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It’s tempting to describe Lake Tahoe, with its glittering blue waters, as a jewel, but that doesn’t get at the size of it. Lofted high in the Sierra Nevadas, ringed by snow-capped mountains, and straddling the California and Nevada borders, Lake Tahoe is one of the largest lakes in the United States, and the second deepest. Renowned for its clear, fresh water, the lake is an important research station for scientists who study its ecology and a picturesque playground for every type of waterfront fun. Fishing, boating, swimming, jet skiing, and scuba diving are all popular pastimes here. And plenty of visitors are content simply to relax on its many beaches, in the shade of towering pines. Thanks to Lake Tahoe’s size, the communities surrounding it are varied: Chic bohemian enclaves, rustic cowboy outposts, and glitzy casinos all cluster near its shores.
Fly into Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) in Nevada, which is about a 40-minute drive from Lake Tahoe. Public transportation, shuttles, taxis, rideshares, and rental cars are all available at the airport. Once you arrive, there are plenty of local transportation options around the lake. Tahoe Truckee Regional Transit (TART) buses navigate the north and west shores, while Tahoe Transportation District (TDD) buses service the south shore. TART also operates a free seasonal park-and-ride shuttle that transports visitors to winter ski destinations, and TDD has a free seasonal park-and-ride shuttle that will get you to Sand Harbor, a popular beach, in the hot months. Rideshares, taxis, and shuttles also serve the region. If you plan to circumnavigate the lake or want flexibility while visiting nearby towns and wilderness destinations, opt for a rental car.
For lakefront fun, summer is the high season, when the sun is high and hot and the cool alpine waters of Lake Tahoe are refreshing. The shoulder seasons of fall and spring also make for pleasant times on the water, particularly for boating and fishing. In winter the region transforms into a skiers’ paradise, with snow falling from December through March. During these months, the lake is a pretty backdrop for cold-weather sports.
Start your journey at any point on the loop circumnavigating the vast lake for a chance to explore all the area has to offer. On your scenic ramble, you’ll pass historic homes, fascinating history museums, scenic overlooks, state parks, and characterful mountain communities, with gorgeous Lake Tahoe at your shoulder the whole time.
Long a destination for the wealthy, many of the grand estates that line Lake Tahoe’s shores have been turned into museums that you can tour. There’s the Ehrman Mansion, an opulent circa-1903 lodge built by a rich businessman from San Francisco, now run by the California State Park System. Thunderbird Estate, built in the 1930s, is notable for its stunning stonemasonry, ironwork, and woodwork. A short hike will carry you to Vikingsholm, a 1920s estate inspired by Scandinavian architecture.
So named for its often vividly green waters, Emerald Bay is a postcard-pretty spot on the south side of Lake Tahoe. The area is home to striking vistas overlooking the bay, hiking trails, and the Vikingsholm estate. Just off the shore is little Fannette Island, accessible only by boat. Its granite face is covered in pines, and on top sits the shell of a stone tea house where ritzy vacationers of yore once relaxed.