3 Days in Lake Tahoe
Heading to Lake Tahoe? In this 3 Days in Lake Tahoe itinerary + guide we’ll cover everything you need to know before you go, plus where to eat, where to stay, and things to do in Lake Tahoe!
After spending a few days at Valley of Fire and Las Vegas, we continued our journey north to Lake Tahoe! We had been dying to visit Lake Tahoe for a very long time and after a busy first month and a half in the van, we were excited to settle down in one spot for over a week.
We spent our days hiking, going on lakeside strolls, visiting different overlooks, trying different coffee shops, exploring the little towns, and driving around the entire lake. It’s definitely one of those places we could see ourselves visiting again, not only for some adventures, but also to relax.
In this itinerary + guide we’ll be sharing our favorite spots from our time in Lake Tahoe, as well as spots we didn’t get a chance to visit, but encourage you to check out. Lake Tahoe is one of those places that you could just sit by the water all day and be totally happy, but similar to our other guides, we will be including lots of ideas of things to do so you can see as much as possible in a short amount of time.
- Exploring Redwoods National and State Parks (California)
- 3 Days in San Diego (California)
- 3 Days in San Francisco (California)
- 18 Things to do in Las Vegas (Without Alcohol) (Nevada)
- 8 Things to do at Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About Lake Tahoe
Split between Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe is 1,644’ deep, making it the second deepest lake in the U.S. (Crater Lake is the deepest–read all of our Crater Lake tips!). The lake is so clear that in some areas you can see down 70ft!
The lake is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide, and has 72 miles of shoreline. With the amount of water in the lake, it could cover the entire state of California (if it was flat) with 14 inches of water. Pretty crazy!
The lake’s temperature can be as warm as 60 degrees during the summer, but 600 feet below the surface it’s a pretty constant 39 degrees (brrr)! And despite being in a high elevation that receives snow, the lake never freezes over.
One thing that is good to know about Lake Tahoe, that we didn’t really know beforehand, is that dogs are not allowed on a lot of the beaches and trails (the State Park ones specifically), which made it a bit harder to enjoy Tahoe with our pup Kona. There are places to take your dog, but a lot of the popular spots are not dog friendly. 🙁
How to get to Lake Tahoe
Reno, Nevada is located about 38 miles (close to 45 minutes) from North Lake Tahoe and 61 miles (close to 1 hour, 10 minutes) from South Lake Tahoe, making Reno a great starting point to go explore the lake! We’d recommend flying into the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and then renting a car to drive to the lake.
However, if you’re coming from California, or would rather fly into California, the closest airport and major city is Sacramento, which is 103 miles (just under 2 hours) from South Lake Tahoe and 113 miles (just under 2 hours) from North Lake Tahoe.
When to visit Lake Tahoe
The great thing about Lake Tahoe is that it is fun to visit year round! In the summer you can lounge on the beach, kayak or paddle board on the water, and hike in the mountains, while in the winter, it’s a hot spot for skiing and snowboarding.
We went in early October, which is considered the shoulder season there, as it’s a bit too chilly for water activities, but not cold enough for snow or skiing. We personally loved visiting during this time, as it felt less busy and the temperatures were perfect during the day (the 13 degrees we woke up to at our campsite in the morning wasn’t perfect though lol!).
For this itinerary and guide we will be focusing on the warmer months where you can enjoy more of the water activities. But if you’re headed in the winter, a lot of the “where to stay” recommendations and food recommendations are still applicable!
Where to stay in Lake Tahoe
There are many towns along Lake Tahoe, such as South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village, Kings Beach, and Tahoe City, as well as many cities close to the lake, but not on it, like Reno, Truckee, and Carson City. The lake’s proximity to many places gives you lots of options of where you can stay and things to do! Below is a map with some of Lake Tahoe with some of the major towns circled so you can see where everything is!
We stayed mostly in South Lake Tahoe during our time in the area, but we drove all around during the day and nothing ever felt too far (plus the views on the drive are amazing!). If we had to pick only one area to stay, it would be here solely for convenience.
The drive from South Tahoe to Truckee, the farthest area this guide will take you, is 1 hour and 10 minutes. We are used to driving a lot, so it wasn’t a big deal for us, but if you’d like to not drive as much daily, we’d suggest splitting up your time between South and North Lake Tahoe.
Regardless if you stay in one spot the whole time and drive around, or split your time between the areas, here’s a list of some good places to stay! We’ll also list suggestions under each day of which area we think it would make the most sense to stay the night!
- Option #1 (South Lake Tahoe): This Airbnb is close to the town of South Lake Tahoe, skiing (if you go in the winter), beaches, casinos, and more!
- Option #2 (South Lake Tahoe): Just like Option #1, this Airbnb is close to many things, but this one has two bedrooms, making it great for a family or a small group of friends!
- Option #3 (Incline Village): This Airbnb is one block from the lake (score!) and very close to one of our favorite things to do in Tahoe: the East Shore trail.
- Option #4 (King’s Beach): This tiny home cabin looks sooo cute!
- Option #5 (King’s Beach): Another adorable tiny home that looks like Joanna Gaines designed herself!
- Option #6 (Truckee): While not on the lake, Truckee is an awesome area in the mountains with a cute little town and hiking!
- Option #7 (Tahoe City): Four words–Airbnb with a view!
PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!
- Hotel Azure (South Lake Tahoe)
- Deerfield Lodge (South Lake Tahoe)
- Alder Inn (South Lake Tahoe)
- Hyatt Regency (Incline Village)
- Northstar Lodge (Truckee)
- Hampton Inn & Suites (Truckee)
- Basecamp (Tahoe City)
If you’d like to camp in Tahoe, you have tons of options! Below are a handful of good campgrounds around the lake that are worth checking out. One thing to be aware of is that there are bears in the area (we didn’t see any 🙁 ), so make sure you have a bear canister or that the campground has a bear box.
- Eagle Point Campground: This campground is in Emerald Bay State Park, which is a beautiful park and a must-do in Tahoe! Dogs are not allowed on trails or beaches in this state park, but they are allowed at this campground. Note: This campground becomes first-come, first-served after Labor Day and closes after September 22.
- Sugar Pine Point Campground: This campground is close to Tahoe City in a state park called Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park. This park takes reservations for camping until the winter time, where it becomes first-come, first-served for a limited number of spots that stay open.
- Campground by the Lake: If you want to be super close to town, this campground is located right in South Lake Tahoe!
- D.L. Bliss State Park Campground: Located super close to Emerald Bay State Park, this is another great option near hikes and beaches!
To be honest, we were a bit bummed by the lack of BLM land close to Tahoe. We had hoped there would’ve been lots of free campgrounds close to town for our non 4×4 Sprinter van (not just random spots where you can maybe park, but may also get in trouble), but we didn’t find many. However, the one spot we did find was great and we highly recommend it whether you want to tent camp for free or park a van/RV. We stayed here almost every night and loved it!
3 Days at Lake Tahoe Itinerary
With a mixture of hikes, great food and coffee, unique sights, and beautiful beaches, this itinerary is full of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe if you only have three days!
Your first day in Lake Tahoe will be spent in the South Lake Tahoe area, enjoying an amazing sunrise, kayaking, and a fun hike!
- Kickoff your morning with sunrise at Emerald Bay State Park! We parked in this spot, which has a decent sized lot, and then walked up the rocks to watch the sunrise over the lake. It was super colorful and magical!
Note: It costs $10 to park at Emerald Bay State park and dogs are not allowed. 🙁
Need coffee or breakfast beforehand? There are a few Starbucks that open up super early in South Lake Tahoe, a 30 minute drive from the sunrise spot.
- After sunrise, walk a mile down to the Vikingsholm, which is a castle right on the lake!
Note: Vikingsholm is only open for tours June-September, but you can admire the castle from the outside year round!
While you’re down by the water, rent kayaks! Kayak Tahoe has a location right by Vikingsholm and for between $25-$85 (depending on how long you want to be out), you can enjoy a nice late morning on the water.
We highly recommend kayaking out to Fannette Island, which is the island you saw from sunrise, and the only island on Lake Tahoe. Once you park your kayak on the island, you’ll have about a 5-10 minute walk up some rocks to reach an old teahouse, built in the late 1920s!
This would be a great spot to enjoy a picnic lunch (with an amazing view!)
Once you get back to shore, walk to Lower Eagle Falls from Vikingsholm. It’s only a 0.2 mile hike!
- Spend the rest of the afternoon hiking to Eagle Lake. The parking lot for the lake is right by Emerald Bay State Park and costs $5 (or free with the America the Beautiful pass!). The lot fill ups quickly and people will park on the road, so you may want to just keep your parking spot at Emerald Bay State Park if you’re comfortable walking along the road.
When you get to the trailhead, you’ll need to fill out a permit (even for a day hike) and keep it attached to your backpack.
The hike is about 1.8 miles, which takes you by upper Eagle Falls and also has great views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Once arriving at Eagle Lake, you can enjoy the view from the area you walk up to, or you can walk around the lake to escape any crowds.
- Head into South Lake Tahoe for dinner! We recommend Verde Mexican Rotisserie, which is a fast casual spot with delicious rotisserie chicken, tri-tip, sweet potatoes, and chips and salsa. We loved their combo plate!
Some other good dinner options are Base Camp Pizza, My Thai Cuisine, Freshies, or Himmel Haus.
- If you want drinks after dinner, head to The Hangar, a cool looking beer garden with an amazing outdoor area.
Our suggestion of where to stay: South Lake Tahoe (see our lodging recommendations above!)
Day two is all about exploring the beautiful east and north shores of Lake Tahoe! This was our favorite area to wander around due to how clear the water was.
- Start the morning with breakfast at The Getaway Cafe. This popular and delicious breakfast spot is 15 minutes south of South Lake Tahoe, but worth the trek!
If you want something quicker, check out Dragonfly Bagel in South Lake Tahoe (only open Thursday-Sunday) or at A Cup of Cherries.
- Grab coffee at Clyde’s Coffee Roasting, a really cute spot with awesome coffee! We recommend grabbing a picnic lunch for the day while you’re in town!
- Spend your morning and afternoon exploring some of Tahoe’s best beaches! Here are some suggestions for you:
Sand Harbor is a beautiful, small state park with a huge beach and beautiful water! It costs $10 to enter, but it’s worth it. While it has a parking lot, it fills up FAST in the summer (by 9 AM usually), so start early or be prepared to parking lot stalk!
While at Sand Harbor you can lay on the beach, walk around, and soak up the views of the incredibly clear water and mountains! You can also kayak to Bonsai Rock from here!
Note: Dogs are not allowed at Sand Harbor.
Chimney Beach is a slightly less busy, and dog friendly option just south of Sand Harbor! It’s named after the stone chimney that is on the beach (pretty cool!) and requires a quick 0.5 mile walk from the parking area to the beach. This website has some good information about the beach and where to park!
While you’re by Chimney Beach, make sure to check out Secret Cove. You can park in the same area as Chimney Beach and after parking, take a well marked trail south and look for signs that will tell you when to turn to go to the water. The walk is about 10 minutes!
Warning: Chimney Beach and Secret Cove may have some nudists!
- Watch the sunset along the new East Shore Trail! This trail was a big feat for the East Shore, as it now gives people access to beaches and areas of the shore that were inaccessible before.
We loved walking along this and seeing all of the views from Incline Village to Sand Harbor, which is about 1.5 miles one way. We parked here, which was free at the time, but they were going to start charging soon.
- Head into Incline Village for dinner! Inclined Burgers and Brews and Brewforia are both great options, especially if you love beer!
Our suggestion of where to stay: Incline Village, King’s Beach, or Truckee (see our lodging recommendations above!)
While technically not on Lake Tahoe, the town of Truckee is full of great places to eat, beautiful views, and unique attractions, making it definitely worth a stop during your Lake Tahoe adventure!
- Enjoy breakfast in Truckee at Squeeze In! This tiny spot in the main area of Truckee has been featured on the Food Network and can get a bit busy because of its popularity.
- Head to Coffeebar for some coffee on their patio! While you’re in town, grab some lunch items for a picnic later on in the day.
- Drive up Donner Pass, which has great lake and mountain views and stop at the Rainbow Bridge to enjoy them!
Donner Pass, as well as the tunnels, lake, and state park mentioned below, were named after the Donner Party. The Donners were a group of pioneers who migrated from the Midwest to California in 1846. However, they started too late and got trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains, right in Truckee, during the winter. As you can imagine, their story didn’t have a super happy ending and to save our blog from some of the gruesome details, you can read the full story here.
- Explore the Donner Memorial Tunnels! These historic former railroad tunnels are so unique to wander through (and also a tad creepy at times–it can get super dark!).
The tunnels were built in 1867 and were used by trains until 1993, when they rerouted the tracks. You can now wander through many of the tunnels, but make sure to bring a flashlight to help you see!
To get a good idea of where to go to see the tunnels, check out this blog, which helped us a ton!
- If you want to relax for a bit, head to Donner Lake! While Donner Lake is much smaller than Lake Tahoe, it is surrounded by beautiful trees and mountains. West End Beach is a good spot to hang out or get on the water.
While you’re by the lake, visit Donner Memorial State Park to learn more history about the Donner Party.
- Wander around the cute Old West town of Truckee. We loved the buildings here!
- End your Tahoe adventures with dinner in Truckee. A couple good spots to check out: Old Town Tap and Moody’s Bistro Bar & Beats.
If you want a drink after dinner, head to Alibi Ale Works
Our suggestion of where to stay: Incline Village, King’s Beach, or Truckee (see our lodging recommendations above!)
If you have extra time…
Looking for more things to do in Lake Tahoe? Here are some additional suggestions!
- Sprouts Natural Foods (South Lake Tahoe)
- Bert’s Cafe (South Lake Tahoe)
- Tahoe Pourhouse (South Lake Tahoe)
- Glazed and Confuzed (South Lake Tahoe)
- Lone Eagle Grille (Incline Village)
- King’s Cafe (King’s Beach)
- The Station Eatery (Truckee)
- Refuge Coffee (temporarily closed, but we bought their beans and they are super good!)
- Over the Edge (South Lake Tahoe)
- Revive Coffee & Wine (South Lake Tahoe)
- Black Cabin Coffee (South Lake Tahoe)
- Free Bird (South Lake Tahoe)
- I.V. Coffee Lab (Incline Village)
- Dark Horse Coffee Roasters (Truckee)
- Zuri Coffee (Truckee)
- Pacific Crest Coffee Company (Truckee)
- Go mountain biking on The Flume Trail
- Hike more trails! Some good ones to check out are:
- Hang out at Fallen Leaf Lake
- Get high up in the trees at Tahoe Treetops Adventure Park
- Check out one of the casinos!
- Visit Reno! From casinos, to cool murals, to riverfront paths, Reno is a neat area to check out!
Ready to explore Lake Tahoe?
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