Lake Tahoe is one of the most scenic destinations in the United States. The turquoise lake is one of the deepest in the county and its surrounded by the picturesque Sierra Nevada mountains. Lake Tahoe is often divided into two main areas, North Lake and South Lake, and both can be reached easily by flying or driving from Sacramento, CA, or Reno, NV. While people think of Lake Tahoe as a winter playground, there’s even more for families to do in the summer. Hopefully, this list of the Best Summer Activities in North Lake Tahoe Kids Will Love will get your family excited about visiting California’s alpine playground.
Explore the Towns of North Lake Tahoe
It’s important to get a feel for the unique towns that make up North Lake Tahoe so you’ll know where to go for family fun! Each area has its own personality and no matter where you end up you’ll have access to spectacular scenery, family-friendly activities, restaurants, and shops. First, Kings Beach is lakeside and feels like a town that hasn’t changed in fifty years. Here you’ll find sleepy motels and cool shops alongside the beach. Next, Tahoe City has lots of energy, restaurants, and places to rent all types of outdoor gear. Twenty minutes away, off Highway 80, is Truckee. With an alpine vibe, it has a great downtown and is minutes away from Donner Lake, a local favorite. Finally, the resort villages of Northstar and Squaw offer guests everything in one spot: accommodations, restaurants, shops, and activities.
All of the mentioned communities offer families an authentic Tahoe experience! Now that you’re familiar with North Lake Tahoe, it’s time to make a list of all the fun things you want to do!
Raft the Truckee River
Families in Tahoe will love rafting the Truckee River! The gentle 5-mile float (with a few exciting parts) is suitable for all ages. Park at Tahoe City and start your adventure with either Truckee River Raft Co. or Truckee River Rafting. Rentals begin at 8:30 am and the last rafts depart at 3:00 pm. Float times vary based on the current and how swiftly your crew members paddle. However, plan for 3-4 hours to give yourself plenty of time on the water. You’re close to the end when you hit the biggest rapids of the day, but it’s okay to get wet because the shuttle bus will be waiting to transport you back to your car. Or, stay and eat at River Ranch, overlooking the rapids. The season runs mid-June through mid-September and reservations are strongly recommended. You don’t want to miss one of the most family-friendly activities in Tahoe!
Play at the Beach
The beaches at Lake Tahoe are perfect for families, especially those with young children. Unlike the coast, there’s no morning fog or dangerous ocean current. And, you still have small waves, beautiful strips of sand, clear water (although cold), and sunny skies. For the most picturesque beach head straight to Sand Harbor State Park, near Incline Village. The sheltered cove is great for water play. Arrive early to snag a coveted parking spot. King’s Beach is centrally located with access to a lakeside playground, restaurants, and water sport rentals. Tahoe City’s Common’s Beach has group picnic sites, BBQs, and a children’s play area. Beachgoers will find free concerts on Sunday afternoons and movies on Wednesday nights. Also, families in Tahoe City will find several places to rent kayaks, jet skis, and paddleboards. Further down the lake are the quiet, but rocky, Patton Beach and Carnelian Beach.
Hike Around Lake Tahoe with Kids
You can hike for weeks and still not see it all! However, here are some kid-friendly Tahoe hiking trails to get your family started. First, Stateline Lookout, outside King’s Beach, is a paved 1.7-mile loop path that rewards walkers with a spectacular view of the lake. Then, for a fun day, take the free gondola to the Ritz-Carlton at Northstar and hike 2.1-miles through the ski resort on the Sawmill Lake Trail, another easy trek for kids. The Donner Peak Trail, near Truckee, is a 3.8-mile moderate trail that overlooks beautiful Donner Lake. Five Lake’s Trail is a longer hike, meandering 5-miles through the Olympic Valley. Ambitious hikers will enjoy the Tahoe Rim Trail Loop with 9.6-miles of wildlife viewing and amazing views. Finally, look for one of the many spots to hop on the 169.3-mile Tahoe Rim Trail that loops Lake Tahoe.
Meander a Lake Tahoe Bike Trail
It’s hard to find a more scenic bike trail than the one that wraps around Lake Tahoe. You can peddle your heart out for miles and miles and still find more to explore. It is easy to hop on the trail from Kings Beach, Tahoe City, Incline Village, or Olympic Valley (Squaw Valley Resort). Bikes can be rented in those locations and you’ll find everything from beach cruisers to electric bikes that will zip you along. The trail on the west side of the lake is continuous for miles with picturesque places to rest. As you roll into Tahoe City you can reward little cyclists with a cold treat from Poppy’s Frozen Yogurt & Ice Cream. Then, stop at the famous “Fanny Bridge” to watch huge fish jump up the ladder. A morning or afternoon on the bike trail definitely makes for a great activity in North Lake Tahoe with kids.
Go Horseback Riding Near Lake Tahoe with Kids
Cowboys and cowgirls will be pleased to discover there are several places to horseback ride in Lake Tahoe. Piping Rock Equestrian Center, in Truckee, has the most options available for families. They offer Western and English programs for all skill levels. Kids in Tahoe can also participate in summer camps, private lessons or receive specialized training at the center. Scenic trail rides range from 1-1/2hr to 3hrs. Then, at Tahoe Donner Equestrian Center, also in Truckee, little ones can take a pony ride while older children can participate in the horse camp. Finally, at Alpine Meadows Stables, near Squaw Valley, enjoy a ride through the national forest for 1-2hrs with experienced guides. A horseback adventure is a unique way for families in Tahoe to immerse themselves in nature. Also, if you keep your eyes open, you may spot a baby bear or another wondrous creature in the forest.
Enjoy Exciting Water Sports Rentals
The best way to see Lake Tahoe is from the water. It’s hard to appreciate how deep and blue the water is until you’re gazing down into its depths. Most beaches along the shore have a marina that provides water sports rentals. Renting a kayak or jet ski for a few hours is a great family-friendly Tahoe activity. However, the wind can pick up in the afternoon so it’s best to be out early in the day, especially for inexperienced paddlers that may struggle with choppy water. For the most part, you should have a beautiful, sunny day and there’s nothing like gliding around Lake Tahoe. North Tahoe Watersports has rentals and parasailing in Kings Beach and Tahoe City. Tahoe Aquatic Center in Kings Beach rents jets skis and you’ll find speed boats for rent at the Tahoe City Marina.
Check Out the Squaw Valley High Camp
A visit to Squaw Valley’s High Camp is a great excursion for families. In fact, the ride to get there is an experience in itself. Any vacation to Tahoe must include a birds-eye view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The aerial tram transports you to another world at the top of the mountain. For an additional fee, visitors can enjoy amenities such as a pool, hot tub, cafe, roller skating, disc golf, geocaching, a lawn area with games, and a play structure. Also, The Olympic Museum is free to all visitors. There are miles of walking trails to explore too. You can hike to High Camp via the 3.2-mile Thunder Mountain Trail or the 5-mile Shirley Canyon Trail, both fairly strenuous. As a bonus, if you arrive on foot you get a free tram ride down the mountain!
Pro Tip: Northstar California Resort also offers gondola and scenic chairlift rides to the mid-mountain.
Go Mountain Biking All Around Lake Tahoe with Kids
People associate Lake Tahoe with water sports, but the area is also home to world-class mountain biking. North Lake Tahoe provides some of the most scenic trails in the world. For a day of downhill riding head to Northstar California Resort or Woodward Tahoe. The ski resorts convert to bike parks in the summer, allowing riders to easily go uphill via chairlift. Bike and gear rentals are also available. The Truckee Bike Park is open to the public, with flow lines and a pump track for all skill levels.
As for trails, Emigrant Trail is a great one for beginner and intermediate riders (Truckee, 20 miles). Other popular trails include Page Meadows Loop (Beginner, Tahoe City, 8 miles), Sawtooth Ridge Trail (Beginner, Truckee, 10 miles), Flume Trail (Intermediate, Incline Village, 14 miles), and Tyrolean Downhill (Advanced, Incline Village, 3 miles). Certainly, you’ll have a great time biking the mountains of Tahoe with kids.
Embark on a Boat Cruise on the Lake
All ages will enjoy soaking in the mountain beauty on a Lake Tahoe boat cruise. The Tahoe Gal departs from Tahoe City and is the north shore’s iconic paddlewheel boat. Families in Tahoe can sail the lake while having brunch or wait until later in the day for a Happy Hour or Sunset cruise, featuring wine tasting. The Tahoe Gal has been delighting passengers since 1977 with views of the Ehrman Mansion, Sugar Pine Point, and Vikingsholm Castle on the way to the famous Emerald Bay. For a more personal experience, Wild Goose Charter will take you back to the time when dashing and debonair visitors cruised the lake in wooden boats. Undoubtedly, the most famous boat is the Thunderbird Yacht, which has been on the lake since 1940. Private tours can be arranged and you’re sure to turn heads speeding around on this local legend.
Be a Local at Donner Lake & Marina
Locals love Donner Lake, which is surrounded by spectacular granite mountains and located off Hwy 80, a few miles from Truckee. Public access is from West End Beach and it has everything you need: sports courts, boat rentals, a playground, and a snack bar. Homeowners and renters from the Tahoe Donner Community can enjoy the amenities at the private Beach Club Marina, which provides water sport rentals, chairs, and dining options. Pack some string along with your sand toys because kids will spend the day trying to catch crawdads in the rocks with leftover lunch meat! Donner Memorial State Park has a picnic area and walking trails for day use. Finally, don’t miss a quick visit to the Donner Museum. Families will learn about the fascinating story of the ill-fated pioneer group that had to resort to drastic measures to survive the winter and the heroes that saved them.
Get Active at Woodward Tahoe: Action Sports Playground
Woodward Tahoe, at the base of Boreal Mountain, is the heartbeat of the action sports community in Northern California. It’s designed to inspire the next generation of athletes. Step inside “The Bunker,” and you can join in as kids jump on trampolines and fly down ramps on scooters, landing their flips in foam pits. Outside, families can challenge themselves on the “Wrecktangle,” a ninja course, or jump obstacles at the Parkour Park. The extreme adventure doesn’t stop there, Woodward also has 3 skateparks for boards, bikes and scooters, and BMX trails with jumps. All types of gear can be rented, so no need to pack your wheels. Go Time Session passes grant access to The Bunker and 9 outdoor parks. You can also opt for a smaller package. Adventurous kids in Tahoe will love all the extreme action sports offered at Woodward Tahoe.
Pro Tip: Online Reservations Required.
Find a Treasure Geocaching
Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt and a free family activity in Lake Tahoe! You can do it anywhere in the world, so make Lake Tahoe your first adventure. First of all, download the Geocaching app. Then, follow the app to a set of nearby GPS coordinates. Once you arrive, hunt for the “cache” or treasure. It can look like a rock, a log, or be as small as an old film canister. Usually, there’s a log to sign and a small treasure you can keep. For the ultimate geocaching experience take the Aerial tram to Squaw Valley’s High Camp. Then, search the mountain peaks for 10 hidden caches, which can take up to 3hrs. Kids can channel their inner Indian Jones or Dora the Explorer while exploring the wilderness. Geocaching is definitely a way to engage the entire family, especially those treasure hunters!
Seek Adventure through Ropes Courses & Rock Climbing
Families who want to jump out of their comfort zone should visit one of North Lake Tahoe’s Tree Top Adventure Parks. Daredevils can test their balance at one of the three locations: Squaw Valley, Tahoe City, or Tahoe Vista. The adventure parks are designed to be much more than just a ropes course in Tahoe. Instead, safely harnessed guests move from platform to platform across swinging bridges, cargo nets, climbing walls, and more. Family members (age 5+) can split up and tackle different parts of the course according to skill and bravery! Rock climbing with kids is also a great way to add a physical challenge to your vacation. Spend an unforgettable day climbing on Donner Summit with one of NASTC‘s expert guides. Kids camps, 1/2 day, and full-day family experiences are available. Your kids will literally conquer a mountain. The view alone is worth the climb!
Take a Swing at a Local Golf Course
There are plenty of places families can spend a day on the greens in North Lake Tahoe. Near Truckee, the courses of Tahoe Donner, Coyote Moon, and the Jack Nicklaus Signature course at Old Greenwood will keep visitors swinging. Old Brockway is a scenic 9 hole course near Kings Beach that offers views of the lake. Tahoe City Golf Course is another 9 hole course with great amenities in a central location. Seasoned golfers should reserve tee times in advance at The Links at Squaw Creek, a Trent Jones Jr. golf course, or at Northstar Golf Course. For golf in Tahoe that doesn’t involve renting a cart and is guaranteed family fun, check out King Beach Miniature Golf or Magic Carpet Golf in Carnelian Bay. Lastly, if you have a frisbee visit North Tahoe Regional Park in Tahoe Vista for 18 holes of Disc Golf.
Spend the Day Fishing
There are many lakes, reservoirs, and rivers that are great for fishing in Tahoe with kids. The Truckee River, which starts in Tahoe City, is a good spot for all ability levels. There are many places to park along Highway 89 for easy access to the river. You can use flies, lures, or bait in hopes of snagging one of the big trout that call the Truckee River home. Donner Lake, near Truckee, is well stocked and you can toss in a line from the pier on the North Shore. Also near Truckee, Boca and Stampede Reservoirs and Prosser Creek Reservoir are perfect for anglers who want to fish from boats and floats. However, to make life easy, call Reel-Lentless Fishing Charters and they’ll take care of everything for you.
Pro Tip: Adults should buy a California fishing license online, but kids under 16 are free.
Shop the Villages of Squaw Valley & Northstar
You can spend a whole day exploring the Villages of Squaw Valley and Northstar. These winter ski resorts transform into lively summer villages. Here, you’ll find a little bit of everything for each member of the family. You can pick up the latest in outdoor wear, shop for the upcoming ski season, or grab a souvenir to commemorate your amazing vacation. The villages are full of coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and feature plenty of outdoor seating so visitors can soak in the alpine vibe. Browse the art galleries at Squaw or take a break from the outdoors and make pottery or a candle at Northstar. Kids will find fun too with outdoor bungee trampolines, roller skating, and miniature golf. Additionally, the Villages are also the jumping-off point for hiking and biking, so you can make a day out of your visit to Northstar or Squaw Valley.
Places to Stay In Lake Tahoe with Kids
North Lake offers various accommodation options in Tahoe for families. Kings Beach offers motels with a view, such as the Franciscan Lakeside Lodge, with lakeside cabins and suites. Visitors choosing to anchor in Tahoe City will enjoy Granlibakken for its proximity to town and old-world feel. Also in Tahoe City, The Inn at Boatworks has renovated rooms and provides guests with complimentary bikes and paddleboards. In Truckee, renting cabins through VBRO in the Tahoe Donner community is a popular choice. Also, you’ll find the Hampton Inn & Suites Tahoe-Truckee centrally located. Across the lake, in Incline Village, the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa And Casino has rooms and cottages available at its waterfront resort. Guests can unwind at the spa or try for a winning hand in the casino. Adjacent is the Hyatt Residence Club Lake Tahoe, High Sierra Lodge, where visitors will find all the creature comforts of home.
The mountain resort communities of Northstar and Squaw Valley have a variety of accommodations ranging from private residences for rent to condos and five-star hotels. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is a spectacular property with mid-mountain views, a pool overlooking the ski runs, and all the amenities you’d expect. Surprisingly, guests can even arrive by gondola! Overall, you can’t go wrong with any of the options available through Northstar Lodging, it just depends on what best suits your family. The Resort at Squaw Creek, a luxury resort, places you in the heart of Squaw Valley with easy access to bike trails, hiking, and all the activities in the Village. You’ll find several other hotels and condos nearby. Wherever you make your home base in North Lake Tahoe your family will enjoy exploring – you just may need to return in order to to see it all!
Where to Eat Around Lake Tahoe with Kids
After a full day of adventure in Tahoe, there’s no doubt you’ll be hungry. Here are some of the best restaurants in Lake Tahoe that offer views and outdoor dining: Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa And Casino makes the list with its floating Pier 111 Bar and the Lone Eagle Grille’s fire pits and outdoor patio overlooking the lake. Next, Jason’s Beachside Grille, in King’s Beach, has a casual lakeside vibe. In Tahoe City, there’s Jake’s on the Lake, Za’s Lakefront, and Gar Woods Grill & Pier is just down the road. Bridgetender Tavern and Grill, with its rustic charm, is a local favorite and sits along the river.
Other hot spots, not on the water, in Tahoe City, include Rosie’s Cafe in downtown, West Shore Market for picnic lunches, and breakfast at Fire Sign Cafe. Then, in Incline Village, T’s Mesquite Rotisserie offers counter-served Mexican fare. With so many scenic restaurants it’s pretty easy to eat your way around Lake Tahoe with kids!
North Lake Tahoe is the ultimate destination for families who want to experience the great outdoors. Kids in Tahoe will appreciate all the fun activities while adults can sprinkle in some time to relax and soak in the spectacular scenery. There is no shortage of things to do in North Lake Tahoe with kids so it’s not surprising that families return year after year
Written by FLT Top Contributor, Emily Kapic. You can find more from Emily and her family’s adventures on Instagram @Take5Travel!
*Unless otherwise noted, all images were taken by and are courtesy of Emily Kapic.
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the attractions, hotels, and restaurants featured on this list may be temporarily closed or experiencing reduced services. Confirm availability online prior to visiting.
*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.
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