Visiting Lake Tahoe and looking to take a scenic drive?
We asked Kate from Kate Roams The World to take a deep dive into the topic!
Lake Tahoe is a breathtaking destination that attracts millions of visitors every year. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it is the largest alpine lake in North America!
While there are plenty of activities to enjoy in and around the lake, one of the best ways to experience its natural beauty is by taking the scenic drive.
This Lake Tahoe scenic drives takes you through stunning landscapes, towering mountains, waterfalls, beaches, and charming towns.
There are many pull-offs, viewpoints, and hikes to fully take in all that Lake Tahoe has to offer from the drive. See the lake’s colors range from turquoise to cobalt and the beaches range from sandy to forested and rocky.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what makes the Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive so special and provide tips for planning your own road trip!
Is There A Scenic Drive Around Lake Tahoe?
Yes! There is a fantastic 72 mile scenic loop drive that wraps around the lake. The road is paved, in good condition, and accessible year round.
The drive takes you along the perimeter of the lake, and goes through both California and Nevada since the lake is split between both states.
Take this drive to see the lake from different perspectives as the scenery is different from one side of the lake to the other.
You’ll be surprised to see how the color gradient of the lake changes, as well as the vibe of the different towns.
What is the most scenic part of Lake Tahoe?
All of Lake Tahoe is extremely scenic; you’re not going to get a bad view while you’re here!
Personally, if I had to choose the most scenic part, I’d have to pick the Northeast section of the lake around the Sand Harbor area.
From this perspective of the lake, you’ll see breathtaking vistas of the snow capped mountains and the beaches here are hard to beat.
But the West side of the lake has Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss State Park, also with exceptional views of the lake so it’s really hard to choose a favorite.
You’ll be impressed with both sides of the lake for different reasons.
Distance around Tahoe: 72 miles.
Drive time: 2-3 hours if driving nonstop, depending on traffic. But try to have an entire day to fully maximize your time doing the drive.
Services: There are many services along the way including restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and gas stations. You’ll pass through large towns such as Tahoe City, South Lake Tahoe, Stateline, Incline Village, and more all with plentiful services available.
Viewpoints & Most Scenic Stops Around Lake Tahoe
For this drive, we’re going to start in Tahoe City and go South. If you’re driving in from San Francisco or Sacramento this is likely the part of the lake you’ll be arriving at.
💡Pro Tip: Remember to leave no trace and “Keep Tahoe Blue“. Don’t litter, never feed wildlife, and pick up after your pets.
1. Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park
In between the towns of Tahoma and Meeks Bay, you’ll find Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park. The day use parking fee in summer is $10 and $5 in the winter.
While you’re here, check out Sugar Pine Point Beach where there is a pier that you can walk out on. Most wooden piers on the lake are on private property, so this is a unique opportunity you should take advantage of!
The state park has a large campground and is located in the historic zone of the lake. You can take guided tours during the summer of the Ehrman Mansion located here.
There is also a lakeside trail that you can take south of the park and find quiet, rocky beaches near Meeks Bay.
2. D.L. Bliss State Park
Home to the famous Rubicon trail, D.L. Bliss State Park makes a great stop on your drive around Lake Tahoe. There is a $10 day use entry fee to access the park.
Visit the Calawee Cove while you’re there. It is a picture perfect sandy beach with crystal clear waters. It takes only about 5 minutes to hike down to.
Lester Beach is another beach in the park and more easily accessible, but gets busier during the day.
If you have more time here, consider hiking a portion of the Rubicon trail – not to be confused with the Jeep trail that is also here! This hiking trail runs from D.L. Bliss to Emerald Bay, and is 8 miles one way or 16 miles roundtrip.
💡Pro Tip: If you have two cars, park one at D.L. Bliss and drive to the Emerald Bay trailhead, then hike down. This way you can do the whole hike in one day!
3. Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake
The hike to Eagle Falls is just a ½ mile round trip and features a stunning waterfall with a view of Lake Tahoe. There is also a wooden bridge that goes over the falls so you can get a lovely perspective of the water cascading over the rocks.
If you have more time and want to keep going, hike to Eagle Lake. The hike is 2 miles roundtrip with 400 feet of elevation gain and features a beautiful alpine lake in forested surroundings.
There is a $10 day use parking fee here to hike to both Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake.
4. Emerald Bay State Park
You’ll find one of the best views of Lake Tahoe at Emerald Bay! You can admire the views of the bay and Fannette Island from pull offs on the roadside, or walk down to the shores of Emerald Bay. Again, there is another $10 day use parking fee here.
To reach the shores of Emerald Bay you will have to hike down about one mile. There is a lovely beach here, and you can check out and tour the famous Vikingsholm Castle.
For a really special experience you can take a helicopter ride over Emerald Bay to see the beauty from the air.
💡Pro Tip: For your next visit, head to Inspiration Point for sunrise. Parking is free and it’s the best sunrise view over Lake Tahoe!
5. Cascade Falls & Cascade Lake
The hike to Cascade Falls and Cascade Lake is about 1.5 miles round trip with 250 feet of elevation gain and starts at the Bayview trailhead.
The hike is impressive itself with high alpine and forested views along the way.
At the end of the trail, you will be rewarded with views of a waterfall, Cascade Lake, and views of Lake Tahoe in the background!
6. Zephyr Cover
Leaving the Emerald Bay area, head through South Lake Tahoe and cross into Nevada. You’ll pass through the town of Stateline as well. Either of these towns have plentiful restaurants, breweries, and service areas to refuel for the rest of your day.
Zephyr Cove is a busy area with lots to do if you have some time to spare on your drive. There is the Zephyr Cove Resort that features a restaurant and beach as well as boat and kayak rental available.
Or head to North Zephyr Beach that is dog friendly. You’ll notice that dog friendly beaches can be hard to come by around Tahoe!
But one of the best things to do in Zephyr Cove is to go on a clear kayaking tour. What better way to get on the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe than to hop on one of these kayaks where you can see the water and rocks right below you?
The tour lasts about 3 hours so it’s perfect if you want a unique experience and don’t have a huge amount of time to spare.
7. Cave Rock
If you’re up for a short hike with amazing views, stop at Cave Rock when leaving Zephyr Cove. Right before you get to the tunnel on Highway 50, turn right onto Cave Rock Drive and the trailhead will be on your left.
The hike is moderately steep but quick as it takes about 15 minutes one way. Those who are brave can scramble their way all the way to the top of the rock, but the first viewpoint affords great views so you don’t need to!
💡Pro Tip: Cave Rock offers one of the best sunset views of Lake Tahoe!
8. Logan Shoals Vista Point
Just one mile North on your drive past Cave Rock, stop at Logan Shoals Vista Point. This is a fantastic view of the lake and also makes for a great sunset spot, no hike needed.
You can see straight across the bright blue lake to the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains. It is free to park here, and you can also venture down to the beach below.
9. Secret Cove Beach
Now to my personal favorite area of Lake Tahoe. Think: picturesque coves protected by tall pine trees with the most beautiful blue green gradient of the lake, and rocks dotting the shoreline. It is magical over here!
You will have to hike about a half mile in from the road to reach Secret Cove, but it’s well worth it.
The water around this beach is comparable almost to a Caribbean blue. But of course here in Tahoe – the water is very cold most of the year!
Parking and day use is free at Secret Cove.
💡Pro Tip: Secret Cove is a clothing optional beach so don’t be surprised if you see people in the nude!
10. Chimney Beach
Just up from Secret Cove is Chimney Beach. Similarly to Secret Cove, the hike down to Chimney Beach is only about a half mile one way, though steep. Parking and day use is free here as well.
The beach gets its name from the stand alone fireplace/chimney on the beach here!
The hearth was once a part of a cabin that is since gone, but it stands tall here and serves as a unique landmark.
11. Bonsai Rock
Bonsai Rock is another one of my favorite stops on this Lake Tahoe drive.
This uniquely shaped rock stands on the shores of Lake Tahoe with a few trees growing straight out of the top of the rock.
There are no signs for Bonsai Rock along the road, but the location is on Google Maps so as long as you input that it will take you to the right area
There is no designated parking area, so you’ll just have to park on the shoulder of the road and do the steep walk down to the lake. Bonsai Rock makes for one of the most picture perfect stops along your scenic drive.
You can easily kayak the one mile down to Bonsai Rock from Sand Harbor as well.
12. Sand Harbor Beach
If you’re in Lake Tahoe in the peak summer season and don’t plan to arrive at Sand Harbor by the early morning, you may want to skip this stop or wait until later in the evening.
The parking lot to Sand Harbor opens at 7am and in the summer cars start lining up before this time to make sure they get in. Once the lot is full, they don’t open the parking lot again until 5 pm and you cannot walk into the park from the road.
So with that being said, plan on going to Sand Harbor either early in the morning or later in the evening in the peak season.
There is a lovely large beach here at Sand Harbor where you can easily spend some lake time and soak up the sun.
My favorite thing to do here is rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard and paddle south to go to Bonsai Rock and hit some more scenic beaches such as Chimney Beach, Secret Cove, Secret Harbor, Creek Beach, and Whale Beach.
To kayak to all of these beaches you’ll need a full day, but with just a few hours you could certainly make it down to at least Bonsai Rock.
No matter if you’re lying on the beach or out on the water, Sand Harbor is popular for a reason and worth a stop on your drive!
13. Monkey Rock
Before heading into the cute mountain town of Incline Village, you can do the quick scenic hike up Monkey Rock. The hike is 2.5 miles round trip with 500 feet of elevation gain.
From the view at the top you get unobstructed views of the big blue lake in front of you and the surrounding mountains. From this vantage point the lake looks so still, like glass, especially if you hike in the morning.
There is a $2 entrance fee to be paid at the parking lot since it is in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.
Visiting Lake Tahoe: FAQs
Now you know all of the best stops along your scenic drive in Lake Tahoe you probably have some questions. Keep reading so we can answer them!
Is the drive around Lake Tahoe worth it?
Yes! The drive around Lake Tahoe is very worth it. You get to see the lake from all different perspectives as the color of the lake and surrounding scenery changes.
Plus, the lake is divided between two states, which makes the drive even more unique.
Since the drive is only 72 miles, it’s not an exhaustingly long day of driving. And you get to break up the drive with so many scenic viewpoints, hikes, waterfalls, additional alpine lakes, beaches, and more. Not to mention nearby towns with so much to do and see like nearby Truckee.
Which side of Lake Tahoe is a more scenic drive?
It’s hard to choose which side of Lake Tahoe is more scenic, since everyone will likely have a different opinion.
The West side, specifically the Southwest side of the lake with Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss is slightly more diverse. There you can see the small Fannette island, waterfalls, smaller alpine lakes, and beautiful beaches.
While the East side has breathtaking rocky beaches with that picturesque gradient of turquoise to cobalt blue. Plus there are snow capped mountains in the back.
Is the drive to Lake Tahoe dangerous in the summer?
No, the drive to Lake Tahoe is not dangerous in the summer. The roads surrounding Lake Tahoe are paved and in good condition. There are no points in the drive that include driving next to cliffs or excessive drop offs.
But do be sure to check road conditions before heading out to Lake Tahoe, even in the summer. Wildfires and rock fall can impact summer road closures.
Always follow the speed limits posted and be on the lookout for wildlife since deer and bears frequent the area.
Is the drive around Lake Tahoe dangerous in winter?
The drive around Tahoe in the winter can be dangerous, depending on the latest snowfall and your vehicle’s capability. Lake Tahoe can get winter storms often with heavy snow and ice that can make driving treacherous.
Check road conditions and abide by the traffic signs along the way. Some roads will be closed in the winter so it’s good to be aware of these road closures ahead of time.
It is highly recommended you have a car with AWD or 4WD, and keep tire chains in your car if needed. Caltrans (California Department of Transit) will post along the roadway if vehicles are required to be using tire chains.
You should also have these items on hand:
- Ice scraper
- Snow brush
- Emergency Roadside Kit (flare, jumper cables, flashlight)
- Emergency food and water
- Keep a full tank of gas
How do I get to Lake Tahoe?
The most convenient airport to fly into is the Reno- Tahoe International Airport since it is about an hour’s drive to either North or South Lake Tahoe.
For not being a huge airport, there are quite a few airlines that operate here such as American, Delta, Southwest, United, and more.
Your next option is Sacramento International Airport which is about a 2 hour drive from Lake Tahoe.
If you want to make a larger trip out of Lake Tahoe with more of Northern California, consider flying into San Francisco International Airport. It is about a 4 hour drive from SFO to Lake Tahoe.
➡️You definitely need a car to get to Lake Tahoe. Check Rental Car Rates Here!
Camping & Where To Stay Near Lake Tahoe
There are plenty of camping opportunities around Lake Tahoe, whether you have an RV or are looking to set up a tent. Below are some of the best camping options.
- Camp Richardson Resort in South Lake Tahoe. There are over 200 campsites here with tent sites, group campsites, and RV spots available. There are hot showers, flush toilets, and drinking water is available.
- Emerald Bay State Park’s Eagle Point Campground has 97 campsites available. The campground is only for tent campers or for small RVs. There are flush toilets here, drinking water, and showers for a fee.
- Meeks Bay is a lovely campground with 40 campsites. Some sites have lake views as well! There is drinking water available here as well as flush toilets.
If you prefer to rest your head in a bed after all of your exploring during the day, Tahoe has many hotel and lodging options to choose from!
- The Postmarc Hotel & Spa is a highly rated option in South Lake Tahoe that offers free bicycle rentals in the summer.
- Mother Nature’s Inn in Tahoe City is a great budget option. Guests love the location and the cozy cabin feel to the rooms.
- The Coachman Hotel near Stateline is well reviewed and has a hot tub and seasonal outdoor pool. Guests rave about the complimentary smores, fire pits, and how dog friendly they are!
The Wrap-Up: Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive
Overall, the 72 mile scenic drive around Lake Tahoe is an unforgettable experience that offers breathtaking views of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
From the crystal-clear waters to the towering mountains and lush forests, every turn on this drive will leave you inspired.
Whether you’re looking to hike, kayak, lay a towel out on a beach, or simply sightsee from the road, you’ll find everything on this drive.
So pack your bags, hit the road, and get ready to be amazed by the natural beauty that surrounds Lake Tahoe!