A Local’s Guide to Lake Tahoe

 In Destinations, Tahoe, travel, travel guide, US Destinations

Pristine sapphire waters lap gently against the steep peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. Dramatic views unfold between pines and you hike along the ridges of the mountains. Perhaps hiking isn’t your thing, you’re more of a beach bum, that’s ok because there are countless nooks and crannies to find hidden patches of beach leading to brilliant blue waters you have to see to believe. Where is this obtainable slice of Shangri-la you ask? Oh, it’s closer than you think, this is the local’s Guide to Lake Tahoe.

Hidden spots of Lake Tahoe - calm sunset

Meet the Local Expert of Lake Tahoe

My family lives in Lake Tahoe. I’ve been visiting since I was 15 years old and the sheer pristine beauty of the place never ceases to amaze me. The Tahoe basin’s beauty certainly ins’t a secret. Millions of people flock here every year. If you know me, you know that I have a knack for avoiding crowds in the world’s most beautiful places. Here’s my 2 cents on avoiding crowds and blending in with the local community.

Tahoe Like a Local - vacant Beach

Avoid South Lake Tahoe

Unless high rise casinos, cheesy shops, and throngs of people pouring out of buses appeal to you don’t stay here. South Lake is difficult to avoid all together, but don’t stay here. The only reason I’m ever down here is to visit a childhood friend who’s parents live in the outskirts of town.

Tahoe Like A Local - Emerald Bay

Desolation Wilderness and Emerald Bay are definitely worth seeing. However, over the years I’ve noticed that the place gets more and more clogged with mega tourist buses and people smattered all over the place. To be honest, I stopped visiting for that reason. But if you arrive by boat, arrive in the early morning or evening it usually isn’t nearly as crowded and you can find some solitude. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, which I’m guessing you are if you’re on this blog, consider backpacking into the Desolation Wilderness. Permits are required, so be sure to check with the permit offices if one is required for where you plan to go.

Visit During the Off-Season

Locals love the off season at Tahoe. The best time to visit Lake Tahoe is when the crowds of summer are gone. Sure you may not be able to ski and maybe the water feels a little more chilling than refreshing, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t fully enjoy the outdoors. The fall is one of my favorite seasons explore Lake Tahoe because it’s quiet and the temps are still pretty warm. It’s the perfect time to go for a hike in the Tahoe area. The beach is still inviting as ever.

local's guide to lake tahoe hidden beaches

On a calm day it’s a wonderful time to kayak around hidden beaches in Lake Tahoe. They are everywhere. Simply rent a kayak and head discover a cove. More often than not there will be a patch of sand to plop down on and enjoy a good book and soak up some rays. Even public beaches during the off season see less crowds. People out and about are typically all locals, as the seasonal crowd dies down this time of year. The towns have a more quaint and laid back feel.

Lake Tahoe Travel Tip: Hit the Tougher Terrain

If solitude on the mountains is what you seek, it’s easy to find. Get up early and hit a tough trail. Crowds usually peter out on the tougher routes. One great summit to hit early is Mt Rose. Although we passed a lot of people on the way down, an early start beats the crowds and gives way to an iconic view of the lake and breathtaking scenery of the region.

Tahoe Like A Local - Mt Rose

If backpacking is more your thing hit up the Tahoe Rim Trail. At 165 miles long this trail offers something for everyone. It’s broken into segments offering everything from the entire route to short day hikes.

Getting off the Beaten Path in Lake Tahoe

Pristine vacant beaches are easy to find. You just have to know where to go. Us locals hold our favorite spots as well-kept secrets, so I’m not going to give too much away here. Part of local experience in Lake Tahoe is finding your own hidden spot.

Tahoe Like A Local - hidden beach

It’s easy to scramble around trails on the side of the highway to find your own slice of beach. Head into neighborhoods to have a solo summit of Mt Rose Knob. Get out there and take the path less traveled!

Don’t be That Guy: Understand the Unspoken Road Rules

Aside from staying in South Lake I’d ask people to respect the way we drive. Yes we may be a bit crazy, but that’s because these roads are our every day experience. We can do it in our sleep in the blinding snow. Those 12′ high snow poles don’t mean much to us. One thing all locals complain about is tourist drivers. It’s ok if you don’t feel comfortable blasting up a mountain in the snow, but please do everyone a favor and use the pullouts.

Tahoe Like A local - Snowy Sunsets

You can spot a tourist for miles on the road. Usually there’s a long line of cars behind them. Don’t be that guy – pull over and let the faster driver pass! It’s safer for everyone! If you’re traveling here over the winter months – please come prepared! Snow tires, chains, or 4-wheel drive are often required to travel the roads. Those rules are there for a reason – you will get stuck if you attempt to ride around in a 2-wheel drive vehicle not properly prepared for the weather!

Secret spots and local advice for your Lake Tahoe adventure. Travel to Lake Tahoe with Local know how

 

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Showing 35 comments
  • Cali
    Reply

    Lake Tahoe sounds incredible! I found myself wanting to take notes! I will definitely be adding this to my “US Travels” list. I love what you said about the tourist drivers, so funny and so true all over the country!

  • Alice
    Reply

    I LOVE Tahoe!! I forget what it’s called but there’s that ski area/mini theme park that is really fun even for adults. Highly recommend!

  • Hra
    Reply

    I haven’t heard for lake Tahoe before but its seems amazing!! its seems so calm and peaceful that i want to explore it too 😉 You have lovely photos… thanks for sharing with us

  • Jessica
    Reply

    One thing I regret from my time living in the US was not travelling enough…I was only a teenager, but I could have easily suggested things to my parents. I was near Lake Tahoe briefly a long long time ago but I’d love to actually take some time and explore. I am DEFINITELY an off-season type traveller, I’m not a fan of huge crowds because it ruins so much of the experience. I also get where you’re coming from with the whole driving aspect of things, being from Ireland, I know how strangers react to small and treacherous roads!

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      I feel the same way about places in Europe. I should have partied less (traveled there my late teens and early 20s) and hiked more! I love off season travel. I feel it’s a more real experience. Haha ya I understand the small roads! I’d look like a dork in Ireland! I’m not too great at driving on the left – learned that in NZ – I’d get into a car park and just mess everything up. 🙂

  • Fiona Mai
    Reply

    Thank you for your useful tips for visiting Lake Tahoe. I especially like your photo on top of Mt.Rose. The landscape must be gorgeous from up there!

  • Patricia
    Reply

    I’ve only been in the area once, and it was early spring, so there was still quite a bit of snow. We were just passing through, but even from that I could tell how beautiful it was. From your post, there seems like so many wonderful outdoors activities, and the scenery is so gorgeous. I think it is time go back and see more of it soon (but I promise we’ll use the pull-outs if we do)!

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      Haha thanks :). Yes Tahoe is magical any time of year. The fall is my personal favorite time to visit if you’re looking to avoid snow.

  • Rosi C.
    Reply

    Interesting. did not know there were different parts to Tahoe.
    always good to go off path.

  • Iva
    Reply

    We went on a three-day backpacking trip middle of last year at the Desolation Wilderness, and we were lucky there are not a lot of people. We’re heading back soon to catch some snow, hopefully they haven’t all melted yet. 🙂

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      They have gotten record breaking snow this year! It’s been EPIC!! Definitely check the weather. Glad you found some solitude in Desolation. I love that area!

  • Jessica
    Reply

    Lake Tahoe looks beautiful! Aside from this post, I don’t know much about it. I do like there are a lot of places to get outdoors and hike. That’s my favorite part! These photos really show how gorgeous it is.

  • Natalie
    Reply

    This is so incredibly helpful! I actually recently moved to San Francisco back in June and Tahoe has been at the top of my list of places to visit. I am glad to have learned that fall is a great time to visit during off season. Thank you for sharing!

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      Congrats on the recent move! San Fran is a great city! Definitely visit in the fall after the kids go back to school. It’s my favorite time, the weather is still great and it’s quiet.

  • Gone with a whim
    Reply

    What a wonderful guide! I have been to California scores of times but never visited Lake Tahoe, I can’t wait to visit now 🙂 +1 for the photos too Xx

  • Itinera Magica
    Reply

    This is a beautiful and inspiring post. I always wanted to visit Lake Tahoe and I will keep those great tips (thank you Pinterest ;)). What a magical place!

  • Mike Clegg
    Reply

    Lake Tahoe looks so calm and peaceful in your pictures. I would love to explore this area and get in kayak or canoe o the lake. Definitely one for my list.

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      It oscillates between peaceful and almost ocean-esque. It’s a beautiful place well worth a visit.

  • Claire
    Reply

    Wow, Lake Tahoe looks beautiful. I’m the same – I always want to dip away from the crowds! Hopefully I’ll get there some day!! x

  • Meghan
    Reply

    Lake Tahoe looks gorgeous! I love how the water seems so clear and blue. Definitely want to visit!

  • Josie
    Reply

    Lake Tahoe looks stunning! I have no immediate plans to get to the US, but when I do, this looks exactly like the kind of place I want to visit.

  • Elisabeth
    Reply

    wow these photos are gorgeous, i’d love to visit lake tahoe. thanks for the great tips!

  • neha
    Reply

    You gave it the right words. The place has ‘pristine’ beauty. It is simply so beautiful. If I were you, even I would be amazed for my lifetime 🙂

  • Reply

    I’m dying to visit Lake Tahoe! I had no idea the south side was something to avoid, though. Definitely good to know. You’re lucky to have grown up in such a cool place!

  • Claire
    Reply

    Great guide with lots of local advice. i always love reading posts from people who have or do live in the places. Lake Taho is one of my must visit places in the US. I lived in devon in the UK and I can so relate to your advice about driving. The roads there are mostly single track and/or windy as hell. You can always spot the tourists!

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      Thank you Claire! Haha. Isn’t that funny how you can always spot the tourists on the road? So, a funny secret – my dad asked if I could write about being prepared for winter weather on the roads – he gets tired of dealing with people trying to climb a large mountain in a rear wheel drive vehicle in the middle of winter :P.

  • Lisa
    Reply

    I love Lake Tahoe! I prefer the north end over the south…not as touristy. But it’s beautiful which ever side your on. Love to horseback ride at Northstar.

    • foxintheforest
      Reply

      Hi Lisa! I haven’t done that yet, but it sounds fun. I’m definitely with you – the north end is much better.

  • John
    Reply

    I love guides from locals! Great information in this post. I really want to get out west in the next few years and Lake Tahoe is high on my list of places to visit. Great pictures too!

  • danielle hambuckers
    Reply

    those views, they really are amazing. This is going onto my bucketlist now. I appreciate the information on how to stay clear from the big touristy crowds ’cause let’s be honest, it’s just way nicer to enjoy views and trips that aren’t overcrowded.

  • Taís
    Reply

    This is definitely a place I would love to visit. I love the outdoors and hiking, I`m sure I will be amazed by the beauty of this place as well. I also try as much as I can to avoid crowds and I liked your tips to enjoy this place avoiding all the people. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sandy N Vyjay
    Reply

    Lake Tahoe is so wonderfully ethereal. Great tips for getting an experience devoid of the crowds, always great to get a local perspective. Hiking is another great charm of the place.

  • Reply

    I love Lake Tahoe (we actually got married there too) and try to go there as often as I can. It is such a wonderful place to go breath some fresh air and be close to the nature.

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