17 Unique Things To Do In Lake Tahoe In Winter (Besides Skiing)

Snowy peaks, calm waters, and cozy cabins. That’s what Lake Tahoe reminds me of in winter, with so many unique things to do even during the colder seasons.

Ever since my recent trips to the Lake Tahoe area in winter, I discovered a new love for snowy landscapes here and the outdoor adventures it brings. The best part is that Lake Tahoe never gets too cold, and road conditions are relatively easy to drive in even in winter.

Although Lake Tahoe is most well known for world-class ski resorts, there are lots of other things to do in the Lake Tahoe area that are unique to winter. Some of them are not very well known, but are totally worth the trip. Just thinking of it makes me so excited for my next winter in Lake Tahoe.

Read on for my best recommendations and the inside scoop on my favorite winter experiences in Lake Tahoe!

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Unique things to do in and around Lake Tahoe

Let’s start with some unique and not often mentioned things to do in Lake Tahoe. You’ll definitely have a much different Lake Tahoe winter experience from everyone else with these adventure ideas.

Lake Tahoe in winter - Eagle Lake

1. Snowshoe to Eagle Lake

For a serene winter adventure, bring your snowshoes along for a trek to Eagle Lake. It is a moderate trail that offers incredible views of snow-capped peaks and a possibly frozen Eagle Lake.

The trailhead is located near Emerald Bay on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, and is easily accessed from the parking area.

The first time I hiked here in March, I went in just my hiking shoes and spent a lot of time post-holing and stepping into icy cold puddles. I highly recommend bringing snowshoes even if it looks like you might not need it at the start.

This 1.8-mile round trip (1.5 hours) trail is well-marked and fairly popular, so it’s highly likely that you’ll have a broken trail to follow.

2. Snowmobiling

Want to immerse yourself in the winter wonderland scenery without breaking a sweat? Enjoy the rush of snowmobiling through the wilderness as you zoom past snow-covered trails. It also allows you to access remote backcountry areas easily to enjoy the stunning views and a sense of freedom.

The snowmobiling season typically runs from December to April, depending on snow conditions. There are various companies that offer guided snowmobiling tours in the Lake Tahoe area. They usually provide all the necessary equipment and safety gear in their packages.

You can browse the various options offered and choose the package that best suits your level of comfort, experience, and preferred scenery. Some of them even take you onto the Tahoe Rim Trail which sits at 9,000 ft elevation.

Things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter - going into the wilderness

3. Backcountry hiking and camping in Desolation Wilderness

The Desolation Wilderness area is located around South Lake Tahoe, offers miles of pristine trails, secluded alpine lakes, and towering granite peaks. For a truly unique winter adventure, consider a backcountry hiking or camping trip here.

There are various trailheads you can access, including Echo Lakes and Glen Alpine Springs. If you are camping overnight you’ll need to get the appropriate wilderness permits. Fortunately, they are available year round with winter season being the least busy time of year. In contrast, permits for summer run out really quickly.

While winter camping can be a magical experience, it’s recommended for experienced hikers and campers due to more challenging conditions and potential avalanche danger.

That said, Desolation Wilderness can be a great chance to dip your toes into the world of winter camping. Popular sights and camping locations can be found around Lake Aloha, which is an iconic destination within Desolation Wilderness.

Posing with the Peter Grubb Hut

4. Stay in a backcountry hut in Tahoe National Forest

Thinking of trying a rustic hut experience in winter? Good news – you can book a stay in a backcountry hut in Tahoe National Forest. These are typically popular with skiers who stay in the hut as a base for ski touring. Another way to get there is by snowshoeing since there’s usually deep snow covering the trail in winter.

There are several huts around the Lake Tahoe area operated by Clair Tappaan Lodge. The easiest one to get to for an overnight backcountry adventure is the Peter Grubb Hut. It is only 3 miles away from the trailhead, with 800 ft of elevation gain as you cross over a saddle. You could also go sledding nearby after you arrive at the hut.

We took 2.5 hours to get to the hut, which was twice as long as we expected. Looking back, it was probably because it was our first time carrying a loaded pack, and snowshoeing in slushy snow. The hut sits at about 7,800 ft elevation, and we had such incredible mountain views along the way.

For just $35/night per person, you get to experience what it might be like going hut to hut hiking in California. I highly recommend this adventure because you don’t even need to bring a tent – just your sleeping bag and pad.

Snowshoes

5. Snowshoeing in Donner

Donner is a well-known area just outside the northern side of Lake Tahoe, with scenic trails and break taking views that you’ll probably see as you drive past in winter.

Donner Memorial State Park is a popular destination for snowshoeing, with easy trails that are suitable for beginners. The park covers a huge area of pristine wilderness, with snow-covered forests and views of Donner Lake.

It’s relatively near the ski resorts in north Lake Tahoe, so you can opt to snowshoe nearby in Donner while your group going skiing.

6. Camp at Lake Spaulding

Lake Spaulding is slightly lower elevation than the Desolation Wilderness, making it a great option for winter camping beginners. For reference, the famous Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness sits at over 8,000 ft elevation, while Lake Spaulding is only at about 5,000 ft.

That means there is likely less snow and extreme conditions to deal with – though the same precautions and preparations should be taken. It’s also best to bring both microspikes and snowshoes on the hike in so you’ll be prepared for any trail condition.

Lake Spaulding is also located in the Tahoe National Forest, about 30 miles west of Truckee. After a few snow storms, you can expect to see snow-covered mountain peaks across the lake.

Although Lake Spaulding has a campground, the best experience is found wild camping around the lake. This way, you don’t need to make any reservations and get front row spots to the best views.

Do set up camp at least 100 ft away from Lake Spaulding to prevent contamination, and refer to Leave No Trace principles for more tips. Much of the snow seemed to have melted by late April, so if you’re hoping for the snowiest of adventures, aim to come here between February to March.

Popular things to do in and around Lake Tahoe in winter

Since we’re talking about Lake Tahoe, we need to add in some chill winter activities too where we can be cozy and just indulge. These popular things to do don’t require a huge commitment, so you can keep these ideas in your back pocket, and refer to them for any last minute Lake Tahoe trip planning.

Tahoe City

7. Explore Tahoe City

If you don’t feel like skiing while you’re in Lake Tahoe, you could hang out at Tahoe City which is located on the east shore near Palisades Tahoe/Squaw Valley.

You can find several boutique stores and cafes in downtown Tahoe City which has an old town atmosphere. Even if you’re not driving, you can explore Tahoe City on foot.

After a hearty breakfast at Fire Sign Cafe or Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet, go for a gorgeous lakeside walk. You might see the Lake Tahoe Dam, and can also walk out to the pier for an alternative view.

Snow on the beach during winter in Lake Tahoe

8. Find snow on the beach

Does “snow on the beach” remind you of a certain Taylor Swift song lyric? That’s all I could think of when I was at Commons Beach at Tahoe City. I’m sure there are many more beaches in Lake Tahoe that are covered in snow, including Kings Beach on the north shores.

The best time to find snow on the beach is after a snow storm while the weather is not too warm. I love that the lake’s backdrop is snow-covered mountains which makes it such a cool sight.

Sand Harbor boulders in the lake

9. Visit Sand Harbor

Sand Harbor is a cool beach in Lake Tahoe that deserves its own mention because of the clear water and round boulders. Sometimes in winter you can even see a dusting of snow on the boulders. Take your time to explore the beach and the boardwalk, and learn about Lake Tahoe’s ecosystems through the education signboards.

I find it amusing that there’s also a horse-drawn sleigh you can ride, almost as if it’s trying to mimic the Christmas reindeer sleigh. You can find this at the parking lot, and it could be fun for children. There’s also a visitor center that you can visit to round up your experience at Sand Harbor.

Sand Harbor is one of the most popular sites in Lake Tahoe, so winter is a great time to check out this place while the crowds are not here.

Map of Lake Tahoe

10. Skiing and snowboarding

Of course, I can’t bring up Lake Tahoe in winter without mentioning the obvious reason why many people come here – and that’s for winter sports. There are a ton of ski resorts here, both in the north and south shores. Here are some notable ones to check out:

  • Northstar
  • Squaw Valley/Palisades Tahoe
  • Alpine Meadows
  • Homewood
  • Heavenly Valley
  • Diamond Peak
  • Mt Rose

There are some passes you can buy if you know you are going to ski for a decent amount of time, such as the IKON and Epic passes. If you don’t have ski gear, you can rent them from Sports Basement or from the ski resort.

Sports Basement also offers day trip bus rides from the Bay Area to the ski resorts, which you can check out at tahoeskibus.com.

11. Watch a concert

What do you do at night after a day of skiing or adventuring? If you’re staying near Palisades Tahoe, it’s worth checking if there are any concerts happening there. When we visited in February 2024, Ludacris performed during the ski racing World Cup and the event was even free to attend. They also hold a Reggae Festival and often have live Blues music performances.

Cross Country Ski trail in Tahoe XC - things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter

12. Cross-country skiing in Tahoe XC

If alpine skiing is not your thing, I totally understand. I had a knee surgery a while back and I haven’t gotten the courage to try anything too intensive. Cross-country skiing is similar to hiking or snowshoeing, just that you’re on skis which can be rented there.

Tahoe XC offers groomed trails with a variety of grades/difficulty levels. The greens are the easiest, followed by blues and then blacks. If you don’t have any experience, you can also sign up for a class before you head out onto the trails.

I enjoyed the experience at Tahoe XC as it wasn’t crowded at all and there were little resting huts where we could make our own hot drinks. There are a total of 3, with 2 of them accessible via the green and blue trails.

Cuppa Tahoe seating area in Lake Tahoe

13. Hang out in Cuppa Tahoe

One of my favorite cafe experiences in Lake Tahoe have been in Cuppa Tahoe. If you love being surrounded by books, including some you can browse for free and those you can purchase off the shelves, Cuppa Tahoe is a great place to hang out.

There’s even a co-working space if you’re hoping to get some work done. The interior is very cozy as there are various nooks for you to tuck into a book, or have your own space to chat with a friend. You can also look through the souvenir selection near the counter and pick up something to bring home.

Sunrise in Emerald Bay

14. Watch the sunrise at Emerald Bay State Park

The best sunrise photography spot is undoubtedly Emerald Bay State Park. It is so easy to access because you can just park in the turnout, and there’s an unblocked view of Emerald Bay from the lookout point.

This viewpoint is near the Eagle Lake trail, which makes it convenient to go for a hike/snowshoe nearby after sunrise. I recommend arriving 30 to 45 minutes before sunrise, and hopefully you’ll be treated to the most spectacular winter sunrise you’ve ever seen. All that even without hiking to some viewpoint!

Things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter - sit in a hot tub

15. Soak in a hot tub

What do you want most when it’s cold and your limbs are aching from the day’s activities? A nice warm soak in a hot tub is what I would be craving. Many accommodations in Lake Tahoe offer private hot tubs outdoors or on a deck. You might even have a view of the surrounding mountains or the lake. From cozy cabins to luxury resorts, there are plenty of options to choose from to suit your preferences and budget.

16. Visit Truckee

Truckee is a charming mountain town with plenty of coffee shops and historic streets lined with old buildings. It is conveniently located along Interstate 80, and is easily accessible from both California and Nevada.

With its laid back atmosphere, a brunch or coffee here would be the perfect treat to enjoy a chill day in this small town. Consider checking out Drink Coffee Do Stuff or Dark Horse Coffee Roasters which are both local favorites.

Donner Lake Overlook

17. Stop by Donner Lake Overlook

If you’re driving to and from North Lake Tahoe, it’s worth stopping by Donner Lake Overlook. It’s a slight detour and runs almost parallel to Interstate 80 and you might even avoid some of the traffic on that main road. You’ll get to enjoy the stunning winter scenery here while remembering the chilling story of the Donner Party who suffered here due to the harsh weather conditions.

It’s truly a reminder for us to appreciate nature but also respect its great force so that we don’t take outdoor safety and preparedness for granted.

Additional tips for visiting Lake Tahoe in winter

Cabin stay in Lake Tahoe

Where to stay in Lake Tahoe in winter

I have a detailed article that helps you decide where to stay in Lake Tahoe in winter. The short answer is that if you’re hoping to ski, you should stay in the Palisades Tahoe area or King’s Beach if you’re on a budget.

Tahoe City is also a worthy mention for large vacation rental properties not too far from the ski slopes. For smaller groups, Basecamp Tahoe City is a popular option.

If you’re visiting Lake Tahoe for the first time, the south shore has lots to offer including access to Emerald Bay State Park, Heavenly Village, and downtown South Lake Tahoe. You could either stay downtown, or check in to an upscale lakefront resort at the Lakeside Marina.

Wearing a winter outfit on the shores of Lake Tahoe against a snowy mountain backdrop

What to wear to Lake Tahoe in winter

If you’re planning to do some outdoor activities, like hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing, here are some ideas for things to bring and wear. I’ve also included the links to items and gear we use.

What’s the weather like in Lake Tahoe in winter?

In winter, Lake Tahoe experiences cold temperatures and heavy snowfall. Snowstorms can be frequent, so it’s important to be prepared for winter driving conditions if you plan to visit.

Average temperatures typically range from 25 to 50 F (-4 to 10 C). The region receives abundant snowfall, with ski resorts and wilderness trails often boasting several feet of snow accumulation throughout the season.

Winter weather in Lake Tahoe in F and inches
Weather data in Fahrenheit and inches
Winter weather in Lake Tahoe in Celcius and mm
Weather data in Celcius and mm

Is it hard to drive to Lake Tahoe in winter?

It isn’t hard to drive to Lake Tahoe in winter, unless there’s a snowstorm of your driving right after it when the roads are still full of snow. Although they don’t close the Interstate 80 even during a snowstorm, you shouldn’t be driving through it unless you absolutely have to.

If there are high wind warnings, it could be difficult to drive to Lake Tahoe because of the trucks that might have trouble keeping to their lanes on the windy parts of the road. However, the roads don’t wind as much as Yosemite National Park’s Highway 120. Hence, I would consider it relatively easy to drive in to Lake Tahoe in winter.

You might need snow chains in case of snowstorms, but historically this road has usually been clear and you wouldn’t need chains throughout most of the winter season. That said, it’ll be best to carry snow chains in your car, and rent/drive an SUV with AWD.

To round up – Is Lake Tahoe worth visiting in winter?

Yes, winter is one of the best times to visit Lake Tahoe even if you’re not skiing because:

  • You get to try cool winter activities like snowshoeing to a backcountry hut
  • There are way fewer people on the beaches and nearby mountain towns
  • The snowy scenery is amazing

I’ve also created this Google Maps so that you can save the activities in this post for your trip planning. Some of these are even great activities for summer in Lake Tahoe too.

Google Maps locations for activities mentioned
Click to view in Google Maps

Janice, a California-based travel writer from Singapore, discovered her love for hiking and camping during her studies in Los Angeles. Through her blog, she now shares detailed itineraries for adventures in California, Asia, and beyond. She also talks about gear recommendations and tips for beginners, hoping to inspire them to explore the great outdoors with confidence.

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