As we all know by this point, Lake Tahoe is one of my all time favorite places. And not least because, this jewel of the Sierra Nevada mountains is spectacular all year round. If you love fun in the sun on the high-altitude freshwater beaches in the summer, do yourself a favor and visit Lake Tahoe in the winter.
You will find a blanket of pristine snow, with breathtaking forest and mountain scenery reflected off Tahoe’s famous blue water. You’ll also find sumptuous ski chalets and rustic retreats, the perfect jumping-off point for winter sports and other snowy adventures… or to just sip a hot drink by the fire and look out the window across one of the country’s most dazzling winter wonderlands.
But it isn’t all peace and quiet. Lake Tahoe also has an active vacationer’s social scene, including casinos and bumping nightlife. Not to mention its proximity to Reno, the “Biggest Little City in the World.”
There’s something for everyone at Lake Tahoe in the winter. Let’s talk about how to plan the perfect winter getaway.
Where To Stay At Lake Tahoe In The Winter
North Lake Tahoe Vs. South Lake Tahoe
First things first — there’s North Lake Tahoe, and then there’s South Lake Tahoe.
There’s no wrong choice. Both of them are gorgeous in the winter, but they have very different vibes and will resonate with different people in different ways. Here’s what to know about them so you can make the right choice:
North Lake Tahoe
Life on North Lake Tahoe is slow-paced, peaceful, and relaxing. Less crowded and more rustic, it’s the perfect place to relax and take in the breathtaking scenery. Needless to say, this is my favorite side. In the winter, it’s also a skier’s paradise, with the largest concentration of the region’s world-class ski slopes. It’s also the location of Tahoe XC, one of the largest cross-country ski parks in the country.
South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe is where the party never stops. It’s a land of concerts, festivals, gaming, and nightclubs, as well as trendy restaurants and upscale shopping. If you love to be in the thick of the action around the clock, South Lake Tahoe might be for you. And don’t worry — you won’t miss out on any of the mountain scenery Tahoe is known for. There are still nearby ski slopes to enjoy, as well as some of the best backcountry skiing in the region.
Incline Village is hands down my favorite town to base myself in when I visit Lake Tahoe. It’s closest to all of my favorite places to get out and experience the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe, including close proximity to Lake Tahoe State Park, Sand Harbor, and Diamond Peak Ski Area (in the city limits) and Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe. Incline is a North Lake Tahoe hideaway featuring some of the region’s most spectacular views, sparkling beaches, and elite neighborhoods.
My favorite lodging options for Incline Village:
Conveniently located in a blissful pocket of Incline Village, this mid-sized, full-service resort offers the high-end hospitality guests expect from the Hyatt banner, as well as a small casino, a sumptuous restaurant, and breathtaking views of the lake and the Sierra Nevada. If I’m going to stay at a hotel at Lake Tahoe, The Hyatt Regency is my first choice hotel in the area.
If the upscale cabin life is more your speed, this contemporary two-bedroom A-frame vacation rental will steal your heart away. It’s easy to relax and find inspiration surrounded by this gem of high-end rustic decor secluded in the trees of Incline Village.
More homey and retro, this two-bedroom Incline Village cabin boasts a glorious back patio deck overlooking the forest, as well as a bedroom skylight to enjoy lazy winter mornings snuggled in bed.
For more information about accommodation options in the area Visit Reno Tahoe is a great resource. The first twelve properties are the most popular, in no particular order (they are not ranked)!
An often-neglected selling point of Lake Tahoe is its proximity to Reno. Forty-five minutes by car from Incline Village, Reno so much more to offer than just casinos and gaming. In fact, I think it’s one of the most underrated adventure hubs out there. More on that later!
If you want to stay in Reno, here are my favorite spots to stay:
Peppermill Resort Spa Casino
This AAA Four-Diamond hotel and casino offers some of the best of Reno — a sprawling Tuscan-style resort with over 1,600 suits, an expansive 24/7 gaming floor, a 30,000 square foot salon and spa, and EDGE nightclub, as well as the iconic retro Fireside Lounge. Super suites include custom furniture, jacuzzi tubs, wet bars, multiple bedrooms, and much more.
Plus, Peppermill employs a team of in-house photographers that travel around the world taking photos that are displayed throughout the property. Obviously one of my favorite features!
Whitney Peak Hotel
Perched next to historic Reno Arch downtown, and only two blocks from the beautiful Truckee River Walk, Whitney Peak’s 310 pet-friendly guest rooms boast panoramic mountain scenery. Consider upgrading to a Club Level guest room to get access to the world-famous Club Lounge, with breakfast, hors d’oeuvres, and cocktails set against floor-to-ceiling window views.
Oh, and did I mention that the Whitney Peak Hotel is home to the Guinness Book Of World Record’s “World’s Tallest Artificial Climbing Wall,” and Outside Magazine’s “12 Best Hotel Gyms In The US.”
Best Winter Activities At Lake Tahoe
When people think about Lake Tahoe in the winter, world class skiing likely comes to mind. And there’s certainly plenty of that! But there’s so much more to do at Lake Tahoe in the winter. From hiking to kayaking and sledding, there’s something for everyone.
1. Ski/Snowboard Lake Tahoe in the Winter
Lake Tahoe’s ski and snowboard slopes are justifiably famous. If you have a need for speed on the winter powder, Tahoe’s ski retreats have options for all levels, from beginner to dare devil. Here are some of the best slopes to consider …
MT. ROSE SKI RESORT
Ten minutes from the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, Mt. Rose is notable for its panoramic views, not only of Lake Tahoe but of Reno. It also has the highest base elevation among Lake Tahoe’s ski slopes. Lifts start at 8,260 feet and carry you to 1,200 acres across 1,500 vertical feet. Its eastern exposure and high altitude add up to a glorious six-month-long ski season, even when other slopes are bare. All levels of skiers will find a challenge on Mt. Rose, but the advanced skiers among you will find one of the longest verticals in North America — over 1,000 feet at 40-55 degrees.
NORTHSTAR SKI RESORT
The 3,000 secluded acres of Northstar Ski Resort are perfect for families that want to get away from it all and experience beginner-to-moderate slopes that get an average of 350 inches of snow per year. After a fun day on the slopes, a cup of cocoa at the resort’s fireside lounge with snowy views is one of life’s great pleasures. Mt. Pluto is a spectacular slope alongside an extinct volcano (2 million years dormant), Logger’s Loop extends an endurance-testing 1.4 miles, while the bumpy ride down The Backside will appeal to more adventurous, advanced skiers.
A hidden treasure perched just above Incline Village, Diamond Peak has the advantage of being uncrowded, community-owned, and affordable compared to some of the marquee slopes. But you don’t lose anything in terms of beauty and challenge — Diamond Peak boasts epic views of the lake, as well as 1,840 feet of vertical drop.
HEAVENLY MOUNTAIN SKI RESORT
Sprawling over 4,800 acres, Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort enjoys an average 360 inches of snowfall a year. But they don’t rest on their laurels — they also have one of the most sophisticated snow-making systems available, which they use to keep the slopes pristine and powdery. It also enjoys the highest elevation of all Lake Tahoe’s ski slopes, with peak lift-service elevation up to 10,040 feet.
2. Hike To A Secluded Beach At Lake Tahoe In The Winter
Lake Tahoe’s pristine freshwater beaches aren’t just for the summer. Take a hike to a secluded beach and you will discover scenery every bit as breathtaking as the beaches in the summer — but without the crowds!
3. Snowshoe At Lake Tahoe In The Winter
If you love snowshoe hikes, Lake Tahoe’s winter powder has you covered. Some of the best places to snowshoe in Tahoe include:
- SPOONER LAKE. Perfect forest tranquility with epic views of Marlette Lake and Spooner Lake.
- MOUNT ROSE. There are endless snowshoeing opportunities around Mount Rose. Popular spots include Tahoe Meadows, Chickadee Ridge, and the Tahoe Rim Trail. All can be easily accessed via the Mount Rose Highway.
- DONNER PASS. A massive park popular among backcountry skiers as well.
4. Sleigh Riding At Lake Tahoe In The Winter
Want to take winter recreation to the next level? Treat yourself and your loved ones to a horse-drawn sleigh ride! It’s the height of cold-weather luxury to experience the scenery of Lake Tahoe on transit worthy of a holiday carol. Some of your best options include …
- SAND HARBOR SLEIGH RIDES. An Incline Village staple, Sand Harbor Sleigh Rides offer a unique way to take in the winter views of Lake Tahoe.
- BORGES SLEIGH & CARRIAGE RIDES. South Lake Tahoe visitors can get in on the sleigh-ride bliss as well through Borges Sleigh and Carriage Rides. Get away from the South Tahoe hustle and into the pine trees and lakeshores for a sleigh ride into bliss.
5. Take A Ride On Heavenly Mountain Gondola
If you love Gondola rides, Heavenly Mountain Resort has you covered with the Heavenly Mountain Gondola. You won’t find better views than the soaring panoramic vistas available from this 2.4-mile cable car from 6,000 to 9,000 feet of elevation. The gondola makes two stops — The Deck, an observation deck featuring toasty coffee at Cafe Blue; and the Smokehouse Grill, which has to have the best view of any BBQ joint in the country.
6. Tubing & Sledding At Lake Tahoe
If you prefer to go down the slopes on your butt rather than on your feet, with little experience necessary, then snow tubing is for you. Check out the following top Tahoe tube destinations …
- TAHOE MEADOWS. By far one of the most popular sledding locations in the area. Show up early and on a weekday if you want to avoid crowds. This is basically a do-it-yourself sledding experience. There are no tube or sled rentals, so bring your own and prepare to walk up the hill yourself.
- SPOONER SUMMIT SNOW PLAY AREA. This is another more informal sledding hill, so bring your own gear. Spooner has a variety of different slopes for little ones and more advanced sledding/tubing as well.
- INCLINE VILLAGE SNOW PLAY AREA. As the name suggest this tubing hill is conveniently located near Incline Village. That being said, the slopes are pretty tame, so it’s probably best suited for younger kids.
- BOREAL MOUNTAIN. If you’re looking for something more official and are willing to make the drive Boreal Mountain it’s hard to beat Boreal Mountain. You’ll pay for it though! Boreal has four manicured tubing lanes with a carpet conveyor up the hill so that you don’t have to do any work. Just ride up and slide down!
Looking for even more adventure? While you’re at Boreal Mountain check out Woodward Tahoe. This indoor action sports arena that will offers everything the budding extreme sports enthusiast could want.
7. Photography Lake Tahoe During The Winter
Lake Tahoe is one of the most photogenic, Instagrammable destinations in the Western US. Whether it’s an iPhone on a selfie stick or a top-of-the-line DSLR, not-to-be-missed photo ops include …
- MONKEY ROCK. The trail behind Tunnel Creek Cafe leads to a short hike up some steep elevation, with spectacular Monkey Rock views as your reward.
- SAND HARBOR. A quick drive from Incline Village to Sand Harbor will afford you fantastic photo opportunities — especially facing west at sunset.
- CHIMNEY BEACH. Five minutes by car south of Sand Harbor, Chimney Beach is named for the only remaining feature from a long-crumbled beachfront cabin — a stark stone chimney. In the winter it’s the perfect moody, evocative photography subject.
- SECRET COVE. The half-submerged rocks of Secret Cove make spectacular subjects, both at the Golden Hour and the Blue Hour.
- EMERALD BAY. Accessible by the street (no snowy hike required), Emerald Bay offers spectacular views of the lake and a rushing waterfall — an Instagram trophy if there ever was one.
For more of my favorite Photography locations at Lake Tahoe check out THIS POST.
8. Spend A Day Exploring The Biggest Little City
Even if you don’t stay there, consider a day trip to Reno as part of your weekend getaway, Reno is home to the National Automobile Museum, the Fleischmann Planetarium & Science Center, the Nevada Museum of Art, and much more. If you want a night out on the town surrounded by beautiful people, EDGE Nightclub at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino has the beats and the vibes waiting for you.
But my favorite thing to do in Reno is explore the different cute neighborhoods and all the food and shopping they have to offer. Some of my personal favorite neighborhoods to explore include:
- MIDTOWN. Reno’s MidTown district always feels like the place to be. From unique shops, services, arts and a booming food mecha you could easily spend an entire day wandering around this neighborhood.
- OLD SOUTHWEST RENO. A charming, historic neighborhood just south of downtown downtown Reno, this is a lovely area to walk or drive around.
- DICKERSON ROAD. At first glance Dickerson Road doesn’t look that impressive. In fact, you might drive right by thinking that it’s an industrial area with nothing but large nondescript warehouses. But it’s so much more than that! Dickerson is home to two of my favorite shops in Reno: Sierra Water Gardens and Strange Bikinis. Gloria’s Cafe right down the street is also a favorite for good eats!
Looking for more adventures around Reno? I’ve got just the post for you: Why Reno Is The Most Underrated Adventure Hub
9. Get Out On The Lake For A Winter SUP or Kayak Session
When you think of winter activities at Lake Tahoe Stand Up Paddle Boarding or Kayaking might not come to mind. But in the right conditions few things are more peaceful than a calm winter day out on the lake. Unlike during the summer when the lake is buzzing with activity, you likely wont see many other people at all during the winter. Just make sure to check the weather and keep an eye on conditions. Staying warm and dry is imperative during the winter and a wetsuit is never a bad idea – just in case. And always bring a personal flotation device.
If conditions align and you do want to get out on the water you may want to bring your own SUP or kayak. It can be difficult to find outfitters that are open during the winter.
Hope this guide can help you plan the perfect winter vacation to Lake Tahoe. From world class skiing to sledding or cozy cabin hangs, there’s truly something for everyone. If you have a favorite winter activity at Lake Tahoe that I missed I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Happy travels.