If Lake Tahoe were a person, you might say it had a personality disorder. In the summer, the weather is pleasant, the skies are blue, and you can enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities. In the winter, the focus shifts to skiing and other snow sports, and you might need snow chains just to get there.
Try a Water Sport (Summer)
Summer is the time for water sports on Lake Tahoe. And luckily, you can rent almost any kind of watercraft from businesses along the lakeshore.
Tahoe Sports is the lake's largest rental company with 10 locations. They rent everything from jet skis to powerboats to kayaks.
For a unique experience, try renting a transparent kayak from Wild Society.
Ride a Bike (Summer)
You could ride a bike all the way around Lake Tahoe, but it's a 72-mile trip that includes two challenging climbs of 800 and 1,000 feet.
The Tahoe Bike Map can show you some shorter trails that will also take you to some of the local sights.
Go for a Hike (Summer)
The Tahoe Rim Trail is a 165-mile trail forms a loop around the lake basin, but that may be more than what you had in mind. The multi-use trail is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians for the majority of its length but there are a few exceptions.
For a shorter trek with spectacular views every step of the way, try the State Line Lookout Trail. It's a 1.5-mile loop near Crystal Bay, Nevada. And it's also dog-friendly. Go between May and October. Try the less strenuous Rubicon Trail for a lakeside walk from D.L. Bliss State Park to Emerald Bay.
The Tahoe Via Ferrata hike isn't for anyone with a fear of heights, but if you can conquer those fear, you can scale a rock face above Squaw Valley. Professional guides will help you, and you will be safely attached to the rock, using the permanent steel anchors and cables.
You can find plenty more hikes in the Tahoe area, including some fairly flat trails that follow the lake's edge. Get some ideas for that at LakeTahoe.com.
Fish for Your Dinner (Summer)
A Lake Tahoe tradition, the Tahoe Trout Farm has been open for more than 70 years. Admission is free at the Tahoe Trout Farm. You don't need a fishing license, and there is no limit. Get bait and tackle on the spot, before dropping your line in and hoping you catch a big one.
It's an easy way to entertain kids (and adults) of all ages. You'll only pay for what you catch. And if you don't know what to do with your fish, the farm will share a few of their favorite recipes with you.
You can also fish with your own gear (and a fishing license) at these places to fly fish at Lake Tahoe.
The self-propelled rafting trips on the Truckee River that start at Tahoe City are one of the most fun things to do at Lake Tahoe, especially if the kids are old enough to help paddle.
To find out what a trip is like and get some tips for having a perfect day on the river, use the guide to rafting trips on the Truckee River.
Take a Tram Ride (Summer)
In the winter, they're ski lifts, but in the summer these trams are the perfect way to get a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding mountains.
You won't be able to tell whether it's the altitude or the views that leave you breathless when you take the scenic gondola at Heavenly Ski Resort. Take the gondola up to the observation deck and then get on a chairlift to reach the top. It leaves from the middle of town in South Lake Tahoe.
Take the aerial tram in Squaw Valley to High Camp, which is at 8,200-feet elevation. You can enjoy a meal, have a soak in the hot tub, or take in the views of Squaw Valley's legendary granite peaks. Day passes are available that cover both the tram cost and admittance to the pools and hot tub.
Ride a Hot Air Balloon Over the Lake (Summer)
Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, looks even more spectacular from the air—and one of the best ways to experience it is on a hot air balloon.
Lake Tahoe Balloons launches and lands from the deck of a boat, making your morning balloon ride a particularly memorable one. Their season is mid-May through October.
Visit a State Park (Summer)
This list may make you wonder why all the parks are in California, but it's not a result of any geographic bias. It's just that the west shore is a better place to put a park. In order from north to south:
Kings Beach Recreation Area is the place to go for a picnic or a barbecue. The kids can enjoy the playground, or the whole family can rent kayaks and go for a paddle. It's on the north side of the lake near Crystal Bay.
Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park has lots of hiking trails and a small lakeside beach you can also fish in the park's stream from mid-July through September.
D.L. Bliss State Park is a good place for a picnic or try Lester Beach or Calawee Cove for sunbathing and swimming. Take Rubicon Trail for a hike to Emerald Bay.
Emerald Bay State Park gets its name from the combination of conditions that make its water look like a green gemstone. It's a boat-in location only unless you hike down the steep trail to see Vikingsholm, a house with a history that's almost as interesting as its unique Scandinavian architecture. The park is about 10 miles from South Lake Tahoe.
The Tallac Historic Site may make you feel like you stepped into a time machine, going back into the lives of Tahoe's wealthiest residents in the 1920s. You can tour one of their homes, visit the museum, or enjoy the summer arts festival which runs from June through September. It's about six miles from South Lake Tahoe.
Ice Skate (Winter)
Tahoe's family-friendly Northstar resort is also home to the area's biggest ice-skating rink, clocking in at 9,000 square feet. The rink is free and open to all. Adults can cozy up by the fire pits with a cocktail, or pack a s'mores kit for the little ones to have some fun.
Go Skiing (Winter)
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Lake Tahoe winters mean snow, and hundreds of inches of the white stuff pile up around it every year. Or at least the ski resorts hope it does. The more prominent ski resorts usually open by Thanksgiving, even if they have to manufacture snow to do it. In the snowiest years, the season may last into April.
Skiing is by far the most popular of all things to do at Lake Tahoe in winter, and luckily, there are tons of great ski resorts to choose from. Families usually flock to the laidback Northstar California Resort, while the high-energy Heavenly has incredible views and fun parties. If you're serious about hitting the slopes, The Lodge at Kirkwood Mountain Resort is ski-in, ski-out, with reasonably priced alpine-style lofts available for rental.
You can look at Lake Tahoe from the shore. You can peer down at it from the top of the gondola ride at Heavenly. You can drive all the way around it. They're all excellent ways to see Lake Tahoe, but nothing is quite like being on a boat in the middle of all that gorgeous, clear, cobalt blue water, looking around at the mountains.
Some cruises operate all year, but others are seasonal. Use the guide to Lake Tahoe boat tours to choose the one that's right for you.
The drive all the way around the lake with no side trips is a little more than 70 miles, but expect it to take three hours or more, depending on how much you stop.
It's something you can do all year round, but in the winter, part of the highway between South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City may be closed in winter because of snow and danger of avalanches.
To get a sneak preview of what you can see — and where to stop — use the Lake Tahoe driving tour guide.
Take a Day Trip to Virginia City (Year Round)
If you want to relive life in the Old West, kids will love taking a day trip to Virginia City, a town southeast of Reno. The town is full of Victorian buildings from the 19th-century mining boom.
You can also visit The Way It Was Museum, home to mining artifacts, or the Fourth Ward School Museum, where you can see a well-preserved 1876 classroom. Depending on where you're staying at the lake, it's about a 45-minute drive.