Family Vacations to Lake Tahoe

Hiking Lake Tahoe
Hiking Lake Tahoe (courtesy, LTVA)

Lake Tahoe Family Travel Tips

  • Cruise, fish, and kayak Lake Tahoe.
  • Bike and hike the lake's circumference or down forested trails at area ski resorts.
  • Ice-skate year-round at Squaw Valley USA and Northstar-at-Tahoe.
  • Ride a gondola for sweeping mountaintop views.
  • Enjoy free concerts and evening movies on the beach.

Lake Tahoe, a large alpine lake surrounded by the high Sierra Nevada Mountains, straddles the border of Nevada and California. The region mixes gambling and nightlife (more prevalent on the southern side of the lake) with world-class skiing at numerous resorts overlooking the lake, plus swimming, boating, bicycling, and hiking come summer.

North Lake Tahoe's King Beach Recreation Area, the largest of the 21 beaches in North Tahoe, boasts a 3,000-foot stretch of sand with swimming, picnic areas, and boat rental facilities. In summer, Tahoe City's Commons Beach hosts free Sunday concerts and Wednesday evening movies. The South Shore's Zephyr Cove is popular for its marina and restaurants.

Hiking in Lake Tahoe isn't just for the hearty. The moderately difficult Tahoe Rim Trail circles the lake for 165 miles and can be tackled on a grueling through-hike or in more manageable sections. Meanwhile, of all the many trail-based ways to perambulate the beautiful lake and its environs, a one-mile path on the North Shore leads to the much-photographed Eagle Falls. The beginner's Squaw Creek Meadow Trail starts behind Olympic Village and leads to meadows blooming with wildflowers in summer.

Cycling enthusiasts can pedal the South Lake Tahoe Bike Path, an easy 3.4-mile route paralleling Highway 89. The ten-mile North Lake Tahoe Bike Path hugs the lake all the way to Sugar Pine Point State Park. Sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail are also open to mountain bikers.

With more than 100 miles of trails, Northstar-at-Tahoe, a popular ski resort, ranks as the largest mountain-bike park in Northern California. At Dirt Camp, a two-day intensive program offered several times each summer, you and your teens can perfect your on-trail technique. Northstar also features a year-round ice-skating rink.

Host of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Squaw Valley USA hooks you up with summer adventures, too. At the Adventure Center's Sky Jump, get harnessed to bungee cords so you can bounce up to 25 feet in the air. On the ropes course, families bond while developing strategies to conquer towers and giant swings.

Boating on Lake Tahoe awards you with 360-degree mountain views. From May to mid-September, the Tahoe Queen, which departs from Ski Run Marina on the South Shore, offers two sailing outings geared to kids. On the Family Fun cruise, children participate in a scavenger hunt, while the Tales of Tahoe outing puts you face-to-face with a Mark Twain impersonator who recounts legends of the lake en route to Emerald Bay. On Tahoe Paddle & Oar's Crystal Bay kayak trips, glide past rocky coves and hidden beaches en route to a soothing soak in a natural hot springs. Fishing enthusiasts can charter a boat to hook Mackinaw, the lake's prized catch. And for a land-based lookout of the blue-green waters shimmering in the sunlight, ride Heavenly Ski Resort's gondolas to the observation deck situated at 9,123 feet.

Tip: Take the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, a 35-minute steam train ride between Virginia City and Gold Hill.

Recommended Side Trips: Yosemite National Park, Sacramento, San Francisco's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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