Lake Tahoe in the fall season brings so many delights. The lake is full. Stately pines line the 72 miles of the lake rim and reach far up into high hills. Stands of cottonwoods and aspens turn to autumn splendor set off by the evergreens. You’ll find plenty of outdoor activities. And you will find afternoons of relaxing on the beach or the deck of your “home” the perfect way to unwind.
The air turns cooler than summer but can still be in the 60s and 70s. Hikers love the natural air conditioning. Snow is likely a ways off, and days may bring blue skies or decorative cloud formations. The crowds of July and August thin out, while restaurants and bike rental shops remain open.
I’ve visited Lake Tahoe in all seasons. While each has reasons to recommend it, the fall is especially stunning. If you have a long weekend and want to plan an autumn getaway to Lake Tahoe, you will be sure to make lifelong memories. Here are a few highlights I recommend for this season, centered in North Tahoe.
Look for Those Amazing Fall Colors
Pine trees populate so much of the Tahoe area, and they of course stay green year-round. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find fall leaves and flowers among the green. The cottonwoods turn a lovely yellow, and other bushes fill in with red.
I stayed in North Tahoe in Incline Village, a small town where residents take pride in their yards. Planted flowers line the roads as you walk or bike along. The purple, deep pink, yellow, and white blooms signal that autumn has arrived.
Hike a Section of the Tahoe Rim Trail
The most popular trail in Tahoe is the Tahoe Rim Trail, which loops around the entire lake and covers 170 miles. You can enter and leave at many points. The TRT website provides maps indicating the mileage and terrain of the trail. You can use these to plan your day.
My favorite hike on the TRT is the section from Tahoe Meadows south toward Spooner Lake. Park on the Mt. Rose Highway shoulder or in the parking lot and make your way across the meadow into the trees. The trail winds through dense forest, with breaks where you can look down on the Tahoe Basin.
It’s an out and back trail, so go as far as you wish, then turn around and head back to your car. For a fabulous day, pack a lunch, go bright and early, stop midday at a picture-perfect viewpoint over the lake, then return to your car by mid-afternoon.
Find Echoes of History on the Incline Flume Trail
This trail is named after the flume and tramway system built here in the 1870s. Lumber needs of the miners on the other side of the Nevada mountain grew when silver and gold were discovered. Sawmills were built along Lake Tahoe and trees were felled. An elaborate wooden trough system carried the wood from the lakeshore over the mountain to miners on the Comstock.
To find the Incline Flume Trail, travel up the mountain on Highway 431 out of Incline Village toward Mt. Rose. About a mile past the Viewpoint stop and look for a parking area for about 6 cars. This is the almost hidden entry point for a fairly flat section of the Flume Trail that runs through this part of Tahoe. A steeper part of the trail rises from Tunnel Creek, but that section calls for you to be in good shape. I’ve hiked both, but I would recommend the flatter section, especially if you are just getting used to the altitude.
Look for old wooden remainders of the flume, along with rusty nails. You are walking through history here!
Marvel at the Beauty of Sand Harbor
Sand Harbor, on the east shoreline of northern Lake Tahoe, is the most beautiful of all the many waterside places. Boulders strewn along the shore frame your view of the sparkling water. Wooden plank walkways line the sandy shore and lead to a pristine beach.
Stroll Along the Tahoe East Shore Trail
This paved path recently opened and goes along the shoreline from Incline Village south to San Harbor. You can walk or ride a bike on the 10-foot-wide path. Enter at the end of Lakeshore Drive and Highway 28 in Incline Village. Since it was previously not safe to walk this section with its busy highway, the path now allows you to wander at your leisure along the shore with the amazing lake constantly in sight. Plans are to extend this path south and then eventually around the lake.
Pedal Along the Shoreline
A bike ride along one of the paths along the lake, with the cool air blowing in your face, is a wonderful way to enjoy Lake Tahoe in the fall. Rent a bike in Tahoe City at Willard’s, cross the bridge over the Truckee River, then continue south. The ride to Homewood ski area and back to Tahoe City covers about 12 miles. This is a good way to spend about four hours, stopping to walk on beaches and munch on a picnic lunch.
Visit Famous Emerald Bay
The only inlet along Lake Tahoe’s shore, Emerald Bay is known for it’s picturesque water, tiny Fannette Island sitting in the bay, and Eagle Falls crashing down from high above. You may spy the paddle-wheel boats that circle the bay. Located on Highway 89, just 12 miles north of South Tahoe, Emerald Bay can be a viewing stop you make, or you can park your car and hike a mile from the parking lot down to a historic house called Vikingsholm on the lakeshore. Be warned that the hike back up to your car is steep. I found it was fine if I stopped often and turned to look back at the view while catching my breath.
Follow the Shoreline on the Rubicon Trail
On the west side of the lake, the Rubicon Trail is a great choice for scenic hiking. It’s a 4.5-mile trail in the D.L. Bliss State Park that begins (or ends) at the shore of Emerald Bay. You can enter on Highway 89 and hike south to Emerald Lake. Both ends provide parking. Along the way, this moderate hike hugs the shore, sometimes far above the water. The vistas are truly spectacular. I started from the north end in the morning and reached Emerald Bay in time to enjoy a picnic lunch. Then, hiking north, I reached my car mid-afternoon.
Look for a little (tiny!) lighthouse and a waterfall along the way. The trail also has fenced viewpoints over the lake so you can stop and take in the astounding sights.
Enjoy Water Sports
Shops rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards into the fall. Check the weather before you head out to make sure it’s not too windy. The rental shops will give you good advice on the local conditions. Boating is also an option. And some people swim in Lake Tahoe in the fall, though it is bracingly cold.
Get Outside for Prime Sunrise and Sunset Season
You can easily fill a long weekend or a week at Lake Tahoe, surveying the lake and shoreline from different perspectives. You can be as active or as relaxed as you want. A venture to Lake Tahoe in the fall allows you to explore free of summer crowds with all the trails still open before winter’s arrival. It’s a perfect fall getaway!