Mountains and snow, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. But the mountains and summer—that’s like peanut butter and a spoon. Summer in Lake Tahoe is a pure, straight-from-the-jar kind of good time. Between the lake and trails, rivers and campgrounds, there’s quite literally an endless amount of things to do during a Lake Tahoe summer.
If you’ve been browsing for summer activities then you’re probably well-versed with the usual suspects; Emerald Bay, D.L. Bliss, Sand Harbor, the Rubicon Trail. We love ‘em all. But there’s a lot more to love.
So, here are eight of our favorite things to do during a Lake Tahoe summer (that you haven’t already read about one million times before):
1. Raft the Truckee River
Armed with all the essential attributes of a perfect summer activity, rafting down the Truckee River deserves a spot at the top of any Lake Tahoe itinerary. Are we certain of that? With five bliss-filled miles of cool, clear water dotted with hidden beaches and lively swimming holes, we’ve never been more certain of anything.
Advertised as a two-to-three hour float, locals & rafting aficionados know how to turn this stretch of heaven into an all day event. (Hint: it involves plenty of pit stops at sandy wedges of shoreline and deep, dippable swimming holes.) Bring beer for responsible drinking, pretzels for snacking and a waterproof speaker for blasting Steel Pulse at all moments in-between.
While you can DIY the float, we suggest booking with Truckee River Raft. They just make it easy. All details, apart from how many White Claws to pack, will be taken care of. Parking? Check. A shuttle to bring you up river? Got it. A secure, definitely-leak-proof raft and paddles. Yep.
There’s even a lively restaurant with nachos and Rum Runners at the end of the float where you can reminisce on those surprise rapids where Johnny didn’t quite paddle hard enough and you almost tipped.
2. Lake Tahoe Water Trail
Beer, cool. Bikes, rah rah rah. Why aren’t we talking about the lake? We admit, we’ve skirted the lake chat because we didn’t want to state the obvious. Of course you already know that summer in Lake Tahoe is all about long, sun-drenched days at Lake Tahoe.
But the Lake Tahoe Water Trail deserves mention, because it is hands down the best resource for any and all of your aquatic adventures. It is, definitively, the master guide to navigating the lake. A goldmine of carefully mapped routes, the site features day trips & overnight trips, plus the launch sites and beaches, campgrounds and public restrooms that you’ll find along the way.
Opt for a printable map or downloadable Google map, complete with mileage, places of interest and nearby amenities. And then! There’s tons of safety information—like weather forecasts and webcams, plus updates on wind patterns, and water temperature—that will help you plan ahead and stay safe.
In short, if you plan on getting on the water at all it’s worth taking a look.
3. Boat-in Camping at Emerald Bay
What’s better than camping? Better camping is the only thing better than camping. And better camping comes from campgrounds that you have to hike, bike or boat-in to access.
Albeit harder to get to, these types of campgrounds deliver tenfold on the most rewarding parts about camping. More private, more secluded and more wild than their car-friendly counterparts, campgrounds you gotta earn are well worth the extra effort.
And while a backpacking trip into Desolation Wilderness always holds a spot on our summer to-do list, this boat-in campground is (believe it or not) an easier “better camping” option. Because boat, in this case, actually means a personal flotation device. Stand up paddle boards, kayaks, canoes all apply.
If you don’t have one of your own, you can opt for a multi-day rental from almost any of the usual suspects in town. Tie up to your campsite’s private buoy, or carry your ship ashore. It’s worth it for a quiet night in your own private corner of Emerald Bay.
Want all the details on this one? Check out our post on camping in Emerald Bay.
4. Visit Angora Lakes
We know, we know. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Lake Tahoe that doesn’t center entirely around the lake. But there are just so many epic alpine lakes in the basin.
Small lakes, big lakes. Lakes with granite beaches, lakes with grassy shores. Lakes next to lakes and lakes next to streams. And while many of the best are hidden away in the depths of Desolation Wilderness, some are delightfully easy to access.
The Angora Lakes, for example. Plainly hidden within the boundaries of South Lake Tahoe are Upper and Lower Angora Lakes. A brief drive to a small parking lot, then a ½ mile uphill (but paved!) hike leads you to two, small freshwater lakes. Trek past the first lake to the second, and you’ll be rewarded with a snack shack (hi, ice cream) where you can rent SUPs, kayaks and paddle boats.
If you’re feeling wild, join the bold and the brave in scaling the giant slabs of granite that frame the lake. At nearly sixty feet up you’ll find one of Tahoe’s most popular cliff jumping sites. Less daring platforms can be found all around the lake.
In any case, these lakes offer a taste of Tahoe’s backcountry without the long journey. We think you’ll like ‘em.
5. Follow An Ale Trail
All of that hypothetical cliff jumping has us craving a beer. And that’s not just because, well, we pretty much are always craving a beer. No, it is a fact of life that beer pairs well with adventure. A fact so accepted across the Tahoe basin, that there is a map for it.
Like a modern-day Magellan, follow the North Lake Tahoe Ale Trail to find golden pints of local beer paired with a nearby outdoor experience. It’s the easiest way to make sure your day transitions seamlessly from hiking trails to draft beers, SUP routes to waterfront happy hours.
Beer lovers on the South Shore will find a similar friend in the South Tahoe Beer Trail. You’ll need to inject your own adventures in between brews, but the map is still a great resource for finding South Lake’s best breweries.
6. Relax At A Free Summer Concert
We love Kenny Chesney as much as the next person, but it’s not those concerts we’re talking about here. We’re talking picnic blankets in lieu of printed tickets, iced-down coolers instead of overpriced beer. Lake Tahoe is littered with free summer concerts—you just have to know where to look.
On a regular sans-COVID 19 year, there’s free music almost every day of the week somewhere around the basin. Humble community staples like the Truckee River Regional Park, Commons Beach, Tahoe Paradise Park and Lakeview Commons all transform into venues for local talent.
Reggae concerts, rock shows & funky little bluegrass bands rotate through the weeks, showering a crowd of happy dogs, kids & neighbors in rhythm and blues. After the dry heat of a July day mellows out, there’s really no better place to be. Oh, and it’s free.
(Yes, we love the Lake Tahoe summer concert series too. Kenny Chesney really is a legend.)
7. Rent a Bike
This may sound like a pedestrian suggestion, but as one of our favorite parts about summer in Lake Tahoe, we will not let your judgement keep us from talking about biking. (!) You may even be thinking “Wow, thanks. You’re telling me that I just read 2,000 words to be told to rent a bike when it was the first thing I had loaded in my truck anyway.”
And you’re not wrong. Going for a bike ride is not a novel idea. But it is the very best idea. So just in case you were on the fence about bringing—or renting—bikes while here, let us be the ones to tell you. Yes, biking.
We say this because there’s flat, wooded, beginner-friendly bike trails to be found all around the Lake. In South Lake Tahoe, a smooth, paved bike path winds through pine forests to the area’s best beaches. There’s the iconic (and new!) East Shore Trail leading from Incline Village to Sand Harbor, a gem of a trail following the Truckee River out of Tahoe City and a leisurely West Shore ride on the other side.
Local bike shops, like South Shore Bikes or Olympic Bike Rentals on the north shore, are outfitted with every bike under the sun, plus maps, advice and even shuttle services. And to think we haven’t even touched on mountain biking yet.
8. Take the Lake Tahoe Water Taxi
If we were to make a list of the most underrated activities in Lake Tahoe, this one would be at the top of it. But, since you’re actually researching the best things to do during a Lake Tahoe summer, we’ll just slip it in at the bottom here.
Running between Camp Richardson, Round Hill Pines, Lakeside Marina and Timber Cove Marina, the South Tahoe Water Taxi is arguably the best way to maneuver around South Tahoe on a busy summer day.
The seasonal taxi runs on a set schedule, with a one-way ride taking about one hour. Use it to bounce between the casinos and Camp Richardson, or land near Stateline’s Nevada Beach and Zephyr Cove. Although you’ll be car-free, bikes are welcome (and free!) passengers aboard the water taxi.
You can book tickets online, with roundtrip tickets coming in at $30 per adult. We don’t know if you’ve seen Uber prices around here, but we consider that an excellent transportation price. (Plus, it’s undoubtedly the most inexpensive way to get out on the lake. We love a double whammy.)
All of that, and we barely even scratched the surface of a Lake Tahoe summer. But we think you can figure the rest out. It’s not the hardest spot to have a good time.