A week in Tahoe is a classic summer getaway, and for good reason. It truly is a place that has something for everyone. Spending a week in Lake Tahoe is like revisiting your childhood summer camp days, minus the ill-fitting t-shirts and cheesy camp songs. Stunning hikes, a sparkling clean lake for swimming, and plenty of places to grab an ice cream cone, are just a few of the reasons that Lake Tahoe has a special spot in Californians hearts… and their summer vacation calendars..
A Week in Lake Tahoe With Kids
DAY 1: Take a short hike. Your body might need a little time to adjust to the altitude but you’ll also be wanting to stretch your legs after having spent the previous day traveling. A short hike is the perfect compromise. Below are a few kid friendly/ easy hikes.
- Spooner Lake: It’s about a two mile flat walk around a pretty little lake. The trail is well-marked and children will enjoy picking wildflowers along the way. I’ve never seen anyone swimming in the lake so if you’re looking to cool off it’s probably best to head to a beach along Lake Tahoe. Parking: $10
- Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail: This mellow 1.3 mile hike takes you in a loop through a gorgeous meadow. There are burbling streams and big boulders for aspiring mini mountain climbers to explore. Parking is free and it’s a great option for families with young children. There are also other trails that start from the same parking lot if you want to do more hiking after you finish the Tahoe Meadows loop. This is one of my favorite hikes to do in Lake Tahoe with kids! Parking:Free
- Chimney Beach, Secret Cove, and Whale Beach Hike: Soak in the stunning views of the sparkling blue water below as you stroll along a trail perched on a cliffside above Lake Tahoe. There are several different beaches that can be accessed along the trail. Don’t be shocked when you come across some bare buns, Secret Cove is a nude beach, but you can just nudge the kiddos past to the next beautiful beach.. It’s possible to walk along a fire road on the way back if you want a more direct return to the car. To get to the parking lot drive 2.5 miles past Sand Harbor (if you’re coming from Incline Village). Parking is limited so arrive early. If you want to go to Chimney Beach, take a right from the parking lot. Otherwise the majority of the beaches are scattered along the trail heading to the left. It’s about 1-2 miles each way depending on how many of the beaches you want to visit. Parking:Free
DAY 2: Kayaking/SUP morning at Sand Harbor. Make sure to do a Lake Tahoe beach day early in your trip because you will definitely want to do another before the week is over. Sand Harbor is the perfect spot for sporty families. The water is crystalline, there’s plenty of sand, and there is an on site rental tent where you can rent kayaks and SUP’s by the hour or for the day. Parking is $10. Bring cash or check.
- Get to Sand Harbor early. On busy summer days it’s not unusual for the lot to be full by 9am. If you have a kayak or boat, park near the boat launch, otherwise you’ll be directed to the main lot.
- From the main lot it’s possible to walk over to the boat beach. This beach is a good option if you’re planning on going for a paddle. Rent a kayak or SUP or book a tour at the Sand Harbor Rentals tent. When you’re done paddling there are some fun boulders in the boat beach area that you can swim out to or jump off of if you’re a thrill seeker.
- Bring food, sand toys, floaties, a beach umbrella, chairs etc. Once you’re here you won’t want to leave!
DAY 3: Take a bike ride. There really isn’t a better place for a family bike ride than Lake Tahoe. There are so many scenic bike trails and plenty of places to rent bikes/ kid trailers. A bike adventure day is a great way to get a good workout while you’re visiting Lake Tahoe with kids!
- Biking from Tahoe City to Squaw Valley: For this approximately 16 mile roundtrip ride you will start at 64 acres park in Tahoe City and ride along the bike path towards Squaw Valley. Most of the ride is along the Truckee River and there is some light shade which is nice on hot days. And if the shade doesn’t keep you cool enough there’s always the river that you can jump in for quick refresh. When you get to Squaw Valley you will ride through the meadow. This section can be sweltering on a hot day, fortunately when you reach the village section of Squaw there’s an ice cream shop and a few places to grab lunch or a post ride beverage. Parking at 64 acres park: Free. Rent bike from Olympic Bike Shop. Rates vary depending on the duration of rental duration/type of bike
- Bike to Squaw Valley + Tram to Squaw Valley High Camp: If you’re feeling like a really big adventure, once you’re in Squaw you can take the tram up to high camp and swim in the pool, take a hike, or play some disc golf. Cost: $39 for adults, $24 for kids ages 5-12, kids under 4 are free. Check Groupon for discounts and purchase tickets online ahead of time otherwise add $10 to the prices listed above.
- Biking from Tahoe City to Sugar Pine State Park: Start in Tahoe City and ride nine miles to Sugar Pine State Park. This beautiful state park has picnic tables along the lake, big grassy hills, a historic mansion, and a pier that’s fun for jumping off. Sugar Pine is a serene spot for families to relax before the return ride back. To shorten the trip you can start anywhere along the bike path, such as Sunnyside which has a West Shore Sports shop where you can rent bikes and kid friendly Fire Sign restaurant. Across the street is Sunnyside Restaurant and Lodge if you want to eat a burger lakeside.
DAY 4: Truckee River Rafting Adventure. A good river float is a summer must. Check it off your “summer to-do” list by spending a day sunning, swimming, and occasionally paddling on the Truckee River. Truckee River Rafting is a great option if you’re looking to rent a raft or if you’re feeling ambitious you can create your own DIY rafting tour. Check out my Truckee River Rafting article for more details.
- Expect to spend about half a day if you want to stop for swim/picnic breaks
- Go in the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day and to have a slightly less crowded rafting experience. Or go in the afternoon and embrace the heat/ rambunctious rafter atmosphere.
DAY 5: A Final Hike, Bike, or Beach Day…or just chill out with some mini golf and an ice cream cone. Make the most of your last day in Tahoe with a longer hike (you should be acclimated now) or revisit your favorite activity from earlier in the week. If you’re feeling like a laid-back summer day head to Kings Beach for some mini golf and an ice cream.
- Five Lakes Trail. It’s about 4.5 miles to the first lake and a little bit extra if you want to explore all the lakes. At least one of the lakes is good for swimming which is nice since the first section of trail is uphill and exposed. Start early, bring some food, a swimsuit, and plenty of water and it’s a magical mid distance hike that offers all the best qualities of hiking in Tahoe, alpine lakes, views, wildflowers, and interesting granite rock formations.
Mount Rose Trail. Doing the entire trail to the summit is a 10 mile endeavor that is best for fit hikers that are sans children. I did see one ten-year old descending from the summit and he looked absolutely miserable. Hopefully he gets major kudos from his buddies for finishing a 10 mile hike with 2000 feet of elevation gain. If you’re looking for something a little mellower, hike to the waterfall which is about 2 1/2 miles from the trailhead. To reach the waterfall it’s a beautiful hike without too much elevation change and a nice option for families looking to do a half day hike in Lake Tahoe with kids. Depending on what winter was like you might even encounter snow on the trail. Finding snowy patches in the middle of summer will be a thrilling discovery for young hikers, and a reason to wear sturdy shoes on this hike!
- Brockway Summit Hike. A three-mile hike in Kings Beach that goes up to breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe. The smooth giant granite boulders at the top are an added bonus, offering the perfect place for a picnic. A favorite trail in the winter with snowshoers and cross county skiers this is also a great mid-distance hike that is popular with locals and tourists in the summer. Since there is quite a bit of uphill this is probably best for families with kids who are strong hikers.
- Kings Beach Miniature Golf. Opened in 1957 this quaint and quirky mini golf course will bring a smile to your face, and make you feel like a little kid again. Set under the trees it is pleasantly shaded and also an easy walk to a public beach. One round of golf is $8.00. Discounted prices for the second round.
- The Log Cabin Cafe. There’s almost always a wait for the legendary breakfast but behind the main restaurant is a patio area with a seasonal ice cream shop. The hefty sundaes are the cherry on top of a lovely summer day.
This itinerary is best for people staying on the North Shore of Tahoe, since most of the activities are located in the Kings Beach, Incline Village and Tahoe City area. There are plenty of hotels to choose from but my favorite option is to rent a cabin or condo near the lake. You’ll spend a little more on accommodation but save tons of money on food.
- If Lake Tahoe had a middle name it would be traffic. Plan your arrival/departure time wisely. Afternoons can be a traffic nightmare in the Tahoe City area and if you’re coming from the Bay Area you’ll want to be strategic about avoiding driving during peak traffic times. From the Bay Area plan on about a 4.5 hour drive without traffic but it can easily become 6-7 hours if you get stuck in Bay Area/ Sacramento or Tahoe traffic..
- Stay hydrated and wear a hat/sunglasses when you’re out adventuring. The high altitude will quickly burn/dehydrate you.
- If you happen to have a state park pass for either Nevada or California bring it! There are plenty of beaches, especially on the California side of the lake that you can use it at.
- Lake Tahoe and the surrounding alpine lakes get warmer towards the end of the summer. By August the water is noticeably warmer than beginning of June. However, the past few years California has been ravaged by wildfires in August and this can lead to hazy/ smokey conditions in the Tahoe Basin during late summer.
- Definitely plan on trying to catch at least one sunset on the lake. It’s the perfect way to end the day.
- Hiking shoes (hiking sneakers are fine, boots aren’t necessary for most hikes)
- wide-brimmed hat
- day pack
- bug spray (bugs aren’t usually a problem but you just never know..)
- water bottles
- flip-flops or water sandals
- layered clothing. It can get a little chilly in the evenings even in the summer.
- Beach gear if you’re cabin doesn’t have it (shade canopy/umbrella, towels, sand toys, chairs, a cooler)
- Misc sporting equipment (discs for disc golf, golf clubs, tennis racquets, SUP…)
The Bottom Line: With or without kids Lake Tahoe is a dreamy summer vacation!