Fall in Lake Tahoe: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Scenic fall view of Lake Tahoe with mountains
Eric Hanson / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you go to Lake Tahoe in the fall, you can do almost all of the fun things that you can do in the summer, but with far fewer people jamming up parking lots or filling every table at local restaurants. And if you love outdoor activities, you will especially enjoy the less crowded trails for hiking and mountain biking. But keep an eye on local weather forecasts, since autumn temperatures vary and a week of clear skies and sun can be followed by a snowstorm.

Lake Tahoe Weather in the Fall

The weather starts off warm and balmy in September, but average temperatures drop quickly and significantly as the season goes on. Keep in mind that even in September, night time temperatures can reach freezing.

  Average High Temp. Average Low Temp.
September 74 F (23 C) 37 F (3 C)
October 62 F (17 C) 30 F (minus 1 C)
November 51 F (11 C) 26 F (minus 3 C)

The lake water is relatively cold year-round, but if that doesn't bother you then it's typically tolerable for swimming until mid-October. You can expect clear skies more than half the time in September and early October, with more cloudy days as October ends and you enter November. Humidity is low year-round, and it's typically not windy either.

Precipitation is rare in September, but its likelihood increases toward the end of the season. By Thanksgiving, you can count on snow at the ski resorts, even if a machine makes most of it. After November 1, California state law requires you to carry tire chains when you enter a chain control area, even if it isn't snowing at the moment. The first natural snowfall at Lake Tahoe can happen as early as September, but October or November is more likely.

What to Pack

Because the weather changes so quickly throughout the season, it's important to look at local forecasts when packing to know exactly what to expect. In the fall, you could be spending days on the lakeshore in your bathing suit or in full snow gear, depending on when exactly you visit.

If you're visiting in September, you can probably count on packing t-shirts and comfortable hiking clothes, along with some layers to bundle up at nighttime. You'll want sun protection such as a hat and sunscreen, just in case you do sit out on the beach.

October can really go either way, although you'll surely need more warm clothes and possibly even snow gear. By November, heavy jackets and waterproof footwear are practically mandatory. In case it does snow, snow boots are smart to have on hand.

Fall Events in Lake Tahoe

Fall festivals around Lake Tahoe focus on food and wine, and some gorgeous, red-colored fish. Many annual events have been canceled in 2020 or have yet to be confirmed, so be sure to check the official event webpages for the latest news.

  • Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival: You can kick fall off in early September at Northstar California Resort's food and wine event. You'll find the expected food and drink offerings, but you can also take cooking classes, buy food items to take home, and enjoy multi-course dinners at the resort's restaurants.
  • Sample the Sierra: Held in mid-September, this food fest features ingredients from local farmers and producers, crafted into tasty bites and sips by local chefs and winemakers.
  • Candy Dance Faire: At the end of September, head for nearby Genoa, Nevada, a few miles east of the lake for a century-old fair that features arts, crafts, and food. Why is it a "candy" dance? The name goes back to its earliest days when organizers gave away homemade candy as a sweet incentive for people to attend.
  • Fall Fish Fest: When the salmon migrate out of Lake Tahoe into Taylor Creek to spawn, it's a sight to see, and there's a festival to celebrate it. You can learn more about salmon and participate in family-friendly activities. The fish set the spawning schedule, but the event happens in early October.
  • Oktoberfest: At Camp Richardson, Oktoberfest features the traditional beer-drinking and sausage-eating. There's also a costume contest, face painting, and lots of family-oriented things to do that don't involve alcoholic beverages.

Fall Travel Tips

  • At Lake Tahoe, evergreen trees form a backdrop for golden-toned aspen leaves. You can see them while driving on Highway 267 toward Truckee or Highway 88 south of the lake. Even better, get out of your vehicle and take a hike on the trails at Page Meadows near Tahoe City or Spooner Lake off Highway 28.
  • At the beginning or middle of October, as the water cools off, kokanee salmon swim out of the lake to spawn. Go to the Taylor Creek Salmon Run Visitor Center near Camp Richardson and walk along the creek to see the crimson-hued fish crowding the stream from bank to bank. You can also see them through windows placed below the water level.
  • If you're going to Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area or Sacramento in the fall, get off the Interstate and take U.S. Highway 50 instead for a side trip to Apple Hill. You will find apple orchards, apple stands, and places where you can pick them yourself.
  • If snowfall starts early and there's a lot of it, the highway around the lake may be closed until the snowplows can get rid of it. Check local road conditions for California highways as well as Nevada highways, depending on your route.
  • Some of the popular summer attractions shut their doors for the season in September, including Vikingsholm, the Tallac Historic Site, and gondola rides at Heavenly ski resort. Check operating times to see if you can catch them before they close down.
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