As the 20th century unfolded, so did this area’s popularity as a tourist destination, fueled initially by its natural splendor and the abundant all-seasons activities and, more recently, by its proximity to Nevada’s legalized gambling.
The California side of Lake Tahoe is for all intents and purposes divided into the North Shore and the South Shore, and while you might spend time in both places during your visit it will be necessary to choose between the two for your base of operations. Driving from one to the other takes an hour or more in summer and, depending upon the weather, may not even be feasible in winter months.
There’s a big difference between the two shores. Whereas South Lake Tahoe might be described as being all about glitzy, high-rise casinos and shopping, “laid back” might best describe the North Shore. If you’re here for gambling or entertainment, then the South Shore is likely your best bet as there are more casinos to choose from and generally more nightlife. If relaxation and/or outdoor adventure are what you’re looking for, then you should probably head north.
Another consideration, perhaps: While the North Shore has a better selection of quality resorts and vacation rentals, the South Shore has more accommodation options overall, and it often offers better rates, as well. Both areas are typically crowded during the peak summer and ski seasons, so do plan ahead. If you’re flexible, keep in mind that it’s much easier to get spring and fall reservations, and the rates are often significantly lower then, too. In fact, September and October, when the crowds are gone but the weather is still nice, are among the most pleasing and least expensive months to visit. (Christmas week and July 4 are the busiest times, by the way, and also the most expensive.) If possible, plan your stay for Sunday through Thursday nights, when you can often find excellent accommodation values. If your visit falls on Friday and Saturday, dinner reservations are advised, especially on the North Shore.
Be advised that while most Lake Tahoe accommodations, restaurants and some parks are open year-round, many of its visitor centers, attractions and beaches are closed from November through May. During those months, the area honors its designation as “North America’s largest concentration of skiing facilities.”
Lake Tahoe Tourist Information – Weather and Transportation Considerations
Both the North and South Shores feature year-round, breathtaking scenery, from the Sierra’s craggy peaks (the largest unbroken monolith of mountains in the world) to the crystalline purity of Lake Tahoe (the continent’s largest alpine lake).
When planning your Lake Tahoe vacation or weekend getaway, you’ll want to use a map to locate what you want to see and experience and plan your route in advance. You can find a rudimentary tourist map of the Lake Tahoe area here.
At an elevation of 6225 feet, the nights are cool, even in the summer months. If you’re going to be out after dark, bring typical fall attire – a warm jacket and some long pants – in addition to your summer shorts and tops.
During the winter, snowstorms can blow in quickly and can cause power outages that may last days and, depending on the remoteness of your location, can limit your access. Bring extra food, just in case, and ALWAYS CARRY CHAINS in your car. You can check road conditions on this site, or you can also call CalTrans at 1-800-427-7623 for current highway conditions. Click on this link for a printable, pdf file in which CalTrans offers some additional winter driving tips.
If you’re staying in South Lake Tahoe, use the Tahoe Blue-GO Trolley and Emerald Bay Shuttle to avoid stressing over the area’s all-too-common traffic congestion problems. (It’s like having a designated driver, too, which is important because area police STRICTLY enforce driving-intoxication limits.) There is a bus service in North Tahoe called TART (Tahoe Area Rapid Transit), but its schedule is quite limited and a car is a necessity unless you’ve arrived via the Amtrak train and just want to relax in Truckee for a few days.
Lake Tahoe Tourist Information – Misc. Tips
Wear Sunscreen. The sun is intense at 6,000 feet, so you will definitely want to wear sunscreen and you may want to use a higher SPF than usual.
Beware of bears. Do not feed them, and do not leave food or food wrappers in your car. Also beware of squirrels and other small rodents, as they may carry rabies.
You can rent skiing or snowboarding equipment at the resorts, but renting at the local ski shops in town (or at Bay Area/Sacramento sports stores before you travel) can increase your available choices and save you money. There’s also a new service, Ski Butlers, that can save you time by fitting rental equipment at your hotel.
Note: Information in this article was accurate
when it was published, but hours, prices, etc.
change constantly. Please confirm details
with local contacts before traveling.