The Essential Guide to Visiting Lake Tahoe in Winter

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Between the snow-covered mountains and plethora of world-renowned ski resorts, Lake Tahoe has long been a hot destination for snow bunnies. However, even those who don’t love to ski or snowboard will love Lake Tahoe in winter.

Over the years, Tahoe has grown to accommodate a bustling tourism industry that blossoms every summer and winter. From cute shops and delicious restaurants to endless snow games and outdoor adventures, there’s a little bit for everyone during winters in Lake Tahoe.

Plus, the beauty of winters in Tahoe are truly unmatched. This already stunning lake town becomes a winter wonderland as holiday lights shine on the eaves of snow-covered cabins and the usual emerald mountainside transforms into something out of Whoville

Looking to plan your own winter vacation in Lake Tahoe? Check out our comprehensive guide below for everything you need to know about where to go, what to do, and how to navigate the snowy roads safely.

Lake Tahoe Weather in Winter

The weather in the Lake Tahoe area in winter can be unpredictable. The snow can come as early as October or wait until mid-December to make an appearance; it all depends on how the winds choose to blow that year.

Lake Tahoe in Winter
Winter in Lake Tahoe

However, if you’re looking for a snowy escape to a winter wonderland filled with plenty of winter activities, you can reliably count on Tahoe to be covered in a blanket of snow from mid-December through February (though patches of snow will often remain until April or even May). This is perfect for those looking to go skiing in Lake Tahoe or who want to spend some time in a Lake Tahoe ski resort.

What makes Lake Tahoe ideal for snow lovers who may not have the same affinity for freezing weather is the way the weather fluctuates throughout the day.

Thanks to the strong sun and rare appearance of clouds, the days can heat up to mid-40s (sometimes even reaching the 50s) Fahrenheit (around 7-12°C) while in the evenings, cold nights bring fresh snowfall and maintain the area’s beauty.

As for when the snow actually hits Tahoe, it’s far from a daily thing. Often, a few large snowstorms throughout winter will account for the majority of that year’s snowfall.

So make sure to check the weather forecast before your trip, because while Tahoe is gorgeous pre-and-post-snowstorm, being in Tahoe during a snowstorm will look like a lot of time sitting by the fire and waiting for the roads to clear.

Snowstorm at Lake Tahoe
Snowstorm at Lake Tahoe

Driving in Lake Tahoe in Winter

Speaking of the roads in Tahoe, let’s talk about what it’s like to drive in Lake Tahoe in the winter months. First of all, it’s basically a requirement that you either have all-wheel drive or snow chains for winter in Tahoe.

Literally—when the snow is heavy enough, there are many places where you’ll be stopped coming into the area to ensure you have the right tires.

However, don’t let that deter you. Lake Tahoe has been managing snowfall for decades, and the local infrastructure is well-equipped to handle the weather. Usually, a day or two after a snowstorm, most of the roads will be salted, cleared, and ready to go.

In general, the biggest danger you have to worry about when getting around Lake Tahoe are those days where it warms to the 40s during the day and freezes to the teens overnight. This is a recipe for ice as the snow melts during the day and freezes across the road after the sun sets.

Main roads will usually be salted and melt by 10am or so the next day, but if this is the weather while you’re visiting, just drive slowly and keep an eye on the road for black, wet-looking areas—these could be black ice.

Overall, driving in Lake Tahoe in the winter months is no different than driving anywhere else where it snows. You need to drive slower and pay a bit more attention but, as long as you do this and have the right tires, you shouldn’t have an issue.

Oh, and if you’re renting a cabin instead of staying in a hotel, ask them what their snowplough situation is. Many rentals have people who come and clear the driveway when/if it snows, and if shovelling snow is not your image of an ideal vacation, you may want to look for a property that offers this service.

If you need to rent a car for your trip to Lake Tahoe, you can browse which aggregates prices across several companies.

Elk Point in Lake Tahoe during winter
Elk Point in South Tahoe during winter

Which Month to Visit Lake Tahoe in Winter?

There’s really no bad time to visit Lake Tahoe, as far as winter is concerned. Early spring (March/April) can be disappointing, but if you’re planning to visit anytime from December through February, you really can’t go wrong whether you’re spending time in North Lake Tahoe or on the South Shore.

For those who love the holiday season, there are a ton of holiday-themed things to do in Lake Tahoe in December. There also tend to be more crowds, as the festive atmosphere appeals to many.

Lake Tahoe in January is peak season for skiers and snowboarders, so if you’re planning to spend a lot of time on the mountain, January is a great time to visit. Plus, you still have the New Year’s festivities lingering through the beginning of the month.

Lake Tahoe in February is also a popular time for snow sports, and if you’re looking to avoid the crowds that swell in December and January, it can be a great time to visit.

Not one for the snow? Head over to our Lake Tahoe itinerary for our recommendations on what to do in Tahoe in the summer!  

Safety Tips for Visiting Lake Tahoe in Winter

In addition to the potentially icy roads, it’s important to consider safety when traveling to the snow. One thing to consider is the potential for blackouts. It’s not unheard of for parts of Tahoe to go without power for days at a time if the snow knocks out a powerline.

Make sure you keep your devices charged and have some extra supplies (like non-perishables, lanterns, and blankets), especially if you’re staying in a private rental or somewhere without a staff dedicated to helping you navigate situations like these.

The lack of clouds and occasionally 50-degree (10°C) weather can be misleading, but it’s still important to respect the snow. Like the roads, sidewalks can be incredibly icy. And even when it’s warm outside, the snow is cold. So pack layers and wear shoes with a good grip, ideally something meant for snowy climates.

If you’re heading out into the mountain to snowshoe, ski, or snowboard, it’s especially important to keep safety in mind. Use the buddy system and share your location via an app like Find My Friends or Life360 so, if something does happen, people back home can find you.

Pack extra water and wear sunscreen (yes, you still need to wear sunscreen in the winter). If you’re a less experienced snow bunny, check out some of Tahoe’s guided options instead of exploring on your own. There are countless tours and lessons for those new to snow sports.

It’s not often that something tragic happens in Lake Tahoe winters, but it’s not unheard of. Practising snow safety and planning ahead will allow you to make your trip to Lake Tahoe in winter a great one.

Sand Harbor in the winter months
Sand Harbor in the winter months

Things to do in Lake Tahoe in Winter

There are a ton of things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter. From sipping hot cocoa by a roaring fireplace to testing your moves on the ice rink to taking in an incredible, snowy view of the lake, you could easily pack a full month with activities. Below are some of our favorite things to do and places to visit in the winter in Lake Tahoe.

Head to the Mountain for a Day of Skiing/Snowboarding

It wouldn’t be a Lake Tahoe winter if we didn’t mention skiing and snowboarding. There are a handful of beloved ski resorts around the mountain.

From world-famous resorts, like Palisades Tahoe, where the Olympics was held in 1960, to local favorites like Kirkwood, there are tons of resorts to choose from.

Wherever you go, enjoy a day riding the slopes, relaxing at the resort, and enjoying what makes Lake Tahoe winters so famous. You can organise ski rental in advance here or take a backcountry ski tour if you’re not experienced.

Have a Drink by the Fireplace at the Ritz

Few tourists can afford to stay at the Ritz-Carlton during their visit to Lake Tahoe, but many still enjoy visiting.

The outdoor fire-pit and the Après-Ski Champagne Experience might be their most famous winter offering, but my personal favorite way to enjoy the beauty of the Ritz is to head inside, especially in December.

Roaring fireplaces and gorgeous Christmas trees fill the lobby and bar where you can cuddle up on a couch beside the fire and sip one of their signature cocktails. It’s a perfect way to unwind after a day of playing in the snow.

Go Snowtubing at Palisades Tahoe

Even if the standard snow sports are not your favorite activity, I cannot recommend snowtubing enough. You’ll have to book tickets through the Palisades, either online or in-person, which will cost you $42 on a weekday or $49 on a weekend, but it’s well worth the price.

Enjoy flying down the slopes on an innertube and watch the pines race by you as the wind and speed make it nearly impossible not to laugh. If you’re willing to pay a little more ($63 to be exact) and are looking for a truly one-of-a-kind experience, check out their Disco Tubing offering instead.

Ski lifts in Lake Tahoe
Ski lifts in Lake Tahoe

Enjoy Hot Chocolate and Ice Skating at Northstar

The ice rink and surrounding fire pits at The Village at Northstar have become a bit of a staple of Lake Tahoe winters. Not only does Northstar have the quintessential mountain village aesthetic, but they transform their plaza into an ice rink surrounded by fire pits every winter.

You can rent skates and hop on the rink, or simply enjoy a hot beverage beside the firepits; either way, it’s a must during your visit to Lake Tahoe.

Enjoy an afternoon après-ski yoga class

Whether you go skiing or not, the après-ski yoga classes are a great activity for all. There are plenty of studios around the lake that offer classes all day, but the Palisades Yoga Studio is well known for their après-ski offering.

In addition to a gentle, all-levels class, you’ll get stunning views of the snow-laden pines that surround the studio from the large, picture windows that line the wall.

Try your hand at snowshoeing

It can be hard to find good hiking in Lake Tahoe during winter. Most, if not all, of the trails are covered in snow. However, if you want to enjoy the experience of hiking with a winter twist, you might enjoy snowshoeing.

If you have the equipment or feel confident enough in your ability to rent the required gear and head out to the trails, more power to you. But for those looking for a guided experience, the Tahoe Adventure Company offers a variety of different tours. You can also book rentals here or organise an evening tour.

Check with your hotel too; many ski resorts and lodges in Tahoe will offer guided tours for their guests!

Snowboarding in Lake Tahoe
Snowboarding in Lake Tahoe

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe

The Jeffrey Hotel – Located in South Lake Tahoe not far from the shore and Fallen Leaf Lake, this mid-range hotel makes for a lovely winter escape. They have a range of rooms suitable for many group sizes, some of the rooms even come equipped with their own fireplace! Click here to check availability

Black Bear Lodge – For those looking for a lodge-style experience, this hotel has a range of both rooms and cottages to choose from. They can accommodate larger families as well as couples, all rooms have their own fireplace and some even have a hot tub! Click here to check availability

Private Rental – There are plenty of options to suit different levels of budgets for private rentals in Lake Tahoe such as this stunning lakefront cabin. Click here to browse other private rentals.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options near Lake Tahoe!

South Lake Tahoe in winter
South Lake Tahoe in winter

Whether you’re looking to hit the mountain and spend all day in the snow, or looking to get cozy with a drink and a book by the fireplace, Lake Tahoe is the perfect spot for a winter vacation. There are tons of things to do in Tahoe in winter and the snow-covered landscape is truly breathtaking. We hope this guide will help you make the most of your winter in Tahoe!  

Are you planning a winter trip to Lake Tahoe? Have any questions about visiting? Let us know in the comments!

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Sarah is a writer for The World Was Here First. A California native, she loves travelling around her home state as well as visiting places further afield. She has spent over a decade travelling the world and writing stories inspired by the people and places she encounters along the way.

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