By Terry Ward
Lake Tahoe, North America’s largest alpine lake, is an all-season stunner. Whether you’re looking to plan a snowy Lake Tahoe vacation to enjoy one of the area’s 15 ski resorts, or you prefer to visit during the summer months to enjoy the lake’s pristine waters, there are good reasons to visit Lake Tahoe in every season. Whether you’re traveling with just immediate family or an extended multi-generational crew, this quintessential Lake Tahoe family vacation guide will help your family experience a getaway that truly offers something for everyone to appreciate and enjoy.
FINDING FAMILY-FRIENDLY LAKE TAHOE ACTIVITIES
Lake Tahoe is a vacation destination that offers abundant natural beauty and a wide variety of options for family fun in the great outdoors. It’s an interesting destination (with a fascinating history) that offers lots of family-friendly experiences.
For a low-key adventure with a million-dollar view, head to Heavenly Village and hop on board a scenic gondola ride. The 2.4-mile gondola circuit showcases some of the best views of Lake Tahoe’s glittering waters and the beauty of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains. For a lower-elevation experience, an afternoon sightseeing cruise aboard the Tahoe Gal offers lunch and a water-based foray into the scenic landscape and crystal clear waters of Emerald Bay.
If you’re feeling intrepid, a white-water rafting excursion along the Truckee River is a great option for visitors in the warmer months. The Truckee flows directly from Lake Tahoe, and offers class two and three rapids — perfect for families with children. For an adrenaline-pumping experience, challenge the roads of Tahoe’s backcountry in the high desert on a thrilling ATV or RZR tour with Lake Tahoe Adventures. This off-road tour will take you to some stunningly beautiful remote locales that are inaccessible any other way.
During the winter months in Lake Tahoe, you’ll find snow in abundance and a wide variety of ways to enjoy it. From skiing and snowmobiling to ice skating and dog sledding, the cold season offers no end of frozen family adventures. There are many Tahoe-area ski resorts that offer onsite ski schools and broad terrain for skiing and snowboarding, from Northstar California in the north to Heavenly in the south, and many in between. Before you go, learn more about the options for skiing in North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe, and the highlights and advantages of each region. Make sure to pack your snow gear!
With everything Lake Tahoe has to offer, there is still no rule that says you have to do any of it. Maybe your family is just looking for a quiet place to get away and relax — and Lake Tahoe is perfect for that, too. The area is full of relaxing spas and quiet spaces to unwind, including resorts through RCI. When it comes to comfortable, cozy accommodations, RCI offers many amazing Lake Tahoe resorts for families, that all members of the family are sure to love. With the comforts of home at your fingertips, there’s nothing wrong with just settling in by the pool or hot tub, or hanging out in your cozy suite and spending quality time with your family.
If you’re just passing through and only have a single day to spend in Lake Tahoe, check out this handy one-day Lake Tahoe itinerary. Your Lake Tahoe family vacation is sure to be fun, no matter how long you stay.
DECIDING WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE TAHOE
Lake Tahoe’s 72 miles of shoreline offer more than 10 cute little towns and villages to visit, but how do you choose which of Lake Tahoe’s four corners to stay in? There are Lake Tahoe resorts for families all over, so there’s really no wrong place to stay on your Lake Tahoe family vacation. No matter where you decide to stay, you’ll be close to fun things to see and do. However, since it takes almost three hours to drive around it, it’s helpful to know what the different areas along the lake’s edge have to offer, so that you can make sure to stay close to whatever sounds most fun to you and your family.
Lake Tahoe is so big that it actually straddles two states — the lake’s eastern side is in Nevada and its western side is in California. The most popular places for families to stay when visiting the area are the towns on the lake’s northern side and the towns on the lake’s southern side, and each region has its own reasons for family appeal.
If you’re seeking the cozy comfort and mountainous beauty of an alpine village, North Lake Tahoe is the place to be. Towns like Incline Village, Kings Beach, and Truckee are full of quaint shops and cafes, and the area is a good basecamp for exploring the great outdoors. South Lake Tahoe offers a little more urban buzz, with glitzy casinos, restaurants, and bars galore. Towns like Zephyr Cove and Stateline offer nightlife and adventure in abundance.
Wherever you decide to base your Tahoe getaway, you may want to explore more than one of the lake’s four corners, and if you do, day trips by car are your best bet. Exploring all sides of Lake Tahoe will get you the most comprehensive experience possible, and will showcase the majesty of the Sierra Nevadas and the sheer monolithic size of North America’s largest alpine lake. For more information and tips about exploring Tahoe’s shores by car, check out this handy Lake Tahoe road trip guide.
CHOOSING WHEN TO VISIT LAKE TAHOE
Lake Tahoe is an all-seasons vacation destination, and each time of year offers its own unique sights and activities. From winter snow-tubing and skiing to summer hiking and swimming on the lake, your family won’t run out of things to do in Lake Tahoe.
If your goal is to spend time on the lake, then late spring through early fall is the best time to visit. July and August are the hottest months, making them ideal for water-based activities. The water temperature averages a balmy 70 degrees, which is perfect for swimming and enjoying lakeside pleasures of all kinds. Keep in mind that summer is a very busy time to visit Lake Tahoe, so you should expect crowds and wait times for certain activities. To avoid crowds but still enjoy the water, try visiting in September after the school’s summer break ends. Tourist crowds tend to be thinner from September through most of November, at which point the busy holiday season begins.
If you’re coming to Lake Tahoe to ski, then you’ll want to visit when the ski resorts are open. They typically open for the season in mid-November and frequently stay open as late as mid-April. January and February tend to be the best months for skiing, as the slopes have a good snow base and the cold temperatures are ideal. If you plan to visit during the holiday season, expect crowding on the slopes and plan to make your reservations well in advance.
You’ll enjoy quieter slopes if you visit post-holidays, before the spring break rush in March and early April.
DETERMINING HOW MUCH TIME TO SPEND IN LAKE TAHOE
Your Lake Tahoe family vacation can be as long as or as short as you’d like, based on what you’re looking to do while you’re there and how much time you can spare. If you’re just looking to relax, a weekend may be long enough, whereas if you’d like to see and explore a wide variety of areas, you may need a week or more to do it right.
The longer you stay, the more of Lake Tahoe you can experience, but you can plan to pack in a bunch of activities over a regular weekend, or see just a small portion of the area’s beauty in a single day, if you’re just passing through. An enjoyable Lake Tahoe ski or beach vacation can be done in three or four days if that’s what your schedule permits, and the calendar is full of long weekends that can make that possible for your family. If you plan to visit both North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe as well as experience some outdoor adventures in both locales, a solid week is a good amount of time to plan on spending in the area.
No matter how long you stay, whether just a few nights or a few weeks, one thing is for sure — you’ll never be bored in Lake Tahoe.
RCI'S TOP-RATED LAKE TAHOE RESORTS FOR FAMALIES
Americana Village — South Lake Tahoe, California
Club Tahoe — Incline Village, Nevada
Club Wyndham South Shore — Zephyr Cove, Nevada
Edgelake Beach Club — Tahoe Vista, California
Lake Tahoe Resort, A Hilton Vacation Club — South Lake Tahoe, California
Olympic Village Inn — Olympic Valley, California
Stardust - Tahoe — South Lake Tahoe, California
Tahoe Beach & Ski Club — South Lake Tahoe, California
Tahoe Seasons Resort — South Lake Tahoe, California
The Lodge at Kingsbury Crossing — Stateline, Nevada
The Lodge at Lake Tahoe — South Lake Tahoe, California
The Resort at South Shore — Zephyr Cove, Nevada
WorldMark South Shore — Zephyr Cove, Nevada
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.