12 Tips for Visiting Lake Tahoe Like a Pro

South Lake Tahoe

George Rose/Getty Images

Many Lake Tahoe trips get sidetracked with time-wasters and fun-busters. Once happy visitors end up stuck in gridlock in South Lake Tahoe, sunburned and miserable. Or waiting in line at popular restaurants for hours.

These tested and proven tips will help you keep from joining their ranks so you can enjoy your trip without having to learn the tricks first-hand. Use them together with the Lake Tahoe vacation planner to create your perfect getaway.

  1. Know How to Get There: Research all the ways you can get to Lake Tahoe by car, train, bus, or airplane. Frequent visitors suggest that you leave the San Francisco area before noon on Friday to avoid intolerable traffic — or wait until after 7 p.m.
  2. Learn Where Things Are: When planning your Lake Tahoe days, use a map to locate everything. Otherwise, you could spend unnecessary time back-tracking around the lake. Try this handy planner map at Google, which shows the roads, towns, and ski resorts.
  3. Take the Right Things With You: The surface of the lake is about 6,225 feet elevation, and the surrounding mountains are higher. Before you go, take a look at a high elevation checklist. It will help keep you well and comfortable.
  4. Do Your Research Before You Go: Even if you're a big fan of spontaneous travel planning, Lake Tahoe isn't a good place to try it. It's a 76-mile drive to go all the way around the lake, but if you aren't organized, you could turn that into a 200-mile trek as you zip back and forth to whatever strikes your interest next. Instead of doing that, take a look at the top things to do at Lake Tahoe and map them out to do without a lot of backtracking.
  5. Drink in Moderation: Studies have disproved the old idea that alcohol's effects are greater at high elevation. But local police haven't let up on enforcing drunk-driving laws, and they often set up mandatory checkpoints on the busiest roadways. You can also be penalized boating under the influence.
  6. Avoid Crowds: Although it's known for its ski resorts, Lake Tahoe is even busier in summer than in winter. Summer is busiest from late June through August. Go in spring or check out these reasons to visit in the fall. Or visit during the week if you can. Prices at hotels plunge on Sunday night.
  7. Make Reservations: You may need dinner reservations on the North Shore on Friday and Saturday nights. Even if you wait until the same day to do it, you'll still know when to go and won't have to sit around.
  8. Stay Warm: Even in the hottest part of summer, nights are cool. If you're going to be out after dark, bring a warm jacket and maybe a pair of long pants to pull on over your shorts.
  9. Avoid Gridlock: At South Lake Tahoe, you can relieve traffic congestion by taking advantage of the local public transportation services. You can also hop on a bike. Use the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition map to find the best bike paths around the lake.
  10. What You Know About Winter Driving: You may need to have snow chains in your car even if it isn't snowing at the moment. Use the guide to snow chains in California to find out when they're required and what to do if you're caught without them.
  11. What You Need to Know About Forest Fires: They're always a possibility in the summer, and they can affect air quality and travel to the mountains. It’s a good idea to check for them before you go to Sequoia. The easiest-to-use resource is the California Statewide Fire Map. Just knowing the location of a fire isn’t enough. It’s hard to tell from maps and news reports what conditions are like in a specific spot. Your best bet may be to go old school: call your hotel or local tourism-related business and ask.
  12. What You Need to Know About Altitude Sickness: Although it's more common at altitudes above 8,000 feet, altitude sickness can affect some people at the elevations around Lake Tahoe. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, stomach illness, dizziness, and sleep disturbances. Find out more about what it is and what to do if you experience those symptoms.
Was this page helpful?