3 Days in Tahoe: A Nature Lover's Guide to the Best Beaches, Trails + More
(Aron Bosworth)

3 Days in Tahoe: A Nature Lover's Guide to the Best Beaches, Trails + More


A vacation in Lake Tahoe has something for everyone. From mellow family outings, adventurous hiking and climbing, romantic excursions, and fun group activities, this destination makes it easy to satisfy a variety of interests and activities.

Lake Tahoe boasts some of the bluest, clearest water in North America to swim in and paddle, and you'll also find sandy, relaxing beaches. It's a great place to kick off summer because it offers the best of both a mountain town and a beach town. You will love the lazy California vibes of this place and the incredible mountain hikes and activities that go along with it.

This year, heavy winter snows might still be lingering on the peaks. Most campgrounds and other activities should be open, especially close to the lake, but note that you might not be able to go on the same hikes you were able to climb in previous years. If you have snowshoes and room in the car, go ahead and throw those in just in case.

One thing visitors to Tahoe don't often realize until they get here is that the lake is huge. It's circumference is about 70 miles, and you should expect it will take at least an hour to drive from South Lake to North Tahoe on winding, narrow roads.

If you do it right, you can take your time traveling along this beautiful loop and see everything the area has to offer.

Day 1: Truckee and Tahoe City

  • Paddle Donner Lake: This quaint alpine lake is perfect for early morning paddles in a kayak or on a SUP, but it does get pretty choppy in the afternoon. Bring a life jacket or rent one in town.
  • Donner Memorial State Park: Perfect for walking the dog or trail runs, the Donner Memorial State Park is a great place to start if you are new to the area and want to learn about the local history and chat with folks about what you want out of your time there.
  • Pacific Crest Trail: Donner Summit is a great place to hop on the PCT in either direction to get a feel for what this major thru-hike is all about. Hike south to Mount Judah (5.1 miles) round trip or north to take in views of Castle Peak (7 miles round trip). Both directions should have plenty of wildflowers, pretty mountain streams, and some snow still on the trail.
  • Five Lakes Trail Hike: This 4.8-mile trek is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Granite Chief Wilderness Area. Allow yourself plenty of time to explore the terrain and find your favorite lake.
  • Float the Truckee River: Excess snow this season means that this ride is going to be a little more wild and a lot less mellow than in years past. Only attempt if the weather is warm enough to warrant a chilly dip in the Truckee and if you know best practices when it comes to river safety.
  • Commons Beach: This is a city park in Tahoe City on Lake Tahoe's west shore. Kayaks are available for rent during the summer when the area is popular for swimming and for family excursions.
  • Tahoe Area State Recreation Area Campground: This is an ideal spot to hunker dow for the night and get ready for your journey around the lake on day two of your trip.

Day 2: Tahoe's West Shore, Emerald Bay, South Lake Tahoe and Stateline

  • Sugar Pine Point State Park: This state park offers beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and was once a private residence. It was opened to the public as a day use area in 1965, although well-kept Tahoe 11,000-square-foot Ehrman Mansion (also known as Pine Lodge) still stands here.
  • D.L. Bliss State Park: Typically open from May through September, D.L. Bliss caters to summer visitors with its sandy beaches, interesting rock formations, and clear waters of Calawee Cove and Lester Beach. With easy access from both the campground and day use parking area, both beaches are well suited for families and for the launching of personal watercraft.
  • Emerald Bay State Park: One of the most iconic spots in Lake Tahoe, this stop is also usually the most crowded, especially since parking here on the side of Highway 89 is just a nightmare. There's definitely a reason why it is such a hotspot, however. Tucked into the southwest corner of the lake, the long bay opens up inside the narrow mouth at Emerald and Eagle Points, and its shimmering emerald green to azure blue waters beckon boaters, swimmers and hikers to explore its shoreline. Emerald Bay State Park is also well known as the home of Vikingsholm, an impressive historic Scandinavian mansion turned museum, and the bay contains the only real island found in Lake Tahoe's waters.
  • Eagle Lake Hike: Located near Eagle Falls, Eagle Lake is a mellow, family-friendly destination where you can view Emerald Bay from above. Just a mile in from the trailhead, the Eagle Lake Trail rises gradually as it follows the Eagle Creek drainage. Be sure to check out the falls, as well!
  • Rubicon Trail Hike: This 8.3-mile out and back hike through D.L. Bliss and Emerald Bay is a moderately level trail that offers an intimate look at Tahoe's blue waters from elevated vantages that hug rocky precipices and lakeside sections near the water's edge.
  • Mount Tallac: Just shy of 5 miles, the trail meanders past lakes and through forests, climbing bowls and ridges to gain the summit nearly 3,300 feet above the trailhead. The 10-mile round trip takes most hikers around six hours, including time to soak in the panorama on the summit.
  • South Lake Tahoe: This is a great spot for your home base on your second night. The bustling town offers nightlife and fancy dining options as well as campgrounds at lower elevations that shouldn't be too snowed in this time of year.

Day 3: East Shore, Incline Village, and Kings Beach

  • Sand Harbor State Park: With a beautiful, family-friendly beach, a visitor center, kayak rentals, and short hiking trails, there are plenty of reasons to spend the day at this state park.
  • Secret Cove + Chimney Beach Loop: A 2.6-mile hike that rewards with spectacular views of the lake from a quintessential white sand and boulder beach.
  • Tahoe Rim Trail: Another major thru-hike that you can hop on for a few hours, the Tahoe Rim Trail is known for its stunning vistas of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding forests. It gets you a little more off the beaten path, especially if you are able to go on some of the longer hikes. A few of the eastshore hikes to choose from include the Kingsbury Grade North (1 mile round trip), Tahoe Meadows South (4 miles round trip), and Spooner Summit North to Snow Valley Peak (12.4 miles round trip).
  • Speedboat Beach: This beach in between Kings Beach and Incline Village is Lake Tahoe at it's finest. It features large, granite boulders to scramble up and a sandy beach to relax on. It's a great place to launch a Kayak, as well.
  • Kings Beach: The close proximity to the town Kings Beach makes this beach an easily-accessible and convenient jaunt for tourists visiting Lake Tahoe. You won't find better beach access from restaurants, shops and hotels on Tahoe's north shore. It's located right across the street from a Safeway, which means that when you need to restock on barbecue or other Memorial Day fixings, it's super convenient.

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