11 Unforgettable Outdoor Activities in Lake Tahoe this Summer
With its jewel-colored water and dramatic Sierra Mountains, Lake Tahoe is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. The XX miles of coastline are home to several different towns, from the high rise casinos of South Lake all the way to the tiny cabins along Lake Tahoe’s Western Shores. Get the local know-how with this guide to outdoor activities in Lake Tahoe this summer.
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a huge area, encompassing shorelines in both California and Nevada. There are several towns both big and small around the Lake. Accommodation isn’t cheap, expect to pay over $100 per night at most places, (and things like free camping are nearly impossible to find) so plan ahead to get the best rates.
Where to stay along Tahoe’s shores largely depends on what you like. If you enjoy bustling towns with big buildings, then South Lake is the place for you. However, if you want a slower pace and less noise, the North Shore towns such as Tahoe City, Tahoe Pines, King’s Beach or Incline Village are good places to search. The western and eastern shorelines are primarily state parks and national forests. However, there are a few small towns sprinkled in between.
If you don’t have to be directly on the lake, consider staying in Truckee or even Reno. Truckee is a bit closer to Tahoe, but Reno offers plenty of budget-friendly accommodation and depending on what side of town you are in, it is about an hour drive to the northern shore.
Keep in mind that 90% of the accommodation on the Nevada side will often include a casino element. Although the casinos aren’t anywhere close to as grand (or confusing and noisy) as their Las Vegas cousins.
What to Budget in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe isn’t a budget-friendly destination, however, you can save quite a bit by cooking your own food and enjoying free outdoor activities such as hiking or exploring hidden beaches. Since accommodation will run you anywhere between $75 to upwards of $500+ a night (all the standard luxury hotel chains are here). Expect to pay a bit more for gas around the lake, as fill stations are tough to come by. Activities can range from free to hundreds of dollars. For a mid-range experience expect to pay around $150 per day (more if you eat out for every meal) or $100 per day if you’re splitting accommodation. Rates go up substantially during the summer, so save yourself some cash by getting a place with a kitchen and booking ahead.
The Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe in Summer
Throughout the summer there is a wide range of things to do in Lake Tahoe. Almost all Lake Tahoe activities involve being outside and enjoying the fresh mountain air. Take a look at these amazing outdoor things to do in Tahoe this summer.
Visit a Nude Beach
Tahoe has a not-so-secret nude beach that offers sunbathers with a flair for feeling the sun on your bum. Off of Highway 28, just south of the Secret Harbor parking lot, there is some road side pull outs. Jump out and scramble your way down the social trails to the water’s edge. Here you’ll find Secret Beach, a traditionally nude beach for Lake Tahoe bathing enthusiasts. Keep in mind, clothing here is very optional – so try not to snap too many photos. Although it is a nude beach, most parties stick to themselves. I’ve been coming here for years and I don’t always dip in the nude – swimwear is still okay to wear here.
Nude sunbathing not your thing? Check out nearby Sand Harbor for a more family-friendly vibe. It gets crowded here, but there are lifeguards and a few amenities such as bathrooms.
See the Sunset on a Catamaran
Alright, so my family has lived in Tahoe for over 15 years. The Sierra Cloud Catamaran has been floating the shores of Lake Tahoe for as along as I can remember. There are three two-hour boat rides you can take, opt for the 5pm boat to get a killer sunset right on the water. The boat ride is one of the more relaxing summer activities in Lake Tahoe. Enjoy some light snacks and a beverage or two as you cruise along the sapphire-blue waters. Keep in mind, even though Lake Tahoe sees its fair share of wind, this is a huge boat, and they will use the motor most of the time. Despite this it’s a tranquil way to enjoy America’s most beautiful high alpine lake.
Want to see Lake Tahoe the local way? Check out my insider’s guide to visiting Lake Tahoe.
Rock Climb Splitter Sierra Granite
If you love to climb, then you have got to get out to the Sierras. The land is littered with beautiful, sticky granite. With over 2,500 routes, there is the perfect climb for everyone. Enjoy world-class bouldering or fantastic multi-pitch trad climbs. Some of the best rock climbing can be found at Lover’s Leap in South Lake or along the I-80 Corridor.
New to climbing? Hire a guide to teach you safe techniques and help you enjoy the beautiful sport of climbing in Lake Tahoe! Guided trips start at $130 per person.
Climb on with these fantastic rock climbing posts
Hike Your Heart Out in Lake Tahoe
One of the best Tahoe activities that won’t break the bank is hiking. There is an endless amount of hiking trails in the Lake Tahoe area that offer everything from a leisurely stroll to a burly thru-hike. Most hiking trails near Lake Tahoe are free to access, with a few spots, such as the Desolation Wilderness, requiring a permit to park in certain areas. The benefit of hiking is that you’ll get stunning views of the Lake. Some of the best trails go up into the mountains, so you’ll get a bird’s eye view of Lake Tahoe. Hiking offers one of the most accessible things to do in Lake Tahoe during the summer, just be sure to check the weather, pack lots of water and sun protection.
Like to hike? Here are some resources to help you make the most of your Lake Tahoe hike.
- The most scenic hikes in Lake Tahoe
- Hiking for beginners: what you need to know
- The best hiking clothes for any budget
See the Shakespeare Festival
Prefer some culture with the picture-perfect view? Check out Lake Tahoe’s annual Shakespeare Festival. Every year the North Shore of Lake Tahoe comes to life with evening theater productions right on the lake. It’s an awesome chance to relax after an exciting day on the water and enjoy a little culture. This popular event fills up fast, so be sure to plan your tickets in advance. Check out the Shakespeare Festival website for more info.
Strap in and bring your GoPro for this exciting Tahoe summer activity. Rise above a speeding boat and catch a glimpse of life on the water from above. Soar 4oo to 1,200 feet above the water in this adventure-packed ride. Tahoe Sports offers parasailing adventures for the whole family. You can even just ride along if you aren’t feeling up to the gut-wrenching heights.
Experience Lake Tahoe’s Premier Attraction Emerald Bay
Every time I take a newbie to Lake Tahoe, regardless of the season, I always opt for a little early morning action at Emerald Bay. As one of Tahoe’s most iconic viewpoints, Emerald Bay is a sight to behold. In just the right light, the clear waters give off an emerald shimmer that I’ve seen nowhere else. However, this Lake Tahoe attraction is well known. For the best chance at solitude, opt to arrive for sunrise or early in the morning to beat the tour buses and crowds.
Backpack the Desolation Wilderness
For the intrepid adventurer that loves to walk to their sleeping quarters, you’ve gotta backpack in the Desolation Wilderness. Spend the night under the stars and among granite giants at Lake Aloha or head towards Mount Tallac for epic views. Keep in mind, overnight permits are required in the Desolation Wilderness (day use permits can be snagged on arrival). Since this area sees a good amount of traffic, reserve your permits in advance.
Love to carry your house on your back? Here are several awesome backpacking resources:
- The beginner’s guide to backpacking
- How to plan a backpacking trip (coming soon)
- The best backpacking gear on the market
- Step up your trail grub with homemade backpacking meal ideas
Summit a Mountain
Nestled high in the Sierra Mountain Range, the best views of Lake Tahoe are from nearby peaks. The area offers plenty of moderate hiking trails that lead to mountain tops without needing any special gear or skills. Mt. Rose, the highest peak on the Nevada side, is an excellent class I hike with a well-developed trail to the top. Other notable peaks include Mount Tallac (Tahoe’s highest peak), Pyramid Peak and Ralston Peak.
Paddle to a Hidden Beach
If you prefer water-side adventures, consider renting a kayak. Plan on spending the earlier part of the day out on the water, paddling to beaches and rocky shores only accessible by boat. Pack a picnic and relax after a long paddle to one of Lake Tahoe’s many hidden coves. Often times, you’ll have the place to yourself. However, remember that the lake can get very choppy in the afternoon, making paddling home a nightmare! Be sure to keep an eye on the weather and check conditions before heading out.
Find a Secret Sunset Spot
Tahoe sunsets are simply sublime! Every local has their favorite sunset spots and most of us hold those treasured viewpoints to ourselves. It’s not that we don’t like sharing, it’s that finding the perfect perch to watch the setting sun is somewhat of a pastime here. Explore a trail with a lofty view (don’t forget your headlamp!), wander up into a neighborhood, or simply pull out on the side of the highway and take in all the color and beauty of this amazing place.
There is never a lack of summer activities in Lake Tahoe. With so many things to do in Tahoe, you can easily spend a lifetime exploring the region. This summer, be sure to check out at least some of these awesome Tahoe activities.