9 Can’t-Miss Summer Adventures in Lake Tahoe

Photo by Clayton Cardinalli

It’s summertime in Northern California, meaning the pristine outdoor destinations of the region are primed for an adventure. One of the best regions for adventure is Tahoe, with glorious mountains rising above one of the most beautiful and unique lakes on the planet.

With the sun shining on Lake Tahoe this summer, it’s your best chance to embark on an adventure. Here are 10 can’t-miss summer adventures in Tahoe.

(Be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles in the Tahoe region. Learn more here)

Heavenly Mountain Coaster

Although Heavenly Mountain Resort is known for its massive ski resort, they also offer plenty of activities for the whole family during the summer. One activity trumps the rest for its exciting ride and beautiful views.

The Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster is a gravity-powered alpine coaster that gives you incredible views of the mountain and Lake Tahoe, all while feeling the crisp air against your face on this exhilarating ride. There’s room for two on the coaster and kids under 16 can ride down with an accompanying adult.

See what it’s like to experience the ride of a lifetime on Heavenly’s coaster:

Clearly Kayak

Photo by Clearly Tahoe

The water of Lake Tahoe is world famous for its clarity. Ever since humans began settling in the area in the late-1800’s, people have marveled at being able to see up to 100-feet down in the water. The best way to get a front-row seat to this magical water? On a transparent kayak.

A tour company near South Lake Tahoe, aptly named Clearly Tahoe, provides guests with tours of the shoreline of Lake Tahoe in their beautiful clear kayaks, allowing visitors to experience the beauty of the lake above and below the water. Among the tour offerings with Clearly Tahoe is their Scenic Shoreline Tour, Sunset Tours and LED Stargazing Tour.

The company has stations at Zephyr Cove and the Tahoe Keys Marina, enabling them to give visitors a view of multiple areas of the lake. The most popular of the tours is the Scenic Shoreline Tour, which takes your along the rock formations of the east side of the lake. This tour only takes about and hour and 30 minutes and includes beginners, children over 5-years-old and even pets.

Learn more about Clearly Tahoe

Fishing the Truckee River

Flowing between the Nevada border and Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River is a trout fishing mecca that flows right through Truckee, California.

Anglers can fish for rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, and largemouth bass (in lower sections) of the river.  High runoff between March and June makes it difficult to fish, but once flows return to normal in summer, the river becomes easier to fish.  Some of the best fishing occurs in late spring and early summer and again in fall.

Near Lake Tahoe, the most popular spots to fish are the Little Truckee River and different pools just east of Truckee. There are many angling regulations on this special river, so check them before you go. If you’re successful, you could pull out a fish like this one:

East Shore Trail

Dubbed as “America’s Most Beautiful Bikeway”, the long awaited Tahoe East Shore Trail is not only a spectacular way to recreate at North America’s largest alpine lake, but also provides direct access to public beaches, coves and trails along the picturesque Nevada shoreline.

This 3-mile paved trail system connects Incline Village south to Sand Harbor State Park, with stellar views of Lake Tahoe and unparalleled access to the beaches of the lake’s east side. The trail has 16 vista points and 11 beach access points, with so much to do in between. You can rent a bike at the Flume Trail Bikes or even bring your dog along (as long as they’re on a leash). Beauty awaits on possibly Tahoe’s best trail!

Monkey Rock

Photo by The Tahoe Fund

It’s best known for its world-famous rock formation shaped as the head of a gorilla. But the 4.7-mile out-and-back hike on the Tunnel Creek Trail, which is part of the Tahoe Flume Trail, is so much more.

In fact, it may be the best panoramic view of Lake Tahoe that one can find.

The Tunnel Creek Trail begins in Incline Village and climbs high above the lake, giving views of Tahoe’s water clarity from thousands of feet up. From the top of the trail, you can see the entirety of the 71-miles of shoreline surrounding Lake Tahoe. But to snap a photo, you may want to sit by Monkey Rock.

Learn more about the hike Monkey Rock

Emerald Bay State Park

Photo by Murat Bahar

Emerald Bay State Park contains unbelievable views of Lake Tahoe to go along with a giant waterfall, a historic 38-room mansion and a secluded island with a historic “tea house.” Emerald Bay is a National Natural Landmark, and when you see it in person you’ll know why. This area provides one of the most gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe and is a very popular destination for tourists.

Above the bay is Eagle Falls, which is a year-round waterfall that is only about a 2-mile round trip excursion from the highway. Once you reach the top of the falls, you’ll get an amazing view of the lake and Emerald Bay.

On the beach of the bay is the Vikingsholm Castle, which was built in 1929 by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight as a summer home. She also constructed a “tea house” on the island in Emerald Bay (the only island on Lake Tahoe). You can tour the Vikingsholm mansion for a small fee or you can go explore the tea house if you have a boat or kayak.

Bonsai Rock

Photo by Ethan Dow

There are plenty of great places to swim on Lake Tahoe, but for our money, Bonsai rock might be the best. This granite boulder in the middle of a sheltered swimming cove on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe has become a legendary place for locals and visitors alike. It’s difficult to get to, so it will never be too crowded, and the rock makes for a great place to hang out and jump into the crystal-clear Tahoe water (just make sure the waters deep enough).

There are small trees that grow out of the cracks of the boulder, most likely the origin of its Bonsai name. The rock is located between Sand Harbor and Hidden Beach, although there is no official trail to the area. The swimming hole is frequented by kayakers and paddle boarders, since its much easier to find from the water. No matter how you find it, you’re sure to have a spectacular time.

Lazy Float on the Truckee River

There are many summer activities in the Tahoe area for adventurers, but if your looking for a relaxing adventure, look no further than the lazy float down the Truckee River.

Flowing out of the northwest corner of Lake Tahoe in Tahoe City is a peaceful stretch of the Truckee River which is very popular for tourists and locals alike. You can bring your own floating devices or rent rafts from Truckee River Rafting and they will also provide a shuttle back to your car after the 2-3 hour float.

The trip will take you along Highway 89 where you will see gorgeous meadows and beautiful cabins along with occasional mountain views. There are  deeper parts of the river along the way so you can jump in to cool off. A shallow river bottom and plenty of accessible banks afford the opportunity to stop and soak up the setting along the way. The take out is located at River Ranch Inn near Alpine Meadows.

Learn more about the lazy float down the Truckee River

Desolation Wilderness

Flickr/Jono Hey

If you’re looking for a remote wilderness experience in Northern California, the Desolation Wilderness might be your best bet.

The Desolation is a 64,000-acre playground crisscrossed by hiking trails, running water and a generous number of alpine lakes of all sizes bursting with wild brook trout. Access is easy even if the hiking isn’t necessarily. There are trail heads on all four sides of the Desolation so picking the best access might take some research depending on where you’d like to go.

Once you’ve hiked up onto the plateau (which runs between 6,500 and almost 10,000 feet elevation), the landscape is vast as trails weave between dense ancient forests and huge expanses of granite sheets. Numerous trails cross smooth, granite expanses, but if you’re worried about losing the trail, fear not. People have been kind enough to build trail borders out of loose rocks to mark the trail. The famous Pacific Crest Trail winds for a good 17-miles through the Desolation connecting to various other shorter paths.

Have fun on your summer adventure in Tahoe!

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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