A Beginner's Guide to Family Vacations at Lake Tahoe - Family Traveller (USA)

Why Go

A geographical wonder as the United State’s second deepest lake and also one of the highest elevated lakes in the country, the dazzling water will make you want to take a plunge the second you see it.


Playing on Donner Lake in Tahoe on a summer day.

Where to Go

The lake straddles the California-Nevada state line from west to east and offers 72 miles of shoreline. Even though the lake is divided east to west by two states, it is usually referred to as North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe. South Lake Tahoe is a lively area with shops, restaurants, night clubs, and bars, with close access to Heavenly Ski Resort. Calmer North Lake Tahoe is where you will find posh cabins and great hiking trails.


Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe

What to Do

Stunning views and plenty of outdoor activities await for hiking, biking, water and snow activities.

  • East Peak Trail. This is a fun and easy hike with a beautiful view, but the best part is that it includes a gondola ride. Head to  Heavenly Village Gondola Center in South Lake Tahoe, California side. There is a fee to ride the gondola, but children four and under are free. An easy 1.6 mile roundtrip hike awaits you.
  • Emerald Bay. Another great hike for kids, because this one includes a castle. Located on the California side of South Lake Tahoe, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most stunning views on the lake before you even lace up your hiking boots. From the parking lot, enjoy a 2 mile roundtrip paved walkway down to the shore where you’ll be rewarded with the authentic reproduction of an 800 A.D. Norse castle built in 1929 named Vikingsholm. A beautiful sandy beach and a view of Fannette Island also beckon you. The path is wide and smooth, but beware, the incline is steep and you will have to walk back up.
  • Tahoe Meadows. This is a perfect beginner trail for little feet that is stroller and wheelchair approved. You will walk or roll over meadows, forests and streams. Be sure to bring your camera along on this scenic route.
  • Baldwin Beach. Located in South Lake Tahoe, this beach is great for families due to its easy access from the parking lot. This is a large beach with fairly shallow beach entry.
  • Zephyr Cove. The best part about Zephyr Cove on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe is probably the plentiful bathrooms. But other perks include beautiful sandy shores, crystal water and plenty of activities including pedal boats and a steamship cruise. Just a few yards to the right of the entrance lies a great jumping rock for kids.
  • Water Activities. Let’s just clarify that Lake Tahoe is an Alpine Lake, meaning, you probably won’t be doing a ton of swimming in the winter. The summer temperatures are usually around 70° F though, making it warm enough to want to take a dip. If you’d rather experience the lake above water, there are some fantastic activities for families. Steamboat rides are available from Zephyr Cove, Kayak rentals can be found from Tahoe Adventure Company, Kayak Tahoe, and Tahoe City Kayak , as well as others around the lake. Parasailing is also a popular activity on the lake, as well as stand up paddle boarding, boating and fishing. Even if you don’t want to swim, you are sure to find fun for the whole family!
  • Snow Activities. If you’re heading to Lake Tahoe with the sole purpose of playing in the snow, you’ll want to come between mid November to early April. Ski resorts are usually open during this time and sometimes you can even find a bit of snow on the ground in May. You can check conditions at Ski Tahoe. Tahoe is famous for its ski resorts including Heavenly, Northstar and Squaw Valley.
  • Gondola at Heavenly. Take the two-and-a-half mile ride up above Lake Tahoe and take in the stunning views. You can also find great hiking at the top.
  • Aerial Tram to High Camp. Take the 2,000 ft ride above Squaw Valley and soak up views of rocky cliffs and the gorgeous lake. If you want to stick around, enjoy High Camp’s swimming pool, hiking trails, Olympic Museum or ice skating in the winter.
  • Hot Springs. If the idea of swimming in an alpine lake leaves you shivering, try hitting some local hot springs instead. Grover Hot Springs State Park, David Walley’s 1862 Hot Springs (located in the adorable town of Genoa, NV a few minutes away) and Sierra Hot Springs are all within a few miles of Lake Tahoe. Kids (and perhaps parents) will love swimming in natural waters that aren’t mountain-water cold.

Getting Around

Lake Tahoe lies right between Sacramento and Reno airports and you can often see the lake when you fly in. Lake Tahoe does have a bus service that circumnavigates the lake, but if you prefer a little more freedom, a rental car will be the best way to see the sights. If you’re coming from the Bay Area, you can take the Bay Area Ski Bus during ski season.


Vanessa Hunt is a full-time traveling mama who is passionate about world-schooling and food. You can find her sharing all about her travels with her family of six (her four children are 4, 7, 9 and 11), as well as her favorite recipes at WanderlustCrew.