When temperatures in the Bay soar, head for the cool alpine waters of Lake Tahoe. From kayaking in a transparent canoe to gliding up a mountain in a gondola, Lake Tahoe has a ton of truly unique activities for every family. Read on for our guide to the best of the lake!
Editor’s note: We’re making every effort to provide you with the most up-to-date information and doing our best to keep all of our stories and calendar current. Stay safe!
What's Happening on Tahoe's North Shore
Tahoe East Shore Trail in Incline Village
In the summer, parking at Tahoe’s most popular spots becomes practically impossible. Avoid the insanity by leaving your car at the hotel, rent bicycles and hit the trail! Tahoe’s East Shore Trail, a three-mile path between southern Incline Village and Sand Harbor State Park, is open to non-motorized bicycle and foot traffic. The path is a major step in a future multi-use trail circling Lake Tahoe to connect communities, parks, beaches, businesses and other destinations. The trail is aimed at enhancing safety and mobility by separating vehicle and foot traffic.
Approximately 90 new parking spots with direct access to the path are available at three new parking lots located alongside State Route 28 in Incline Village near Ponderosa Ranch Road.
Summer Events on Lake Tahoe
As California opens back up, summer events are returning to the lake. The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is back with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Sand Harbor, July 17 to August 22. Catch Grammy-winning Celtic harpist Ann Roos at Music in the Castle (reservations required and limited), July 24 at Vikingsholm Castle. Or check out the Brews Jazz & Funk Fest, August 14-15 at Squaw Valley, where you can sample beers from 15 different breweries while watching live music. Tickets must be purchased in advance but children under 12 are free.
Via Ferrata in Squaw Valley
Tahoe's Via Ferrata in Squaw Valley is where climbers ascend the towering granite cliff and enjoy the spectacular view of the valley far below. The Via Ferrata offers a unique way to explore a part of Squaw Valley rarely visited by vacationers. A Via Ferrata, which means “Iron Road” in Italian, is a protected hiking and climbing experience.
Visitors have the option to purchase group or private tours that each last 2.5, 4 or 7 hours. Participants will take routes that include cable bridges, metal rungs to aid in climbing and more traditional rock scrambling sections. Every participant will be guided by professionally-trained mountain guides and will be secured to the rock using permanent steel anchors and cables. This activity is limited to ages 10 and up and we know the double-digit kids are going to LOVE it.
Other Favorite North Shore Activities
Squaw Valley Adventure Center
Back down at the base of the mountain Squaw Valley Adventure Center in the village is open for summer with some great kid-friendly entertainment. A climbing wall, ropes course, mini golf or let the little ones jump out the wiggles at the Sky Jump Bungee trampoline. Tots over 20 pounds can bounce and flip to a happy exhaustion for $12.
High Camp Fun
Take a ride on the aerial tram to the top of High Camp where you will find many activities to choose from. Swing and slide at the playground, take a dip at Squaw Valley’s Swimming Lagoon & Spa or even go for a spin around the roller rink. The free-form lagoon is heated to a comfortable 102 degrees and is surrounded by expansive decks, plenty of seating and a casual umbrella bar offering drinks and snacks. The club provides lockers as well as showers and changing rooms.
Editor’s note: the swimming lagoon and hot tub are currently closed for the 2021 season due to COVID-19.
Squaw Kids Adventure Camp
If you are looking for a camp experience while visiting Tahoe (and a kid-free day for yourself), check out the Squaw Kids Adventure Camp. Kids will swim, ride the tram, hike, bike, study navigation, engineer, cook, do yoga and many other fun activities. It’s offered Friday-Monday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. for kids between the ages of 5-13. The cost is $150/child, per day and includes a tram ticket and lunch! Save $20 when you book two days in advance and $200 if you book five sessions.
The slopes are to winter what the lake is to summer. Calm, clear waters make for an unforgettable kayaking or stand up paddle board trip, and the folks at the Tahoe Adventure Company can set you up with everything you need. There are options for hourly rentals or guided tours from their launch point on the North Shore, and their skilled staff are there to assist with any skill or age level—they've suited up toddlers for rides on both kayaks and paddle boards!
Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park
Challenge yourself with an aerial adventure in the canopy at Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park. Climb, swing and zip line through Tahoe’s forest on this two-hour course. There are three locations: Squaw Valley, Tahoe Vista and Tahoe City. Kids as young as five years old can participate in the beginners courses and family members who do not want to join in can enjoy the trails below. Courses start from $40.
Where to Stay on the North Shore
The Resort at Squaw Creek
Did someone say water slide? Squaw Creek's 120-foot long soaker dumps riders into a pool kept at a toasty 84 degrees year round. Their Mountain Buddies program keeps the kids moving (and off your hands) with full or half day options throughout the summer, and the rooms are comfy and spacious, and—listen up, hungry families—they have kitchens, complete with small stove, a pull-out drawer dishwasher, a microwave, a toaster, a refrigerator, a coffee maker and all of the pots, pans and essentials. Set your family up for the ultimate zen experience when you book a Chillax Together spa session where everyone age six and up gets to enjoy a 25-minute spa experience.
400 Squaw Creek Rd.
Olympic Valley, CA
In true Ritz style, the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe resort covers all the bases and makes any stay extra special. Last summer they added on the Lake Club which offers direct access to Lake Tahoe via a private boat pier, lake activities like kayaking, dining options and an outdoor fire pit to sit and enjoy the lake views.
Their indoor campout package takes glamping to the next level: Compact tents are set up in room and stocked with a down cushion, pillows, blankets, a lantern, teddy bear and even a s'mores set. Want an expert to handle your sweet treats? In the late afternoon, a s'mores-ologist mans the outdoor fire pit, melting up gooey gourmet creations for everyone who stops by. The Ritz Kids Summer program offers daily, summer-camp like activities, from hikes to crafts to lawn games. The heated pool and adjoining outdoor barbecue restaurant, The Backyard, is where you should plant yourselves on Friday nights, when early evening family concerts go down (not to mention happy hour). The Ritz is situated at Northstar, so your adventure can start as soon as you step out of the room (and be sure to come back in winter for ski-in, ski-out access).
13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Ct.
Where to Eat on the North Shore
With all the swimming, biking, boating and hiking you've got to fuel up! Grab a bite to eat at The Fireside Pizza Company which offers great family dining with a menu that goes beyond just pizza. This summer there's live music most weekends on the patio.
If you're looking for a lakefront kid-friendly dining experience, a quick trip into Tahoe City offers Jake's on the Lake and Sunnyside, both with decent kids' menus, plenty of people watching and stunning views to keep the little ones occupied.
For a fresh, regularly changing menu, try Spoon. Book ahead to save a spot at one of the outdoor tables under the pines and leave room for dessert! Although Spoon does not offer a children’s menu, they’re happy to bring out a starter or side instead. Just try not to get food envy if you order the Mac n’ Cheese for the kids and not yourself.
Also in Tahoe City, Rosie's Cafe is a popular family breakfast spot. If the bicycles hanging from the ceiling don't keep your kids entertained, the short stack and cinnamon french toast will (served until 2:30 pm daily).
If you're staying at (or swinging by) the Ritz Carlton, Manzanita has a gorgeous outdoor patio, a thoughtful kids menu—complete with crayons, of course—and lots of room for the kids to explore and climb within view of your table. Backyard Bar & BBQ is poolside, and most items are cooked over an open flame.
For more information on what to do and where to stay when you visit the North Shore, visit the North Lake Tahoe website.
What's Happening on Tahoe's South Shore
There are loads of new on-the-water activities for this summer on Tahoe's South Shore. From the marina at Camp Richardson, take a three-hour tour that includes a boat ride and tour of the historic Vikingsholm Castle. Cost: $99/adults. $69/kids 12 and under.
See the lake like you never have before with Clearly Tahoe. Their tours in transparent kayaks offer unobstructed views into Tahoe’s deep blue depths. Choose from a day tour that ranges from 1.5- 4 hours, night tour with LED lights or eco-discovery tour in search of local wildlife. Kids age 5 and up are welcome on Clearly Tahoe's kayak tours and tours are $99/person and up depending on selection.
Tour Emerald Bay or head out on a happy hour cruise on the Tahoe Serenity. Enjoy a guided tour aboard the 63-foot luxury yacht and take in the gorgeous sights from the water. Both cruises are good for all ages. Pro-tip: With Round Hill Pines located on the Lake’s southeast shore, the happy hour cruise offers the perfect advantage to catch a Tahoe sunset.
Snorkel, Dive or Boat over Shipwrecks in Emerald Bay
Underwater adventurers will be stoked to discover Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail, an underwater exploration of shipwrecks scattered across the bottom of Emerald Bay. Scuba divers can descend to these pristinely preserved watercraft, each with its own unique history and explore the scuttled vessels in one of the most majestic settings in the nation. Scattered over four dive sites, the sunken vessels include a wooden barge used to haul cordwood and ferry cars across the lake and a 1915 boat owned by the proprietor of the now-defunct Emerald Bay Resort.
The shipwreck dives require Scuba experience and a tolerance for cold water, but the adventure represents a truly unique way to experience Tahoe’s beauty, history and lake environment. Snorkelers and boaters may be able to view some of the shallower shipwrecks when the conditions are favorable.
Kayak to a Teahouse
Unfortunately, no tea is served now but your little explorers will love paddling out to the ruins at Fannette Island in a kayak. Rent a stand-up paddle board or kayak from Kayak Tahoe from their beach location next to the pier at Emerald Bay. Children can ride in a double kayak from the age of three with an adult, or take out their own from 15. It is a ten-minute cruise out but give yourself more time to get back, as the wind can make progress slow.
From mid-June, Heavenly’s gondolas open for the summer season. Enjoy the panoramic views as you float up the mountain.. before boarding the gravity-powered mountain coaster to race back down. Ride solo or with a passenger—thrill-seeking kids can ride from as young as three. A gondola plus coaster ticket is $85 for adults, $58 for children aged up to 12 and $73 for teens between 13 and 18.
Tahoe Trout Farm
Catching your own fish for the grill is a Tahoe tradition and kids can hook their own at Tahoe Trout Farm. This family-owned farm, which has two ponds stocked with rainbow trout, will supply bait and tackle at no extra cost. Families are charged per fish, depending on length and the farm will clean and pack your catch for you.
Where to Stay on the South Shore
Lakeland Village Resort at Heavenly
If you are looking for South Shore spot to set up camp, definitely add the Lakeland Village to your list. Their set up is particularly family-friendly as they offer townhouse units with five bedrooms that sleep up to 14. These include a full kitchen so that you don't have to schlep the kids out for every meal. Invite your BFFs and reserve a unit for the ultimate in summer fun and then head on down to the quarter-mile long private beach for some lake activities.
3535 Lake Tahoe Boulevard
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel
Located in the heart of South Lake Tahoe’s tourist zone, this all-suite hotel offers easy access to South Lake Tahoe’s outdoor and indoor amenities—mountains, the beach, towering pine forests, the area’s newest shopping and nightlife. The rooms here are perfectly set up for families—every hotel reservation includes a comfortable two-room suite, free breakfast buffet and a nightly happy hour.
4130 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Where to Eat on the South Shore
Long-time favorite Sprouts Café was founded and is run by a Tahoe native family. Up on the walls you can watch the kids grow through the yearly staff portrait. It is almost a Tahoe rite of passage to work at the popular restaurant slinging smoothies and healthy fare. In the middle of town near Lakeview Commons, Sprouts is a great place to pick up lunch for an impromptu beach picnic.
For the sweet tooth: Crazy Good Bakery and Café already had a following for small batch gourmet doughnuts and pies at local farmers markets when they opened a brick and mortar location in fall 2018. Local sweet lovers were soon flocking in. The café decor reflects owner Christine Andersen-Smith’s love of antiques and vintage items. The bakery also has fresh baked bagels that are boiled before baking, scones, cupcakes, muffins, cookies, quiches and more.
Glazed and Confuzed Tahoe Donut is a family-owned bakery slinging small-batch donuts, located in South Lake’s Bijou Shopping Center. Their eclectic creations like the Oh-Oh-O-REO and the Vincent Van Dough are to die for.
The South Lake Tahoe Beer Trailincludes nine different local craft breweries or taprooms all within less than six miles. The hopping locales are certainly kid-friendly, especially South Lake Brewing Company and Lake Tahoe AleWorxs.
Make the most of your South Lake Tahoe vacation by visiting mid-week. You'll find less traffic, more beach space, decreased wait times for dining, value-added accommodations and more.
For more information on what to do and where to stay on the South Shore, visit the Tahoe South website.
—Sarah McDonald & Kate Loweth