Best Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

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Best Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

It was Mark Twain who described Lake Tahoe best: “the fairest picture the whole earth affords.” The massive lake and its surrounding pine forests and snow-capped peaks do, indeed, afford incredible views and limitless outdoor fun. From world-renowned skiing in the Sierra Nevadas to swimming and scuba diving in crystal-clear Lake Tahoe waters, there is something for everyone. Come play – year-round – in a region of remarkable, pristine beauty. Here are the top attractions you’ll want to see in Lake Tahoe!
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1. Explore Emerald Bay State Park
Get your Lake Tahoe vacation started off on the right foot with a full day – at least – enjoying the outdoor adventures available at Emerald Bay State Park. You’ll be immersed in tower forests, granite cliffs and, of course, amazing views of brilliant Lake Tahoe. (The best views are from the Emerald Bay Lookout.) Head out by boat to Fannette Island and learn about the glacial activity that carved the lake millions of years ago. Or, if you’re a history buff, visit Vikingsholm Castle, a striking example of Scandinavian architecture that was built in the 1920s. (You’ll have to hike down to the mansion, then back up at the end of your tour, so plan accordingly.) Finally, if you’re a diver, consider going under the surface of Lake Tahoe at the Underwater Park, the final resting place of many boats, launches and barges.
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2. Ski at Squaw …
If you’re an avid skier, you probably already know that Squaw Valley was the host of the 1960 Winter Olympics. And for good reason. With nearly 4,000 acres of ski terrain, this is one of the world’s best ski resorts. Skiers and boarders of all levels have access to six peaks on Lake Tahoe’s western shore. Off-piste there is snow tubing, indoor climbing, swimming and hot tubbing and more to keep you busy.
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3. … And Northstar California Resort
Squaw Valley’s little sister, Northstar California holds its own as one of the top ski resorts on the west coast. Within the 3,170 acres – with nearly 100 ski runs – the resort offers skiing and boarding, swimming, ice skating, snowshoeing, movies, shopping and dining. It’s great in the summer, too, with ample hiking and family-friend activities.
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4. Honor the Donner Party
While sobering, this is one of the best historical sites to visit in the Lake Tahoe area. You’ll learn about the American pioneers who attempted their journey west in the harshest of Sierra Nevada winters in 1846 and 1847. Today, the Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum offer insightful information about the tragic Donner Party, the history of the railroad in the Sierra Nevadas and more. Take note of the 22-foot memorial, marking the snow level that dark winter.
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5. Swim in Lake Tahoe
Its waters are certainly refreshing, but who can pass up the chance to swim in gorgeous blue Lake Tahoe. Head to Kings Beach State Recreation Area on the lake’s northern shore for swimming, watersports and boating. There’s also mini golf, a great playground, bike rental shops and a few art galleries in the area.
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6. Visit D. L. Bliss State Park
Not into the crowds at Kings Beach? Make your way to D. L. Bliss State Park, named for a 19th-century lumber tycoon, and home to the lake’s deepest section. Check out the Balancing Rock (follow the trail of the same name) – this 250,000-pound boulder is, unbelievably, perched on a tiny outcropping of stone. There are several beaches to choose from, including lovely Lester Beach and Calawee Cove, as well as hiking and camping. The conditions are perfect for kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding. From the state park, you can follow the popular Rubicon Trail, a lakeside walking path that passes by Vikingsholm Castle and on to Emerald Bay with countless breathtaking viewpoints along the way.
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7. Take a Boat Cruise
Head out on the glistening waters of Lake Tahoe by boat on a sightseeing cruise. The most popular is the M.S. Dixie II cruise around Emerald Bay, giving you a front-row sea to gorgeous waterfalls, Fannette Island and Vikingsholm Castle. There are tours offered on the north, south and west shores as well.
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8. Learn the Local History
Take a guided estate walk or building tour and attend art demonstrations at the Tallac Historic Site, consisting of the Pope, Baldwin and Valhalla estates. If you’re in town in August, don’t miss the two-day Gatsby Festival and its Roaring Twenties parties and jazz concerts. At the Pope House, you’ll get interesting insight into how the wealthy residents of Lake Tahoe once lived. Valhalla hosts several concerts, cultural events and performances throughout the summer. Visit the Tallac Museum at the Baldwin Estate and learn about the native Washoe people.
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9. Wiggle Your Toes in the Sand
Check out Sand Harbor State Park in North Lake Tahoe for its hidden coves, sandy beaches and pine forests. Swim, sail, kayak, boat and scuba dive to your heart’s content. The Sand Point Nature Trail leads to fantastic lake views, and the Sand Harbor to Memorial Point Trail takes you to secret beaches. The state park is host to the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival during July and August, held in an outdoor theater surrounded by towering trees.
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10. Ride in a Hot-Air Balloon
Savor the view from a romantic hot-air balloon ride above Lake Tahoe. You’ll set off just before sunrise and sail on the wind for four hours, seeing Emerald Bay, Fallen Leaf Lake, Cascade Lake and the Desolation Wilderness.
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11. Take a Photo from Inspiration Point Vista
At 600 feet above the lake, Inspiration Point boasts the best views of Emerald Bay, Fannette Island and Vikingsholm Castle. Snap a photo of the shimmering lake from up here and then walk the lakeside trails for close-up views.
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12. Dream Up an Adventure
And there’s more! Go fly fishing on the lake with an expert guide. Visit local, family-owned vineyards. Go whitewater rafting or ziplining for an adrenaline rush. Shop at Cobblestone Center or take a brewery tour. Tee off at the renowned Coyote Moon Golf Course. Lake Tahoe is a sublime setting for your adventure-packed vacation.

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