Complete 4 Day Lake Tahoe Travel Itinerary
Growing up in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, I thought I’d have a good understanding of what Lake Tahoe would be like. Wrong! The second deepest alpine lake in the US, Lake Tahoe is on an entirely different level. Because of its depth, the water is a stunning blue and, in some spots, turquoise. It would take you about 3 hours to drive around the entire lake so it’s BIG.
The best time to visit if you like water sports would have to be summer so you can enjoy the rather chilly water in maximum temps. We visited in September and lucked out with summer-like weather to enjoy all the activities the lake area has to offer.
What should I know?
- We flew into Reno Nevada and rented a car to drive about one hour to Lake Tahoe’s North Side.
- The north side of the lake has more rustic cabin accommodations while the south side is more commercialized. That being said the south side does have a lot of cute renovated motels and B&B options. I suggest staying a couple nights in each location for the full experience.
- Lake Tahoe is not cheap! A good way to save money is by renting a cabin with access to a kitchen either to make your own food or at least store leftovers.
- If you want to visit Sand Harbor, you either need to go really early to find a parking spot or else park in Incline Village and be prepared to walk or bike ~3 miles each way. We parked in Incline Village and walked and it was actually a great way to see the lake.
- You can rent kayaks or paddleboards at Sand Harbor. Another popular place to rent paddleboards is at Wild Society.
Day One: North Tahoe
Arrive into Reno Airport, pick up rental car and start driving the ~1 hour towards North Tahoe.
Check in to your accommodation. We stayed in a cabin at Rustic Cottages and I highly recommend them! They’re not fancy but they’re updated, clean, feel homey, have sweets and lemonade in the afternoons plus a nice breakfast spread to start your day.
It’s beach time! Drive to Sand Harbor and, if the lot isn’t full, park at the parking lot which costs $10 per vehicle. Otherwise park at the east side of Incline Village (you’ll backtrack to do this but it’s not long) and walk to Sand Harbor. It’s 2.7 miles each way but you’ll have amazing views.
Enjoy the afternoon swimming/kayaking/paddleboarding in some of the most beautiful, clear water. There is a concession bar for snacks and drinks or else bring your own picnic. You can rent paddleboards and kayaks directly at the beach if interested from Sand Harbor Rentals.
For dinner, check out Lanza for delicious, hearty Italian food. We each ordered a main but honestly could have shared one! Delicious and a local favorite.
Day Two: Mountain Bike + Lakeside Hike
Today, rent mountain bikes from Flume Trail Tahoe to bike the scenic – you guessed it – Flume Trail. It’s rated as one of the best trails in the country and for good reason – the views are amazing! This was our very first experience mountain biking and it was thrilling! We had to walk some parts that were narrow and on the side of the mountain but for the most part we managed just fine. We do hybrid bike on paved trails frequently so that may help a little.
The company is great as they’ll fit a bike to your height/weight and shuttle you to the start of the trail. The end of the trail is conveniently right where the bike shop is so you can easily drop off your bikes when you’re done and be on your way.
After you wrap up mountain biking (should take around 2-3 hours), grab a bite to eat at Tunnel Creek Café which is right by the bike shop.
If you’re up for more exploring, drive 10-12 minutes south to Chimney Beach and hike around. You can also pull off to see the iconic Bonsai Rock which is just north of Chimney Beach.
Tonight, head to La Mexicana Grocery Store for a casual dinner. It’s some of the best Mexican food I’ve had. It’s no frills but they have seating outside so you can enjoy dining al fresco. For a post meal treat, grab an ice cream at Sweet Tahoe Time Treat and then walk along the lake to enjoy the sunset on the lake.
Day Three: Emerald Lake + South Tahoe
Enjoy a hearty breakfast because today is about hiking to some of the most gorgeous viewpoints at Lake Tahoe. After breakfast, drive along the west side of the lake towards the Rubicon Trailhead in DL Bliss State Park. Parking is ~$10. From here, hike along the Rubicon Trail (out and back) for some stunning scenery en route to Emerald Bay. Eagle Creek Falls trail is connected to the Rubicon Trail at Emerald Bay and would add ~2 miles onto your hike for a total of ~10 miles. We did not opt to do this but heard great things about the views!
After your hike back to the trailhead, continue driving on to South Tahoe and check in to your accommodation. We stayed at Coachman Hotel which I highly recommend! note – this is an affiliate link, I appreciate your support! It’s a recently renovated motel with really cool décor, a pool and hot tub and nightly s’mores. They also have a great continental breakfast including waffles which were delicious. It’s within walking distance of the town but they do offer bikes for rent.
You’re likely extremely hungry at this point so I’d suggest heading to the Shops at Heavenly Village for Base Camp Pizza. It’s delicious and you can eat guilt free from all the calories burned hiking!
Day Four: South Tahoe
After breakfast, stop at The Free Bird for a chai tea latte – it’s one of the best I’ve had! If you have time, walk along the southern shores of Lake Tahoe, rent kayaks on the southeastern shore or take the scenic gondola from Heavenly Village up for amazing views.
Grab lunch from Sprouts Natural Food Café – it’s delicious and healthy.
At this point, we began a road trip to Carmel, which you could easily add on to your trip too!