers for the snow, where the joints in the wipers are covered up and protected, otherwise, they may freeze, and be useless.
To North Lake Tahoe: From the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento, take interstate highway I-80 East toward Reno and exit highway 89 South to Tahoe City. From Reno, take I-80 West toward Sacramento and exit Truckee taking Highway 267 south to the Lake.
To South Lake Tahoe: From the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento, take US Highway 50 East toward South Lake Tahoe. This is by far the most scenic way to enter the Lake Tahoe basin, with soaring views over the entire lake from Echo Summit down the last few miles to the valley floor.
By bus or shuttle
There is the Bay Area Ski Bus, which picks up all over the Bay Area from Sunnyvale, Fremont, San Francisco, Oakland to Walnut Creek and Pleasanton. There is an Amtrak train station in Truckee, California, and bus service from various carriers there to points around the lake. Amtrak offers a combined bus/train service from San Francisco, California (via the Emeryville, California stop) to South Lake Tahoe. Many ski resorts offer bus and shuttle rides from certain pick-up locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Reno, Truckee or from hotels in the Lake Tahoe region. Availability, pick-up locations, schedules and rates vary widely depending on the resort you want to go to. See the Do section below for a list of ski resorts, and check their website or call their office to see what your options are.
In North Lake Tahoe there is a bus service called TART (Tahoe area rapid transit); it does not have the most robust schedule and as cabs can be scarce, so a rental car is a necessity.
Stateline casino resorts in South Lake Tahoe have free shuttle buses to most of the ski resorts. Most of the shuttle buses do not check if you are staying at the resort.
Hitchhiking is also common in the north shore, although usually for shorter regional distances. The majority of rides are given by local residents.
See the views of the Lake from the Homewood Chairlifts.
See the mountain valley on the hike up the Emerald bay hiking trail.
See the hillside letters which are marked on several mountain ranges throughout Nevada. Closest is the 'C' in Carson City. These letters are rumored to be used by pilots who are flying over the planes and use them as directional guides, but really they are a representation of many Nevadan school's pride, who have placed these letters on hills for centuries. Most of these letters still remain and have been taken care of by farmers. Read about this myth here:Nevada Hillside Letters and see pictures on the WikiShared page.
There are many places to go Horseback Riding in Lake Tahoe. Below is a list of stables where they offer guided trails and tours of Lake Tahoe mountain ranges.
4 Emerald Bay Road (at Fallen Leaf Road), South Lake Tahoe, CA (530) 541-3113 All rides are guided and at a walk - Kids have to be 6 yrs or older - weight limit of 225 lbs. - Reservations are Required Open: Summer for Horseback Riding - Winter for Sleigh Rides Trail Rides 2 Hour Trail Rides Day Rides (4 hours) Breakfast Ride - 8am to 10am A brisk morning ride to bacon and eggs, hotcakes and cowboy coffee Steak Ride - 4:30pm to 7pm An easy ride for Mom and Dad, but exciting for the kids, through wooded trails, across Taylor Creek and back to a western steak barbecue.
2199 Cascade Road, South Lake Tahoe, CA (530) 541-2055 OPEN: June - September Call ahead for rates & times 1 Hour Rides Take our hour ride to beautiful Cascade Lake, or to a scenic view overlooking Lake Tahoe and the south shore. For those who choose a more gentle ride, take our Meadow Trail skirting Lake Tahoe and Tallac Meadows. 2 Hour Rides If you have more time, enjoy the spectacular scenery of Cascade Lake on a 2 hour ride around the lake. All Day - reservations advisable
Northstar at Tahoe, Truckee, CA (530) 562-2480 OPEN: June - October We Specialize in beginners and family groups. All our rides include an extra half hour for you to get to know your guide, do your paperwork and participate in a discussion on horse behavior and safety rules. Children must be 7 years for trail rides. 1 Hour Trail Rides 2 Hour Trail Rides Pony Rides For Advanced Riders Private Ride
1525 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, CA (530) 583-7433 OPEN: June through September Ride the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics Call For Reservations.Has a wude variety of horses...Gentle horses for gentle people, spirited horses for spirited people, and for those who don't like to ride there are horses that don't like to be ridden. One Hour Ride (9:00 to 4:00 - every hour)Two Hour Ride (9:00, 11:00 & 2:00)Half Day Ride (1:30)Private Rides - Reservations required PONY RIDES (10am-12pm & 1pm- 4pm - you lead 20 minutes)
There are many resorts in the Tahoe region for skiers and snowboarders. Lifts are open whenever the snows begin (usually around mid-November) and close when the weather becomes too warm and the snow stops (usually around mid to late-April, though resorts have sometimes closed as late as July 4th). Conditions will vary depending on the resort, and not all mountains are the same.
Beyond Donner Pass
If you are heading east from the Bay Area, you have some skiing choices. These resorts are all on Highway 80 going East, before you hit Donner Pass.
There are many trail in the nearby Desolation Wilderness including Mount Tallac Trail.
The Tahoe Queen at Ski Run Marina and the M.S. Dixie II at Zephyr Cove Resort are both authentic Mississippi Style Paddle-wheel boats. They offer daytime scenic sightseeing cruises to Emerald Bay in addition to dinner dance cruises. 1 (800) 23-TAHOE
Several charter services offer boat tours to the mansions that dot the lake shore. Tahoe Keys Boat and Charter Rentals and Ski Run Boat Company offer guided boat tours of Lake Tahoe. Tahoe Keys had a very unique Party Boat that is 52 feet and can hold up to 49 people. This famous boat is a very popular for weddings. They also have rentals of other motorized personal watercrafts. Tahoe Keys Boat Company: 1(530)542-2111 Ski Run Boat Company: Ski Run Marina South Lake Tahoe, CA, 96150
You can enjoy all types of lake activities during the summer months from Invert Sports, 888-205-7119.  They offer families and business retreats on luxury vacation rentals and guided watercraft tours including; boats, jet skis, waverunners, houseboats, stand up paddle boards, wakeboards, water skis, water trampolines, other water toys, water sport lessons, and private tours at Lake Tahoe South and North.
Gambling is a popular activity year-round, many other activities are seasonal. In the winter the skiing in the area is world class and spread across many varied resorts, other winter activities are snow shoeing and snowmobiling. During the summer months boat rentals are available in most towns on the lake. Other activities that draw people to the area are: golf, hiking, mountain biking, and 4-wheeling.
You can rent skiing or snowboarding equipment directly at the mountain. However, to save money and increase your available choices, you might want to rent from one of the many Ski Shops in the Tahoe Area Including but not limited to Granite Chief Sports, Squaw Valley Sports, Tahoe Daves, and Porters in Tahoe City. You can also rent from REI, Any Mountain, Helm of Sun Valley, and Marmot Mountain Works in the Bay Area (and probably other places too).
There are over 273 restaurants in Lake Tahoe to choose from. The types of food you can find there ranges from Chinese to Indian Cuisine.
Hotels are, of course, an option. Book in advance, especially in the winter or summer seasons. You can get a room for as cheap as $30/night in South Lake Tahoe, get a package at a casino hotel or spend several hundred dollars a night at one of the many resort style hotels on or near the Lake or ski resorts.
Homeowners in the area do a brisk business renting/leasing out their homes, condos and cabins during the winter and summer seasons. They vary in price from a few hundred dollars/night for a short term rental to $800/mo for a 1-room condo and up to $3,000/mo for 4+ bedroom houses with hot tubs and other amenities. Short term rentals and longer term leases are advertised on local travel and tourism web sites, with real estate agencies as well as in the local papers.
Most of the danger in Lake Tahoe comes from nature. Crime is practically non-existent. There is very limited gang activity in Kings Beach that tourists can avoid by not venturing into the residential areas of the city (which have nothing of interest for tourists anyway.) Normal precautions against petty theft, such as not leaving valuables visible in your car, are still recommended. If you leave a purse or bag unattended on a beach or in a ski lodge, it probably won't be stolen, but it is still best to have someone watch it, even if that someone is a friendly-looking stranger.
Heavy traffic can be a problem. Most road work takes place in the summer, which, coupled with the influx of tourists, can cause very long traffic delays. These delays can fray nerves and lead to road rage. Actual violence is extremely rare, though pedestrians may find themselves on the receiving end of honks and obscenities if they jaywalk. Winter snows can make road conditions very treacherous. It is very easy to lose control of your vehicle while driving on an icy road, so drive slowly and leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you. If you find your vehicle is sliding, remove your foot from the gas pedal and steer into the spin. DO NOT APPLY THE BRAKE. This will only make the spin worse.
Lake Tahoe has poor public transit and few taxis, so drunk drivers can be a problem. Law enforcement is especially vigilant of drunk drivers and routinely sets up checkpoints. Hitchhiking is quite common around Tahoe and generally safe.
Remember that motorboats do not have breaks, and can not stop quickly to avoid hazards. Be vigilant when operating a motorboat, especially in shallow areas where rocks or other obstacles might be hidden just below the surface. When swimming, paddle-boarding or using a non-motorized boat, it is advisable to stay close to shore, preferably inside the buoy line, as people in motorboats may have a hard time seeing you, especially at sunrise or sunset. Unless in a motorboat, you should stay off the water altogether at night.
When skiing, avoid going outside the bounds of ski resorts, as these areas are not patrolled or managed for avalanches. Many skiers have died at Lake Tahoe as a result of avalanches, nearly always from having gone outside of ski area boundaries.
Bears are common around Lake Tahoe, and though rarely dangerous they can be a nuisance. Bears will eat any human food they can, so avoid leaving food outside and unattended. This includes all food wrappers and containers. Garbage also attracts bears. It is best to store garbage in specially designed "bear boxes", which are made of steel. Putting garbage outside in a regular bin is almost certain to attract bears, who will tear into the bin and create a big mess. Bears have been known to claw through wooden doors to get to garbage, so keeping pungent trash inside your house is not recommended. If you do not have a bear box, keep your garbage as deep inside as possible and sprinkle bleach around the perimeter of the house. This will mask most scents. Most campsites provide bear boxes for food storage. If they are non available, keep your food in your car and lock the doors. Never keep food in your tent. Even non-food items, like gum or toothpaste, can attract bears.
If you encounter a bear while hiking, it will probably leave you alone. Bears and humans have co-existed at Tahoe for more than a century, and the bears have learned to be wary of humans. A bear will usually only become aggressive if you get between its cubs or its food. Never approach bear cubs, and give fresh kills a wide berth. If a bear approaches you or you simply become uncomfortable with its presence, shouting or making loud noises, particularly metallic noises, will usually drive it off. Some hikers carry an air horn with them, though this is generally seen as an excessive precaution.
Blizzards rarely strike without warning, but they can be very intense. Lake Tahoe is well prepared for heavy snows, so road closures are rare. Emergency services are almost never disrupted, though utilities, including electricity, water and natural gas, can go out for days at a time in bad weather. Snow can fall thick and heavy, and careless visitors may find themselves snowed in. It is recommended to routinely clear away snow from your front door, driveway, and car during a blizzard. You should always keep snow chains in your car when traveling to Lake Tahoe in the winter months. During snowstorms, access to Lake Tahoe via I-80 and Highway 50 is denied to vehicles without snow chains or studded snow tires. During such times, snow chains can usually be purchased and installed from vendors on the side of the road. These vendors are reputable, but their prices can be quite high.
There are plenty of places to shop at in Lake Tahoe. Some stores are located in outlet centers, at ski areas and others in downtown locations such as in South Lake Tahoe at the base of the Heavenly Tram and along the main streets in Tahoe City and Truckee. -Squaw Valley / Olympic Valley Shopping Area -Resort at Squaw Creek - Retail Promenade -FACTORY STORES AT THE 'Y' in South Lake Tahoe -Shops at Ski Run Marina -Shops at Heavenly Village -Boatworks Mall -Cobblestone Center -Tahoe City Marina and Mall -Tahoe/Truckee Factory Stores
Golf can be enjoyed year-round in Lake Tahoe. Visitor's can even enjoy skiiing and golfing in the same day! Below is a list of Golf courses in Lake Tahoe. -Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course -The Golf Courses At Incline Village -Lake Tahoe Golf Course -Northstar-at-Tahoe -Resort at Squaw Creek Golf Course -Tahoe Donner Golf Course
There are many places to fish in Lake Tahoe. However, you must buy a fishing license in order to fish in California and Nevada. If you are planning to fish in California and are under the age of 16 a fishing license is not required, or if you are on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe and are under the age of 12 you will not need a fishing license either. Fishing licenses can be purchased at several charters throughout Lake Tahoe. Fishing is prohibited from 2 hours after sunset to 1 hour before sunrise.