Lake Tahoe is the ultimate winter destination. With jaw-dropping lake views, adorable ski villages, bustling nightlife, and premium ski conditions… you really can’t get any better!
In this perfect Lake Tahoe itinerary, you will be based in beautiful SOUTH Lake Tahoe. If you have never been to Lake Tahoe before, there are many different “ski villages” surrounding the lake to choose from. I recommend South Lake Tahoe because they have one of the highest rated ski resorts, a good nightlife, tons of things to do in the area other than skiing, & a great food scene!
In this overly-detailed guide, I will outline my recommendation on where to stay (where I stayed), a few must-pack items for this specific trip, a 3 day Lake Tahoe itinerary and as always.. a bonus ideas section at the bottom of this guide! 🙂
Okay, let’s dive in!!
There’s a chance this free guide contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that goes towards little Rosie’s dog treats! Also, this trip was generously hosted by South Lake Tahoe Tourism & Lakeshore Lodge & Spa, but all thoughts & opinions are always my own.
Lake Tahoe Itinerary Overview
Traveling to Lake Tahoe
Seeing the best Sites along the Lake
Best Apres Ski Parties in South Lake Tahoe
Tubing in South Lake Tahoe
Heavenly Gondola Viewing Deck
Best Sunset spot in lake Tahoe
Skiing / Snowboarding at Heavenly
+ TONS of Bonus Ideas!!
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Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
If you are traveling to Lake Tahoe in the winter, you will want to stay in one of the ski villages like Heavenly or North Star. These ski villages have tons of restaurants, shopping, ice skating rinks, and most importantly… Apres Ski parties! 🙂
Personally, I recommend staying in South Lake Tahoe in Heavenly area. You get to hang out right on state line (which is funny to see the immediate difference between the two states), the views of the lake are incredible, and Heavenly is rated one of the top ski resorts!
For specifics, the exact hotel I stayed at was The Lakeshore Lodge and Spa, which was perfect! All of the rooms are condo-style, so you get a full kitchen, couch area, fireplace, & balcony in addition to your room. PLUS, all the rooms come with lake views since you are literally on the lake!
The Lakeshore Lodge & Spa even has their own private beach, which you probably won’t get much use for that in the winter, but it’s nice to have those lake views while you’re relaxing in the hotel hot tub. 🙂
How to get to Lake Tahoe from Reno – Do I need a car?!
This is something that I really needed answered clearly when I was travel planning, so I decided to dedicate an entire section to hopefully make your life easier!! 🙂
Being from Las Vegas, I obviously never drive in the snow and would literally have zero clue how to put snow chains on my tires haha! I was a little stressed knowing if it was possible to drive myself in Lake Tahoe in the winter.
From what I can tell and what I found out by asking the locals is that the roads are very well maintained and constantly plowed. If it is actively snowing, you will definitely need to drive slow & have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. If you are traveling to Lake Tahoe and it is sunny and has not heavily snowed in a little while, you could definitely get away with a 2 wheel drive car (which is what I had).
All in all, just make sure you are checking the weather daily leading up to your trip so you can see how the road conditions are. If you want more insight, you can always call your hotel’s front desk to ask their opinion!
If you are not used to driving in the snow, here are my top tips:
- Drive slow! If it is snowing, there is nothing wrong driving slower than the speed limit.
- Try to fly into Lake Tahoe during the middle of the day or morning so you don’t have to drive in the dark. The roads can become icy at night!
- Upgrade your car to 4 wheel drive to save yourself the stress!
When all else fails, there is a shuttle that will take you from the Reno airport to South Lake Tahoe. If you don’t feel comfortable driving in the snow, you can just save yourself the stress and take the shuttle! When you arrive in South Lake Tahoe, you can either rent a car in town or just rely on Uber’s to get around.
What to Pack for Lake Tahoe in The Winter
I never like to bore you with a long packing list, but I do want to give you a few “must-haves” for this specific trip! Going to winter destinations when you are not from a winter place can be quite stressful (I am from Las Vegas, so I know first hand). Here are my top 5 must-haves:
An absolute MUST with any winter destination! I am the type of person whose hands are always freezing, so having some of these handy are a life savor! Just tear open the package, shake it, and you will get heat for hours!
2. Good Quality Snow Boots – These are the ones I have!
I bought my snow boots on my first big winter destination many years ago and they are the gift that just keeps on giving! They are such good quality that even though I have worn them countless times, they still look brand spanking new. AND they keep my feet warm, prevent me from falling on my butt in the snow, and they’re SO cute!
My Fiancé still has not gotten himself snow boots and he fell many, many times when we went to Lake Tahoe haha 🙂
Lake Tahoe is freaking COLD! You will want to make sure you are layering up, which means wearing either a pair of leggings under your jeans or wearing thermal leggings (I prefer). You will want to enjoy being outside to explore all the beauty, but it will not be fun if you’re cold!
4. Cute Beanies
My favorite two beanies EVER are this chunky knit beanie from Urban Outfitters (seriously SO cute) & the Love your Melon Beanies! Both of these are super good quality and keep your head & ears warm! There are also tons of options on Amazon that I have tried that are pretty good!
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A Perfect Lake Tahoe Itinerary
WOW, that was already a ton of information! Are you still with me?!
With this Lake Tahoe itinerary, you will see all the best sites and be based in South Lake Tahoe (where I would recommend). I also made this three days, which is perfect for a three day weekend, but if you want to extend your trip, make sure to check out my bonus ideas section at the bottom of the guide! 🙂
TIP: If you want to avoid crowds, which Lake Tahoe is unfortunately a VERY crowded destination, I would try to swing a mid-week trip. It will make your trip far more enjoyable, especially if you plan to ski / snowboard!
Day 1: Arrive in Lake Tahoe
Day 1 is a travel day but give it some spice! Likely, you are flying into Reno Airport, renting a car, and driving to South Lake Tahoe. If you plug South Lake Tahoe into your maps from Reno, it will take you the non-scenic way through Carson City.
Well, this is where the spice comes in! 😉
Instead, plug “Incline Village” into your first stop, which is the village at the northeast part of the lake. This way, you can drive one of the most scenic drives in the USA, down the east side of Lake Tahoe! And the best part?! This gorgeous drive is only 15 minutes longer than the non-scenic drive!
This is the rough itinerary I followed for the scenic viewpoints along the lake. If you arrive fairly early in Reno (I arrived around 9am – 10am for specifics), you should have no problem seeing all these stops and making it back to South Lake Tahoe in time for a late lunch!
IMPORTANT: Lake Tahoe is a nature-lover’s paradise! It is SO important to pack up what you brought in and follow all park guidelines. For more information about traveling to Tahoe responsibly, please check out Keep Tahoe Blue!
Stop 1: Sand Harbor Beach
Stop #1 is the main stop on this mini-road trip and is definitely the highlight! If you have ever seen pictures of Lake Tahoe, I can guarantee you have seen Sand Harbor Beach!
This incredibly scenic cove is dotted with boulder rocks, crystal blue water, and in the winter… snow capped mountains in the background! I have never been to Lake Tahoe in the summertime, but I have heard horror stories of how crazy-crowded it can be. This spot specifically, if you don’t show up at sunrise, you aren’t getting in!!
Well, in the winter, I had this place all to myself in the middle of the day on a Friday. It was so peaceful!
When you pull up to this spot, you will need to pay a state park parking pass and park in their good sized parking lot. From there, you can find walking trails along the lake dotted with benches to enjoy the view, a visitor center / gift shop, a long stretch of beach, and then a smaller cove (the most scenic spot).
I would recommend carving out at least 45 minutes to explore this area.
Stop 2: Bonzai Rock
Bonzai Rock is less than five minutes from Sand Harbor Beach and will take a little scrambling to get to. There is no parking lot or “hiking trail,” but this also means less crowds!
Plug in Bonzai Rock into your map and park your car at the first shoulder you see. I parked at the shoulder AFTER we passed Bonzai Rock on the map, which means you are the start of the “trailhead.”
From there, you will vaguely see carved out, dirt walking paths going down towards the lake, if you follow these paths down, you will see Bonzai Rock.
What is Bonzai Rock?! It is a large boulder that has life growing out of it, which I think is pretty neat! Click here for more details on hiking this unmarked trail.
Stop 3: Cave Rock
Cave Rock is a fun and quick hike right off the highway. Even though it is quite steep, it is short and gives you beautiful views of the lake!
It’s super easy to miss, so make sure you listen up.. You wan to to make sure you plug in Cave Rock Trailhead NOT just Cave Rock. I made this mistake and it took me in circles on the opposite side of the highway. The trailhead that looks over Cave Rock is on the inland side of the highway.
This hike is less than a mile round trip, just make sure you have a good pair of snow boots if you are hiking this in the snow! These are the pairs I own & swear by!
Stop 4+ Anywhere that looks beautiful to you!!
There are so many beautiful stops along this stretch of highway! Even if it is unmarked or “not popular,” you should stop anywhere that looks beautiful to you. You will see a lot of highway pull off areas that are just large shoulders. If you can spare the time, stop at them! Here is an example of random, “unpopular” spot I stopped at..
When you arrive in South Lake Tahoe, check into your hotel, warm up a bit from the cold and head out to grab some lunch! There are so many great options for lunch in South Lake Tahoe, just depends on what you are looking for.
Something Boujie: Edgewood is a 5* resort with jaw-dropping grounds. Not to mention, their restaurant and bar is the BEST. Get their Cucumber Martini at the bar, trust me on this one!! Make sure you make a reservation in advance, this place gets busy! Click here to make a reservation.
Something the Local’s Love: McDuff’s is an adorable English pub right in the center of town that has all the comfort food you could ever dream of. They always have the best games on their TV’s and in the winter, they have adorable igloos on their patio to eat in! 🙂
After your full from lunch, take some time to explore the adorable town of Heavenly! You can go shopping, ice skating, have a drink by the many fire pits, or go brewery hopping along South Lake Tahoe’s Beer Trail! 🙂
If you are traveling to South Lake Tahoe on a weekend, you can’t miss one of the area’s famous Apres Ski parties!
Monique, what the heck is an Apres Ski Party?
Well, it’s a French term that translates to, “After Ski.” Once everyone is done with their ski / snowboard run, everyone heads straight to the bars to party!
Many bars and restaurants have begun having themed Apres ski parties & here are some of the many that have events with live music and food specials!
- Riva Grill – Known for their Fish Taco Friday & Live Music! This place gets BUSY, be sure to get there at least 20 minutes before the party starts to get a spot!
- California Burger Company – They are located really close to the Heavenly Ski Lift and has live music, great drink specials, and big fire pits out front. Every time I passed this place it was PACKED, which means it’s good!
- McP’s Taphouse Grill – This is another great spot that has live music DAILY and fire pits outside on their patio. Located right on state line
Day 2: Tubing with Tube Tahoe & Sunset at the Best Viewpoint in Tahoe
Nothing wakes you up like some adrenaline! Your first stop of the day is to Tube Tahoe to go tubing! This was surprisingly my first time going tubing and it was SO much fun.
I got there right when they opened (9am on weekends and 10am on weekdays) and didn’t ever have to wait in line to go down the slope! All you have to do walk your tube up to the top of the hill and someone will be there to greet you and give you a push down.
Make sure you try all the different ways to go down the hill:
- Tandem with a friend
- On your stomach, head first
- Racing a friend
- Tucking your feet into the tube
Next up, head to Heavenly Gondola to take in all the gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe! These enclosed gondolas take you up to three different viewpoints: first the viewing deck, next the lodge, and third the ski lifts.
Tickets start at $89.00 for adults, which I think is pretty expensive if you are already going skiing because it is a similar view. I would only recommend doing this if you are NOT going skiing!
If you are going skiing, like I recommend on Day 3 of this itinerary, I would swap out this idea with something from the “Bonus Ideas” section that is listed at the bottom of this guide. 🙂
TIP: If you are traveling to Tahoe during a three day weekend, avoid skiing / snowboarding on a Saturday! The slopes get insanely busy to the point where it is not even fun anymore! If you can swing it, travel during the middle of the week or push your skiing / snowboarding day to Sunday.
At this viewpoint, there is a decent sized parking area, paved walkways, and a viewpoint with some benches! I would plan to arrive about 15 minutes before sunset so you can watch the sunset and watch the sky light up!
Day 3: Ski or Snowboard at Heavenly Mountain
Like I mentioned before, Lake Tahoe is a very busy destination! In the summer, many tourists flock to the beaches and viewpoints. In the winter, tourists flock to the amazing ski resorts that surround the lake. If you can avoid skiing on a Saturday, I would try to!
I did a half day on Sunday before my late flight out and the lines were still pretty long, but bearable!
To get a parking spot at the ski resort, you need to get there no later than 8:30am (8am is best)! Lifts begin moving at 8:30 am, but you will want to park, get checked in and get in line before the lifts even open. I arrived right at 8am and it was perfect timing!
Heavenly Ski resort is the second highest rated ski resort in Lake Tahoe, for their number of runs & amazing lake views! I was constantly in awe of the jaw-dropping views of the lake from every run!
Something I thought was so unique, at the top of the main ski lift, you will find an Umbrella bar with music playing, food to eat, & specialty cocktails! Other ski resorts I have been to you have to go all the way down the mountain to the main lodge to get any food or drinks, but in Heavenly, you can make a quick pit-stop and continue on your runs! 🙂
If you didn’t like one of the things listed on my Lake Tahoe itinerary, I promise I won’t be insulted! 😉 I always like to include a little bonus ideas section at the bottom of my guides so you can swap out things you would rather do instead! Or if you plan to extend your time in Lake Tahoe, this will give you some ideas to extend.
Have you ever cross country skied? Well, me neither! 😉
This is the perfect activity for the very active travelers who want to get some exercise on their vacations. South Lake Tahoe is supposed to have some amazing cross country trails with gorgeous lake views. If you are ever going to give Cross Country Skiing a try, this is the place to do it!
What better way to see Lake Tahoe than from above? There are so many hidden coves, waterfalls, and gorgeous mountain views to discover that can only be seen from an aerial view!
This helicopter tour is based out of South Lake Tahoe and takes you over the famous Emerald Bay, many hidden waterfalls, other lakes other than Lake Tahoe, and so much more!
Do you want to take amazing photos of Lake Tahoe but don’t really know where to start? This guided tour offers pick up in South Lake Tahoe and options for a full day tour or half day tour.
You will get to see major sites along the lake, learn history about the area from a local guide, and of course, get all the best photos!
I always say the best souvenir to take home is some amazing photos to remember the trip by 🙂
There are tons of hotels in Lake Tahoe that have spas, which is perfect after a day of snowboarding or skiing. If you took my recommendation to stay at The Lakeshore Lodge and Spa, they have a spa right at their location!
If you are a history buff, then taking some time to learn about the Donner Parties relation to Lake Tahoe will be right up your alley!
In 1847, pioneers ventured across the United States to settle along the West Coast. They ended up getting stuck in the Lake Tahoe area during an intense snow storm, which caused the only mountain pass to be completely snowed over. They were stuck for several months before resulting to cannibalism and getting rescued. Only 45 of the 81 pioneers survived!
This piece of history is very famous, and there have been many movies and books created around this story!
Okay, that’s a wrap!
I hope you loved this Lake Tahoe Itinerary and it was borderline too informative! 😉
Lake Tahoe is a gorgeous winter destination that everyone should add to their bucket list! The activities are endless, the ski conditions are top notch, the ski resort towns are adorable and lively, and beautiful views should not be missed!
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