Crystal-clear aquamarine water. Sandy beaches. Towering pine trees. Snow-capped mountains. Welcome to Lake Tahoe, California: the most stunning alpine lake in the country, all year round! Although many folks think of Lake Tahoe as a world-famous ski destination, summer at Lake Tahoe in the summer is completely different – and full of its own charm and outdoor beauty. And ghosts. Lots of ghosts.
Ringed by white-sand beaches and trails crisscrossing through sequoia and pine forests and along sheer granite cliffs, the best way to experience Lake Tahoe in the summer is outside: on a trail, on a boat, or on a beach. Our travel guide to summer in Lake Tahoe has everything you need to know to plan your trip, and all the best Lake Tahoe summer activities!
Psst: Planning a trip to the Sierra Nevadas? …. We have a bunch of posts on our favorite California mountain range!
We also have a Podcast episode all about Tahoe! Towering pine trees, ancient granite cliffs, crystal clear water, cannibalistic pioneers… wait, what? Strap on your snow goggles and come along as we cover the macabre past and enchanting present of this alpine paradise with more ghosts than you can shake a ski pole at.
Listen above or just click here to launch your Podcast app! Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes.
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Summer at Lake Tahoe: FAQ’s
Is Lake Tahoe cold or warm in summer?
Lake Tahoe is very much warm in the summer! Summer begins in June at Lake Tahoe, when the snow in the Sierra Nevada has melted. In June, July, and August, Lake Tahoe temperatures hover around the mid-70s. Perfect for a summer vacation!
Lake Tahoe is also known for its sunshine — 300 days’ worth each year! So even though you’re in the mountains, you can expect the warmth of sunshine most days – this might be why Lake Tahoe tends to feel fairly warm even in the dead of winter.
That said, you are still in the mountains and Lake Tahoe is still an alpine lake: lows during the night can dip into the 40s, so be sure to pack warm clothes, and warm sleeping bags if you plan to camp (we recommend down – more details in this post).
Remember also that you may be higher in elevation than you’re used to — Lake Tahoe sits above 6,000 feet. In that thin mountain air, the sun’s rays are more direct, so sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses are essential.
Is it true that Lake Tahoe is like … super haunted?
Let me start by saying: YES. Yes it is. Lake Tahoe is suuuper haunted. Which, personally, we love.
Our favorite ghosts in Lake Tahoe are the forlorn members of the Donner Party and the hilarious Captain “Them’s My Toes” Dick – both of whose gruesome stories are told in their respective sections below.
In North Lake Tahoe, there’s a hotel — the Tahoe Biltmore — that’s home to a ghost named Mary, who was an Aspen Cabaret showgirl at the hotel. The Biltmore describes her ghost as wearing a 60s style mini skirt and having no facial features, which is definitely skating the fine line of fabulous/terrifying.
You may have heard that there were bodies buried in the Lake Tahoe. Rumor had it that mobsters used to dispose of bodies in the lake, because it’s so deep and cold that the bodies remain in perfect condition, frozen at the bottom of the lake.
Unfortunately, it’s not actually true. A team of divers thoroughly explored the lake and didn’t find actual bodies.
And unfortunately, neither did they find signs of Tahoe Tessie — Tahoe’s version of the Loch Ness Monster, which has been sighted many times since the 1970s. Witnesses say that Tessie slithers like a snake and is about twenty feet long, living far beneath the lake underneath Cave Rock. So be careful while you’re swimming…
Is it safe to swim in Lake Tahoe?
Yes, it’s totally safe to swim in Lake Tahoe – with one big caveat (and no, I don’t mean Tahoe Tessie, the lake monster who probably doesn’t exist): the water in Lake Tahoe is cold, particularly away from shore where the water is deep. I mean, see all those snowcapped mountains? Tahoe is a high-elevation alpine lake filled with snowmelt!
That said: close to shore, where the water is shallow and the sun is able to warm the water, you can swim comfortably! I mean, it’s not like … the Caribbean, or anything, but I’m a major cold-water weenie and even I can swim in Lake Tahoe. On a hot day. Around noon.
But if you’re planning to drive out on a boat and dive into that clear blue water, you might want to be cautious. It’s best to ease your body into the water slowly to avoid shocking it, and if you’re going into the water far from shore, consider wearing a wetsuit. And always wear a life jacket on any boat – even if you’re a strong swimmer.
I’d also advise only going into the water when the sun is high: if it’s early in the morning or after 7pm, don’t chance it – it will be too cold (unless polar bear plunges are your thing – I see you, people who go swimming in the San Francisco Bay every morning!). And of course, don’t mix swimming and alcohol – it’s not worth the risk!
North Lake Tahoe or South Lake Tahoe?
If you’ve never visited Lake Tahoe before, you may not realize that there are two different places to visit in Lake Tahoe on the California side: North & South Lake Tahoe. Then there’s also the West Shore, in between them, and the East Shore, on the Nevada side.
Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, y’all. It’s huge.
So it’s easiest to divide up Lake Tahoe summer activities and landmarks by quadrant, which we’ve done throughout this post. That’s also why this post is a massive 10k words long – PHEW. The last thing we want is for you to plug something into your GPS and realize it’s on the other side of the lake!
South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe are about an hour’s drive away from one another down the western side of the lake (y’all, the lake is … ABSOLUTELY enormous). In the summer, it’s an absolutely beautiful drive and the best camping and hiking can be found in between the two along the western shore, in D.L. Bliss State Park and Desolation Wilderness.
North Lake Tahoe
Stay in North Lake Tahoe if you want to be walking distance to shops and restaurants and close to excellent beaches! In North Lake Tahoe you’ll find the little towns of Kings Beach, Truckee and Tahoe City. They’re all adorable and walkable little towns, with plenty to see and do.
Tahoe City is located directly on the lake, with a beautiful walking path, some small docks and beaches, and several restaurants with sweeping lakeside views. But Truckee, while located 10 minutes away from the lake, is objectively cuter and more adorable to walk around in and explore.
But in the summer, the real star is sandy King’s Beach, with 1,700 feet of lakefront and warm, swimmable water! Set out a towel or snag a picnic bench and spend the whole. dayplaying in the water – this is an excellent
Truckee, King’s Beach, and Tahoe City are all cute, walkable towns. And since Tahoe City is right on the lake, there are some pretty incredible VRBOs with lake views to check out!
South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe, as you might guess, is on the southern end of the lake. It sits right on the Nevada border, and kind of bleeds into the casinos and bars across the state line. Heavenly Mountain Resort (Tahoe’s biggest) is in South Lake Tahoe, so there are no shortage of places to stay.
South Lake Tahoe doesn’t have the cute, walkable downtown vibe that Tahoe City and Truckee have, but staying in this area has its perks: proximity to some excellent beaches, wonderful hikes near Emerald Bay, or Fallen Leaf Lake, the curiosity that is Vikingsholm, and the East Shore.
Stay in South Lake Tahoe if you like a quieter, more outdoorsy stay, while still being close to shops and restaurants.
The West Shore & East Shore
It takes about an hour to drive between North & South Lake Tahoe in the summer, it’s an absolutely beautiful drive.
But a well-kept secret is that some of the best beaches, camping and hiking can actually be found in between the two along the West Shore, from the stunning beachside campgrounds at Meek’s Bay and D.L. Bliss State Park to the beautiful, rugged solitude of hiking in Desolation Wilderness.
You won’t find many places to shop or eat here, but you’ll be surrounded by beautiful granite cliffs, azure water, sandy beaches, and towering pine trees. What more could you need?
Stay in between North & South Lake Tahoe if you’re visiting Tahoe for its scenery and wilderness.
On the East Shore, across the Nevada border, you’ll find resorts and casinos interspersed with sandy beaches and granite-ringed coves. But to be totally honest, we don’t spend much time on the Nevada side! We’d love to hear your suggestions for the East Shore in the comments at the end of this post.
How to Get to Lake Tahoe
Whether you live in San Francisco or Oakland like us, or you’re planning your trip to Lake Tahoe from afar, you have a bunch of options for getting into Lake Tahoe.
For either North or South Lake Tahoe, the best and easiest way to get around is by car.
If you rent a car in the Bay Area, it’s a pleasant 3.5 hour drive to either North or South Lake Tahoe (shorter if you fly & drive from Sacramento, which is about halfway in between).
- The drive into South Lake Tahoe is scenic, climbing up through thick pine trees before peaking at a jaw-dropping view of the valley and the lake below as it climbs down into town.
- The drive from San Francisco to North Lake Tahoe passes by Donner Lake via Donner Pass which is gorgeous, but also exciting if you, like us, are weirdly obsessed with the Donner Party. Once you’re through the pass, the road to town follows along the scenic Truckee River.
Flying into Lake Tahoe
It is only possible to fly close to Lake Tahoe: the closest airport to Lake Tahoe is Reno-Tahoe. You can fly into Reno-Tahoe directly from a few cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
Once you arrive, the easiest way to get to your final destination is to rent a car from the airport. North Lake Tahoe is about an hour away from the airport by car.
If you are flying in and don’t want to rent a car, you can take the North Tahoe Express shuttle from Reno-Tahoe to the town of Truckee, which is considered the “gateway” to the north side of the lake. From there, you can take transit to your final destination.
Although the Reno-Tahoe airport is much closer to North Lake Tahoe, it’s still doable to get to South Lake! You can fly into Reno and rent a car: it’s about an hour a half drive. Or, you can book a ride on the South Tahoe Airporter for $60 round trip.
Getting to Lake Tahoe by Transit
Public transit in the area is limited – here’s a complete rundown – and activities tend to be fairly far apart. But if you’re staying in a walkable area, or rent a bike to get around, it is doable!
- South Lake Tahoe: You can get to South Lake by taking a train from Sacramento and then a bus ride, which totals $59 and will take you about 5 hours.
- North Lake Tahoe: There’s a lovely train from the Emeryville Amtrak Station to Truckee called the California Zephyr. The prices vary, but are usually between $40 and $50. It takes about 5.5 hours but it’s scenic and beautiful! This is by far the most enjoyable way to get to Lake Tahoe by transit. You’ll be winding through the scenic Sierra Nevada above Donner Lake – eerily, the same route that the doomed Donner Party took… *ahem* You can also take this 5-hour Greyhound Bus to Truckee for about $40. Once you arrive in Truckee, there is transit all over North Lake Tahoe to take you to your final destination.
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Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
The quintessential place to stay in Lake Tahoe is in a cabin, a rugged outdoorsy lodge, or sleeping underneath the stars at a campsite! You’ll find plenty of all three options in Lake Tahoe.
f you want a more relaxed experience and to be able to cook, renting a cabin is a good call. But it’s cheapest to split the cost with a group! Most cabin rentals in Tahoe are fully equipped for large groups.
We typically find cabins to rent a place on VRBO, but you should be aware that new laws have recently gone into effect regarding short-term cabin rentals, and many of them will be banned in the next few years as a result of large groups of millennials descending on Lake Tahoe every weekend and doing things like cooking large meals together and enjoying hot tubs after midnight (… seriously, those were some of the main complaints).
For now, you can still rent law-abiding rentals on VRBO, but you might find funky things like fees and minimum night requirements. For this reason, we recommend booking directly through VRBO or Turnkey, both of which have fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
In any case, know that there is a little bit of tension between locals and visitors, and be mindful not to exacerbate the situation by being loud or rude.
Here are our top picks for lodges & cabins in Lake Tahoe:
- South Lake Tahoe: The Lake Tahoe Chalet in South Lake Tahoe is a perfect example of classic rust log cabin Tahoe style at budget-friendly pricing. Stuff made from wood and stone, leather couches, big windows, and sequoia trees are all part of the Tahoe charm. The only thing missing? A hot tub! Also, note that this cabin is about a 15-minute drive from town. But for that price, it’s still a fantastic option. This South Tahoe Lodge is spacious and bright, with a great outdoor space including a hot tub! Our pick for a lodge & resort is the Beach Retreat & Lodge, located beachfront with a huge heated pool and a pier/marina. Spend all day relaxing on the beach, enjoy a sunset dinner over the water (literally, you’ll be OVER the water) on the pier restaurant, and grab a drink at the Tiki Hut beachfront bar!
- North Lake Tahoe: This 4-bedroom cabin in Kings Beach has an open concept and is bright and beautiful, with a fabulous deck to spend time with friends. This peaceful cabin is cozy and surrounded by trees, and also has its own dry sauna! The Edgelake Beach Club is a beachfront hotel in King’s Beach with a pier, beach access and an outdoor pool. Our budget-friendly hotel pick is the Firelite Lodge, so named for its in-room fireplaces! There’s a heated pool and hot tub, and you’ll be literally across the street from the beach, where you can also rent kayaks and SUPs.
Camping in Lake Tahoe
There are several campgrounds in Lake Tahoe that are only open in the summer, and this is where we tend to gravitate! Lake Tahoe is such an incredible outdoor destination that it just makes sense to sleep underneath the stars. Here are our favorite places to camp in Lake Tahoe:
- D.L. Bliss State Park: Located on the West Shore, this gorgeous State Park has its own private beach, is a great place to begin one of our favorite hikes (the Rubicon Trail), and is totally isolated and gorgeous. Bring all the food you need for your trip, because you’ll be a ways away from either town! That said, it’s pretty tough to get a spot unless you book way in advance. We usually set up an alert on ReserveCalifornia for any canceled reservations on the weekends we want to go.
- Meeks Bay Campground: Located on the West Shore slightly north of D.L. Bliss, right on the western edge of the lake off the road connecting North & South Lake Tahoe. Meeks Bay also has a great beach and an adjacent resort, and is right across the street from a trailhead into Desolation Wilderness and one of our favorite hikes. The campground (and resort) is owned & maintained by the Washoe Tribe, who are the original inhabitants of Lake Tahoe – spending money here is an excellent way to support the tribe (for more about how Indigenous tourism can benefit Indigenous communities, head to our ethical tourism guide). Note that no dogs are allowed at this campground, beach, or resort!
- Lake Forest Campground: Located steps from Lake Forest Beach and just a mile from Tahoe City, this is the bst place to stay if you want a balance between quiet wilderness and the convenience of a nearby town. You can easily get to town on a 20-minute walk or short bike ride along a scenic lakeside trail, and you’ll be next to a boat ramp with easy water access!
- Nevada Beach Campground: Located across the Nevada border and adjacent to a beach, this large campground is covered in tall pine trees and is adjacent to the 2.6 mile Lam Wah Tah, a 2.6 mile trail that winds through the woods next to the lake. If you’re bringing a dog with you, this is a dog-friendly campground and the northern end of neighboring Nevada Beach is also an off-leash beach (follow the signs and trails to the boat-in picnic beach).
Camping Tip: Before you pack up your tent we do have a word of warning: Lake Tahoe gets COLD at night. You’ll want a down sleeping bag that’s rated down to 40F, and a warm sleeping mat between you and the ground (or a hammock with an underquilt). We’ve got all the details you need for gear in our guide to car camping essentials.
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Things to do in Lake Tahoe: Summer Activities
Relax on the Beach
Relax on the beach…in the mountains?
That’s right — you don’t need to be on the coast to enjoy some of California’s most amazing beaches. In fact, we Northern California coast-dwellers who want to go swimming or enjoy a sunny beach without freezing come to Lake Tahoe. (Yes, really. Our beaches are foggy and cold, our water is freezing, and Lake Tahoe has truly wonderful beaches.)
Lake Tahoe has 72 miles of shoreline, meaning lots of opportunities for great beaches. And yes, they are wonderfully warm and sandy! Spending a day at the beach should top your Lake Tahoe summer activities checklist!
There are plenty of great beaches to choose from, located all over the lake in both California and Nevada – browse them all on this site! Many Lake Tahoe beaches are easy to access by car with a parking lot, but some of the most pristine beaches can only be accessed by hiking, like Secret Cove and Chimney Beach. Read on for some of our favorites:
North Lake Tahoe Beaches
- Kings Beach State Recreation Area: This is the largest and best beach in North Lake Tahoe. It’s huge and sandy, with ample space to set up and enjoy a day at the beach. This beach is right in the town of Kings Beach, close to restaurants and outfitters for water sports equipment. There is a fee to park at this beach: $10 per day, or $3 per hour.
South Lake Tahoe Beaches
- Baldwin Beach: Baldwin Beach is located between Emerald Bay and South Lake Tahoe. This is a big, sandy beach with shallow (and therefore warmer) water. There’s great access from the parking lot – lug all the beach accessories you want. You can rent kayaks here, too! But note that you’ll have to pay $8 to park.
- Pope Beach: A wonderful sandy beach — great for sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, or paddleboarding. You’ll be able to rent kayaks or buy food on site. Note that no dogs are allowed on this beach, and you’ll have to pay $8 to park (or bike in via the Pope/Baldwin Bike Path, which is free).
Beaches on the West Shore
- Lester Beach: Located within D.L. Bliss State Park, this beach is gorgeous and not usually crowded – although the parking lot fills up early. You can launch paddleboards, kayaks, and small boats here, but there’s no designated swim area. Also, you’ll have to pay $10 for a day-use pass. But if you’re camping in the state park, this is YOUR beach. Bliss! Note that dogs are not allowed on this beach.
- Chamber’s Landing: This wide, sandy beach has grills galore, but you might not need them: adjacent to the beach sits the gorgeous Chamber’s Landing Bar & Grill, the oldest bar in Tahoe (dating back to 1875!). Spend a day at the beach before relaxing on the patio with a Chambers Punch and a plate of lobster ravioli or scallops and abolone while watching the sun set over the Sierra Nevadas.
- Meek’s Bay: Adjacent to the Meeks’ Bay campground and resort is this wide, sandy strip of beach directly off Highway 89 in scenic Meek’s Bay. Here you’ll find kayak rentals and food concessions along with bathroom facilities and picnic tables. The beach, along with the resort, is owned & maintained by the Washoe Tribe, who are the original inhabitants of Lake Tahoe and you can find Native American crafts and books for sale inside – spending money here is an excellent way to support the tribe (for more about how Indigenous tourism can benefit Indigenous communities, head to our ethical tourism guide).
Beaches on the East Shore
- Zephyr Cove: This beach has a reputation as the “party beach.” If that’s up your alley, you’ll also love the full-service resort here complete with a restaurant, beach bar and grill, store, and beach volleyball courts. The resort is also home to the M.S. Dixie ll paddlewheeler: hope aboard and take a stunning narrated cruises to Emerald Bay!
- Round Hill Pines Beach Resort: At this inclusive day-use beach resort, you’ll find everything you need here for a sunny beach day: you can rent everything from kayaks and SUPs to lounge chairs, there’s a restaurant and bar, and if you really want to ball, you can rent boats and jet-skis here, too – or take a cruise on a yacht. Note that you’ll need to pay a $12 parking fee and no pets are allowed.
Dog-Friendly Travel Tip: Most of the larger public beaches in Tahoe don’t allow dogs or have strict leash rules, but there are a few dog-friendly beaches in Lake Tahoe: the Bijou Dog Park (South Lake), Coon Street Beach (King’s Beach, in North Lake), Kiva Beach (South Lake, right off Highway 89), and Nevada Beach. Leash laws are strictly enforced, so always look for signage!
Hit the Trails
Hiking is one of the best ways to experience Lake Tahoe in the summer. Being situated in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountains, you’ve got endless vistas of mountains, alpine lakes, towering pines, and other things that make you ooh and ahh. Don’t go to Tahoe in the summer without hitting a trail!
Several of our favorite Northern California hikes are in Lake Tahoe. Here are some of our favorites:
- Emerald Point Trail | Miles: 5.5: This hike traces along the northern shore of stunning Emerald Bay, with jaw-dropping lake views the entire time. The trail is mostly flat, with just 500 feet of elevation gain, and you’ll have access to a beach, bathrooms and snacks near the beginning & end of your hike at Vikingsholm. But take note: you’ll need to do a teensy bit of off-trail adventuring to make it all the way to the point!
- Eagle Lake Trail | Miles: 1.9: This is the perfect short hike if you really want some bang for your buck. The out-and-back Eagle Lake Trail starts near the beautiful Emerald Bay and takes you past Eagle Falls before reaching Eagle Lake at the base of North Maggie’s Peak. Note: because this trail enters a wilderness area, you’ll need to pick up a permit at the trailhead.
- Fallen Leaf Lake | Miles: 8.1: This route circles a smaller lake near South Lake Tahoe which kind of looks like a miniature Lake Tahoe – except the mountains that surround it are MUCH closer. I haven’t completed the full loop version of this hike, but even a partial hike was enough to showcase how stunning this area is! We heard that much of this hike is on a paved road, so if that’s not your preference just turn around instead of completing the loop.
- Rubicon Trail | Miles: 9.2: This hike cemented my love for Lake Tahoe. The hike begins in D.L. Bliss State Park – camp there if you can – up in the granite, pine-topped cliffs. It gradually descends down to the lake, with sweeping Lake Tahoe views the entire time. Once you reach shore level, it passes multiple little private coves which would be the perfect place to enjoy the beach and take a dip. Then it goes straight through a boat-in campsite, passes through some flower-covered meadows, and ends at a beautiful Norwegian-style castle, called Vikingsholm, which has a beach and a little gift shop with ice cream: the best things to have mid-way through a long hike! Take a break and relax before climbing back up, or shuttle your cars to make the hike an easy 5-mile descent.
- Crag Lake Hike | Miles: 9.8: The name “Desolation Wilderness” isn’t exactly what I would call appealing.It conjures up images of being lost in a murky, haunted forest, possibly filled with rabid bears. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. But I can attest to the fact that it is, in fact, incredibly beautiful and not scary in the slightest. The trailhead is across from Meek’s Bay (camp here if you can!) and heads away from the lakeshore up into rocky granite cliffs with constant, sweeping vistas of lush pine forest and distant mountain tops. After about 5 miles you’ll reach a series. of stunning alpine lakes. The most picturesque lake – well worth continuing past the initial, inferior lakes – is Crag Lake. At the valley created by rocky mountain peaks, the lake is a mirror reflecting the beauty of its surroundings peacefully on its surface. It is an idyllic midway point for lunch before hiking back the way you came, with new views all the way down!
There are TONS more amazing hikes in Lake Tahoe – this is only a tiny selection. For more ideas, check out Tahoe Trails Guide, a local blog with a comprehensive list of Tahoe hiking guides!
Play in that Stunning Water
You can’t look at Lake Tahoe without the urge to head out on the water. The water is so blue, so inviting, and so refreshing on a hot summer day. Luckily, there are also a ton of boat outfitters all around the lake where you can rent something for a couple of hours or the whole day!
The quintessential Lake Tahoe experience is to rent a boat and spend the day zipping around the lake. Here are a few options:
- Go sailing: Hop on board a chartered sailboat and spend a wonderful two hours sailing across Lake Tahoe! This sailing cruise is capped at 18 people – and is a fraction of the cost of chartering your own boat.
- Private chartered boat: This is the perfect way to enjoy Lake Tahoe: just you and your loved ones (and a professional boat Captain) on a luxurious little boat, floating along on the bright green waters of Emerald Bay. The only catch is the price: you’ll want a group to make this budget-friendly, but the boat fits up to 6 people.
- Double-decker pontoon with a WATERSLIDE: I mean, come ON. It does not get cooler than this baller double-decker boat with a freakin’ waterslide. You’ll want to bring along 10 other people (and make them all chip in) to make this more budget-friendly, but this is hands down the best way to spend a day in Lake Tahoe with a group! Just make sure whoever drives the boat stays sober 😉
While powerboats are quite pricey to rent — unless you’re traveling with a group — you can rent kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards for a much more reasonable price. Besides, when you propel your own boat, you experience a little more of that mountain serenity!,
- Tahoe City Kayak: If you’re staying on the north end of Lake Tahoe, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards at Tahoe City Kayak at Commons Beach. This shop can also deliver your watercraft, so if you plan to set out from another beach, they can drop off your boat wherever you’re staying. You can rent their boats or boards by the hour, for a ½ day, or for a full day.
- Wild Society: For something a little unique, rent a clear — as in, see-through! — kayak or stand up paddleboard from Wild Society in Kings Beach. If you really want to enjoy the turquoise water of Lake Tahoe, this rental is for you. Not only do you get to enjoy the scenery around you, but you can gaze straight down through your transparent boat and into that crystal clear water.
- SUP Tahoe: In South Lake Tahoe, you can rent paddleboards and kayaks at SUP Tahoe. Here, you can rent for 2 hours, the whole day, or just the evening — imagine paddling into a Tahoe sunset! They offer “extreme stability” boards for duos who want to share a board — or for singles who aren’t particularly well-balanced.
- Adrift: For kayaks, paddleboards, but also canoes, visit Adrift in Kings Beach. While canoes are a little different than kayaks, they’re great for couples or pairs and you can carry a lot more stuff with you. Ooh, and they sell shave ice at the shop. What a refreshing end to a day on the water!
- Take a kayaking or paddleboarding tour: Never SUP-ed or kayaked before, or just prefer a guide? There probably isn’t a more beautiful place to learn how to kayak or paddleboard than on the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe. If you need a little practice or prefer a guide, this easy kayaking & paddleboarding tour is for you. Your guide will teach you the basics of paddling as you learn you a little about the natural history of the area.
Stuff your Face
I’m gonna just be super honest with you: nobody goes to Lake Tahoe for the food. It’s not known for food and there’s nothing particularly special about the food there.
But if you want a break from camp food or just need a burger after a big hike (we’ve all been there), here’s what we can recommend:
South Lake Tahoe
- Himmel Haus is a cozy little spot in South Lake Tahoe located at the foot of a Heavenly ski run that serves delicious, authentic-enough German food. Plus, they’ve got a fantastic German and Belgian beer selection! This is our favorite post-hike spot to get an appropriately satisfying meal.
- For dessert, pick up some fresh cobbler a la mode at Aloha Ice Cream and Dessert Spa, and then head across the street for an incredible view of the lake at sunset in South Lake Tahoe.
North Lake Tahoe
- Old Town Tap: This taphouse in Truckee has a dog-friendly outdoor patio and fare that’s somehow upscale and down-to-earth at the same time. Try a local beer with the bone marrow with chutney and arugula, the sausage and kale mac n’ cheese with chèvre, chili oil, and lemon zest, or a pizza with pork belly, bacon, guanciale, pickled pepper, chili flake, mozz, parm, and honey.
- Fat Cat: Head to this Tahoe City local favorite for incredibly fresh seafood. Yes, really! I mean, you are only a few hours inland, after all. We recommend the ahi tower (it’s delicious and generous) or the lobster claw grilled cheese. Or just order the feel-good burger of the month – 15% of the proceeds benefit a local non-profit.
- Chamber’s Landing Bar & Grill: Said to be the oldest bar and boathouse in Tahoe, Chamber’s Landing dates back to 1975. Today, you can spend a day at the Chamber’s Landing beach before relaxing on the patio with a Chambers Punch and a plate of lobster ravioli or scallops and abalone while watching the sun set over the Sierra Nevadas.
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Drink a Post-Adventure Beer
Big mountain hikes aren’t really complete until the post-adventure beer. Luckily, Tahoe has plenty of both.
Whether you’re in North or South Lake Tahoe, there are plenty of places to grab an after-hike beer. Most have great beer gardens to enjoy a little more of that Sierra sun. Whether you’re looking for a fruity sour or bitter IPA, there’s no shortage of pints at these Lake Tahoe breweries:
North Lake Tahoe
- FiftyFifty Brewing is a pub in Truckee with beers like the Donner Party Porter and Tahoe Pilz. But they’re also known for their vintage Eclipse collection — whiskey barrel-aged versions of their award-winning Imperial Stout. They’ve also got a menu with some fine-looking burgers (one of which is obviously named “Donner Party”). Beer and burgers — what more could you possibly want?
- Alibi Ale Works brews its beer with Lake Tahoe water – can you get more local than that? This brewery has a few different locations: first, the Brewery and Barrel House in Incline Village serves beer, wine, cider, and kombucha. They don’t serve food, but recommend a few local spots for you to order in takeout. The second location is in Truckee — the Truckee Public House. They serve much of the same great beer, along with seasonal and creative food. Incline Public House is the third and newest location, with more great food and beer. Both pubs also host live music.
- The Good Wolf Brewing is all things woodsy, whimsical, and welcoming. With its “forest-inspired” beers, The Good Wolf is serving brews like Dirty Candy – a foraged mushroom ale, Little Feather – a blueberry sour, and Range of Light – an evergreen IPA. If you’re looking for unique beer to match the scenery — or you just need to know what the heck a mushroom ale tastes like — don’t miss this place!
South Lake Tahoe
- South of North Brewing Company is a great spot for both beer and entertainment. They’ve got a spacious outdoor patio with firepits and games, and they often host live music. In the summer they serve a nice selection of fruity beers, like the refreshing Blueberry Ale.
- South Lake Brewing Co. has both a front patio and a spacious beer garden, perfect for enjoying some afternoon sun and some excellent beer. Try their Marlette Sunrise Blood Orange Blonde with honey malt and flaked wheat for a hint of sweet malt complexity, with a hint of blood orange purée!
- Sidellis features experimental beers and some tasty food to match. It’s got both outdoor seating and an indoor, log cabin-y vibe. Try the seasonal Mangonero White — a sweet and spicy brew of mango and habanero.
- While they don’t brew their own beer at The Hangar, it’s definitely worth a visit. In the summer, you can enjoy the sprawling beer garden and choose from the 30 or so beers they have on tap. You can find delicious craft brews from all over California, as well as Wyoming, Oregon, and as far away as Michigan. The Hangar doesn’t serve food, but you’re encouraged to bring your own.
For even more details on breweries in South Lake Tahoe, check out this post by our friend Kara from Whimsy Soul that thoroughly ranks Tahoe breweries based on beer and ~vibes.
Visit a Norwegian Castle & a Haunted Island
In the 1860s, along the shores of Emerald Bay, a stagecoach magnate and early-day transportation king named Ben Holiday built the first resort in Lake Tahoe (in hindsight, his name may have sealed the fate of Lake Tahoe).
Over 60 years later in 1928, a fabulously wealthy woman named Mrs. Josephine Knight purchased the land in order to build the vacation home of her dreams: Vikingsholm – a spectacular Norwegian-esque “castle” that looks like something directly out of a fairytale. I, too, was inspired to become a fabulously wealthy woman living in a Norwegian castle after watching Frozen.
The landscape of Tahoe reminded her of the fjords of Scandinavia, where she’d traveled many times before. So she built a Norwegian castle to match! Because if you can’t build miniature versions of the fabulous castles you saw on your European travels, what’s the point of being ridiculously rich in California in the 1920s? Am I right, William Randolph Hearst?
Mrs. Knight didn’t stop there, though: she also built a tea house on Fannette Island, located in Emerald Bay. Her guests had to travel to her private island by rowboat to attend her fabulous tea parties, top which I say, this woman is a vibe and I want to be her when I grow up. Unfortunately, the tea house has since been vandalized, and it’s not much to see anymore.
But wait: there’s more. Before Mrs. Knight built her fancy tea house on Fannette Island, it was home to Captain Dick “Them’s My Toes” Barter, who looked after Ben Holiday’s fabulous resort while it sat empty during the freezing cold Tahoe winters. Captain Dick lived on the island alone, but would row the 16 miles up to Tahoe City to drink whiskey in the saloon with other hardy locals. One night, while rowing home from the bar, a storm hit and capsized his boat, throwing him into the freezing cold waters. It is said that he lashed himself to the side of the boat and kept rowing, shouting “Richard Barter never surrenders!”.
He survived, but two of his toes became frostbitten. So, like a true rugged outdoorsman, he amputated them himself and saved them in a box. For the rest of his life, he took every opportunity to shock guests at the resort by taking them out during dinner parties with relish, announcing “them’s my toes!” and passing them around to horrified guests. To which I say, ALSO VERY MUCH A VIBE/GOALS.
Sadly, he died mysteriously in a storm (also, probably, while rowing home drunk from the bar). His toes (and body) are still unaccounted for, and it’s said that he still haunts the island, floating around with a small box and crying THEM’S MY TOES to anyone in earshot.
To soak up all the weirdness of this spot, you’ll have a bit of a schlep. Vikingsholm is tucked onto the shore of Emerald Bay, on the southwest side of the lake. You can only reach it via a 1-mile trail from the parking lot on Highway 89 (or as the halfway point of the 9-mile Rubicon Trail) or by boat, Captain Dick style. (You can only access Fanette Island, and its mysterious and haunted ruins, by boat).
Bring your swimsuit and a towel and make a day of it: there’s a charming, tucked-away little beach here! You can buy tickets for tours of Vikingsholm, plus some snacks and other sundries, at the adjacent visitor center.
To hear our retelling of the amazing stories of Vikingsholm, Fannette Island, toes, and Lake Tahoe’s other weird, quirky history, listen to our Lake Tahoe podcast episode!
- Head’s Up: Don’t confuse Vikingsholm with Valhalla, which is located at another historic site that once housed a fancy resort for wealthy travelers: the Tallac Historic Site. They’ve also got a museum, but as far as we can tell, no ghosts.
Visit the Donner Party Memorial
If you’ve never heard of the Donner Party, buckle up – it’s a wild ride.
The Donner Party was a large group of pioneers (about 80 total people, all families) who were trapped in the Sierra Nevadas in the brutal winter of 1846 after a series of unfortunate events and bad decisions. They spent a horrific winter holed up at Truckee Lake (today known as Donner Lake, because California has a dark sense of humor) and were forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. Only 46 of the original 80 survived, mainly women and children; everyone else died of starvation, sickness, extreme cold, snow blindness, or murder.
That’s a massive oversimplification, though. The real story – which is well chronicled in the journals and records of the party itself, as well by the settlers who eventually rescued the survivors – is not one of gruesome, hardy frontier-people-turned cannibals, as pop culture might have you believe, but a gut-wrenching tale of families forced to make unthinkable decisions to ensure the survival of their loved ones.
It started out as a perfectly ordinary group of families taking the well-trodden and relatively safe Oregon Trail, but through a series of truly awful decisions, bad advice given from unscrupulous settlers, and awful luck, it ended as one of the most horrifying stories of modern California’s earliest days.
It’s not one of California’s happiest stories, but it is fascinating. I had never heard of the Donner Party before moving to California, and it GRIPPED ME in the way that only horrifying disaster/adventure stories do.
If you are interested in learning the Donner story, we HIGHLY recommend reading the well-researched and well written book The Indifferent Stars Above and/or listening to the Donner Party episode from Last Podcast on the Left, which is one of our favorite podcasts for research reasons (not because they often make annoyingly off-color jokes).
Once you’ve learned their tragic story, head to Donner Memorial State Park to visit the museum and memorial. Here you’ll see a tree marking the height of the snow in one of the most brutal winters in Tahoe’s history, which is truly jaw-dropping. And most gut-wrenching of all, you’ll be able to visit the actual sites where the pioneers were trapped, unable to escape the snow. A darkened granite boulder marks the sad hearth of one lean-to shack – and in the ground underneath, the gnawed bones of the doomed pioneers are still buried to this day. *cue eerie haunted music*
If you are looking to explore a bit of the local flavor of Tahoe and need a break from all the beautiful nature surrounding you (I know, gross), check out the quaint towns of Tahoe City and Truckee!
Historic Truckee is worth a visit for the classic Old West architecture, the California history, and the welcoming shops and restaurants lining the streets.
- Self-Guided Historic Tour: Download a map and take yourself on a self-guided Historic Walking Tour of historic downtown Truckee. Pick a single district for a smaller tour, or make a day of it and see them all. The map includes local restaurants for when you need to refuel.
- Take a scenic bike ride: The paved Truckee River Legacy Trail follows the Truckee River for a scenic bike ride or walk. Rent a bike in town and pedal this scenic stretch along the river!
- Visit a Museum: Old Truckee Jail Museum – This museum is one of few original buildings in Truckee. The jail itself was used starting in 1875 — and housed inmates up until 1964! Visit to learn about the jail’s history and see old photographs and artifacts from the area.
- Wine and Dine
- Truckee River Winery – This winery’s claim to fame is that they’re California’s highest and coldest winery. In the summer, though, no need to worry about the cold. Enjoy a glass of chilled rose outside the winery’s scenic riverside barn.
- Moody’s Bistro Bar & Beats – Moody’s is a cozy Truckee staple, with farm-to-table dishes, seasonal cocktails, and a wide array of live music performances. Moody’s is known for its welcoming and warm ambiance — and it’s located in the historic Truckee Hotel.
- Cottonwood Restaurant and Bar – This place mixes the old and the new, all in classic ski-town style. As one of the nation’s oldest ski lodges, the restaurant is full of character and charm. The menu features new spins on classics like the New Zealand Lamb and Salmon with Risotto.
- Browse the Shops: Charming local shops like Bespoke are full of things you didn’t know you needed! But while you’re on the hunt for things to take home with you, stop into a few of Truckee’s many art galleries, too, like Art Obsessions. Visit the attached wine bar and make an afternoon out of it.
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Explore Tahoe City
With a population of around 2,000, Tahoe City is quite small. But its location, wedged between beautiful Sierra peaks and Lake Tahoe itself, makes this little town a big destination.
- Eating and drinking
- Bridgetender Tavern – Enjoy the riverside patio for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Bridgetender Tavern. They’re known for burgers and bloody mary’s, but they’ve got a healthy selection of Mexican dishes on the menu, too. Try the California Burrito — it’s got fries inside.
- Za’s Lakefront – This classic Tahoe restaurant recently reopened on the waterfront, and the view is better than ever. Come to refuel with a big bowl of pasta, a post-hike pizza, and a local brew.
- Browse the Shops: Start with Cobblestone Center, Tahoe City’s quaint little shopping village, which looks a bit like a Bavarian town square with an adorable clock tower! You can grab lunch or dinner at Tahoe Tap Haus, then stroll around the variety of shops, like Trunk Show, specializing in local artsy gifts. Then head to Tahoe City Chocolates to satisfy your sweet tooth with chocolate, candy, or ice cream. This friendly shop is part of the Boatworks Mall, a collection of shops and restaurants right on the lake. Stop into anywhere that catches your fancy along the way!
- Hit the Beach: Tahoe City is right on the water, which means you’ll find beaches right next to town! Tahoe City Commons Beach is a beachside park with perfect for sunbathinging, swimming, and picnicking. Plus, in the summer, Commons Beach is the home of FREE Concerts at Commons every Sunday afternoon and FREE movies on the beach every Wednesday night. There are also trails here to stroll along the water for as long as you like.
- Visit a Museum: At the Gatekeepers Museum you’ll learn a little bit of natural and cultural history from the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society. Exhibits range from Sierra ski history to beautiful Native American basket collections.
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Visit a Ski Resort (in summer!)
Many of Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts stay open in the summer, and while there’s obviously no skiing going on, there are plenty of other adventures! Visiting a ski resort is one of the best ways to access the mountains ringing the lake and to see the lake from up above.
In addition to being fun (and scenic) places to stay in the summer, ski resorts are usually great places for hiking, mountain biking, and sightseeing. Check out one of the many ski resorts in the Tahoe area to enjoy some of these quintessential mountain activities.
- Take a scenic gondola ride: at Heavenly Resort in South Lake Tahoe, you can ride a gondola to the top of the mountain and back down again. The ride to the top is one long, stunning view of the lake. At the top, there are a few places to grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. And if you want more than a scenic ride, the gondola gives you access to plenty of hiking trails on the mountain so you can ride up and hike down (or vise versa).
- Ride an Alpine Coaster: Who said coasters are just for theme parks? At Heavenly Resort, you can coast down the mountain in the summer — no skis necessary. Just hop in the Alpine coaster (fits one or two people) and fly down the mountain through epic Tahoe scenery.
- Mountain bike in the Sierra: If you are an adventurous Olympic athlete (I assume), you can rent a bike at Northstar Resort and enjoy the mountain singletrack in the bike park. This is the area’s only lift-serviced bike park, so you can enjoy the downhill thrill without the grueling pedal up. The resort offers protective gear in addition to the bikes, and there are trails ranging from beginner to expert.
- Have a Via Ferrata climbing adventure: Via Ferrata — “iron road,” in Italian — combines hiking with rock climbing for those that like a thrill (but a safe one!). You’ll find Via Ferrata courses at numerous mountain resorts across the country, but Tahoe’s only is at Squaw Valley. Learn from professional guides as you navigate Sierra rock faces — but don’t worry, you’ll be safely secured and anchored in the entire time.
- Take a hike: Many ski resorts, like Northstar in Truckee, have summer hiking trails in addition to the winter ski trails. Since ski resorts typically cover a lot of elevation, you can really challenge yourself by hiking uphill. Some mountains offer gondola rides up the mountain (usually for a cost) if you’d like to hike downhill instead. Whether you start from the bottom or the top, the views will be fantastic!
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Take A Guided Tour
While there are a million things you can do yourself on your summer Tahoe trip, sometimes it’s worth touring with an expert. Lake Tahoe is brimming with adventurous tours for summer visitors — everything from a beginner’s paddleboard lesson on the lake to wine country tours nearby. Here are some great options if you’d like to sit back and leave the planning to someone else:
- Visit (mountain) Wine Country: You’re in northern California, after all. This tour picks you up in South Lake Tahoe and brings you to the El Dorado wine region of the Sierra foothills. Sample wine to your heart’s content — this region is known for its Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Your day in wine country also includes a picnic lunch, which you can enjoy on the grounds of a gorgeous Sierra winery.
- Take a happy hour cruise: Maybe powering your own boat isn’t for you — all that paddling is hard. So hop on the Tahoe Bleu Wave in South Lake Tahoe and enjoy a scenic happy hour cruise, where you can enjoy unparalleled views of Emerald Bay with a knowledgeable captain.
- Hit the trail (on horseback): There’s something so dreamy about riding on horseback through a big, mountainous landscape with a clear blue sky overhead. It’s kind of a childhood fantasy, but it doesn’t seem to get any less enchanting as an adult. At Camp Richardson Corral, you can take a guided trail ride into the National Forest for captivating Lake Tahoe views. Choose from a 1- or 2-hour ride.
- Cycle the East Shore on an e-bike ride: Head across to the East Shore to take a scenic cycle along the shoreline of the lake on an e-bike. Stop off at beaches, explore mountain vistas and take in the incredible views.
- Take a Helicopter Ride around Emerald Bay: See the lake and the bay from above with a helicopter ride. Showcasing beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake, Cascade Lake, Taylor Creek, and Pope Beach, this tour gives you the best views of Emerald Bay.
Take a Scenic Drive
While you can certainly plant yourself in one area of Lake Tahoe and have plenty to do, summer is also the perfect time for scenic drives around the area (especially on routes that winter snow makes impassable). Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, so there’s a lot of shoreline to explore!
Here are two epic scenic drives that will firmly cement the Sierra Nevadas in your memory forever:
- Drive the Perimeter of Lake Tahoe: You can easily drive around Lake Tahoe in a day, with plenty of time for several stops. The driving distance is 72 miles, and you can expect to spend about 3-4 hours driving (without detours or stops). This route will take you by countless beaches, where you can swim, rent a kayak, or have a picnic. You’ll also pass through a few state parks: Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point, D.L. Bliss, Emerald Bay, and Sand Harbor, all great for hiking, picnicking, and beachgoing. Of course, you’ll also pass through all of the Lake Tahoe area towns: Incline Village, Kings Bay, Tahoe City, and South Lake Tahoe are all on the route and great for exploring and dining along the way!
- Drive to Yosemite National Park: Want to tack on another jaw-dropping bucket list destination to your summer vacation? ( …we have no shortage of them in California, after all.) Yosemite National Park is located just a few hours south of Lake Tahoe – they’re both nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range! During the summer, it’s possible to drive through the Sierra Nevadas and enter Yosemite from either the west or east entrances. We recommend driving California’s scenic Highway 395, which will take you past sweeping mountain views. and hot springs while winding through historic Gold Country towns (and one not-so-charming but wonderfully creepy abandoned Ghost Town, Bodie.) Be sure to stop at June Lake, soak in Travertine Hot Springs, and check out the curious “tufa towers” at Mono Lake. Take a look at our guide to where to stay in Yosemite for more tips.
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What to Pack for Lake Tahoe in Summer
Before we send you off exploring, here are our absolute must-have essentials for Lake Tahoe! The two main activities you’ll want to pack carefully for are hiking and water sports. And, of course, a warm layer, like a packable down jacket or a warm fleece for after dark.
Lake Tahoe Beach Essentials
- Sun Protection: Summer in Lake Tahoe does get hot, but even when it’s colder you’ll be getting lots of sun exposure! Slather on high SPF sunscreen on any exposed skin, including SPF chapstick to protect your lips. And don’t forget sunglasses and a sun hat!
- Quick-drying towel: This travel-friendly microfiber towel is lightweight, packs down into a tiny bundle, and dries super fast.
- Rash Guard: If you’re going kayaking or paddleboarding, I highly recommend a rash guard, which is basically a shirt that’s specially designed for swimming. It feels the same as swimsuit material, dries quickly, and gives you plenty of sun protection. Your arms and chest will stay protected, and if you’re a wuss in cold water like I am, you’ll get a lil’ warming boost, too!
- Swim Leggings: My butt is always the first thing to burn when I’m swimming. Swim leggings let you move underwater without restriction while providing sun protection (and a little extra warmth in that frigid Lake Tahoe water, too). I love Waterlust’s swim leggings line because the brand is super sustainable and supports conservation and anti-racism initiatives, plus their leggings are 100% chlorine, sun, saltwater and sunscreen resistant and made from recycled materials, and they have POCKETS! Sizes go up to 3XL.
- Beach Cooler: Long sunny beach days call for ice-cold coolers! Pack this high-tech ultra-light cooler full of drinks and snacks and take it with you to the beach. It’ll keep everything cold all day long!
- Sand-Repelling Beach Mat: Keep sand out from anywhere it doesn’t belong with this cute sand-repelling, travel-friendly beach towel.
One thing you don’t really need to worry about? Bug spray! Most years, there really aren’t that many biting insects at Lake Tahoe in the summer. But if you need it, you can always pick some up at a store in one of Tahoe’s many little towns.
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Lake Tahoe Hiking Essentials
- 50-100oz of water: Most Lake Tahoe-area hikes are at a higher altitude, so you’ll need a LOT of water. Seriously, don’t skimp. On day hikes, we always bring a Camelbak Hydration Pack that fits 100oz of clean water, snacks, AND has room for the rest of our gear, too.
- Hiking Clothes: The best hiking clothing is both functional and comfortable. You’ll need to layer properly to account for the differences in temperature and weather that you’ll experience during your hike – and be prepared for a change at a moment’s notice, especially at higher altitudes. We prefer wool hiking gear thanks to its ability to cool you down in the heat and keep you warm when you’re wet or sweaty. We’ve tried a lot of different hiking clothing over the years, and these are our favorite tried and true picks.
- Hiking Shoes & Socks: Jeremy and I both hike in Trail Runners (his & hers) rather than heavy duty hiking boots – they’re lightweight and travel friendly, more flexible and comfortable, and they dry super quickly when it rains or after a water crossing, so your feet will stay toasty and try. Pair them with well-made wool socks. Our favorite wool sock brand is Darn Tough: they’re soft, durable, and they come with a lifetime guarantee in the event of holes (that’s how you know it’s real).
- First Aid Kit: We happen to be disaster magnets, so we never hike without a basic first aid kit. Your first aid kit doesn’t need to be big – this one is pretty small – but it should have the basics. If you’re DIY-ing your own, we recommend including bandaids, sterile alcohol wipes, waterproof matches, burn and bite treatment, and moleskin patches for when you feel a blister coming on, which can easily change your fast pace into a disastrously slow one! Be sure to include a compass as well.
Planning to go camping in Lake Tahoe? It’s our favorite place to camp! We’ve got a whole guide to car camping essentials to help you pack.
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Which Lake Tahoe summer activity are you looking forward to doing first? Are you as freakishly fascinated by the Donner Party as we are? Let us know in the comments below!
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