The Best 3 Days In Lake Tahoe Itinerary (2024 Guide)

Trying to find great activities and attractions in Lake Tahoe? Our Lake Tahoe itinerary is all you need to plan the perfect trip!

Located amidst the breathtaking Sierra Nevada Mountains lies the pristine jewel of Lake Tahoe, a natural wonder of the USA.

Spanning the border between California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is renowned for its crystal-clear waters, dense pine forests, sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and surrounding ski slopes, all of which make it a stunning travel destination.

Lake Tahoe, formed over two million years ago during the Ice Age, boasts a depth of over 1,600 feet, making it the second-deepest lake in the United States. There are so many incredible things to do in Lake Tahoe that the area attracts visitors year-round.

In the warmer months, the lake beckons with opportunities for swimming, boating, and fishing, while its surrounding mountains provide countless trails for hiking and mountain biking. During autumn, the foliage transforms the scenery into a captivating landscape.

When winter blankets the landscape in snow, Lake Tahoe becomes a haven for skiers and snowboarders, boasting world-class ski resorts such as Heavenly, Squaw Valley, and Northstar.

Certain natural attractions, such as Emerald Bay, Sand Harbor Beach, Donner Lake, and the various trails are mesmerising at any time of year.

A Lake Tahoe trip could extend for weeks on end as there is so much natural beauty and adventure here, but most travellers only have the luxury of a few days in Lake Tahoe. So here is our ultimate 3 days in Lake Tahoe itinerary to help you plan your stay!

Sunset At Lake Tahoe California
Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place to visit in California!

3 Days In Lake Tahoe Itinerary

This 3 days in Lake Tahoe itinerary includes the highlights of South Lake Tahoe, North Lake Tahoe, and some locations in the middle.

It’s about 3 hours to drive around the entire Lake Tahoe. So you could choose to turn your 3 day itinerary into a road trip where you stay in a different location around the lake each night. Or you could stay in one spot and just take day trips to various parts of the lake. It’s totally up to you!

This itinerary will be geared towards the warmer months, so if you’re visiting in winter, feel free to substitute any part of this itinerary with skiing and snowboarding.

Find more things to do in Lake Tahoe with our complete guide!

Day 1: South Lake Tahoe

Start your Lake Tahoe itinerary by exploring the glorious landscapes of South Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay State Park. These are two of the busiest and most popular areas of Lake Tahoe, mainly because they are so breathtaking!

Morning: Get acquainted with South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is a vibrant resort town with natural beauty and urban amenities. During the warmer months, South Lake Tahoe bustles with activity as visitors flock to its sandy shores for sun-soaked days of swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding.

The nearby Heavenly Mountain Resort offers thrilling summer activities such as mountain biking, zip-lining, and scenic gondola rides, providing sweeping views of the south shore and the surrounding Sierra Nevada peaks.

Spend the morning trying water sports, strolling around town and having a lazy morning in a cafe, or trying some adventure activities at Heavenly Mountain. South Lake Tahoe’s vibrant community is full of dining, shopping, and entertainment options as well.

If you’re visiting in winter, South Lake Tahoe has access to world-class slopes and an abundance of snow sports, including skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.

Afternoon: Explore Emerald Bay State Park

From South Lake Tahoe, head west to another gem of South Tahoe: Emerald Bay State Park.

Emerald Bay State Park is a must-see destination while exploring Lake Tahoe thanks to its stunning vistas and rich history. The park’s centrepiece is the iconic Emerald Bay, a picturesque inlet characterized by its vibrant blue waters and the verdant, tree-covered Fannette Island resting at its center.

Visitors are drawn to the park’s panoramic viewpoints, such as the famed Inspiration Point, which offers awe-inspiring vistas of the bay and surrounding Sierra Nevada peaks. There are also some amazing hiking trails in Emerald Bay State Park, including the Emerald Point Trail and Eagle Lake Trail.

Eagle Lake Trail in particular is a favorite because it passes the cascading Upper Eagle Falls and culminates at the tranquil shores of Eagle Lake.

History enthusiasts can explore the park’s cultural heritage, including the enchanting Vikingsholm Castle, a meticulously crafted Scandinavian-style mansion nestled among the pines, and the remnants of the historic Emerald Bay Resort.

With its blend of natural splendor and cultural significance, Emerald Bay State Park is the perfect place to spend an afternoon in Lake Tahoe.

Eagle Lake Trail Lake Tahoe
The Eagle Lake Trail provides epic views.

Evening: Sunset dinner cruise

Finish off the day with a scenic cruise on Lake Tahoe. A boat cruise is a must on any Lake Tahoe itinerary, so why not try one at sunset that includes wine tasting?

Tahoe Tastings offers an exquisite Emerald Bay Sunset Cruise that includes 8 wine tastings from the nearby areas of Northern California. You can admire the magical sunset views as you taste the local delicacies and cruise around the lake on a small group tour.

Or if you’re not a huge fan of wine, you can just book a sunset cruise that offers drinks and snacks instead. Either way, ending your day with a peaceful cruise will ensure you have a blissful evening in Lake Tahoe!

Day 2: Road trip up the west coast of Lake Tahoe

On day 2, you’ll start heading north up along the west coast of Lake Tahoe! Keep in mind, you can also head up along the east coast, and we’ll provide some recommendations for doing it that way at the end of the itinerary.

Morning: Get out on the lake

If you haven’t gotten out on Lake Tahoe during the day yesterday, definitely do so today! Even if you’ve done a sunset cruise, seeing Lake Tahoe’s breathtaking scenery in the shimmering sunlight is absolutely stunning. The crystal clear water with a vibrant turquoise hue is unbelievable.

A daytime sightseeing cruise around Emerald Bay is a great option. If you prefer a more exclusive experience or you’re traveling with a group you can also charter a boat which gives you a bit more flexibility.

Afternoon: Venture up to Tahoe City

After experiencing the beauty of Lake Tahoe on a daytime boat cruise, head up the west coast of Lake Tahoe towards Tahoe City. Here are some fun activities you include during your time here!

Tahoe Rim Trail

One of the must-do activities is to explore the Tahoe Rim Trail, a stunning 165-mile loop encircling Lake Tahoe. Hiking or mountain biking a segment of this trail from Tahoe City provides an immersive experience in the region’s natural splendor.

Commons Beach

Visitors can also enjoy water-based activities such as kayaking, paddleboarding, or simply lounging on the sandy shores of Commons Beach, which boasts pristine waters and stunning mountain backdrops. Whether it’s basking in the sun or taking a refreshing dip, Commons Beach offers a serene escape for travelers in the Lake Tahoe area.

Downtown Tahoe City

The area has a charming downtown that could entertain you for an afternoon! Lined with boutique shops, art galleries, and quaint cafes, the downtown district exudes a laid-back mountain vibe. Visitors can browse local artwork, pick up unique souvenirs, or indulge in gourmet cuisine at one of the many eateries offering farm-to-table fare.

Additionally, the city is home to the Gatekeeper’s Museum, where history enthusiasts can learn about the region’s rich heritage through exhibits and artifacts showcasing the area’s Native American and pioneer history.

Donner Lake

Another option is exploring Lake Tahoe’s neighbor, Donner Lake. This picturesque alpine gem is just 25 minutes north of Tahoe City near downtown Truckee, CA.

Donner Lake is worth visiting because of its panoramic Donner Lake Overlook, as well as its opportunities for boating, fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

Evening: Sunset snowshoe tour

Next, continue up towards the north shore of Lake Tahoe and finish the day with a classic winter experience: snowshoeing! Of course this activity will only be available in winter, so you can always substitute it with a leisurely walk or picnic in summer.

This sunset showshoe tour takes you through the lush forests of the Sierra Nevadas with an experienced guide. Watch the sunset cast pastel colours over the winter wonderland and enjoy snacks and hot drinks along the way.

This is a fun and active way to make the most of your evening in Lake Tahoe!

Day 3: North Lake Tahoe

On the final day of your 3 days in Lake Tahoe itinerary, it’s time to explore North Lake Tahoe. Renowned for its crystalline waters, North Lake Tahoe offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based adventures such as swimming, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.

In the winter, the region transforms into a snow-covered playground, inviting skiers and snowboarders to experience world-class slopes at resorts like Squaw Valley and Northstar California.

Beyond its recreational offerings, North Lake Tahoe boasts charming lakeside communities brimming with art galleries, boutiques, and gourmet dining establishments. You’ll get to experience all of this today!

Squaw Valley Ski Resort
If you’re visiting Lake Tahoe in winter, you can ski next to the lake at Squaw Valley!

Morning: Water sports

Spend the morning paddleboarding, kayaking, or swimming in the refreshing waters of Lake Tahoe. Whether it’s a stand up paddleboard or a kayak rental, there are plenty of places to hire gear or join a guided tour around North Lake Tahoe.

But Lake Tahoe is so beautiful that you have to spend a morning out on the water. Listen to the sounds of nature, gaze at the surrounding mountains, and feel the heavenly alpine water on your skin. Remember to wear sun protection and pack plenty of water for an active morning out on Lake Tahoe!

Afternoon: Incline Village

In the afternoon, wander around Incline Village, a tourist hub on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Incline Village boasts a vibrant community with upscale amenities, from fine dining establishments to boutique shops. Its serene ambiance and proximity to Lake Tahoe’s crystalline waters make Incline Village a haven for both relaxation and adventure.

Here are some extra activities you can include in your time in Incline Village if you’re feeling adventerous!

Tahoe East Shore Trail

The Tahoe East Shore Trail traces the eastern shoreline of Lake Tahoe. This meticulously crafted pathway offers an immersive journey through some of the most breathtaking landscapes the region has to offer, including rugged cliffs, cobalt-blue waters, and lush forests. The Tahoe East Shore Trail is about 3 miles and is suitable for all ages!

Flume Trail

The Flume Trail in Lake Tahoe is a legendary trail that winds along the eastern rim of the Tahoe Basin, providing unparalleled panoramic views of the crystal-clear waters below and the majestic peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains beyond.

Named after the historic lumber flumes that once snaked through these rugged terrains, the trail now caters to hikers, mountain bikers, and trail runners seeking a thrilling journey through pristine wilderness.

Diamond Peak Ski Resort

From gentle slopes perfect for beginners to exhilarating runs for seasoned thrill-seekers, Diamond Peak Ski Resort offers an adventure suited to every preference. Boasting panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, Diamond Peak provides more than just exceptional skiing; it offers a breathtaking backdrop that enhances the overall experience.

Beyond the slopes, visitors can enjoy cozy lodge amenities, including fireside lounges and gourmet dining options, ensuring a perfect blend of relaxation and excitement throughout their stay.

Read next: 25 Best Things To Do In Northern California

Evening: Sand Harbor Beach

For your final evening in Lake Tahoe, enjoy a peaceful few hours hanging out at Sand Harbor Beach. Situated on the eastern shores of Lake Tahoe in Nevada, Sand Harbor Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the lake.

Renowned for its powder-soft golden sands and crystal-clear waters, this pristine enclave invites visitors to bask in the breathtaking beauty of the mountains and waters of Lake Tahoe.

Though most travellers would prefer to spend a whole day at Sand Harbor Beach sunbathing and swimming, it’s a great place to spend an evening on Lake Tahoe as well. Bring a picnic, stroll along the water, read a book in the shade, or even for for a refreshing evening swim. Sand Harbor Beach is a must-see during your visit to Lake Tahoe!

Sand Harbor Beach
The beautiful Sand Harbor Beach on Lake Tahoe

If you have time to explore more of the Lake Tahoe East Coast…

This 3 days in Lake Tahoe itinerary starts on the south shore and goes up along the west coast before ending up on the north shore.

You could also do the itinerary in reverse and head from south to north, or you could head up the east coast instead of the west.

Basically, Lake Tahoe is shaped like an oval, so this itinerary is cyclical and can be done in any order! Though our 3 days in Lake Tahoe itinerary didn’t include much of the east coast, you may want to spend an extra day on this less developed side of the lake. Here are some east coast highlights to consider if you have time!

Zephyr Cove

Zephyr Cove is a beautiful and secluded community on the shore of east Lake Tahoe. With glorious waters for swimming and water sports and magical forests lining the water, this is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places to go while visiting Lake Tahoe.

Secret Cove Hiking Trail

One of the top hikes in Lake Tahoe, Secret Cove Hiking Trail is a less crowded and less touristy hike to try. As its name suggests, this trail unveils a hidden treasure trove of natural wonders, accessible via a moderate hike through lush forests and rugged terrain.

Chimney Beach

Accessible by a scenic hike along the historic Flume Trail or by boat, this hidden gem offers a tranquil escape from the bustling world. Framed by towering cliffs and dense forests, Chimney Beach boasts a unique landmark: a solitary stone chimney standing sentinel against the backdrop of the azure lake.

Electric bike tour

A fun way to explore Lake Tahoe is by bike, and an electric bike allows you to travel further and see more! This self-guided e-bike tour of Lake Tahoe lets you ride along the eastern shore and take in the sights. If you want to get some exercise and cover more ground while visiting Lake Tahoe, a bike tour is a great option.

Lake Tahoe Travel Guide

To accompany your 3 days in Lake Tahoe itinerary, here are some helpful travel tips to help you plan your stay. From the best time to visit Lake Tahoe, to the best accommodations and transport, you can plan the perfect getaway!

When is the best time to visit Lake Tahoe?

You can visit Lake Tahoe year-round, but the best months for your stay will depend on what your goals are for the trip!

For outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers, the summer months from June to August offer ideal conditions for hiking, biking, kayaking, and other water sports. During this time, the weather is warm, with temperatures averaging in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit (20s to 30s Celsius), making it perfect for enjoying the lake’s crystal-clear waters and exploring the surrounding trails.

Additionally, a Lake Tahoe summer itinerary may have a vibrant atmosphere with various events, festivals, and outdoor concerts happening regularly.

On the other hand, if you’re a fan of winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing, then the winter months from December to February are the prime time to visit Lake Tahoe. With an average snowfall of over 300 inches (762 cm) annually and several world-class ski resorts surrounding the lake, including Heavenly, Northstar, and Squaw Valley, winter enthusiasts flock to the region to experience its legendary powder snow and diverse terrain.

The breathtaking vistas of snow-capped mountains and the glistening lake create a picturesque winter wonderland, offering endless opportunities for outdoor adventures and unforgettable experiences for visitors seeking a snowy escape.

Lake Tahoe Summer
Lake Tahoe is beautiful year-round, but summer is best for water sports.

How to get around Lake Tahoe

Getting around Lake Tahoe is relatively straightforward, with several transportation options available to explore the area’s stunning scenery and attractions.

The most convenient way to navigate the region is by car. With well-maintained roads encircling the lake, including the scenic Highway 89 and Highway 28, visitors can easily access various points of interest, including beaches, hiking trails, and charming lakeside towns.

Renting a car provides flexibility and allows travelers to explore at their own pace, whether it’s cruising along the shoreline or venturing into the rugged terrain of the surrounding mountains. Additionally, car rentals are readily available at major airports and towns around the lake such as Sacramento, San Francisco, or Reno.

For those looking to reduce their environmental footprint and enjoy the stunning scenery without the hassle of driving, public transportation options are also available around Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Area Regional Transit (TART) system operates year-round, offering bus services that connect major towns and resorts around the lake.

During the summer months, TART’s services expand to include bike racks on select routes, allowing cyclists to combine bus travel with biking to explore the area’s extensive network of trails.

Additionally, water taxis and cruise boats ply the waters of Lake Tahoe, providing a unique and scenic way to travel between different shoreline destinations while taking in breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and azure waters.

Whether by car, bus, or boat, getting around Lake Tahoe offers travelers a variety of transportation options to suit their preferences and maximize their exploration of this beautiful alpine destination.

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

Where to stay in Lake Tahoe

For those wondering where to stay in Lake Tahoe, we’ve got you covered! Here are some convenient accommodation options for all types of budgets.

It’s up to you whether you want to stay in one location for your entire 3 days in Lake Tahoe, or you want to stay in a new place each night. It only takes around 3 hours to drive around the entire lake, so you could easily stay in one spot and do day trips to other parts of the lake. Or you can follow the itinerary like a road trip and move accommodations as you move along the coast.

The most popular areas to stay in Lake Tahoe include South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City, Incline Village, Truckee, and Carson City. Generally speaking, South Lake Tahoe is most busy and exciting, whereas the north shore is more quiet and peaceful.

Because everyone may have a different preference, we’re going to recommend hotel options that best suit each budget range.

Read next: The Ultimate Northern California Road Trip Itinerary

Budget: Blue Lake Inn Heavenly Village

South Lake Tahoe has the most budget-friendly options for under $200 USD per night. Blue Lake Inn Heavenly Village is one of the cheapest options near a popular ski resort, and this particular inn is just 160 metres from the Heavenly Gondola Ride that takes you up Heavenly Mountain.

With free Wi-Fi, cable TV, coffee-making facilities, and an included daily continental breakfast, this cozy inn near Heavenly Ski Resort puts you near slopes, beaches, and the attractions of South Lake Tahoe.

Mid-Range: Sunnyside Resort & Lodge

Centrally located in Tahoe City on the western shores of Lake Tahoe, Sunnyside Resort & Lodge offers gorgeous lakeside and a rustic feel for reasonable prices. The historic lodge is just 15 minutes away from Squaw Valley Ski Resort and 1 hour away from the Reno Tahoe International Airport.

Stay in lovely rooms or suites with lakeside views or garden views and enjoy continental breakfast and afternoon tea during your 3 days in Lake Tahoe itinerary!

Luxury: Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa & Casino

Those looking to live in luxury when they visit Lake Tahoe must consider the Hyatt Regency Resort, Spa & Casino. Situated on the north shore of Lake Tahoe near Incline Village, this 4-star hotel is right next to ski resorts, hiking trails, and beaches.

There is a 24-hour casino, a year-round outdoor heated pool and hot tub, a spa, a fitness center, and gourmet on-site dining so you can fully enjoy your stay in Lake Tahoe.

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Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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