While California is known for it’s sunny weather and countless beaches, winter is also a great time to to visit there. The Lake Tahoe area gets record levels of snow and has plenty of activities to do during this time of year, so you’ll want to plan a Lake Tahoe winter vacation if you’re looking for somewhere to go.
When I saw a cheap flight from Seattle to Reno, I immediately booked it to take advantage of all the Lake Tahoe winter activities. From snowboarding to enjoying a warm drink at a cozy lodge, I didn’t want to leave my trip to Tahoe in the winter!
Based on the several trips I’ve taken to the area, I’ve put together this guide on tips for planning your trip in the winter in Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe Winter Travel Tips
Here are a few tips to help you plan your Lake Tahoe winter vacation.
How to Get to Lake Tahoe in the Winter
The one downside of Lake Tahoe is there isn’t an airport directly in the area. However, there are many different transportation options for when you arrive in the winter in Lake Tahoe. While you can drive directly to the area if you’re driving from San Francisco, the roads won’t be as dry and clear as they are during summer in Tahoe.
That said, you’ll likely fly into the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Once you get there, several options are available to make the 1.5-hour journey to Tahoe.
- Rent a car – I personally prefer to have a car when I travel so I can explore whenever I want to. You can reserve a vehicle in advance at the airport from companies like Alamo or Enterprise so you’re ready to go. Getting an all-wheel-drive vehicle is important, as the roads get icy during Lake Tahoe in the winter.
- Book a shuttle – Many hotels offer free shuttles from Reno to Lake Tahoe, so check with yours to see if they do. If not, you can book a shuttle in advance for about $25 each way.
- Hire a car service or limo – If you’re traveling with a large group, it can often be more cost-effective to order a larger car such as a limo. Just call them in advance to have them waiting for your party when you arrive.
Once you get to Lake Tahoe, many places are accessible by walking if you stay in a populated area such as South Lake Tahoe. The restaurants and shops are bunched together on the same main street, making them easy to get to without a car. If you need to get somewhere that you can’t walk to, here are a few options.
- Take the bus – If you don’t mind your ride taking a bit longer, the bus is an inexpensive way to get around Lake Tahoe.
- Ride the ski shuttle – Ski shuttles run daily in the winter in Lake Tahoe to get to the different ski areas. Many hotels offer free ones, so check with yours before booking one that you pay for.
- Take a taxi – While it’s the more expensive option, there’s nothing wrong with paying more to get directly where you want to go without having to wait for other passengers.
Weather During Winter in Tahoe
While it does snow in Lake Tahoe, temperatures don’t always get below freezing. In fact, the average temperature in Lake Tahoe in December is 44° F, so you’ll still be warm walking around town with the right clothing. The best time to visit Lake Tahoe for snow is anytime in the winter and often late spring as well.
Just keep in mind that the higher you go up in the mountains for skiing and other Lake Tahoe winter activities, the colder it’ll get. The area can also get pretty windy due to the wind coming down from the mountains and blowing off the lake, so layers are a good idea.
A Lake Tahoe winter can also get massive snow dumps at times, so keep an eye on the forecast and be prepared to wait. I once had a fun day of snowboarding planned, only for the sky to dump so much snow that I was snowed in my vacation rental for the day. The roads do get cleared on a regular basis, but you’ll want to factor in that everyone will also be trying to get out when you are.
Make sure you pack enough warm clothes and create a ski trip packing list before you go to bring everything you need.
Winter Outfit Suggestions
Best Things to Do in Winter in Tahoe
Here are some Lake Tahoe winter activities you’ll want to check out during your trip.
1. Go Skiing or Snowboarding
One of the most popular activities to do in the winter in Lake Tahoe is skiing and snowboarding. What I love about the Lake Tahoe area is they have multiple places to go so you’re not stuck on one crowded mountain. There are about a dozen different ski areas around the lake to visit, but here are the most popular ones.
Squaw Valley hosted the Olympics in the 1960s and has been a popular place to ski in America ever since. If you’re an expert skier, this is the place for you. The mountain has plenty of black runs for those who are advanced and many steep runs. There are plenty of blue and green runs as well, so you can still ski or snowboard if you’re a beginner in Lake Tahoe in winter.
One downside is the wind can be particularly strong here during a Lake Tahoe winter, so bundle up before you come. I recommend going to the mountain early to beat some of the crowds and get parking, as it’s one of the more popular things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter.
The gondolas up to Heavenly are conveniently located in the middle of town in South Lake Tahoe. That means you can walk depending on where your lodging is. There’s also a parking lot and street parking if you’re driving there. Heavenly has 97 lifts, and the craziest part is you can choose to ski in either California or Nevada. I’ve never been to a mountain that was split among the states!
Heavenly is the 5th largest ski resort in the country, which means there’s plenty of room to spread out for your Tahoe winter activities. However, you should be aware that it can get crowded since it’s centrally located to town. If you’re a fan of tree skiing, this is the place to do it. While they don’t get as much snow as other Lake Tahoe ski areas, the quality tends to be better and is one of the best things to do in South Lake Tahoe in winter.
Northstar is on the north side of Lake Tahoe and known for being the least windy Lake Tahoe ski area. While it’s a bit of a drive if you’re staying in South Lake Tahoe, it’s worth it if you hate skiing in the wind. However, it is the lowest elevation of the ski areas, meaning you might encounter slushy snow or ice on warmer days.
This ski area is a great place to visit in the winter in Lake Tahoe due to the base village. You can choose from plenty of restaurants and bars, which is great for groups or families. There’s even an ice skating rink for those who don’t feel like snowboarding or skiing.
2. Walk Over the Nevada-California Stateline
The Nevada-California state line happens to split up the town, so one of the more unique things to do in Tahoe in winter is to cross the states. I thought it was pretty neat that you could get lunch in California, and then cross the street to gamble in Nevada.
There are a handful of casinos such as the Hard Rock and Harrah’s on the Nevada side. Ski in California during the day, head back to your hotel to get freshened up, and then head out for a night on the town in Nevada during winter in Tahoe.
3. Try Out Other Snow Sports
Head to Hope Valley to try out some other winter sports that aren’t snowboarding or skiing during Tahoe in winter. This is about half an hour south of town and the perfect area for snow sports with its wide open space.
I went there to snowshoe for the first time during a Tahoe winter, which was a blast (and harder than you think when it’s just dumped two feet of snow!). I was vastly outnumbered by snowmobilers though, which I’d love to try next time. Both of these activities are popular things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter.
There’s a small bed and breakfast/general store/restaurant a few minutes away if you get hungry or need last-minute supplies. Heads up – you do need a permit to be here, which I recommend getting in town (it’s only $5).
While some of the best Lake Tahoe hikes are done in the summer, there are still a few you can do at lower elevation in the winter. You’ll love all the Tahoe winter activities if you’re an active person.
4. Head Down to the Lake
The lake itself draws plenty of visitors in the summer, but its deep blue color looks beautiful against the white, snowy backdrop in Lake Tahoe in winter.
Head down to one of the public shores and walk around where people normally sunbathe in the summer. All the piers were covered with snow when I was there, and there were even a few visible snowmen. This is one of the best Lake Tahoe kid friendly activities in winter.
5. Go Up to Lookout Platform
Even if you’re not interested in skiing, take the gondola up to the first stop on Heavenly in Tahoe in winter. The views are stunning, particularly on a clear, sunny day. You can see all of Lake Tahoe and even across the lake.
I recommend taking the gondola up to the top to grab lunch and a drink in the lodge. This is also a good idea if you want to meet your group for lunch that’s been on the mountain all day during a Tahoe winter.
Bring snow boots when you go up, as you do have to walk a good 100 feet from the gondola to the lodge. The price varies throughout the season, but it’s roughly $60 for a roundtrip ride on the gondola.
6. Have a Drink by the Fireplace
Not everyone loves the snow or being outside during winter in Lake Tahoe, which is perfectly fine. You’ll love cozying up to the fire while having a drink. If you’re looking for a mug of hot chocolate or coffee, head to Blue Angel Cafe to sit by the fireplace.
If a pint of beer is more your jam, my favorite place to go in Lake Tahoe in winter is The Brewery. They have plenty of tasty beer to choose from in addition to a full menu with options such as pizza and seafood. This is a great place to come during your Lake Tahoe winter vacation, whether you’re taking a day off from skiing or just finished a tough day on the slopes.
7. Head to the Spa
Nothing feels better during the cold winter in Lake Tahoe than having a spa day to warm you up. There are multiple spas to visit in the area, such as the Balance Holistic Health Spa. This is located in Northstar and offers body wraps, facials, massages, and yoga, and is one of the most relaxing Lake Tahoe winter activities. I recommend going here at the end of your trip to have an amazing last day on your Lake Tahoe vacation.
You can also treat yourself by going to the Ritz-Carlton’s spa (which is also one of the best places to stay in Lake Tahoe in winter). They have over a dozen different treatment rooms so you can book spots for your whole group or just for you and your spouse. It’s easy to spend an entire day here, as they have a eucalyptus steam room, dry-heat lodge, and fitness center.
Another one of the most scenic things to do in Tahoe in winter is to relax in their heated pool that has a view of the mountains. Spending a few tough days on the mountains followed by a massage at a spa is one of the most relaxing things to do in Lake Tahoe in the winter in my opinion.
8. Go Ice Skating
When you’re looking for what to do in Lake Tahoe in winter, head to Squaw Valley to ice skate at one of the most scenic rinks you’ve ever been on before. You’ll have to take a tram to get to it, as it’s 8,200 feet above sea level. You’ll have an amazing view of the Sierra Mountains on a clear day during winter in Lake Tahoe.
While you’re there, you’ll also have access to the Olympic Museum. This explains the history of the Olympics that took place there in the 1960s and has tons of memorabilia from the Winter Games. It’s one of the most family-friendly winter activities in Lake Tahoe.
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe in Winter
There are plenty of places to stay around the lake during a Lake Tahoe winter. South Lake Tahoe tends to be a popular place due to how many shops and restaurants are there. I’ve stayed in both hotels and rental homes during my Lake Tahoe winter vacation.
Here are a few hotels I recommend during your trip in the winter to Lake Tahoe.
- Montbleu Resort is a good place to stay on a budget that has a spa, fitness center, heated pool, and hot tub. (rates start at $60 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- The Lodge at Lake Tahoe is in central South Lake Tahoe and has a heated spa and pool year-round. (rates start at $115 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Grand Residence by Marriott is great for families or groups who want to stay together, is minutes from Heavenly gondola, and has a full kitchen and dining area. (rates start at $114 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
I hope you’re excited to plan your Lake Tahoe winter vacation after reading this guide! There are some amazing things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter, so enjoy your time there.