I confess, sometimes after a twelve hour day with my kids I start to fantasize about: A.) lounging in the sand on a tropical island. B.) sitting by the fire in a cabin surrounded by snowy mountains. Living in California, the logistics of transporting myself to a deserted tropical island are a little difficult but fortunately snowy mountains are only a few hours drive away. So while family time in the snow is awesome, sometimes you just need an adult winter weekend to recharge. Here are my favorite things to do in Lake Tahoe during the winter when you want to splurge a little with your partner or friends but definitely without the kiddos.
Things to Do in Lake Tahoe During The Winter
Northstar is a great mountain if you’re a beginner-intermediate level skier/snowboarder. Many of the runs are wide and gradually sloped which makes it a nice spot to practice your turns. It’s also a good place to go if the weather is stormy because it’s a little more protected from wind than some of the more exposed ski areas. At the end of the day you can cozy up next to one of the outdoor fire pits in the village for a apes-ski drink or take the gondola to the Ritz-Carlton.
More advanced skiers will appreciate the steeper terrain and more challenging runs at Squaw Valley. At $169 per adult lift ticket this is one of the most expensive places to ski in Tahoe but your ticket also lets you ski at Alpine Meadows, just hop on the free shuttle when you’re ready to head over to Alpine.
Skiing/ Snowboarding newbies can have a blast falling and laughing at themselves for relatively cheap at Diamond Peak . The “Beginner Lift Access” ticket lets you do the two green (easy) chairlifts for as little at $49 on a weekday or $59 on non-holiday weekend. Small and simple this is a more basic, budget way to try out a day on the slopes without all the glitz.
Strap on a pair of snowshoes and find your own little piece of Sierra paradise while getting a great workout. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do in Lake Tahoe during the winter. Rent a pair of snowshoes at Tahoe Daves and bring a backpack to hold all the layers of clothing that you will quickly realize you didn’t need to wear.
Beginners should head to North Tahoe Regional Park and follow the groomed trails through the park. You’ll get to enjoy some beautiful lake views, without the crazy burn of tromping though deep powder. Parking is $5 and there is also a sled hill if you feel like channeling your inner child.
Another relatively easy beginner option is to walk around Donner Lake at Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee. It’s flat, well marked, and easy to navigate without fear of becoming a modern day Donner Party story. If history or morbid survival tales are something that interest you, definitely stop by the museum and learn all about the ill-fated wagon party. Parking during the winter months is $5.
Adventurous snow bunnies can explore Tahoe Meadows off of Highway 431. This expansive meadow is at a higher elevation then the lake so it typically has a nice layer of snow even when there isn’t much snow down by the lake. Recently we were staying on the lake and woke up to find it raining, pretty much the worst scenario for a ski weekend. We drove twenty minutes from Kings Beach to the meadow and found ourselves in a blizzard of perfect powdery snowflakes. Parking is free alongside the highway, google “Tahoe Meadows South Trailhead” to get directions to the meadow. Map
Those looking for a leg burner can park off of Highway 267 and hike part of the Tahoe Rim Trail up to the viewpoint. It’s about a 1.5 mile walk to the top where you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the lake. If you’re walking immediately after a heavy snowstorm it can be hard to see the route otherwise you can typically follow the tracks of locals. Parking is free and you’ll usually see a few cars parked on a wide section of road across from a fire road gate. After parking carefully cross the highway and on the other side of the gate is a trail head sign.
Relax at a Spa:
The Spa at the Ritz Carlton adjacent to Northstar is the perfect spot to treat sore muscles to some pampering. Included in the price of a spa treatment is use of the facilities and complimentary valet parking. Give yourself plenty of time at the spa because you could easily spend half a day swimming in the heated outdoor pool, soaking in the hot tub or lounging in the steam room and sauna. Take the indulgence up a notch with a glass of champagne out by the fireplace in back afterwards. And if you really want to maximize your zen bundle up and head to the lake to watch the sunset. Watching the sunset by the lake is one of my favorite things to do in Lake Tahoe during the winter, or really any time of year!
Where to Eat and Sleep in North Lake Tahoe
We typically try to save a little money and time by making some simple breakfasts and lunches at our condo. My husband’s idea of a ski day is being the first one in line for the chairlift which means a big hearty breakfast is out of the question. However, when dinner time comes around we are like bears coming out of hibernation and ready to eat a real meal.
Soule Domain looks like something out of a fairy tale. This quaint, little restaurant set in a log cabin is a cozy spot to enjoy a good meal after a day on the slopes. The specials change and offer seasonal produce while the staple items on the menu are equally delish. Make sure to make a reservation in advance, especially for weekends since this popular eatery fills up quick and often has to turn people away.
Bite American Tapas is the fun place to go if you’re on a double date or simply eating with a group of friends. The staff is friendly, the atmosphere is lively and the bar serves up everything from red wine to tequila cocktails. Intended to be shared, most dishes come with four offerings of each item.
The question I get most often regarding planning a trip to Lake Tahoe is “where do you stay in Tahoe?”. We are fortunate enough to have some family connections to a condo in Kings Beach so I really haven’t explored the different accommodations in the area. I prefer staying in a rental house or condo for winter trips because it lets you do some basic food prep and a fireplace is the perfect spot to dry wet gear. Expect to pay $150-$250 a night for a AirBnb in North Lake Tahoe that sleeps 2-4 people.
If you want to stay on the slopes both Northstar and Squaw Valley offer “ski-in” style accommodation. You won’t be on the lake but you will be mere minutes away from the chair lifts which is pretty nice if you want to maximize your time on the ski hill.
- Get on the road early for a ski day. On weekend and holiday mornings there can be heavy traffic getting to the ski areas.
- Buy lift tickets ahead of time to save money. Most resorts offer discounts for buying tickets early or multi-day passes.
- Rent your equipment before getting to the ski area to save money and time.
- If you’re planning on snowshoeing, ski poles will help you balance and make it easier.
- Stay hydrated, it will help prevent altitude sickness.
- Avoid holiday weekends if possible. “peak days” aka most three day weekends and the week between Christmas and New Years are the most expensive.
- If you do want to take your kids along on your winter weekend, read my article on the best places to ski with kids in Tahoe. And pack plenty of coffee and wine…
Lake Tahoe isn’t cheap. And with lift tickets costing at least $100 at most ski areas you could easily spend upwards of $1000 on a snowy winter weekend. And more if you plan on eating out, renting gear or adding in some spa pampering. Fortunately, watching the sunset on the lake, snowshoeing, and sledding are budget friendly things to do in Lake Tahoe during the winter that let you enjoy the beauty of the Sierras without the high price tag.
- warm hat
- waterproof gloves/mittens
- ski bibs or snow pants
- top and bottom baselayers
- waterproof jacket
- snow boots (waterproof is a must for snowshoeing)
- sunglasses or goggles
- extra sweatshirt or fleece layer
- small backpack for snowshoeing
- water bottle
- swimsuit for hot tubbing or spa day
Bottom Line: There are plenty of things to do in Lake Tahoe during the winter. It’s really just a matter of how much you want to sweat and how much you want to spend.