With the sparkling blue-green waters of the massive lake surrounded by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, South Lake Tahoe is a simply incredible place.
South Lake Tahoe activities range from world-class skiing to circumnavigating the lake in a kayak to gambling at the casinos to hiking the trails of Emerald Bay State Park.
I’ve spent the last 22 years visiting Lake Tahoe multiple times a year because my family lives here. Yup, you read that correctly – 22 years!
As a long-time Lake Tahoe local, I’ve seen the area change over the years, and I am here to tell you how to enjoy South Lake Tahoe activities like a local, not a tourist.
About this Guide to South Lake Tahoe Activities
Inside this local guide to amazing South Lake Tahoe activities, you’ll find:
- A map of of South Lake Tahoe
- Why South Lake Tahoe is special
- Things to do in South Lake Tahoe, organized by season
- Additional local Tahoe travel resources
Where is South Lake Tahoe?
South Lake Tahoe is on the border of California and Nevada, along the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Reno is the closest major airport to South Lake Tahoe, and it’s only an hour drive away. You can also fly into Sacramento (2 hour drive) or San Francisco (3.5-4 hour drive) to get to South Lake Tahoe.
What Makes South Lake Tahoe Special?
The entire Tahoe region is an amazing place to explore, with the clear blue lake and spectacular mountain backdrop, but South Lake Tahoe is special. In the winter the ski resorts offer unparalleled powder, and in the summer, the beaches are the perfect place to spend a sunny day.
Plus, the casinos in Nevada offer vibrant nightlife any time of year, so you’ll never run out of cool South Lake Tahoe activities.
While the popularity of the place has made South Lake Tahoe so expensive, the awesome adventures and amenities here really make it worth a visit.
The Best South Lake Tahoe Activities in Summer
Summer is a fantastic time to visit South Lake Lake Tahoe!
Fun things to do in South Lake Tahoe in summer include hiking the beautiful trails, taking a cruise around the lake on a paddlewheel boat, and soaking in the sun at the top Lake Tahoe beaches.
1. Visit Vikingsholm
Located on Emerald Bay, Vikingsholm is a stunning Scandinavian-style castle that you can access via a steep one-mile hike.
While you can visit Vikingsholm any time of year, tours of the castle are only available in the summer from Memorial Day through September 30.
2. Take a Wild Mountain Bike Ride
Mountain biking is one the great things to do in Lake Tahoe besides ski, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is the must-do trail in town.
The trail is rocky, technical, and features an awesome 6-mile descent to get stoked on. You can take a shuttle for a shorter ride or link Mr. Toad’s with other trails to make a fantastic 20 mile loop.
3. Enjoy the View from a Gondola
For some of the best Lake Tahoe views, ride the Heavenly Gondola to the top of the mountain.
Along with panoramic views from the gondola itself, make sure to stop at the Observation Deck for a vantage point you won’t forget.
You can also access some of the best Lake Tahoe hikes from the Tamarack Express chairlift.
Local Tip: Gondola rides and other summer activities at Heavenly open for the season in mid-June.
4. Cruise Zephyr Cove on a Paddlewheeler
Enjoy one of the most unique summer activities in Lake Tahoe by taking a cruise around the lake on the MS Dixie II paddlewheeler.
The daytime scenic cruise is a two-hour experience to appreciate the views from all around Lake Tahoe, and the dinner cruise pairs a delicious meal with a spectacular sunset on the lake.
5. Soak in the Sun at El Dorado Beach
The largest beach in South Lake Tahoe is Lakeview Commons at El Dorado Beach.
Here you’ll find a boat ramp to launch your boat, and there is also a nice picnic area with BBQs to use if you’d rather stay on shore. You can also rent a kayak or splash around in the swim area.
6. Lay in the Sand at Lakeside Beach
Lakeside Beach features a sandy shoreline where you can play, picnic, and bask in the views of Lake Tahoe. The Lakeside Marina rents jet skis, paddle boats, and kayaks if you want to get out on the water.
Local Tip: You need to purchase a daily pass ($25/adult) to access Lakeside Beach, unless you’re staying in one of the Lakeside Park lodging establishments which include access to the beach.
7. Splash in the Water at Pope Beach
Pope Beach sits on National Forest land a few miles west of South Lake Tahoe proper, so it offers some of the best beach views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevadas in the area.
It’s also a great swimming beach, and you can even bike to the beach on the Pope/Baldwin Bike Path.
Local Tip: A $10 entry fee per vehicle is required to access Pope Beach. (The fee is higher on 4th of July weekend.)
8. Paddle the Lake Tahoe Water Trail
The Lake Tahoe Water Trail was designed to make it easy to paddle your way around Lake Tahoe on a kayak or paddleboard.
The 72-mile trail features several launch and landing sites along the way, so you can take one of seven designated day trips.
If you’re seeking a bigger adventure, you can even plan overnight trips from campgrounds on the route.
9. Hike in Van Sickle Bi-State Park
Van Sickle Bi-State Park is conveniently located near the casinos on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe, and it offers a perfect escape from the lights and noise into the forest.
The easy to moderate trails in the park offer awesome views of Lake Tahoe, and you can access the Tahoe Rim Trail via the Rim Trail Connector.
10. Take a Horseback Ride at Camp Richardson Corral
Camp Richardson Corral gives you chance to experience one of the coolest South Lake Tahoe activities – horseback riding!
You can take a short hour-long trail ride through the forest and meadow with stunning views of Lake Tahoe or opt for an extended 2-hour ride which also heads to Fallen Leaf Lake.
The Best Things to Do in South Lake Tahoe in Winter
Winter activities in South Lake Tahoe abound, from skiing and snowboarding to snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and snow tubing!
11. Hit the Slopes at Heavenly
For skiing and snowboarding in South Lake Tahoe, you have to hit the slopes at Heavenly. This huge resort actually straddles the border of California and Nevada so you can shred in both states.
Heavenly has 97 trails for all ability levels and features 4,800 skiable acres, the most of any Lake Tahoe ski resort.
Local Tip: While Heavenly is the pinnacle of the best Lake Tahoe ski resorts, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood also offer plenty of great terrain.
12. Go Snowmobiling
Hit the gas on your winter activities in South Lake Tahoe by going snowmobiling.
Lake Tahoe Adventures offers a beginner snowmobile tour in beautiful Hope Valley or a more advanced tour deep into the backcountry where you can choose your own adventure with incredible scenery.
13. Snowshoe the Trails
I love visiting Lake Tahoe in December because somehow the trails are even more stunning in the snow.
You can snowshoe the trails in Van Sickle Bi-State Park or check out the designated snowshoe trail systems at Kirkwood and Sierra-at-Tahoe for alpine terrain.
14. Sledding & Snow Tubing
If skiing isn’t your thing, you can still get some speed downhill by sledding in Tahoe! There are lots of local sledding hills, like Sawmill Pond in South Lake Tahoe, that are free if you bring your own sled.
Or you can take it up a notch and go snow tubing at Tube Tahoe or the tubing hill at the top of the Heavenly Gondola.
The Best South Lake Tahoe Activities Any Time of Year
No matter what season you visit, there are lots of things to do in South Lake Tahoe. From exploring Emerald Bay to resort shopping to letting it ride at a casino, you can find something for everyone.
15. Explore Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay State Park is truly a jewel of South Lake Tahoe, and it’s worth visiting any time of year.
Located on the only inlet on Lake Tahoe, the views here are some of the absolute best in Tahoe – definitely don’t miss Inspiration Point!
Rubicon Trail is a wonderful 16.5 mile trail to explore Emerald Bay, but most people just hike the 4.5 mile section between the trailheads at Emerald Bay State Park and D.L. Bliss State Park.
You should also check out Eagle Falls, which is the starting point for hiking into Desolation Wilderness.
16. Tour Tallac Historic Site
The Tallac Historic Site is where the 100-year-old Tallac Resort used to stand.
Now it is home to the Tallac Museum, the Pope House, and the Valhalla community events center, all of which you can tour in the summer.
In the winter, the buildings are closed, but you can still explore the grounds, and it’s a great spot for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
17. Shop at Heavenly Village
For outdoor gear or a Lake Tahoe souvenir, check out the Shops at Heavenly Village.
Stroll through the outdoor shopping area and treat yourself at the Champagne & Chocolate Co, browse the clothing at Little Blue House, or find what you need for winter or summer at Beanies & Bikinis.
18. See a Show at the Loft Theater
The Loft Theater is the place to be for dinner, drinks, and a show – or all three!
The Loft restaurant serves American tapas, the lounge mixes up craft cocktails, and the theater puts on the unique Magic Fusion, a show that blends comedy with magic.
19. Try Your Luck at a Casino
The casinos of South Lake Tahoe are a fun place to spend a rest day or wait out bad weather that forces you inside.
Harvey’s Lake Tahoe was the original South Shore casino built in 1944, and Harrah’s Lake Tahoe is located right across the street.
You can also gamble it all (or just a little) at Bally’s Lake Tahoe and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe.
Additional Local Tahoe Travel Resources
Looking for even more adventures in Lake Tahoe? I’ve got you covered with this amazing lineup of local travel resources: