How to create the ultimate, adventure-filled family vacation in Tahoe during the balmy months of summer.
Tahoe is one of those rare ski towns that’s pulsating with energy and activity year round – the fun does not melt with the snow. So when the skiers and boarders hang up their long johns until next season, a fresh crop of thrill seekers and wanderlusters take their place to relish the hiking, biking, diving, fishing, swimming, and sightseeing in this visually rich environment. This abundance of recreational options makes Tahoe an optimal summer destination for families craving adventure, but of varying degrees.
So as you craft your itinerary to one of the most coveted destinations for nature/adrenaline lovers, pick and choose from the following to craft an epic journey into this dazzling pocket of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
1. Scuba Diving
For families with children age 10 and over (the minimum age to become scuba certified) that like their vacation with a heaping side of exhilaration, scuba diving in the mysterious depths of Lake Tahoe is a must. The underwater tapestry of shipwrecks, surreal forests with 80-foot tall trees that are more than 2,000 years old, and mazes of boulders spread throughout the abyss of Lake Tahoe provide a fantasyland for scuba divers that’s equal parts astonishing and eerie. And the fact that the water clarity is near perfect means you feel as though you’re flying atop the surface of an alien planet.
Known as the Bottomless Lake by some, there are pockets of the 122,200-acres of this chilly body of water that are still unexplored. This uncharted territory has resulted in compelling lore that includes everything from Tahoe Tessie, a relative of the Loch Ness Monster, and Lady of the Lake, a murderous mermaid, to a teahouse on a tiny island haunted by the hermit Captain Dick Barter who drowned in the lake. If your family is an intrepid, adventure-seeking crew, a scuba dive in this lake is bucket list worthy.
To get an idea of what dives to request, click here for a list of the most popular dive sites at Lake Tahoe.
Tip: Sierra Dive Center is one of the favorite dive shops serving Lake Tahoe.
If your littles are too little to scuba dive, you can still explore portions of Lake Tahoe's underwater realm via snorkeling. Pick up snorkel gear (including wetsuits), at either Adventure Scuba Center or Sierra Dive Center in Reno, then head to one of the popular snorkel spots around the lake, including Skylandia Beach, Sand Harbor, D.L. Bliss or Emerald Bay. While you're not going to see much more than boulders, sand and fish, it's pretty extraordinary to take in the awesome visibility of the lake from the warmth of your wetsuit.
3. Bike Riding
Families looking for a scenic, safe, and leisurely family bike ride should consider one of the many easy bicycle paths snaking around Tahoe. Favorite paths include Tahoe City to Squaw Valley that offers stellar views of the Truckee River (7.8 miles each way), Tahoe Meadows Whole Access Interpretive Trail, which features ample sightings of wildflowers and sprawling meadows (11.3 mile loop), and Pope-Baldwin Beach Bike Trail that takes you through old-growth forest and offers the opportunity to swim at Pope’s Beach (3.4 miles each way.) Stretch the fun by packing a picnic lunch and having a pit stop at one of the many visually stunning locations along your trail of choice.
If you don’t feel like schlepping your bikes along on your vacation, you can score wheels at Parallel Mountain Sports in The Village at Squaw Valley, or utilize a rental shop at one of the other popular Tahoe destinations, like Sand Harbor, which you’ll read about below.
4. Paddle Boarding or Kayaking
If the idea of being fully submerged in the chilliness of Tahoe gives you insta-brain-freeze, consider a glide across the waters on a stand up paddle board or kayak. You not only get to strengthen your balance and core but get a bird’s eye view into the depths of the clear lake. If your children aren’t old enough to manage their own board or boat, strap them into a lifejacket and let them sit on the front of your board, or in a two-seater kayak.
Before you strike out on your own SUP or kayak mission, head to Tahoe Adventure Company where you can rent boards and boats, and book a lesson and tour. We highly recommend a tour, as these guides not only know the routes that give you awesome underwater views, but also take you past interesting above-the-surface landmarks that often come with a juicy legend or historical tidbit. Our guide was like a floating Tahoe encyclopedia. And although it will give you a shock, it’s a right of passage to end your adventure with a full-body submersion in the water (as long as you’re exploring in the Summer.)
5. Ropes Course
Say yes to the epitome of family bonding by signing up for an excursion at Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks, or Squaw Valley Ropes Course. Both locations offer a series of courses for all skill levels, which include a series of tree platforms, zip lines, bridges and vertical climbing events. During your over 2.5 hours tackling one of these courses, you and yours will be required to call on your team work skills and support one another in summoning courage to conquer fears. And there’s no need to worry about safety as these facilities make it their top priority to provide thorough safety gear and ensure all courses are expertly maintained.
Note: Children as young as 5 can participate.
Families with a passion for the slow and steady, then fast and furious, nature of fishing will enjoy the thriving fishing scene on Lake Tahoe. The most common catches include Mackinaw, Brown and Rainbow Trout, and a self-sustaining population of Kokanee Salmon. If you would prefer bringing gear and doing your own thing, grab some worms, eggs and small spinners and post up at a popular bank fishing spot like Boca & Stampede Reservoirs, Fallen Leaf Lake, Taylor Creek or Caples Lake.
For those who really want to go all out, there are a slew of fishing charters that know where to go and what to use to help you score an impressive catch. A popular option for families is the Fishable Lake Tahoe program offered by The Hyatt Regency at Lake Tahoe’s Incline Village. This program includes a boat and captain, fishing licenses, bait, tackle, and complimentary beverages and snacks. And because few enjoy the experience of prepping their catch for eating, the chefs at the Hyatt’s Lone Eagle Grille will prepare your fish then serve it to you.
7. Geocache Hiking
Geocaching, the outdoor GPS-enabled treasure hunt game, is alive and well around Tahoe, offering seemingly endless Geocaching coordinates for families who enjoy donning their explorer caps. There are numerous Geocaches on the Tahoe Rim Trail, portions of Lake Tahoe’s shore only accessible by boat (a fun use for kayaks!), and at High Camp at Squaw Valley.
If you head to High Camp for some treasure hunting, make a stop at the High Camp pool and hot tub before you leave to soak in the warm water and mountainscapes that seemed to have been pulled from an oil painting.
To Do: Register for a free Geocaching membership here and follow the instructions from there.
8. Beach Bumming at Sand Harbor
Give your toes the gift of warm silky sand at Sand Harbor, which offers sculpturesque boulders to dive off, rentals for bikes and SUP boards, concessions, hiking trails, and clean facilities. If you’re interested in snorkeling, head to the large sandy bay on the south side of the harbor where granite boulders create intriguing snorkel zones.
Elongate your fun at this beach by bringing an umbrella, as the beach doesn’t have much shade. And make sure you arrive early to snag a parking spot, as the allure of this sanctuary is not lost on fellow beach bummers. However, if Sand Harbor is way too packed by the time you arrive (it’s especially busy on weekends) head over to…
Skylandia Beach and Park: Just east of Tahoe City is this 24-acre California State Park that is utilized by locals because it’s largely unknown by tourists. Beach naps can be had on the long golden shore, or the many hiking and biking trails can be explored. If you’re not into the idea of a sandy picnic when the stomachs grumble, head to Skylandia’s large park that’s replete with shade from the pines, picnic tables and beach views.