If you go to Lake Tahoe in the fall, you can do almost all the fun things that you can do in the summer, but far fewer people will be there, jamming up parking lots, or filling every table at local restaurants.
And if you love outdoor activities, you will especially enjoy the less crowded mountain biking trails, and you'll have smoother waters for stand up paddleboarding in the lake.
In fact, autumn is the time of year that some people call the "secret season" because many people don't seem to recognize that this is a great time to visit.
Lake Tahoe Weather in the Fall
Daytime highs are in the mid-70s in September and in the low 50s by November. Lows will hover at or below freezing. The water temperature stays tolerable until mid-October, but that’s something you should check before you plan a day of water play.
You can expect clear skies more than half the time in September and October. By November, half of the days may be cloudy. Humidity is low year-round, and it's typically not windy either.
Precipitation is somewhat unlikely in September, but it increases toward the end of the season with an average of 2.4 inches of snow and 1.8 inches of rain in October and 15 inches of snow and 3.7 inches of rain in November. You can see the yearly trends in the Lake Tahoe climate guide.
By Thanksgiving, you can pretty much count on snow at the ski resorts, even if most of it is made by a machine. 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. But the first natural snowfall at Lake Tahoe can happen as early as September, and you will also need them if snow comes early. You can find out all about the rules and how to avoid getting a ticket in the California snow chain guide.
What to Pack
Start your packing list by using the averages above, but keep an eye on the short-range forecast and change your wardrobe as needed. Note that it gets cold fast in the evenings — and it will feel colder if you're out in a boat than if you're on dry land.
Things to Do in the Fall
In the fall, you can do pretty much everything there is to do at Lake Tahoe any time of year, but there are a few seasonal sights that can make an autumn visit something special.
Fall Foliage: When you think of the fall, you probably conjure up images of red, orange, and golden leaves, falling lazily to the ground. At Lake Tahoe, the color scheme is different, with evergreen trees forming a verdant backdrop for groves of aspen trees whose leaves light up in golden tones. 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—or any of these ten places to see fall foliage at Lake Tahoe.
Salmon Run: As the water cools off, kokanee salmon go south, but not far. They swim from the lake to spawn in Taylor Creek. From the Taylor Creek Salmon Run Visitor Center near Camp Richardson, you can walk along a trail to see the crimson-hued fish crowding the creek from bank to bank while making their way upstream. You can also stop to get underwater views through windows placed below water level. To see this spectacle, go at the beginning or middle of October.
Apple Hill Side Trip: 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. Not only will you find apple orchards, apple stands, and places where you can pick them yourself, but autumn is also the season for Concord grapes, lavender flowers and pumpkin patches.
Fall Events at Lake Tahoe
Fall festivals around Lake Tahoe focus on food and wine, and some gorgeous, red-colored fish.
- 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, shop for food items to take home with you, 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.
- Kokanee Salmon Festival: 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 the salmon and participate in family-friendly activities. The fish set their own schedule, but the event is always held in early October.
- Oktoberfest: At Camp Richardson in early October, their Oktoberfest features the traditional beer-drinking and sausage-eating, but 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 for Lake Tahoe
On the downside of going to Tahoe in the fall, a few places close at the end of the summer season. Other attractions and activities may have reduced hours. Among them are:
If snowfall starts early and there's a lot of it, the highway around the lake may be closed until the snow plows can get rid of it. Remember that the lake straddles two states, so you should look at highway conditions for both. You can check California Highways 89 and 28 by entering their numbers into the highway conditions search box at the CalTrans website. To check conditions on U.S. Highway 50 and Nevada Highway 28 use the map at Nevada DOT.