25 Must-Try Outdoor Adventures In Lake Tahoe
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you know that travel adventure isn’t limited by the season. Changing seasons just means it’s time to break out the next set of equipment and head right back outside again. Enter Lake Tahoe, home of America’s outdoor playground. Summer or winter, rain or shine (and Lake Tahoe has plenty of both), there are endless possibilities of outdoor fun and adventure waiting to be had. Located right on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is both accessible for travelers yet remote and challenging enough to keep away the tourists.
Grab this list, pack your snowboard or surf board, and head to Lake Tahoe, home of the Great Outdoors. Bonus points to whoever completes EVERYTHING on this list.
25 Outdoor Adventures in Lake Tahoe To Bucket List
1Surf Lake Tahoe
If you thought surfing was an ocean only sport, think again. Lake Tahoe is the second largest lake in the United States, with a depth of over 1600 feet and the sixth largest lake in the United States by sheer volume of water. That much surface and depth mean that in the right conditions, the lake is large enough to pick up enough surf to give riders up to 5 ft high waves.
Be sure to bring your wetsuit, however. The lake is also one of the coldest in the United States, and surfing conditions tend to be the best in fall and winter when temperatures are much colder than coastal California. But the chance to surf some great waves with snow covered mountain tops in sight isn’t an opportunity you should pass up on.
2Hike the PCT
Thanks to the popularity of the book turned film WILD, the PCT, or Pacific Crest Trail, is enjoying new found appreciation from outdoor enthusiasts across the globe. The international trail spans over 2600 miles and 3 countries. Hikers can travel from Mexico to Canada in some of the most rugged, isolated, and breathtaking scenery for miles without seeing any sign of civilization.
While isolated, one of the trail heads is only a few miles outside of Truckee, a town in the Lake Tahoe area, just 20 minutes north of King’s Beach and Tahoe City. If hiking the PCT has been on your bucket list (and let’s be real, it really should be), you can easily reach the trail head by car and get to walk while gazing down at gorgeous mountain forests and lakes. If you have several days, you can buy backpacking supplies and outdoor gear at one of the many outfitting stores in the Lake Tahoe area before heading out.
3Go Paragliding over Lake Tahoe
One of the best ways to enjoy mountains is to soar among them. Lake Tahoe is home to some of the best places to go paragliding, as you have multiple mountain ranges, lakes, forests, streams, and even glimpses of the desert in the background to enjoy from your flight.
There are several outfitters that offer paragliding flights. As a beginner, you can either fly tandem or take a few lessons and fly out solo. You’ll have to sign a lot of waivers, but for those who are up to the challenge, the risk is worth the reward.
SUP, or stand up paddle boarding, is the activity for all ages in Lake Tahoe. Everyone from kids to grandparents are getting on board the SUP trend; some pet owners even take their dogs and cats out for a ride on the lake!
There are many board rental areas on the beach and on many of the smaller lakes surrounding Lake Tahoe. One of the best places to SUP is Donner Lake; Donner Lake Memorial Park is located on the shore, and provides sup rentals for a reasonable price. You can even sup inland on a small stream into the woods, or SUP across the lake to West End Beach. There are also multiple public docks on the lake that are free to the public; visitors can park alongside the road and bring their own boards or just enjoy a good day out on the lake.
5Kayak Independence Lake
Those who wish to escape the Lake Tahoe crowds can easily drive a half hour north to Independence Lake, a small remote reservoir with fantastic hiking, beaches, and fishing.
Best of all, you can enjoy the crystal clear waters from a kayak FREE of charge, thanks to Independence Lake’s no outside boat policy. Instead of allowing visitors to bring their own boats, the Nature Conservancy has several kayaks, tubes, and motor boats that visitors can enjoy for free on a first come, first serve basis. While the lake is open year round for use, boat rentals are during the summer months only, from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend.
6Go Tubing on the Truckee River
With plenty of boulders to stop at and jump off, swimming holes, and a few rapids, the Truckee River has everything you could wish for in a day on the river. The river has plenty of bends and a variety of boulders, trees, sand bars, and coves to explore; tubing the entire river and exploring everything can rarely be done in just one day.
There are many shuttle services and rental outfitters that can bring you to and from the river, or you can bring your own equipment and drive to the river. Much of the river runs near enough to roads that have places to pull off and park your vehicles while you spend a lazy afternoon tubing down the river.
7Do Yoga in the Woods
There are plenty of yoga studios in Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area, but one of the best ways to really reach your zen is by packing up your mat and taking off into the woods. Lake Tahoe has miles of protected forest and state park land, complete with trails and miles and miles of woods. Set out your mat or practice right on the pine needle covered floor- either way, getting back into nature will help you zen out like you’ve never done before.
If you want to enjoy Lake Tahoe’s water from a different angle, try parasailing! Lake Tahoe has several parasailing companies on both the California and the Nevada side that can offer you views of the lake at up to 800 feet above the water.
Best of all, you can enjoy the view and the rush with a buddy, as most of the hook ups can include multiple people in one ride. Some places even offer discounts for sunset rides or early morning rides.
9Visit a Festival
It wouldn’t be a summer getaway in California without enjoying some kind of festival. Lucky for you, Lake Tahoe hosts a variety of festivals throughout the summer months; the quantity and diversity of locations around the lake means there is always something to offer for just about everyone. Want to practice yoga while eating Paleo food and listening to violin music in the woods? Check out Wanderlust Festival at Squaw Valley. Dying to hear some of the newest and most recent banjo players around the globe? Try Bluegrass Festival at Northstar Ski Resort.
There’s even a Shakespeare Festival, Native American Arts Festival, a Craft Beer Festival, and a Great Gatsby Living History Festival, among many others.
10Whitewater Raft the Truckee River
The Truckee River has 5 sets of rapids and provides several hours of whitewater rafting fun. Starting in California, you can easily raft the river in an afternoon and end in Nevada, where the river ends in Pyramid Lake. Truckee River Rafting can shuttle you back and forth from the river, and provides all of the equipment necessary to enjoy the ride.
11Snowboard Squaw Valley
Ever watched the Olympics and dreamed of competing? Now you can snowboard where the Olympians did! Squaw Valley was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics and has some of the most challenging runs in the West Coast. There are over 170 trails for you to enjoy, but be warned; Squaw is regularly visited by some of the best snowboarders in the world, and you’ll be sharing the trail with the pros.
Need a break from the slopes? Head inside to the Olympic Museum, where you can learn all about the 1960s Olympics and Lake Tahoe’s role in hosting the event.
12Hike to a Castle
While maybe not a true “Castle”, Vikingsholm on the shores of Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe definitely has a distinct Old World feeling. Hidden among the pines right on the shore of the lake, the castle was built in 1929 as a summer home for a Mrs. Knight and incorporates many Scandinavian influences in its architecture. The architecture of the house was inspired by the buildings in the Scandinavian countries that were constructed around 1000 A.D.
You can easily hike down to the castle and admire the grounds up close; there are even tours offered for those who wish to glimpse inside the magnificent building and gardens.
13Hike to a Waterfall
South Lake Tahoe is host to a number of waterfalls, and each one is worth seeing. Cascade Creek Falls is located near Vikingsholm just across the road from Emerald Bay, and is an easy hike for kids and adults alike. Emerald Bay is also home to Eagle Falls; the lower drop has two cascades, each of over 60 feet drop lengths.
For a fairy tale picture waterfall, be sure to hike out to Glen Alpine Falls and enjoy the 65 feet layered drop falls. The waterfall is located near Fallen Leaf Lake, which is just a short drive south of Emerald Bay. If you want to enjoy something even larger, you can hike 5 miles back to Fontanillis Lake Falls to enjoy a waterfall with an over 150 foot long drop.
Everyone from beginner to experienced windsurfers can enjoy gliding across Lake Tahoe’s stunning blue waters. Several local outfitters offer windsurfing lessons, and more experienced pros can compete in several of the windsurfing competitions held on the lake annually. The lake’s massive size allow for the wind to really pick up speed and give you the ride of your life as you cross over the famous “Tahoe Blue” waters.
If you want to get away from the crowds, Donner Lake also picks up enough wind most afternoons to offer great windsurfing conditions. You can park alongside the shore by any of the public docks and easily unload your board and go.
15Sled Down a Mountain
At 7,350 feet, you can take sledding to the next level and bring out your inner child by sledding at Echo Summit, located at Adventure Mountain in South Lake Tahoe. There are over 40 acres of sled and tubing runs for you to enjoy, as well as snowshoe trails and play areas to build snow forts, snowmen, or just collapse in a snow drift.
16Hike Castle Peak
There are too many Lake Tahoe area trails to cover and rank; each one is more beautiful than the next, and it would take a lifetime to discover them all. But if you are going to visit Lake Tahoe and looking for the hike of your life, Castle Peak is the summit to conquer. At just over 9k feet at the summit, Castle Peak is a doable hike that offers breathtaking views at the summit. It is an old volcano and has a distinct peak that is recognizable from anywhere in the area.
While the hike is doable, the final summit is not for the faint of heart, as you must climb up severely steep rocky terrain to reach the true top of the mountain.
17Zip Line Down a Ski Hill
Get your adrenaline pumping by zip lining 3,000 feet down a ski hill at speeds up to 50 miles per hour at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe. If you want to ease into it first, try the shorter 1,000 foot ride, where speeds can still reach up to 40 miles per hour. Either way, speeding along while gazing down at Lake Tahoe is enough to turn anyone into a die-hard adrenaline junkie.
18Sky Dive Over the Sierra Nevadas
If you really want to see Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountain range as few have, take to the sky! On the flight up, you can enjoy up close views of the mountains, desert and lakes from 12,000 feet high. On the way down, you can experience nearly a minute of free falling at speeds over 100 miles per hour as you jump tandem.
Not for the faint of heart, skydiving is a breathtaking shot of adrenaline and in another league of enjoying the beauty of Lake Tahoe’s magnificent outdoors.
19Go Horseback Riding
Lake Tahoe’s miles of trails aren’t limited to hikers and bikers; you can also enjoy miles of forests and mountain scenery from horseback, as well! There are several corrals and campsites where you can bring your own horse and trailer and set up camp for both you and your horse. If you don’t own horses, you can also enjoy riding at several of the areas corrals, where you can enjoy trail rides and even lessons for beginners.
20Hike Through an Old Train Tunnel
Hikers at Donner Pass Summit can enjoy hiking through the first railroad line to cross the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Completed in the late 1860s, the abandoned railroad tunnels are accessible from several of the trail heads around Donner Pass Summit.
Hikers can also enjoy hieroglyphs, views of the mountain ranges, and lakes before heading into the railroad tunnels.
21Ride a Gondola
Heavenly Valley Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe has one of the best gondola rides you will ever experience. Riders of the gondola will enjoy breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe, completely rimmed by snow covered mountains. The ride is about 10 minutes, and the view from the top of the mountain is one that shouldn’t be missed.
22Bike Down a Mountain
Northstar Ski Resort keeps its ski lifts running even if their isn’t snow on the ground, and for a good reason. Mountain biking enthusiasts can visit the resort and ride up the ski lifts with their bikes in tow. Once they’ve reached the top, bikers can enjoy the ride of a lifetime as they ride down the mountainside on well groomed trails.
23Jet ski Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe’s crystal clear blue waters hold many coves, unique houses, and islands that are best discovered by cruising around the lake. Many marinas in on the lake offer jet ski rentals, from half an hour to multiple days. Jet skis can seat up to 3 people, so you and a few friends are welcome to explore, swim, and cruise around the lake at your own pace.
24Go Fly Fishing
Lake Tahoe holds some of the best areas in the country for fly fishing. The countless rivers, streams, and creeks host a huge variety of fish, including Rainbow, Brook and Brown Trout and Kokanee Salmon. The Truckee River has deep pools as well as shallow, rockier areas. Caples Lake is deep enough to offer fishing from close to shore. Taylor’s Creek is another great fly fishing spot, but be warned; you might be sharing your fish with several of the area’s bears as well.
You can bring your own tackle and rod, or rent from several of the fly fishing outfitters located on Lake Tahoe.
25Ride a Hot Air
One of Lake Tahoe’s features is the depth of the lake; some areas are just a few feet deep, while other areas plummet to over 1600 feet deep. The depth is part of what creates the well known Tahoe Blue, as well as the almost Caribbean blue of other areas. On of the best ways to enjoy the color is to soar above it in a hot air balloon, where you can leisurely soak up the colors of the entire lake.
Instead of leaving from shore, hot air balloons take off and return to boats in the middle of the lake, so you can enjoy a boat ride as part of the experience.