A Local’s Guide to Lake Tahoe
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.
Meet the Local Expert of Lake Tahoe, Yours Truly
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 isn’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 are my two cents on avoiding crowds and blending in with the local community.
Local Tips for Visiting Lake Tahoe
When you visit Lake Tahoe for the first time, it’s easy to get caught up in the best-of lists you see. However, the best parts of Tahoe are seldom talked about. Locals covet their small slices of untouched paradise. I would be betraying my people if I told you where these places are, but I am more than happy to show you how to visit Lake Tahoe like a local. Below are a few handy tips that us locals use to navigate the busy season.
Hate Sharing? 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 worth a peep if you haven’t been, but don’t stay here. The only reason I’m ever down here is to visit a childhood friend whose parents live on the outskirts of town.
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 scattered 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.
Check out this guide to visiting Lake Tahoe in the summer (coming soon!)
Go to the Beat of Your Own Drum and Visit Lake Tahoe During the Shoulder Season
Locals love the offseason 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.
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 offseason see fewer 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.
For a look at Lake Tahoe during the off-season, check out this photo essay featuring the emerald gem and its surroundings.
Lake Tahoe Local Travel Tip: Hit the Tougher Terrain
If solitude in 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 the breathtaking scenery of the region.
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.
Like hiking? Here are a few resources just for you!
- 6 bucket-list hikes in California you must try
- Your guide to Lake Tahoe’s best hikes
- Hiking Mount Rose in the Tahoe Basin
- The beginner’s guide to hiking
- How to plan a hike
The Local’s Guide to Getting off the Beaten Path of 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.
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! Almost anywhere there is a pull out along the main road gives you access to a hidden beach. Some are more well-hidden than others, but it’s really simple to find lakeside solitude here.
Get Away from the Lake
There is so much to explore in the Sierra. Step away from the lake and explore other areas such as Eldorado National Forest, Donner Pass and Truckee. There is world-class climbing, amazing hiking trails, unforgettable camping, and so much more to explore. During the crowded summer months, Lake Tahoe can feel more like a major metropolitan area than a pristine wilderess, opt to get out dodge and explore the areas around Lake Tahoe for secluded summer fun!
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 everyday 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.
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!
With these local travel tips, you’re prepared to visit Lake Tahoe this year like a local.