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Squaw Valley/ Shutterstock Image

Squaw Valley/ Shutterstock Image

Planning Your Lake Tahoe in Winter Trip

Lizzie

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Lake Tahoe is a major destination in any season and is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in all of America. In the summer months, over seven million visitors enjoy Tahoe’s beaches, water activities, and mountain hikes.

Shaka Guide offers a Lake Tahoe self-driving tour around the lake that can’t be beaten. And be sure to read this comprehensive guide covering Lake Tahoe in Summertime.

But if it’s snow you’re after, Lake Tahoe is one of the world’s best destinations for skiing, snowboarding and so many other winter activities.

So here’s your guide to conquering Lake Tahoe in the wintertime!

How cold does Lake Tahoe get in the winter?

lake with snowy mountains at the backShutterstock Image

Tahoe weather can vary greatly depending on your location and elevation around that big alpine lake. Generally, it’s cold and snowy from November through April. 

Temperature Range

Temperatures in the area can range from the mid-20s to the mid-40s F (-4 to 7 C) during the winter. In the mountains, temperatures can be even colder, dropping below freezing.

Cold temperatures are often accompanied by strong winds, which can create wind chill and make the air feel even colder.

Snowfall

Snowfall is a big deal in Tahoe. A really big deal. In fact, Lake Tahoe is legendary for receiving some of the highest seasonal snowfalls in the entire continental United States!

The area typically receives an average of 300-500 inches (7.6 - 12.7 meters) of snowfall annually. But that amount can vary greatly depending on location and elevation, with higher elevations getting more snow.

Snowstorms can last for several days and can be accompanied by strong winds, making travel difficult. 

Rain in Winter

In addition to snow, the Lake Tahoe area may sometimes experience periods of rain during the winter months. Rain can be particularly challenging, creating icy conditions on roads and sidewalks, and sometimes flooding. 

Winter of 2022-23

In the winter of 2022-23, Tahoe experienced record-setting snow totals of well over 624 inches by mid-March, before the snowy season was anywhere near being over.

One ski resort even vowed there would be skiing into July! That’s what can happen when Tahoe is hit with one or more atmospheric river meteorological events over the winter!

So it’s ultra important, before venturing to Tahoe in the wintertime to check the weather forecast and road conditions.

Why Lake Tahoe Never Freezes?

blue lake with rocks along the coastShutterstock Image

We already talked about the massive amount of snow that Lake Tahoe gets. So why doesn’t this alpine lake ever freeze?

It’s because of Tahoe’s unique geology and climate, with several factors contributing to keeping that big lake from turning into a block of ice. Here are those factors:

Water Depth

Lake Tahoe is an extremely deep lake, with a maximum depth of 1,645 feet (501 meters). The deep water allows the lake to retain heat and helps prevent it from freezing over.

Temperature

The temperature of the lake is relatively constant throughout the year, ranging from the low 40s F (4-7 C) in the winter to the mid-60s F (16-19 C) in the summer.

This means that even during the coldest winter months, the temperature of the lake is not cold enough to freeze.

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Water Flow

Lake Tahoe is fed by several streams and rivers, as well as underground springs. The lake also has one outlet — the Truckee River. The inflow and outflow of water by those sources, as well as by the Lake Tahoe Dam, help to regulate the temperature of the lake and prevent it from freezing.

Wind

Lake Tahoe is known for its strong winds, which can reach speeds of up to 100 mph (160 kph). The wind helps to keep the surface of the lake constantly moving, preventing ice from forming.

Sunlight

The high elevation of the lake, combined with its clear water, allows sunlight to penetrate deep into the lake. This helps to warm the water and prevent it from freezing.

Best Things To Do in Lake Tahoe in Winter

gondola in lake tahoeImage by Lizzie Gerecitano

It’s not only about the skiing, although that is the number one activity around Tahoe in the winter. Here’s an overview of the most popular winter activities. Then further down the page, we’ll delve into details!

Skiing and Snowboarding

Lake Tahoe is home to several world-class ski resorts including Heavenly, Palisades Tahoe, and Mount Rose.

These resorts offer a wide variety of trails and terrains suitable for all skill levels, as well as ski schools and rentals if you don’t want to travel with your own gear.

Snowshoeing and Cross-Country skiing

These are great outdoor activities if you prefer to explore the outdoors at a slower pace. There are several trails around Lake Tahoe where you can do this, including Tahoe Meadows and Sugar Pine Point State Park.

Winter Hiking

This can be a great way to enjoy the snowy scenery around the lake. Many of the trails around the lake are open year-round, and snowshoes or microspikes can be used for traction on icy trails.

Snowmobiling

This activity is a fun way to explore the backcountry around Tahoe. Several companies offer guided tours and rentals, including Lake Tahoe Adventures and Zephyr Cove Resort. 

Ice Skating

This is a classic winter activity offered in some locations that can be enjoyed by all ages. (But not on the lake itself, since it never freezes.)

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Sledding and Snow Tubing

These are popular activities and are especially appealing for families with young children. Tube Tahoe and Adventure Mountain Lake are on the south side of the lake in South Lake Tahoe, CA.

Granlibakken is on the north side of Lake Tahoe in Tahoe City, and Soda Springs Mountain Adventure is just north of Lake Tahoe off Interstate 80 in CA near Donner Summit. Places like these offer dedicated sledding and tubing hills, as well as rentals for sleds and tubes.

Fishing

For anglers, there are lakes stocked with trout. 

Hot Springs

One way to relax and unwind is to take advantage of one of Lake Tahoe’s all-natural soaking tubs.

Grover Hot Springs State Park and Sierra Hot Springs are popular options, but be sure to check road conditions before heading there. For more about Hot Springs options, check out our article for details!

Apres Ski

This is a thing. After a day on the slopes, this is Tahoe’s version of a happy hour. Wind down at one of the many Apres ski spots, including places like Heavenly Village, the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe,

and the Village at Palisades Tahoe, all offering plenty of dining and entertainment options. 

Scenic Driving

Scenic drives are a way to enjoy Tahoe’s beauty from the warmth and comfort of your car – on days when the roads are not covered in snow and ice. Mount Rose Highway offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Tahoe.

Indoor Activities

Some activities are always available if you prefer to stay inside during the cold winter months. You can visit one of the many casinos in the area on the Nevada side of the lake, or visit the numerous local shops in the adorable downtown areas of Truckee and Tahoe City.

Spa

Book yourself a spa day for a massage and facial and one of the big hotel resorts (even if you aren’t staying there)!

Best Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts

people skiing taking sa selfieImage from Flickr by Pacific Southwest Forest Service, USDA

Tahoe offers some of the best world-class skiing. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, skier or snowboarder, there's something for everyone. Here is a description of the top skiing/snowboarding options around Lake Tahoe:

Heavenly Ski Resort

Heavenly Ski Resort is the largest ski resort that’s actually on Lake Tahoe (in South Lake Tahoe, CA). With over 4,800 acres of skiable terrain, it offers something for everyone, from beginner to expert.

The resort features 97 runs, 30 lifts, and an elevation of 10,067 feet. Not only do you get an amazing view of the lake on your way down the slopes, but this ski resort also has a whole village for apres skiing, dining, entertainment, and shopping.

Palisades Tahoe

Palisades Tahoe (and the Alpine Base Area) are located in Olympic Valley, about ten minutes from the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Known for hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics (formerly known as Squaw Valley) Palisades Tahoe is a world-renowned skiing destination.

The resort offers 6,000 skiable acres across two peaks and 42 lifts. With 270 trails, it has something for skiers of all levels. Plus a view of Lake Tahoe’s blue waters. And their village is full of apres ski options, dining, entertainment and shopping.

Mount Rose

Ski Tahoe is conveniently located between Reno and Lake Tahoe (a half hour south of Reno, and 20 minutes north of Lake Tahoe).

With more than 1,200 acres of ski terrain, over 60 trails, and eight lifts, you get spectacular views of both Reno and Lake Tahoe.

This resort’s steepest runs have 1,800-foot vertical drops and impressive 55-degree pitches for expert skiers. Mount Rose has many black diamond runs for you expert skiers, too. 

Northstar California Resort

Northstar California Resort is located about 15 minutes north of Lake Tahoe in Truckee. It features 3,170 skiable acres with 100 trails, 20 lifts, and a vertical drop of 2,280 feet.

The resort is known for its family-friendly atmosphere and exceptional grooming, making it a great option for beginners and intermediate skiers.

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Kirkwood Ski Resort

Kirkwood Ski Resort is located south of Lake Tahoe, near the town of Kirkwood. It’s known for its challenging terrain and receives some of the highest snowfall in the region.

The resort features 2,300 skiable acres with 86 trails, 15 lifts, and a vertical drop of 2,000 feet. Kirkwood is a great option for advanced and expert skiers.

Homewood Mountain Resort

Homewood Mountain Resort is located on the west shore of the lake, in Homewood. It’s known for its stunning lake views and laid-back atmosphere. The resort features 1,260 skiable acres with 67 trails, 8 lifts, and a vertical drop of 1,650 feet. Homewood is a great option for intermediate skiers and families.

Sugar Bowl Resort

Sugar Bowl Resort is located on the west shore of the lake near Truckee. It’s known for its challenging terrain and has a rich skiing history, dating back to 1939.

The resort features 1,650 skiable acres with 103 trails, 13 lifts, and a vertical drop of 1,500 feet. This resort is a great option for advanced and expert skiers.

Sierra-at-Tahoe

Sierra-at-Tahoe is 16 miles from South Lake Tahoe in Twin Bridges, CA. Covering 2,000 acres of ski terrain with 47 trails and 14 lifts, there’s also a dedicated park for freestyle snowboarding and skiing.

This ski resort is popular for folks coming from San Francisco since this is the first one they pass on the approach to Tahoe. There’s also lodging and dining here. Half the ski runs are intermediate level, with a quarter for beginners and a quarter for advanced skiers.

This resort is family-friendly and lessons are offered. One of the best things about Sierra-at-Tahoe is that its slopes are protected from the wind, so your skiing conditions can be a little more mild.

Winter Hikes in Lake Tahoe

hikers hiking with view of lake tahoe

This activity can be a wonderful way to experience the beautiful snowy scenery and get some fresh air and exercise. Here are some winter hiking trails you can take around Lake Tahoe, weather permitting:

The Olympic Heritage Trail

The Olympic Heritage Trail at Sugar Pine Point State Park on the west side of the lake leaves from the park’s campgrounds and explores the winter history of the park. 

The Eagle Falls Trail

The Eagle Falls Trail is a short, easy hike on the west shore of the lake, offering stunning views. The trail is about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) round trip.

Mount Rose Summit Trail

The Mount Rose Summit Trail is a more challenging but popular winter hike, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) round trip that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and lake. The trailhead begins off Highway 431.

Donner Summit Canyon Trail

The Donner Summit Canyon Trail is a moderate winter hike that follows the route of the historic First Transcontinental Railroad and offers views of beautiful Donner Lake. The trail is about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) round trip.

Meeks Bay Trail

The Meeks Bay Trail. This easy winter hike is on the west shore of the lake and offers stunning views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) round trip.

Tahoe Rim Trail

The Tahoe Rim Trail. For a longer winter hike, this trail offers over 165 miles (265 kilometers) of hiking trails around the lake.

There are various entrance and exit points so you can hop on and off depending on how long you want your hike to last. Many sections of the trail are accessible in the winter months but be prepared for snowy and icy conditions.

It’s important to note that winter hiking around Lake Tahoe can be challenging and potentially dangerous due to snowy and icy conditions.

Dress appropriately for the weather, bring plenty of water and snacks, and carry necessary safety equipment including traction devices for your shoes or boots.

Also, make sure to check weather and trail conditions before heading out, and to let someone know your hiking plans.

Fishing Spots around Lake Tahoe in Winter

bridge on a lake covered in snowShutterstock Image

If you love to fish, this can be a unique and exciting experience in the Tahoe region, with opportunities to catch several different species.

Lake Tahoe

Of course, you can fish in Lake Tahoe year-round, since the lake doesn’t freeze. Rent a spot on one of several fishing charters and fish for Mackinaw (Lake Trout), Rainbow Trout, and Brown Trout.

Truckee River

The Truckee River is a popular fishing spot, with access points in both California and Nevada.

This beautiful, crystal clear river runs from the north side of Lake Tahoe (the lake’s only outlet is at the mouth of the Truckee River) up to Truckee, CA, then over to Reno, NV, before reaching it flows into Pyramid Lake.

In the winter, the Truckee River is stocked with rainbow and brown trout, and fly fishing is popular.

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake, in NV, is just east of Reno and offers excellent fishing for Lahontan cutthroat trout. The lake is open year-round and wintertime is a popular time to fish for the cutthroat trout.

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Donner Lake

Donner Lake is just west of Truckee, CA, and a popular spot for ice fishing in the wintertime. Anglers can catch kokanee salmon, rainbow and brown trout, and Mackinaw (lake) trout.

Caples Lake

Just south of Lake Tahoe in Kirkwood, CA, this lake offers excellent fishing in the wintertime. Anglers can catch brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout, as well as Mackinaw (lake) trout.

Blue Lakes

Located just south of South Lake Tahoe, CA, this lake offers great fishing opportunities in the wintertime. The lake is stocked with rainbow and brook trout, and ice fishing is a popular method.

It’s important to note that fishing regulations and access may vary depending on the specific location, so be sure to check local regulations before you go.

Best place to stay in Tahoe in the Winter

heavenly villageImage by Lizzie Gerecitano

There is an array of places to stay in the Tahoe area, depending on your budget and preference.

Ski Resorts

Some ski resorts offer several options for lodging, from budget-friendly (hostels and cabins) to luxury hotel rooms and condos. Some of the popular ski resorts with lodging include Heavenly, Northstar California, Palisades Tahoe, and Kirkwood Mountain.

Vacation Rentals

There are many vacation rental properties available around Lake Tahoe, ranging from small cabins to large luxury homes. Websites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway offer a wide range to choose from.

Hotels and Motels

There are many options in the towns and cities around the lake, ranging from budget-friendly to more luxurious. And some of the big ones on the Nevada side of the lake also have private beachfront and casinos!

Some popular ones include:

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly hotel that will meet all of your basic needs (minus the frills) yet in stellar locations, I highly recommend Basecamp Hotels (there’s one on the north side of the lake in Tahoe City and one on the south side of the lake in South Lake Tahoe).

Bed and Breakfasts

There are several around the lake that offer cozy, comfortable accommodations. These are a great option if you’re looking for a more personal touch.

Camping

For those who love the great outdoors or have an RV, campsites range from primitive to having full hookups and running hot water.

Winter Camping around Lake Tahoe

campers walkingImage from Flickr by 

This can be a unique and memorable experience, but requires preparation and specialized gear. Here are some options for winter camping around the lake:

Nevada Beach Campground

Located on the east shore of the lake, it’s open year-round, weather permitting. During the winter, the campground offers primitive camping with limited services, including portable toilets and trash collection. But there’s no running water, so you must bring your own during the winter months.

Fallen Leaf Campground

This spot is also located on the south shore of the lake, offering year-round camping for self-contained RVs and tents with appropriate winter camping gear. The campground offers heated restrooms and showers during the winter, but running water is not available.

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Meeks Bay Resort & Marina

It is located on the west shore of the lake, offering winter camping for self-contained RVs and tents with appropriate winter camping gear. Heated restrooms and showers are available, but running water is not offered during the winter months.

Sugar Pine Point State Park

Sugar Pine Point State Park has four-season camping (first come-first serve) with heated bathrooms and water.

Tahoe Valley Campground

Tahoe Valley Campground in South Lake Tahoe is open year-round, with RV parking as well as tent camping. 

It’s important to note that winter camping around Tahoe requires specialized gear, including a four-season tent, a warm sleeping bag, and appropriate winter clothing.

Be prepared for snow and icy conditions and check weather and road conditions before heading out on a camping excursion. It is also recommended to make reservations in advance and to let someone know your camping plans.

What to Pack for Lake Tahoe in the Winter

people sitting watching the lakeImage by Lizzie Gerecitano

It is important to ensure you stay warm during a winter visit to Tahoe. Here are some suggestions on what to pack:

Insulated jacket

This is essential. Look for a jacket that is waterproof or water-resistant and has a hood to protect your head from wind and snow.

Thermal Underwears

Thermal base layers, like long underwear, that trap heat close to your body. Look for base layers made from wool or materials that are designed to wick moisture away from your skin.

Waterproof and insulated snow pants.

These are essential for outdoor activities in the snow, like skiing, snowboarding, tubing and sledding. Look for pants that are breathable and provide enough flexibility for movement.

Warm Socks

Warm socks are made from wool or materials designed to wick moisture away from your skin.

Insulated waterproof boots

These are essential for keeping your feet dry in snowy conditions. Look for boots that have a non-slip sole to provide traction on slippery surfaces.

Insulated Gloves

Another essential item for Tahoe’s cold winter temperatures. Look for waterproof or water resistant.

Hat

This is essential for protecting your head and ears from the cold. Look for a hat made from wool or materials that cover your ears.

Scarf

This is such a versatile accessory to protect your neck and face from wind and cold temperatures.

It’s important to layer your clothing to stay warm in cold weather around Tahoe. By wearing multiple layers, you can trap heat close to your body and regulate your body temperature. Additionally, it’s a good idea to bring extra clothing in case you get wet or need to change. 

Winter Driving in South Lake Tahoe

lake tahoe road

Although it’s possible to drive around Lake Tahoe in the wintertime, it’s not always a guarantee. At times, plowed snow is ‘stored’ on parts of the road surrounding the lake, so you might not be able to make a full ‘loop’ drive around the entirety of Lake Tahoe.

On other roads that lead into and out of Tahoe, you’ll want tire chains, even if you have four-wheel drive. Road conditions can be challenging due to snowy, icy conditions, and it’s important to check road closures and conditions before heading out.

Here’s some info about the roads surrounding – or leading to – Lake Tahoe. Most are open year-round, weather permitting:

State Route 89

This scenic route runs along the west shore of Lake Tahoe.

State Route 28

This scenic route runs along the north and east shores of Lake Tahoe. 

Highway 50

Highway 50 covers the southern portion of the ‘loop’ around the lake. It also runs all the way to Carson City on the Nevada (east) side of the lake and connects the Tahoe area with Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area in California on the west of the Lake.

During the winter, check road conditions to make sure there are no closures before you travel, and that this road is indeed safe for driving.

Interstate 80

This major highway runs east-west through the Sierra Nevada mountains and connects the Lake Tahoe area with Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area.

During the winter, portions of the highway can be closed due to snow and ice, particularly between Colfax and the Nevada state line. 

State Route 431/ Mount Rose Highway

This scenic route runs between Incline Village on the north shore of Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada. Parts of this road may close during the winter months due to heavy snowfall and may not reopen until early summer.

Again, it is important to check road closures and conditions before driving around Lake Tahoe in the winter. Caltrans – the California Department of Transportation – provides up-to-date information on road closures and conditions on its website and through its social media channels.

The Nevada Department of Transportation also provides information on road conditions in the Lake Tahoe area. You are highly encouraged to carry tire chains or have four-wheel drive vehicles with appropriate tires during the winter months.

That's a Wrap!

And there you have it! A complete go-to guide to get you started on your winter adventure in Lake Tahoe. Now bundle up, and go make some memories!

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Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's Lake Tahoe Tour!

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

For more detailed information to help you plan, check out our Lake Tahoe Itinerary and Know Before You Go article.

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gondola view of lake tahoe

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