If you go to Lake Tahoe in the fall, you can do almost all the fun things that you can do in the summer. 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. You'll also have smoother waters for stand up paddleboarding in the lake.
You could call autumn the "secret season" because many people don't recognize that it's 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 hover around freezing. The water temperature stays tolerable until mid-October, but check before you plan a day of water play.
You can expect clear skies more than half the time in September and October with more cloudy days in 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. You can see the yearly trends in the Lake Tahoe climate guide.
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, and you will also need them if the snow comes early. Find the rules and learn how to avoid getting a ticket in the California snow chain guide.
What to Pack
Start your packing list by using the averages, 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. A few seasonal sights and events make an autumn visit something special.
Fall Foliage: 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—or any of these ten places to see fall foliage at Lake Tahoe.
Salmon Run: 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 water level.
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. You will find apple orchards, apple stands, and places where you can pick them yourself. 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, 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.
- 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 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 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 snowplows 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.