Updated: May 12, 2020
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Lake Tahoe is an unbelievably beautiful area in the United States. Crystal clear water, thick forests, snowy mountain peaks and breathtaking viewpoints will make you fall in love with Lake Tahoe. It’s a great place for nature and hiking lovers. During hikes through nature you will discover waterfalls, lake views, pretty forests and maybe a bear ;). We highly recommend coming here, especially in September when you can avoid all the summer tourists. Temperatures will still be high (20-25°C) and it’s so much more enjoyable with fewer people there.
We stayed in Lake Tahoe for almost two weeks and loved the fact that we stayed so long. There is so much to see and you never get bored. However, if you are limited on time, we think 4-7 full days should be enough to see the most important spots and go on some great hikes.
Lake Tahoe Tips & Tricks
There is so much to do in Lake Tahoe, that we could barely cover it all in a single article. With that in mind, we definitely have some tips on where to eat, where to stay, how to get around and, of course, all of the coolest things to do while you’re there!
Where to Eat at Lake Tahoe
We generally found that prices are pretty high at restaurants in Lake Tahoe. Therefore, we didn’t go out to eat much, but we received a long list of great and mostly local places to eat at from our Airbnb host who grew up in Lake Tahoe.
In terms of buying food at a grocery store, we highly recommend buying your groceries at the Bargain Market Grocery Outlet in South Lake Tahoe. The food and the drinks are so much cheaper here. You can even find wine for as low as $3 and it even tastes good! Moreover, you don’t pay any taxes on groceries here, as the store is located in California.
Accommodation in Lake Tahoe
Unfortunately, most accommodation in Lake Tahoe is quite expensive. Most of the cheap hotels have very bad ratings and we only heard of one that is worth staying at. Here are our recommendations for an affordable stay:
Surrounded by nature with great panoramic views of the lake and mountains. Great starting point for hiking trails.
Important Tip: Accommodations fill up super fast in Tahoe. Therefore, if you find a deal you like, book it today because it might not be there tomorrow!
We ourselves stayed in South Lake Tahoe and Kingsbury. We loved both locations as we got to experience local life in South Lake Tahoe and take in the amazing views from Kingsbury, while also being very close to hiking trails in both locations. We highly recommend both areas for your stay.
Lake Tahoe Resorts
If you’re looking for an even more relaxing vacation and don’t mind dropping a couple extra bucks on higher quality accommodations, then you might be interested in one of the many resorts in the area. To make it easier on you, we’ve picked out the Top 5 Tahoe Resorts.
Transportation in Lake Tahoe
As with anywhere in the United States, public transportation isn’t very good. Therefore, you have the following options to get around Lake Tahoe:
The best yet most expensive option is to rent a car. We rented our car from rentalcars.com and paid $380 for 15 days. We were totally satisfied with the service and highly recommend them to compare prices from different companies. However, if you do not already have rental insurance, then we think it’s wise to always get full coverage for your rental car so that you don’t have to worry about anything happening to the car. We decided to get a rental car because we wanted to drive to places outside of the South Lake Tahoe area that wouldn’t have been otherwise accessible.
Important Tip: Rental car prices fluctuate on a daily basis. If you find a great price, don’t hesitate to book! We’ve lost countless deals by waiting too long.
If you plan on mostly staying in and around South Lake Tahoe, we recommend renting a bike as they have done a pretty good job with incorporating bike lanes in the entire area, even outside of town. Therefore, it is pretty easy to get from A to B.
The last option is to walk and take buses. South Lake Tahoe does have a bus company that regularly runs. However, it highly depends on where you’re staying and where you want to go in order to consider the bus as an option. Therefore, closely look at the location of the bus stops and the schedules. Then, decide whether relying solely on the bus is a good option. These are the times and routes available: Bus map, routes, times and schedules
Finally, you can mix options up and rent a car for only a few days to see places that are further away while taking the bus or renting a bike for the remaining days.
Things To Do in Lake Tahoe
There’s plenty to do in Lake Tahoe. Obviously, things to do change on whether you go during the warmer seasons (summer and fall) or the colder seasons (winter and spring). We went during the warmer season, so we’ll mostly talk about things to do in warmer seasons. However, during the colder seasons, Lake Tahoe offers all kinds of winter activities like skiing, hiking, ice skating etc.
Here are all of the things to do in warmer seasons:
There are a number of great hiking trails all around the entire Lake Tahoe area. We weren’t able to do them all, but we did come back with some helpful tips for finding the right trails for you.
We can definitely recommend downloading an app for hiking trails (e.g. AllTrails), so you can pick the area and length you want to hike.
One of the trails we hiked was a longer loop trail of 11 km starting in South Lake Tahoe called Tahoe Mountain Loop Trail. This trail led us up and down a mountain with spectacular lake views. We also loved that the terrain changed quite a bit during this hike as it took us through burned areas, thick forests and beautiful rocky landscapes.
The second loop trail we took was shorter, with a length of 5 km, but just as pretty. It is located up in the mountains in Kingsbury and offers beautiful lake views as well. It is called Castle Rock Trail. Both hikes were really enjoyable and we highly recommend each.
Nevertheless, be sure to use a hiking app, google maps or a GPS tracker in order to stay on the right path. Most of the trails aren’t marked very well and you really don’t want to get lost in these woods. We had to use our hiking app on both hikes in order to find the right way.
Explore a waterfall. There are a few around Lake Tahoe. We decided to take a short hike of 2 miles to Cascade Falls. It’s a great hike if you’re not scared of heights like Denise. 😀
Scenic Drives & Day Trips
Drive to Emerald Bay and stop at the viewpoints (e.g. Inspiration Point) to enjoy the breathtaking views of the bay from above. At some of these viewpoints, they want you to pay $10 for parking. However, if you go on a less busy weekday, nobody will be there to check whether you bought a ticket as it is your own responsibility to buy one at the ticket machine. Since we only stayed for around 20 minutes to enjoy the view and take some pictures, we didn’t pay the $10.
Take a day trip to Calaveras Big Trees State Park in order to see some giant sequoias. They created a pretty path with plenty of stations through the forest. The trees are gigantic and the 2 hour drive is definitely worth it. The entrance is $10 for the day. Since you drive through the mountains, you pass many pretty mountain lakes and viewpoints that are worth stopping at for pretty pictures.
NOTE: Before talking about beaches, we want to inform you about the ridiculous prices they charge for most of the beaches in the area. Almost all beaches (e.g. Sand Harbor, Zephyr Cove) cost $10 per car per day. Therefore, if you want to see a few different beaches, you easily end up spending $50. We think this price is too high, especially because in case you want to go back to one of the beaches, you have to pay the $10 again. Therefore, we did some research and asked locals where to find free public beaches in Lake Tahoe:
Secret Cove: Secret Cove is probably the most beautiful beach in Lake Tahoe! This is where all the pretty Instagram pictures were taken. You will find crystal clear turquoise water with huge rocks scattered throughout the cove. In order to get there, you have to drive to the Secret Harbor parking lot (free of charge), which is probably a 30 minute drive from South Lake Tahoe. From the Secret Harbor parking lot, you walk 15 minutes to Secret Cove. You can find more speciific directions and even more information in our detailed article on Lake Tahoe’s Secret Cove. Be sure to check it out!
Kiva Beach: Kiva Beach is easily accessible from the visitor center in South Lake Tahoe. At the visitor center, you can park for free. From there it’s only a 5 minute walk to Kiva Beach. Dogs are allowed on this beach, so bring your dog or just be prepared to have dogs running and swimming around you. It’s a pretty beach to go for a swim and relax.
Lakeside Beach: Lakeside Beach is located in Stateline and is also a very pretty place to get married. From here, you can enjoy spectacular mountain views and crystal clear water.
Lester Beach and Calawee Cove Beach : On top of the free beaches we’ve mentioned before, we would like to add Lester and Calawee Cove Beach. You find these beaches just past Emerald Bay. They charge a $10 entrance fee. However, this is the only place we’d say it’s worth the fee because the beaches are really pretty and the entrance includes the entire forest that leads down to the beaches. Therefore, you can easily spend an entire day here hiking on several trails and swimming in the lake.
More Things to Do
Drive or ride your bike to the visitor center and get informed about the area. Here, you can also take a little loop trail (20 minutes) with information along the way. It’s also interesting to find out what happened to the visitor center’s sign.
Check out one or a few of the casinos, but don’t spend too much money. It’s not worth it. 😉 We advise you to play nickel video poker, so you can’t lose much money even if you’re playing for a while.
Check out a brewery or two and try the local beer. There are plenty of breweries around Lake Tahoe. We went to The Brewery and really liked the beer and their pizza, but were a little shocked by the high prices (around $5/beer), which we quickly learned is pretty normal in this area.
General Tips & Tricks for Lake Tahoe
Here are some general tips for Lake Tahoe in order to make your stay easier and more enjoyable:
- Be aware of high prices on accommodation and food. Stay at the cheap places we recommend in our accommodation section and try to cook as often as possible.
- Do not pay the ridiculous entrance fees for beaches. There are a number of public beaches that don’t charge anything and are just as pretty or prettier than the beaches you have to pay for.
- Rent a car to be able to see all the beautiful spots Lake Tahoe has to offer.
- Bring bear spray and a bear bell with you while hiking. It is not uncommon to see one and you really don’t want to take any chances. If you see a bear, make yourself as tall as possible and slowly walk backwards without losing eye-contact.
- Do not leave any trash or food outside. Bears will come and get it.
- Do not leave any food in the car. Bears have figured out how to break into cars in order to get the food waiting for them inside.
- Visit Lake Tahoe in September, it’s a good month to avoid tourists, get off-season prices and still enjoy warm weather.
Paradise isn’t reserved for the rich, so what are you waiting for? Go take your dream vacation!
We would also like to thank Harshita & Aman, authors of the Trot World travel blog for being a wonderful couple who gave us some good tips before our trip.
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