The next major stop on our California road trip was Lake Tahoe. Oh man…Tahoe is gorgeous. If we lived closer we would visit all the time.
I completely underestimated the size of Lake Tahoe. I had all these activities planned around the lake but once we got there I realized that was more driving than we wanted to do. The lake is 72 miles around but the majority of that is two lane mountain roads. After driving two days to Tahoe the last thing we wanted to do was spend another day driving. We ended up staying mostly on the south end of the lake and that was perfectly fine.
Sand Harbor State Park
We visited several of the beaches and they are all gorgeous. You really can’t go wrong in Tahoe. That being said, Sand Harbor was definitely our favorite. Crystal clear water with large boulders below the surface. This is what dreams are made of.
We rented kayaks from Sand Harbor Rentals and spent the morning paddling around. It was my favorite activity of our vacation and definitely at the top of my list of favorite things we’ve done.
The day we were at Sand Harbor Seabreacher was there doing a photo shoot. Seabreacher makes mini submarine like watercraft that look like dolphins and fish. They go super fast, do barrel rolls, dive, and jump out of the water. They were so much fun to watch. Every time they would start doing tricks on the lake we’d paddle out there and watch.
Sand Harbor is the most popular beach in Tahoe so if you want to go you need to get there early. Once the parking lot is full the only way to enter is by public bus. There is no nearby parking and they do not allow parking on the side of the highway – there really isn’t anywhere to park anyway. Since we were there in the “off” season and it was a weekday, we arrived around 9am. There were still plenty of places to park and the beach was not yet crowded. By lunchtime the beach was completely full and the rental line was long.
One more Tahoe tidbit. The day we were at Sand Harbor lake winds were expected at 1pm with 4 foot swells so we were told we had to be back in the cove by noon. I rarely visit lakes so this was new to me. Sure enough, by early afternoon the lake was super choppy and we had beach waves. We sat on the beach eating our lunch, taking in the lake, and watched two different kayakers get rescued. It was really cool to see, minus the poor people that were stuck on the lake. I have no idea how common this is but for what it’s worth, lake winds are a thing.
Mountain Biking the Tahoe Rim Trail
The Husband rented a mountain bike from Over the Edge Tahoe and rode a segment on the Tahoe Rim Trail.
The kids and I dropped him off at the trailhead and went and played mini golf while he was riding. Figuring out when to pick him up was tricky in that cell service is spotty all around Tahoe but in the end it worked out perfectly.
Magic Carpet Golf in South Tahoe (supposedly there is also one in North Tahoe) was a fun stop and a great way to spend a few hours. We played 18 holes and then a few games of air hockey. For the record, I’m the air hockey champ. And since we’re stating things for the record, Little Mister is the mini golf champ. Little Miss and I were talking a bunch of smack the entire game. He stayed quiet and whooped us at mini golf.
Back to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the Husband had a ball and loved almost every single minute of his ride.
There are bikes shops all around Tahoe so it’s probably best to find one near the trail that you want to ride. Most also offer shuttles if you don’t want to drive.
Fallen Leaf Lake Campground
We stayed at the Fallen Leaf Lake Campground in South Tahoe. I struggled with where to stay because there are so many campgrounds and everyone has an opinion on north versus south. We never made it to North Tahoe so I can’t compare the two ends but we had a thoroughly enjoyable time in South Tahoe. It’s definitely a populated area but Fallen Leaf Lake Campground is in the woods and very relaxing. I’d recommend it if you like camping.
All of the sites at Fallen Leaf are nice and spacious. We were in 49 and it’s a pull thru site. Some of the sites are more in the trees, some have meadows backing them, and some back to the river. You really can’t go wrong.
Access to Fallen Leaf Lake is towards the backside of the campground. It took me two days to figure this out. There is a road to the lake but it’s not the best and is mostly one lane. There are some incredibly gorgeous cabins along the lake and a marina. But that’s it. If you want to sit on the shore you need to access it from the campground.
If you’re not a fan of narrow roads I would not recommend driving to the lake. Little Miss and I decided to go on an adventure one evening and ended up on the one lane road with a boat on wheels coming towards us in the opposite direction. I kid you not. It didn’t look like a boat you’d want to ride in so I assume it had some other offical purpose. Fortunately, we met up with this boat near a driveway so I was able to get out of its way. We ended up being behind the boat on our way back from the lake and he was driving literally like one mile an hour. Nothing like driving down a one lane mountain road behind a boat going slower than walking speed. It was such a strange situation that all we could do was laugh.
Tips For Visiting Lake Tahoe
We visited towards the end of June and were surprised to find that Tahoe isn’t fully operational until July. The visitor centers are only open on the weekends in June and some businesses aren’t operating yet. The kids wanted to ride the mountain coaster at the Heavenly Ski Resort and we wanted to go on a river float but neither business was open. I wouldn’t worry about this if you visit in July but if it’s any earlier check to make sure the activities you want to do are available.
We have Verizon and had terrible reception in most of Tahoe. Our phones did not work at the campground nor in most areas. Our phones worked best on every lake shore and in the BevMo parking lot. Be sure to have your activities planned before coming to Tahoe. Being that the visitor centers were closed the entire time we were there and we had terrible reception, we made our way to the BevMo parking lot at least once a day to research activity options and such. Insider top: Don’t buy ice at BevMo. It’s crazy expensive.
If you missed the other posts from this trip check out:
San Francisco (coming soon)