Travel // Lake Tahoe in the Winter

Travel | US Travel
July 16, 2020

If you want to see beauty only nature can provide, head to the Sierra Nevadas in California for a fun and “view goals” filled week. Lake Tahoe is on my top list of most beautiful places in the United States. It was absolutely breathtaking and a vacation spot I’ll always recommend.

We went Christmas week in December. Snow was falling and winter activities were in full swing. Temperatures were all over the place, hot during our day hikes, and freezing cold other days.

We flew into San Francisco to attend the Lakers/Warriors Christmas NBA game, then drove the next day from San Fran to Lake Tahoe. Traffic was crazy and it took us close to 5 (!!) hours, instead of the planned 3.5 hours. We learned that’s the norm during ski season and rush hour is definitely a thing around Lake Tahoe. When we left, we flew out of Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which is about an hour away from North Tahoe.

Driving from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

We rented a van for the drive from San Fran to Lake Tahoe, but almost everything you do around the lake is driving distance. The lake is 72 miles around and can take up to 3 hours if you drove around without stopping. We drove around the lake as a day adventure, and even drove to Nevada to hit up the In and Out. 🙂 It was the closest to Tahoe, without the California traffic.
Tip: Rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle and don’t plan to drive at night while it’s snowing.

Lake Tahoe is divided into two parts, North and South. We stayed on the North end of the Lake and visited North Star and Squaw Valley Ski Resorts. South Tahoe is far more commercialized with bars and casinos.

We rented a house using VBRO (as we have many times before) and I booked the house that we did 100% for the views. The house was great, but the views is what sold me. I have no real complaints since everything worked just fine, but the kitchen could use an update.

Views from 3rd floor balcony

We arrived into Tahoe City late at night (like I said above, it took us longer than expected to get there!) and it was pitch black outside. If you’ve ever driven in the middle of a snowy night, you know what I mean, or maybe we’re just unseasoned Floridians. We couldn’t see a thing! We passed the entrance to the neighborhood twice and thought the dark road that the directions were telling us to go down, was actually going to send us off the edge of the mountain into Lake Tahoe. Sophia was crying about the experience giving her nightmares and I was trying to get ahold of the rental manager because we honestly thought they gave us the wrong address. We didn’t see any houses.
We finally got some courage to drive down the pathway and alas, we found the gate to enter the neighborhood. Can we get some lights out there?! After entering the neighbor, we found a parking spot and made daddy get out and look around. 🙂 Turns out there were stairs leading UP to the houses that we couldn’t see from inside the car because they were covered in snow. Everything was covered in snow! (This was December 26th, so not much was open either)

The house was absolutely perfect and actually too big for our family of six. It’s a three bedroom, three bathroom house with STUNNING lake views. I loved the balcony, where the kids could play and throw snowballs at each other. This is a direct link to the house we rented.

3rd floor main living area
Views from the 2nd floor master bedroom

Hiking at Emerald Bay State Park
Even with snow on the ground, it wasn’t as cold as we expected and we ended up carrying a bunch of our layers during our hikes. The one mile hike starts at the top with spectacular views of Emerald Bay. We hiked downhill, took a rest at the bottom on the lake shore, then took the one mile hike back up. It was a easy hike and the kids did it with *little* complaining, but watch out for slippery black ice! I recommend bringing water and snacks for the kids to enjoy and rest at the bottom, before you hike back up. There are restrooms at the bottom and the Vikingsholm house that is open for tours June-September.

The top and start of the one mile hike

Sand Harbor Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park
Y’all, this place is just absolutely beautiful!! The water is crystal clear and the views are amazing. I still think about this place all the time. I want to go back to Tahoe just to kayak, paddle board, or swim in this water with the amazing rock formations in the summer time.

Since the water was cold (hello December), we took a horse carriage ride around the park using Borges Sleigh and Carriage Rides. We happened to stumble upon them while we were roaming around, so we didn’t have reservations. Luckily, it wasn’t a crowded day and they were able to get us in. I do recommend making a reservation. *Park entrance fee is $10 per vehicle.

Spooner Summit Snow Play Area
Bring your own equipment for an “at your own risk” tubing adventure! People have all kinds of floats and tubes, so use your imagination or just bring whatever you have at the house. Seriously, that unicorn pool float will do!

Day Trip Around the Lake
This day adventure offered gorgeous views and good eats! We drove from North to South and stopped at a brewery to eat. Then made our way up and around to the Nevada side of the lake. We got out a few times here and there to play in snow or check out a view. As we got back up to the Northeast side of the lake, on the Nevada side, we were getting hungry again and noticed we weren’t too far from an In and Out. 🙂 Perfect way to end the day.

North Star Ski Resort
We drove up to North Star Ski Resort for many of the activities they offer including tubing and ice skating. The tubing hill was small and for younger children, but at the same time, still fun for my 8 year old for an hour. It was under construction when we went, so it may be different now.

We went back to North Star Ski Resort one more day for the kid’s to do their annual Ski School. Each ski resort is different with the ages, but Rock was able to enter ski school and he was 3 years old. He lasted maybe 30 minutes and spent the rest of the lesson eating goldfish and gummi bears. He did much better the following year. 🙂

Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe is kind of connected to North Star Ski Resort and just a ATV ride up the mountain. It’s their “shuttle” system that operates regulary throughout the day. We rode up the mountain to drink champagne on the terrace while the kids built snowmen and collected pine cones. AH! Take me back to this dream of a vacation with Moet Champagne carts and seafood towers galore.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort
World-famous for its participation in the VIII Olympic Winter Game in 1960, Squaw Valley offers tons of activities and a charming village to shop around. Squaw Valley is known for being one of the best places to ski in the US, giving you Olympic worthy slopes! Snow tubing and mini-snowmobiles are for the kids in their SnoVentures Activity Zone.

I hope you find this guide to planning a trip with kids to Lake Tahoe during Wintertime useful for your future vacations! I know this Lake Tahoe winter guide will help you plan the ultimate family winter vacation.

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