If you’ve been searching for the best views of Lake Tahoe, we have a list of five must-see vantage points. You haven’t seen the lake until you’ve seen it from these incredible areas.
A Sight for Sore Eyes
Referred to as “the fairest picture the whole world affords” by world traveler and writer Mark Twain in the early 1870’s, Lake Tahoe has captured the hearts and minds of all who’ve been fortunate enough to gaze upon its majesty. With a surface area of over 190 square miles, it’s incredibly difficult for even the most intrepid adventurer to appreciate the full beauty of this “jewel of the Sierra’s.”
Despite the challenge, approximately three million people from all over the globe converge on the second deepest lake in the United States each year. But with the great food and casino’s dotting the lake’s shoreline, how many of those millions have experienced the best views this natural wonder has to offer? Have you seen all of the five best views of Lake Tahoe?
A Brief History of Lake Tahoe
Much of Lake Tahoe is located in Washoe County, named for the indigenous Washoe (often transliterated as Waashiw or Wa She Shu) Tribe who have inhabited the area for over 6,000 years. It is this tribe which gave the lake its name, Lake Tahoe, which is from the Washoe word “dá’aw” meaning simply, “the lake.” Their culture had remain untouched by the outside world until the California Gold Rush, which brought thousands of travelers of European descent through the Nevada deserts and treacherous Sierra Nevada Mountains and onto their land, starting in 1844 with Lt. John C. Frémont’s second exploratory expedition of the area.
Though Lt. Frémont’s discovery brought attention to the dramatic landscapes and crystal waters of the region, Mark Twain’s descriptions from his 1872 book, Roughing It, brought Lake Tahoe to life in the minds of readers and adventures all over the globe. Soon, hundreds, then thousands, and eventually millions of travelers made their way west to experience life at 6,225 feet for themselves.
Lake Tahoe Today
Lake Tahoe has become one of the premier vacation destinations in the United States, regardless of activity or season. In the winter and spring, skiers and snowboards flock to the slopes of some of the Sierra Nevada’s internationally known resorts, such as Northstar or Squaw Valley, where the 1960 Olympic Games were held. In the summer, the high altitude and snowmelt lend themselves to perfectly hot beaches and refreshingly cool waters, perfect for water-skiing, snorkeling, kayaking, or sun-bathing.
For travelers looking to make the most out of their Lake Tahoe vacation, lounging at the beach might not cut it. Lake Tahoe’s 71 miles of shoreline are packed to the brim with activities, from bar crawls to marathons, and it can be overwhelming to choose how to spend your afternoon from the thousands of fantastic choices at hand.
Ranking The Five Best Views of Lake Tahoe
So, whether you’re an adrenaline junky, a photographer, a fitness buff, traveling with children, or more comfortable indoors than out, we hope to help you by showing you the five best views of Lake Tahoe, and how to experience them for yourself.
The Fifth Best View of Lake Tahoe: Underneath the Surface
If you’re adventurous and not afraid to get wet, considering slipping on a wetsuit and sliding under Lake Tahoe’s picturesque waves. Never mind the decades of rumors of lake monsters and mermaids, there’s a world so beautifully fantastical beneath the waves, you have to see it to believe it. Shipwrecks, 1,500-foot drops, tunnels, and forests lurk beneath the clear, icy blue waves. But perhaps that’s not all. From Tahoe Tessie sightings (a gargantuan lake monster rumored to still be thriving close to 2,000 feet below the surface) to the supposed existence of tunnels running beneath the mountains contacting Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake, many of Lake Tahoe’s mysteries rest in its depths.
Popular dive spots include Emerald Bay and Sand Harbor, both breathtakingly beautiful above and below the waves. Emerald Bay also offers guided tours around the area and inside the nearby 100-year-old manor, Vikingsholm, throughout the summer. Sand Harbor is home to Jet Ski rentals and one of the best Bloody Marys you can find in the Sierras.
Sierra Dive and Tahoe Dive Center are both well-known, accredited diving schools where you can attend open water dive classes to get certified or to rent scuba diving gear, depending on your level of experience, for your plunge into the waves.
The Fourth Best View of Lake Tahoe: Riding the Waves
If you’re looking to enjoy Lake Tahoe’s sunshine and fragrant summer air, head down to the shore for one of the best views of the water you can get without getting wet. Perfect for families with young children, a two-to-three hour daytime cruise is a relaxing way to learn about Lake Tahoe’s colorful history and dig into a gourmet meal at the same time. Most popular among Lake Tahoe’s many daytime cruises are the historic M.S. Dixie II and Tahoe Queen Paddlewheels. Don’t worry, the boat’s engine does all of the paddling! Though cruises are available all year round, travelers get the most out of their experience sipping a cool drink on a warm day on the roomy decks of these ships.
Traveling without kids and looking for something a little more romantic? Look into the Sierra Sunset Dinner Cruise. A delightful four-course meal and full bar are the perfect pairs to one of the most scenic sunsets this lake, and the world, has to offer.
Whichever cruise you choose, you’ll be treated to a tour to remember and learn a lot about Lake Tahoe as you glide over its serene surface.
The Third Best View of Lake Tahoe: Cresting the Peaks
“To breathe the same air as the angels, you must go to Lake Tahoe,” said Mark Twain. And to walk where they walked, you’ll need to lace up a pair of hiking boots and grab some trail mix, because the best views are at the top! Hiking is not only great exercise (the average hiker burns over 400 calories per hour!), it’s the best way to explore the extensive network of trails weaving their way throughout the scenic Sierra Nevada’s. While every hike in Lake Tahoe has something special to offer, the following three hikes offer the best views for hikers of all fitness and experience levels.
Tunnel Creek to Monkey Rock
Part of Lake Tahoe’s renowned 165-mile trail system in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin, this short section, which starts at the Tunnel Creek Café in Incline Village, offers fantastic views. The first uphill section is paved before flattening out onto a wide, well-groomed dirt path with stunning views of the lake that takes you right past where the television series Bonanza! was filmed. If you want breathtaking views of the lake for minimal time and effort, we recommend starting the hike fifteen to twenty minutes before sunset and bringing a flashlight for the hike down. If you start out earlier in the day, feel free to brave the steep inclines to Monkey Rock, a local landmark just off the trail. On warm summer days, you can even continue back down the trail to cross the road over to Hidden Beach, a sandy section of shoreline locals frequent. This trail is part of the Lake Tahoe Flume Trail, a section of the TRT preferred by mountain bikers.
Starting most of the way up Mount Rose, the Galena Falls trail is just long enough to get your sweat on and appreciate views of the sprawling forested mountains and Lake Tahoe in the distance. About an hour after setting out, you’ll come across Galena Falls, a rocky waterfall surrounded by wildflowers and stunning views. To the falls and back is just about three miles, and there isn’t a single section of it that isn’t postcard-perfect. Just park at the Mount Rose visitor center! The trail to Galena Falls will share with you hidden wonders: views of Lake Tahoe, the sprawling cityscapes of Reno, Galena Falls itself, and even a small pond nestled in the trees. While this trail is perfect for hikers of all ages, there are no cyclists allowed.
If you are in fantastic shape with time to kill, pack a bag for your trek up Mount Tallac in South Lake Tahoe. The ten-plus mile hike includes a 3,290-foot elevation gain and unbeatable views of the lake. Each step of the trail offers up unparalleled views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding emerald green mountains that are definitely worth the effort… and the soreness you’ll likely experience the next day! If you have the motivation and the lung power to make the trip, we can’t recommend it enough. Experienced hikers and backpackers recommend starting up the summit at sunrise to beat the crowds and the heat on this fantastic journey. Be sure to bring a lunch and plenty of water, the hike often takes people over 6 or 7 hours!
The Second Best View of Lake Tahoe: Skimming the Treetops
The Heavenly Ski Resort truly earns its name with its 2.4-mile gondola ride high above the treetops in South Lake Tahoe. This 8 person, wheelchair-friendly, floor-to-ceiling gondola ride takes adventurers of all ages up a 3,000-foot slope to the very top of the Heavenly Mountain Resort where the views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains are almost too good to be true. The clear, crisp mountain air lets you see as far as Emerald Bay and North Lake Tahoe. Be sure to hop out halfway at the observation deck: the steel mesh deck might be a stomach-flipper for those who aren’t a fan of heights, but once the initial shock is over, you’ll be treated to views second only to one.
The Best View of Lake Tahoe: Soaring 3,000 feet above the Ground
If the views from on top of a mountain are beautiful, the views from thousands of feet above them are inexpressible. Take a day trip to Minden, Nevada to experience the best view of Lake Tahoe this world can offer. Hop into a glider, a motor-less aircraft, with an FAA-rated glider pilot, and prepare for your mind to be blown. Appropriate for all ages 10 and up, passengers will climb inside one of Soaring Nevada’s state of the art gliders, or “sailplanes,” and be towed up to 10,000 feet.
Then, once maximum height is achieved, the roaring of the engine and whistling of the tow rope will cease, and you and your instructor will begin your soaring experience, giving you views of Lake Tahoe even birds are envious of. Much safer and more comfortable than sky-diving, and significantly more affordable than chartered helicopter rides, soaring high above Lake Tahoe and the idyllic peaks of the Sierra Nevada’s will share with you a whole new world. You can also order a keepsake video from the wing-mounted camera, professionally editing your experience down into a 3-4 minute video perfect for sharing with friends and family.
Though Soaring Nevada offers different glider rides, the Tahoe Sky Ride and the Emerald Bay Adventure are unmatched as far as views of Lake Tahoe go. For 45 minutes to 75 minutes, you’ll glide soundlessly one mile above Lake Tahoe with a safe, professional pilot guiding you through the experience. You’ll see the lake, the mountains, the casinos, and nearby Desolation Wilderness in ways you could never have imagined.
Feeling extra adventurous? Turn up the adrenaline by choosing the Tahoe Wild Ride, an aerobatic flight up along the ridge of the Sierras and across the Carson Valley in which your pilot guides you through loops, spins, and even flying upside down thousands of feet above the trees and valley below!
Final Thoughts on The Five Best Views of Lake Tahoe
It’s impossible to find a view of Lake Tahoe that isn’t beautiful, but if you want to make memories you’ll cherish for the rest of your life, take some time to enjoy one of the five best views of Lake Tahoe this year. The warm weather and sunshine won’t last forever, and soon all will be covered in a thick blanket of snow, so get down to the lake, or even better, soar above it, and enjoy the incredible views year round.
And if you’re planning a trip out to the area to experience Lake Tahoe, be sure to check out both the Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Authority and Carson Valley Visitor’s Authority for information on great places to stay, and other activities to take in while you’re here.