What Makes Lake Tahoe Special?

· Our answer to this question as well as a few other things to know when planning a trip to Lake Tahoe, including how to get there and the best things to do ·

Oct, 15, 2021
gorgeous green and blue crystal clear lake tahoe with snow capped mountains and green pine trees

Lake Tahoe, the largest Alpine lake in North America, is a place that really is too beautiful to imagine. You need to see it to believe it. Lake Tahoe is often cited as one of the most beautiful places in the United States, which should really mean something if you read our post on the Grand Canyon.

Lake Tahoe is, at parts, as clear as Caribbean seawater.

We were in awe of the lake’s beauty during our visit, and this post will aim to explain what makes Lake Tahoe so majestic while highlighting some of the things you need to know about your trip to Lake Tahoe.

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What Makes Lake Tahoe Special?

The sheer size of Lake Tahoe is hard to comprehend. As an East Coaster, I had heard very little about Lake Tahoe growing up. I really only recognized the name from the big SUV that stole the lake’s name!

As I researched some things about the lake before our trip, I began to get really, really excited.

Sitting in the Sierra Mountains and straddling the California and Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is the oldest Alpine lake in North America.

green pine trees near blue lake tahoe under clear sky during daytime

How Old Is Lake Tahoe?

Lake Tahoe is over two million years old. To put that into perspective, that is roughly when the very first humans developed in Africa. So yes, Lake Tahoe is as old as the human race.

How Deep Is Lake Tahoe?

On top of its age, Lake Tahoe is also one of the deepest lakes in the world, being deeper than the Empire State Building is tall. The Lake is so huge that it contains roughly 37 trillion gallons of water, which is enough water to cover the entire state of California in 14 inches. (I got that fact from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit website)

If all of that weren’t enough, it gets even crazier. The water in Lake Tahoe is extremely pure – like a fraction of a percent under 100% pure – and is so pure that companies can bottle it and sell it locally without putting it through any kind of purification process. You can drink it straight from the lake.

All in all, Lake Tahoe is very big, very unique, and very worth visiting. If someone asks you what makes Lake Tahoe special, I think you should have a few solid answers now!

Best Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

1. Hike to a Secluded Lake Tahoe Beach

brown rock formation beside calm body of water near lake tahoe mountains

While there are beaches all around Lake Tahoe and some of them are very accessible, others are much more secluded and require a small hike from the highway to the beach. While having to hike may not be ideal for everyone, especially those that haul a bunch of food and drinks and toys with them to the beach, it is a great experience for those who can make it happen.

We hiked to Chimney Beach in Nevada and really enjoyed it. The water is crystal clear, there are fewer people, and you feel more in touch with nature as you hike down the mountain to the lakeside. I would say this is a must-do and for sure one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe.

2. Trek Down to Vikingsholm

Vikingsholm is a very unique attraction in Lake Tahoe and is worth the trip for any history buff out there. Vikingsholm is an authentic, Viking-style home located along the west coast of Lake Tahoe that has now been turned into a museum. It was once the summer residence of a very wealthy family who had a passion for Viking culture, and learning about their history is a pretty cool experience.

At Vikingsholm you can walk through the live action Victorian home.

To get to Vikingsholm, you will need to park at the parking lot at the top of the trailhead. You will then need to hike about half a mile down the mountain until you arrive at the residence. It is a very touristy and frequently-traveled path, so it is a pretty easy hike both in terms of difficulty and in figuring out the route.

3. Rent a Glass Bottom Kayak

Glass bottom kayaks are a thing everywhere, but there are few better places to rent one than in Lake Tahoe. With how crystal clear the water is, renting a glass bottom kayak allows you to see very, very deeply into the lake.

green and blue kayak on green lake tahoe during daytime

If you haven’t ever kayaked before, there is really nothing to worry about. It’s easy. Just be sure to wear a life jacket!

These kayaks can be rented all over the lake, but the best way to do it is by booking a spot on a tour. Many people say that taking a glass-bottom kayak out over Lake Tahoe is a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience, and hiring a guide to go with you can make that experience even better. One great company that offers tours is Clearly Tahoe.

4. Try Some Local Piney Beers

People who know me know that I love to try local beers everywhere I go. When I travel to foreign countries, I always try to get the inside scoop on their local beer scene.

a flight of clear short-stem craft beer glasses

The same is true in the United States! While staple beers like Budweiser and Miller Lite don’t change throughout the country, every place has its own unique flare of craft beers.

In Lake Tahoe, that unique flare is a hint of pine. The beers here are often said to have a piney taste to them, making them a unique experience for any beer fan.

Nothing beats a 6 pack of fresh, cold, local brews on the beaches of Lake Tahoe. Check out any local taproom to see what you think of this local pine flavor!

5. Spend a Night Camping Under the Stars

Lake Tahoe is really famous for camping. There are campgrounds all around the lake, and the views from many of them are surreal. It only makes sense that people would want to camp here, as it is so beautiful and tranquil and filled with hiking routes!

One thing to remember, though, that you may have forgotten is that Lake Tahoe is also very secluded.

It’s an hour from Reno, two hours from Sacramento, and many hours from the next major city. As a result, there is very little light pollution, leading to incredible night skies. If you’re a stargazing fan, you need to spend a night in the woods and look up at the stars over the lake.

cosmic view on night sky near pine trees

6. Hit the Slopes and Go Skiing

people on top of mountain skiing at lake tahoe

While Lake Tahoe is very popular for summer activities on the lake, it might be even more popular for what goes on in the winter. Lake Tahoe, as I mentioned, sits at a higher altitude than Denver.

Naturally, this means lots of mountains and lots of snow! In the winter, Lake Tahoe becomes one of the premier skiing destinations in the entire United States.

While there is some really extreme skiing here, there are slopes for everyone. Angel even skied here as a 5-year old! The town feels entirely different between the summer and the winter, and people say that the experience is unrecognizable between the seasons.

How to Get to Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is located really high in the mountains. The Altitude is 20% higher than Denver, for reference. It’s also pretty remote, being hours from the nearest major international airport.

If you are flying to Lake Tahoe, you have two main airport options to choose from: Sacramento International Airport (SMF) and Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO). There is an airport located right in Lake Tahoe but it no longer serves commercial flights and is only open to chartered and private flights.

Fly into Reno-Tahoe International Airport (SMF)

Reno-Tahoe International Airport is definitely the closer option. Located on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe in Reno, this airport is roughly an hour away from South Lake Tahoe. While there are places to stay all around the lake and all are worth exploring, the busiest and most touristy area by far is South Lake Tahoe.

So, Reno-Tahoe International Airport is only about an hour from the main hub of Lake Tahoe. All in all, not bad! This is your best option if you’re able to find a convenient and affordable flight route, and if you aren’t looking to combine your trip with a California road trip or a visit to one of the major California cities.

If you are interested in tacking on a road trip down the Pacific Highway on California’s coast, be sure to check out my post on driving down California’s Route 1.

Fly into Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

Your other option, as I mentioned, is to fly into Sacramento International Airport (SMF). This airport is definitely further away than Reno – about 2 hours total from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe – but there are many affordable and direct flight options, especially for people coming from further away.

We flew directly from Philadelphia to Sacramento on Delta Airlines, for example, and I know that there are plenty of other direct flight routes originating from places in the East Coast, Midwest, and Southwest as well.

This option is best for people who couldn’t find a great flight option into Reno and for people looking to explore other areas in California after the visit to Lake Tahoe. Sacramento is also one of the main airports used to access California’s Napa Valley, meaning that you can visit both Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley on one round-trip flight ticket.

As neither airport is extremely large or popular, you may need some help finding the best flight option. At times, searching for flights here may make it seem as if the trip is just too expensive to pull off.

I never want people to turn down a trip because of the airfare, especially because I have some really great tips for finding cheap flights that can save you hundreds on your airfare.

How to Get Around Lake Tahoe


Lake Tahoe is a very big lake with very little public transportation to write home about. If you want to explore Lake Tahoe, you need a car. Period.

Unless you plan on staying in one area the entire time, like South Lake Tahoe, you will need your own form of transportation.

Also, I wouldn’t recommend staying in one area for your whole visit. There is so much beauty to see! The circumference of the lake is 72 miles, meaning that without a car you really won’t be able to see anything.

One things that Lake Tahoe does have, which you’ll know is a favorite of mine if you’ve read my other posts, is shareable electronic scooters, like Lime and Bird. These are one of my favorite ways to get around anywhere because they’re so easy to use and conveniently located.

These are great for getting around in South Lake Tahoe, but the distance between towns is way too far to use a scooter to get from place to place. Also, biking is very popular in the area, but beware of the steep inclines and declines that you will face!

Is Lake Tahoe Safe to Visit?

When people ask me about safety, they’re typically referring to crime. When it comes to crime, rest assured that Lake Tahoe is an extremely safe place. Part of what makes Lake Tahoe special is its peaceful charm and familiar feel.

While I would never recommend completely letting your guard down anywhere, Lake Tahoe is certainly one of the safer places I’ve traveled to in the United States.

There’s something else you need to consider when you ask if Lake Tahoe is safe to visit, though, and that is basically everything natural about it. Lake Tahoe is stunning and has fantastic views, skiing, and lake activities. However, these very things are where the danger in Lake Tahoe lies.

The skiing is amazing, but you need to be careful, as Tahoe weather is extreme in the winter. The views are incredible, but to get to the best hikes and viewpoints you need to drive on roads that are extremely high up and right along the cliff.

The kayaking is stunning and liberating, but if you don’t wear a life jacket, you are risking drowning at the bottom of a 1700 ft. deep lake. Do you get the picture?

Is Lake Tahoe safe to visit? Absolutely it is. There is very little to worry about when it comes to crime, and any natural danger that exists can be easily avoided by taking precautions as you drive, ski, kayak, and hike. As long as you are aware of the dangers that exist, you should be fine!

That’s all we have for you about Lake Tahoe! After reading this post, do you have a better idea of what makes Lake Tahoe special? Comment your idea!

If you’re planning a trip to Lake Tahoe, let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have.


Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.

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Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.