Lake Tahoe in the summer is paradise. Everything is so colorful. The air smells amazing (like pine, sunscreen and campfire smoke) and the sunsets over the lake look more like cotton candy than clouds.
This was my first time to Lake Tahoe during the summer (I’ve been a few times in the fall and also the winter) but since I don’t ski or snowboard, summer offers more recreation for a gal like me. In this post I’ll be sharing all my favorite Lake Tahoe summer activities (along with photos and more travel tips) to help you plan the best lake vacation possible!
My 13 Favorite Lake Tahoe Summer Activities (South + North)
As mentioned above, I seem to always find myself in Lake Tahoe at least once a year. Cozy cabins and hot chocolate in the winter with friends. Or, at a ski resort going all out for Christmas. This area has stunning fall foliage as well, making it the perfect October road trip from San Francisco.
But, this was my first visit in the summer and it offered a whole new outlook on the lake. Before we get started with my favorite things to do during the summertime, here’s some good things to know about the lake:
Lake Tahoe Fast Facts
- Lake Tahoe is 1,645 feet deep at the deepest point in the lake. (That’s taller than the Empire State building!)
- The lake is over 2 million years old, making it one of the oldest lakes in the world.
- During June – August, the average temps are in the 70’s but can get up to high 90’s or as low as the 20’s.
- Weekends are the most crowded on the lake, so if you can, I advise visiting on a weekday.
- Keep Tahoe Blue by picking up your trash and being respectful to the lake and trails. Be nice to nature and keep this beautiful lake preserved.
Keep Tahoe Blue
Before we start with all my favorite things do to at Lake Tahoe during the summer, let’s chat Keeping Tahoe Blue. I can’t believe I have to say this, but DO NOT litter. ALWAYS keep a trash bag in your backpack or car so you can pack out any of your food wrappers or trash. Also, stay on the trail to avoid erosion and to preserve plants and wildlife.
Basically: don’t be a dick to Mother Nature. You love coming to Tahoe, so keep it safe and clean so it’s just as beautiful every year!
Top Things To Do In Lake Tahoe In Summer
There are so many fun Lake Tahoe activities to do in the summertime! Everything ranging from hikes to beer crawls to lazy days at the beach. These are my top picks for fun things to do during your Lake Tahoe summer vacations.
PS this blog post contains images of my Tahoe trips throughout the years, some are from trips during the fall or winter. Don’t let images of coats & hats deter you, all the suggestions in this guide are for summertime (though some can also be done in the fall or winter!)
Hike To Vikingsholm Tahoe’s Hidden Castle
Did you know there’s a CASTLE on Lake Tahoe?! It’s true! Back in 1928, the owner of the land thought that Emerald Bay looked like the fjords of Scandinavia. So, she had Vikingsholm built in a Scandinavian style complete with a tower that models 11th-century castles, carvings, stain glass windows and grass on the roof.
The castle was used as a summer home for many many years before finally being donated to the state. It’s now part of the Harvey West Unit of the Emerald Bay State Park and makes a fantastic morning hike for the whole family.
I loved this hike because it’s pretty easy. You park at the Vikingholm lot which overlooks Emerald Bay and simply walk down the gravel path to the beach. This takes about 15-20 minutes down (the hike up does HURT, though!) At the bottom is a beach with swimming, a dock and the castle. The castle is open for tours in the summer and you can even rent it out for weddings.
I recommend coming here on a weekday and also in the morning before 9am as the lot up top is small and fills up VERY quickly. You can also kayak or boat up to the beach and access the castle via water if that’s your thing. Parking is $10 for the day, you can pay with a card.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding South Lake
On our last morning at the lake, we woke up early and walked over to Ski Run Marina for a morning paddle. It was Robin’s first time and he fell in while trying to stand up! Minus that cold wakeup for him, we had the whole area to ourselves as nobody minutes a few boaters were out on the lake yet.
The view from the center of lake on a paddleboard is magic. With the clear blue water below, the blue sky above, snow-capped mountains in the distance and cute cabins lining the shores… couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the day!
We rented from Tahoe Sports since they were about 3 blocks from our Airbnb! It was a bit pricey, coming in at $45 for a half-hour rental but the convenience was great. I’m sure other rentals in the area aren’t as expensive.
Kayak Sand Harbor to Secret Cove On North Lake
My other favorite way to explore Lake Tahoe is via kayaking! I think the North Shore on the Nevada has some of the best areas to go kayaking in. I suggest starting at Sand Harbor and paddle down to Secret Cove. The water is so dang clear and blue here, and there’s tons of rocks to climb out and sunbath on if you want.
Make sure to head out early, as the parking lot for Sand Harbor fills up FAST! It’s a $10 fee but well worth it so you don’t have to carry your gear a long way to the water.
There are other fun water sports to do on the lake, too! We saw some people parasailing Lake Tahoe while we were out, along with jet skiing and family boating. So many options to get on the water.
Go Brewery Hoping
South Lake Tahoe area has tons of breweries! On our last two visits, my husband and I have done self-guided beer trail crawls visiting as many of the local craft breweries our bodies could handle in a weekend. Our favorite spot during the summer is South of North (the Basecamp Hotel Brewery) because we love their outdoor garden vibes.
I have a WHOLE detailed blog post overviewing all the breweries in South Lake and ranking them from best to worst that you should check out if beer if your thing.
Catch An Emerald Bay Sunrise
Sunrise is always a magical time of day at Lake Tahoe. It’s cool and peaceful before tourists get out on the lake or trails. While you can catch a sunrise from anywhere around the lake, my favorite spot is at Emerald Bay. It’s on the South West side of the lake, and thus the lookout faces East for a brilliant sunrise.
Relax Lakeside at Kings Beach
One of our favorite beaches to spread out on is Kings Beach up on the North Shore! It’s a funky little town with a great beach and options to rent kayaks and paddleboards right on the water. We love all the mom and pop style stores and restaurants up there for a low-key beach day.
Other beaches to check out:
Roast Marshmallows at Hyatt Incline Village
We love the Hyatt on North Lake year-round, but one of our favorite summer and fall activities to do there is roast marshmallows and watch the sunset. They have a few fire pits around their property near the beach and you can purchase smores kits from the hotel. Bring a bottle of wine for the perfect end to a day on the lake!
Hike Eagle Falls Trail
I’m widely out of shape and am so not one of those people who can go on a casual 8-mile roundtrip hike for fun. I love hiking, but I prefer the trails that are under 3-4 miles roundtrip. That’s why I love Eagle Falls Trail so much. It’s an easy-moderate trail with steps, great views and ends near the water.
There’s tons of parking at the trailhead and it’s a great trail for all skill levels of hikers. I recommend coming here early in the morning or in the evening as mid-day will find crowds.
Other good trails to try that are longer:
- Echo Lakes to Ralston Lake (6 miles round trip)
- Rubicon Trail (follows shoreline of the lake!)
- Tamarack Lake (7.4 miles round trip)
Sail Around Bay
Tons of Lake Tahoe boat rentals. On South Lake, head to the Ski Run Marina and find a boat rental company. On North Lake, find rentals at Kings Beach. OR book a brunch cruise! I had the joy of taking a brunch mimosa cruise on the Sierra Cloud Catamaran a few years ago.
It launched from the Hyatt so it was easy to wake up and roll out to a stunning morning sailing the North Lake. They provided coffee, mimosas, muffins, fruit and other breakfast items. Couldn’t ask for a better way to start a day!
Mini Golf With The Kids
There’s a cute mini-golf course in South Lake right called Magic Carpet Golf We didn’t stop by, but we did enjoy beers at the beer garden next to it and I really loved all the whimsical mini-golf holes (like dinosaurs!) This is a great place to take kids.
There’s also Heavenly Mountain Coaster for the kids at heart like myself (and, actual children, too.) I saw a vide on TikTok of this and it looked like SO MUCH and has a great view of the lake.
Stroll The Taylor Creek Visitor’s Center
If you want to explore trails but aren’t up for a hike (or are traveling with children or family members who physically can’t hike) head to the Taylor Creek Visitor’s Center on South Lake!
Robin and I stumbled upon this spot a few falls ago. It’s a great place to see salmon spawn and learn about regional fish and wildlife. There’s a nice, flat path leading from the center through woods and to the beach. Tons of parking and clean restrooms, too!
- PS: You can also walk the loop around Fallen Leaf Lake (near Camp Richardson) which is nearby!
Take A Romantic Gondola Rides
Heavenly Village and Squaw Valley both have Gondolas that you can ride up mountains in winter and summertime. I’ve road the Gondola at Squaw during Christmas once and it was SUCH a peaceful, romantic way to spend the day (since we don’t ski.)
It took about 10-15 minutes slowly crawling up, complete with great aerial views of the forest below. At the top of the mountain of course you are rewarded with stunning views. Squaw had a little cafe and picnic tables so we grabbed lunch as it was a warm winter day (though it would be even more enjoyable in the summer!)
Day Trip To Truckee
Truckee is a cute little mountain town near Donner Lake, a bit North of the lake. You probably have driven past it if you’re coming from the Bay Area heading to Kings Beach or Incline Village. I LOVE all the cute little shops here and restaurants. There’s a great scene happening up there.
I recommend grabbing brunch at Squeeze In and then strolling the town to see what’s there. Treat yourself to an ice cream treat at Bud’s if you still have room after lunch! Then, pop over to Donner Lake (yes, the infamous site of the Donner Party.) Don’t worry, it doesn’t have any creepy vibes.
Where To Stay In Lake Tahoe For Summer (Our Favorite Lake Tahoe Hotels)
Skip the ski resorts for summer and instead stay at an Airbnb cabin or one of the cute lakeside hotels. Here’s our favorite place to book!
Located in South Lake Tahoe literally across the street from the Nevada State line, Basecamp Hotel is the epitome of mountain hipster chic. Think tons of color and murals with a beer garden brewery on-site and even a rooftop patio space for guests. They’re also famous for their Tent Rooms for the ultimate indoor/outdoor experience.
Located on North Lake Tahoe, Hyatt Incline Village is our favorite Lake Tahoe resort hotel. They have a private beach full of lawn chairs and cabanas in the summer, along with a fun dock bar right on the water. Their property is full of trees and I also adore their hot tubs. It’s really serene here.
And, if spas are your thing, make sure to book a treatment, they have AMAZING massages! This hotel is really fun in the fall and winter, too. Check out some of my fall photos above!
There are lakeside cabins everywhere on the lake. These are best for groups and families or for couples looking to stay for an extended period time. Check out my list of favorite South Lake Cabins to rent. Don’t forget to use my special link to get $40 off your first stay on Airbnb!
Camp Richardson Campground
If you’re looking to go camping right near the water, the best place is Camp Richardson Campground! It’s a pretty campground with a ton of sites and also a few sites for RVs. There’s a general store and cafe on the grounds as well. Book here.
Where To Eat (Best Restaurants in Lake Tahoe)
Ok, so Lake Tahoe isn’t exactly a culinary capital of California. I’ve eaten at a lot of joints up here that are just meh so I won’t be recommending those spots. And, some of my favorites have closed for good after the pandemic. BUT, these restaurants below are the good ones that we’ve had great meals at. (PS – if you’re reading this and have more good suggestions to add please leave a comment below!)
- My Thai (South Lake): We were blown away by how delicious this restaurant was. They make my new favorite Pad Tahi in the state! The portions are large so you can split an order or plan ahead for leftovers at your cabin the next day.
- Lucky Beaver: Over on the Nevada Stateline side, Lucky Beaver is a sports bar known for their creative burgers & steaks. I would drive up here just for another burger!
- Lone Eagle Grille: I recommend coming here for dinner on your last night on the lake as a treat yo’self last hurrah. Everything on this menu is to die, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re lucky you can sit outside or by a window (they have lakefront views!)
- Tahoe Pops: A hot summer day just begs for a unique popsicle at this stand located at Ski Run Marina. I recommend the Thai Tea flavor.
- Sidellis Brewery: While the beer is the reason to come here, Sidellis also has a nice food menu for lunch or an afternoon snack! We love their pretzels best.
What To Bring To Lake Tahoe Summer Vacation
In short: Layer up! We visited Lake Tahoe in June and struck a cold streak where it was mid 60’s each day. But apparently just a few days before the temperatures were high 80’s. Expect the unexpected in the mountains and pack layers! Here’s some other things you’ll need.
- Hiking boots
- Flats for in-town (I recommend Rothy’s)
- Leggings & sports bra for trails
- 2 swimsuits for lake activities
- Summer dresses
- A sweater
- Coat for chilly mornings
- Bug spray with deet
- A water bottle (high elevation = you’ll be more dehydrated!)
- Backpack (I use this one all the time!)
- Growler to fill at breweries
- Cards and board games to play at your cabin
- Trail snacks (I love Clif bars!)
Lake Tahoe in summer is my new favorite place to spend lazy July days in California. The lake is so large, there’s never a shortage of fun things to do in Lake Tahoe and I can’t wait to keep making more memories up there each year.
If you have any tips to add, leave a comment below so everyone can see! If you have questions, comment or Dm me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll try to help!