There is no wrong time to visit the Lake Tahoe area. If you’d like to avoid the summer and winter crowds, there's still plenty to see and do so consider spending some time here in the fall. The air is a bit cooler, there's substantially less traffic, and the Aspens are changing. You'll have hiking trails, beaches and local hangouts all to yourself, and as an added bonus rates are generally cheaper for lodging and activities. Check out this list of some of our favorite fall activities to do around the Lake Tahoe.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Fewer crowds, pleasant temperatures, and the beautiful change of season make Fall a great time to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park. This national park offers over 150 miles of hiking trails through lush forest for visitors of every ability. There are 175 campsites at Manzanita Lake, a small museum, and plenty of room for backcountry camping (be sure to pick up a backcountry camping permit). Explore the Devastated Area, Lassen’s hydrothermal areas, or hike up Lassen Peak (5 miles out and back) for gorgeous views. There are two easy waterfall hikes that are definite musts here… Mills Creek Falls (3.8 miles) and King Creek Falls (2.4 miles). You may run into one of 300 species of animals including black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, eagles, skunks, and several different species of chipmunks, deer, bats, and reptiles. If you decide to explore the hydrothermal areas be sure to stay on marked paths and trails as the steaming sulphur vents, splattering mud pots, boiling springs can be quite dangerous. More Info
The iconic Emerald Bay, located on CA State Route 89, features Vikingsholm (one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the US) and the only island on Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island. The tours are closed in September, however the trail to Vikingsholm and Emerald Bay Beach below are still accessible in the fall. The views while hiking around Emerald Bay can’t be beat. The 2-mile out & back trail to Cascade Falls is a moderate hike with sweeping views of Cascade Lake. Eagle Falls Trail is also 2 miles out & back and is a great hike to do with kids. Inspiration point offers the best views of Emerald Bay and is a great spot to get perfect photos. Please note that dogs are only allowed in the campground area (not on the trails or beach) and must be on a leash. More Info
Grab a beach blanket and a book and spend an afternoon relaxing on the white sand beaches and crystal clear water of Sand Harbor. While bustling in the summer, this favorite Tahoe beach is quiet and serene during the fall months. Check out the Visitor Center for a little info and history on the area and bring your camera to snap great shots on The Sand Point Nature Trail that meanders 1/3 mile from the main beach to Diver’s Cove. This short trail is handicap accessible, and offers stunning views of the Lake. You can also launch boats from Sand Harbor. Entrance fee is only $7 in the fall and winter. More Info
The west shore is the home of the very popular Lake Tahoe classic, the Sunnyside Restaurant and Lodge. Eat a beautiful meal or just have a cocktail (I recommend the Tahoe Mule) and take in the panoramic views of the lake on the giant deck shared by two restaurants. The Lakeside specialises in seafood, steak, and has a great wine list. The Mountain Grill has the same American-style cuisine as Lakeside, but with a more laid-back atmosphere and the best fish tacos at Tahoe. If you decide to make it an overnighter, consider one of the 23 cozy rooms at the lodge that include continental breakfast and afternoon tea. Be sure to ask for a lakefront room for a killer view. More Info
Shirley Lake Hike
The Shirley Canyon Trail is a somewhat challenging, 4-mile, out & back hike with stunning views of Squaw Valley. This trail features some steep spots, giant granite boulders, and a waterfall. Dogs are welcome on this well marked trail. Bring a lunch to picnic, relax and take in the view of the gorgeous alpine lake before hiking back. More Info
Get out on the
Beautiful Blue Waters
of Lake Tahoe
Fall is a great time to get out on your boat for a sail before the snow comes. There are several boat launches around the lake and a few places to rent boats although most of them close up in fall. No boat of your own? Enjoy a classic Tahoe pastime and take a cruise from Zephyr Cove to Emerald Bay on the MS Dixie II. This paddle wheeler has fun day cruises, but for fall, I definitely recommend the sunset cruise. The views and classic ambience can’t be beat. Kayaking is also a great way to get out on the water and many rental shops continue renting kayaks out well into the fall months. Need a little guidance? Kayaking tours still operate into the fall months as well.
Grab a Tee Time
Lake Tahoe’s golf courses are can be quite busy in the summer months and tee times book up quickly. In the fall the courses are considerably less busy and the drop in temperature is just right. One of the most beautiful courses is the Coyote Moon Golf Course. This PAR 72 course has 18 holes that offer gorgeous views of the Sierra Nevada ridge line. The towering pines and Trout Creek add some challenging areas and the course is well maintained. Another favorite is Tahoe Donner Golf Club. With it’s scenic surroundings and unique layout, this PAR 72 course makes for a great fall day and really plays to all levels.
Take a Drive from Donner Lake
to Big Bend via Old Highway 40
Fall is made for lazy weekend drives. One of my favorites is the richly scenic and historic section of Old Highway 40 (now Donner Pass Road) from the west end of Donner Lake to Big Bend. The leg from Donner Lake to Donner Summit across the Rainbow Bridge is considered one of the most beautiful and scenic sections of highway in the U.S. Take in the breathtaking views of Donner Lake, Mt Judah, and Stewart Peak. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to make stops as there are lots of interesting and beautiful stops along the way. Spot petroglyphs near China Wall and traces of the Lincoln Highway and Dutch Flat wagon trail, or birdwatch at Lake Van Norden. Explore the Claire Tappaan and all of it’s old ski lodge charm… you might find yourself booking a room there when the snow hits. Soda Springs (California’s oldest ski resort), Sugar Bowl, and Donner Ski Ranch are great places to hike around and then grab a drink or snack afterwards. End your adventure with a visit to the museum and ranger station at Big Bend and picnic near the river.
Over 50 ranches wind through Gold Country featuring apple and fruit farms, bake shops, wineries, a spa, flower gardens, berry farms, and Christmas tree groves. Abel’s Apple Acres, Denver Dan’s Apple Patch, High Hill Ranch, and Jack Russell Brewery are a few of my favorites throughout the years. Kids can enjoy hay bale mazes, gold panning, pony rides, or they can even pick their own fruit and pumpkins. Adults can taste wines and ciders at one of the many wineries and breweries, relax at a spa, pick up a freshly made pie, or tie the knot at one of the beautiful wedding locations. There are perfect fall photo ops and beautiful views throughout this heavenly slice of the Sierras.
Grab a coffee and set out on a shop & stroll through one of the many places to shop local in Tahoe. Treasures, gifts, and gear can be found in Historic Downtown Truckee, Tahoe City, The Village at Squaw, The Village at Northstar or Heavenly Village. You’ll find a wide variety of local shopping from boutiques and galleries to mountain gear shops and souvenir stores. Get a head start on holiday shopping at favorites like California 89, Tahoe Mountain Soap Company, The Cork & More, Village Toys and many more.