When planning a trip to Lake Tahoe, traffic delays are almost guaranteed if traveling on either Interstate 80 or Highway 50 around weekends. According to Waze, searches for directions to South Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area increased by over 70% on weekends in January, while searches for Lake Tahoe rose by nearly 50%.
Typically, a traffic-free drive takes about 3.5 hours, but winter weekends can make the travel time highly unpredictable. That leads us to a rule everyone should adopt – don’t drive to Tahoe on Friday.
Caltrans spokesperson Steve Nelson has always tried to avoid traveling to Tahoe on Fridays or returning on Sundays. He recommends leaving as early as possible on Friday, but the best advice is to avoid traveling on Fridays altogether, especially during winter storms. Instead, leave on Thursday and return Monday to completely dodge the traffic.
The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority encourages visitors to consider midweek trips, as Monday through Thursday offer fast lift lines, dining availability, and great lodging deals. Carol Chaplin, president and CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, notes that Friday traffic from the Bay Area starts around noon or 1 p.m., with congestion building up along Interstate 80 towards Sacramento. Arriving at the South Shore along US Highway 50 around 4-5 p.m. means likely encountering slower speeds as you enter the basin and move east towards the state line.
Chaplin suggests calling your accommodation to work out a deal that suits your schedule, such as requesting an early check-in if you plan to leave early on a Friday. Making the most of your Tahoe trip is essential, so inquire about a later check-out time or leave your bags at the front desk to enjoy a few morning activities and a late lunch while other travelers rush to depart.
Another option is to leave early on Monday morning and negotiate a lower Sunday night lodging rate, as it is usually the least busy night of the week. This way, you can save money and avoid the weekend traffic rush.
When planning a trip from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe, it’s essential to consider the best days and times to travel in order to avoid traffic delays. Opting for midweek visits, leaving early on Fridays, or extending your stay through Monday can make a significant difference in your travel experience.
If more people decided to travel to Tahoe on non-peak days, everyone would be happier.