9 Awesome Outdoor Activities You Can Only Do In Lake Tahoe In December

by | Nov 25, 2022 | Day Trips From Los Angeles, Destinations, Family Adventures, Traveling with Teens, USA, Weekend Trips, West Coast

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Having grown up along the US-Canadian border, I thought I knew everything there was to know about snow.

That is… until my family and I took a trip to Lake Tahoe in December. 

Wow! Just wow! 

It was like discovering an entirely new season in this winter wonderland with endless possibilities for outdoor fun. There’s skiing, ice skating, snow tubing, hiking, and so much to explore!

Keep reading and I’ll tell you why my family fell in love with winter in Lake Tahoe and why yours will too!



Lake Tahoe Dec Pin #1


Where Is Lake Tahoe?

If, like me, you didn’t grow up on the West Coast, you might not even know where Lake Tahoe is. 

Well… it’s a lake that sits at the base of the Sierra Nevadas. It’s about four hours by car from San Francisco and seven to eight from Los Angeles.

Half of Lake Tahoe is in California, and the other half is in Nevada. The southern side of the lake (South Lake Tahoe) is known for its bars, restaurants, and (in Nevada) casinos. The northern side is more tranquil; it’s one of the best places for a family looking for a more relaxed vacation experience due to its secluded cabins and the great variety of outdoor activities.

Lake Tahoe is undoubtedly one of the most popular winter destinations in California and Nevada and perhaps the most famous location on the West Coast. Heck, the Winter Olympics were even held there, making it one of only four times it has been held in North America! 


Best Lake Tahoe Winter Activities

Go Ice Skating in Heavenly Village

Ice skating was number one on our list of outdoor winter activities to do with our daughters. Sure, they’d been ice skating before. But that had always been at an indoor rink in the city. They’d never been to a proper outdoor ice skating rink before. 

We’d heard good things about the ice skating rink in Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe and decided to give it a shot. When we got there, we immediately knew that we’d made the right choice. In addition to putting up holiday decorations, the village had hung winter lights over the rink, making it both memorable and romantic. Our daughters’ first-time ice skating outdoors was a total success!

On a side note, everything we needed was already at the ice skating rink, such as skates and a skate-aid for our youngest daughter. 

Insider’s tip: if you bring your own skates, it’s $5 off!


Ice skaters at the ice rink in Heavenly Village in Lake Tahoe, CA - Lake Tahoe In December

This is precisely the sort of ice skating experience my wife and I had always wished our daughters would have. | Photo 27887768 / Lake Tahoe © Christian Araujo | Dreamstime.com


Explore Heavenly Village

It’s not called “heavenly” for nothing. This quaint little town in South Lake Tahoe is a great place for families who want to enjoy some laid-back shopping while soaking up those holiday alpine village vibes. 

We had fun just walking around Heavenly, peeking in the windows, and warming up afterward with some warm hot cocoa at Heaven’s Little Cafe. Click here for a map of the village and all its fun attractions, including live music, the best happy hour spots, and even a tree-lighting ceremony. 

Insider’s tip: Ride the 2.4 mile-long Heavenly Mountain Resort Gondola for gorgeous panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. 


Heavenly ski resort Gondola sightseeing deck on a sunny day - Lake Tahoe In December

Even if you don’t want to ski, it’s worth taking the Heavenly Gondola just for the incredible views of Lake Tahoe. | Photo 135820415 / Heavenly Gondola © Andreistanescu | Dreamstime.com


Hit the Ski Slopes 

This was our first time skiing as a family, and we wanted to make it memorable. We decided, therefore, to visit one of the most famous ski resorts in the US, the Heavenly Resort in South Lake Tahoe. 

This ski resort has everything: breathtaking views, phenomenal slopes, real snow, and cozy accommodations. As this was our first time, we opted for a private lesson so we could learn together as a family. Our daughters (of course) picked skiing up right away, whereas my wife and I were a bit… ahem… slower to get the hang of it. 

Afterward, we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon gliding down the slopes and taking in the incredible views of Lake Tahoe. 


Don’t Miss! 7 Not To Miss Things To Do In South Lake Tahoe With Kids


There are a number of great ski resorts in and around Lake Tahoe. Some of the most popular include Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley), Heavenly, Sugar Bowl and Kirkwood.

Insider’s tip: Lift tickets are limited, so book yours in advance to guarantee an unforgettable day on the slopes overlooking Lake Tahoe.


View from Heavenly Ski Resort Lake Tahoe, CA - Lake Tahoe In December

It doesn’t get much better than alpine skiing with Lake Tahoe stretched before you. | Photo 107278042 © Spvvkr | Dreamstime.com


Go Snow Tubing

It was our daughters’ first time snow tubing too, and we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The weather was cold and crisp, the snow was soft, and the tubes were fast. My wife and I felt like kids again as we ran up the hill and raced each other to the bottom.

We’d heard great things about Adventure Mountain from friends and ended up going there. But even if you’re on the other side of the Lake, there’s bound to be a snow tubing place close by. They’re so popular (with kids and parents) that it’s a guaranteed activity that everyone will enjoy.

Insider’s tip: Don’t forget to check out the Snake Run if you end up visit Adventure Mountain. It’s 500 ft. of pure awesomeness!


Snow tubing in Heavenly Village in Lake Tahoe, CA - Lake Tahoe In December

It may not look super lively, but trust me, snow tubing is a blast for the whole family, especially if you’re a little competitive like we are. | Photo 135820326 / Heavenly © Andreistanescu | Dreamstime.com


Take a Hike to Vikingsholm on Emerald Bay

One of my favorite things about Lake Tahoe is the astonishing number of hidden treasures that dot its shores. Perhaps the most notable of these is Vikingsholm — a “castle” secreted away among the Tahoe pines. 

Okay, so Vikingsholm isn’t really a castle, more of an extra-large mansion, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive (or photo worthy!) Its beautiful Scandinavian architecture and prime location right on the water make it a perfect spot for a family photo. 

Pack a lunch (and some hot cocoa) to enjoy on your hike there, and afterward why not enjoy the beautiful Eagle Falls that are close by as well?

Insider’s tip: Fancy a summer trip to Lake Tahoe? Why not take the opportunity to actually tour Vikingsholm’s gothic interior? Tours are available from June to September.


Exterior view of the Vikingsholm in Lake Tahoe area - Lake Tahoe In December

Nerd Alert! The first time I saw Vikingsholm covered in snow, I thought it looked like an ancient castle you’d see on Game of Thrones. | Photo 208756973 © Chon Kit Leong | Dreamstime.com


Get Cozy on a Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride

Sleigh rides aren’t just for Santa anymore! They’re a fun and engaging way to enjoy the beautiful scenery around Lake Tahoe. 

Book a private tour around the Lake and soak in those stunning views all while wrapped up in a toasty blanket and sipping a hot drink or two!

Care for something more romantic? Choose a couple’s ride and feel as if you’ve been transported into something out of a holiday greeting card!

Insider’s tip: Don’t forget to bring a carrot as a thank you for the horses!


two Belgian horses tethered to a sleigh

Here’s the kind of view you can expect when you take a horse-drawn sleigh ride in Lake Tahoe. | Photo 67552383 © Steve Callahan | Dreamstime.com


Try Cross-Country Skiing

At this point, it was time for our family to say goodbye to South Lake Tahoe and to head upwards to our next lodgings in North Lake Tahoe. Getting back into nature felt incredible and we wanted to know how best to enjoy North Lake Tahoe’s incredible natural scenery.

A friend recommended we try cross-country skiing. Essentially the winter equivalent of long-distance running, cross-country skiing was the perfect way to enjoy North Lake Tahoe’s quiet, snow-covered woods and coves. 


Don’t Miss! 9 Wonderous Winter Family Vacations For Non-Skiers


You can rent cross-country skis from any number of places around North Lake Tahoe. We rented ours from Tahoe XC, as well as a day pass to all the trails. This was great as it gave us the freedom to go out and explore at our own pace as a family. 

Insider’s tip: Stock up on trail mix and other snacks the night before. Cross country skiing burns A LOT of calories very quickly. The ones with chocolate M&M’s came in especially handy at motivating our youngest daughter.


Two cross-country skiers look out over Lake Tahoe from their snow covered mountainside position near Mount Rose highway on the North Shore

Skiing up to these lookouts may be hard, but you have to agree the view is well worth it. | Photo 2544516 © Glenn Hartz | Dreamstime.com


Go Wild on a Snowmobile Tour

Snowmobiling is by far one of the coolest things to do in Lake Tahoe. It combines snow, speed, and racing all into one action-packed adventure ride. What’s more, there are plenty of snowmobiling tours available, from beginner level to advanced. 

Our family took the 2-hr Group Summit Tour offered by Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours. As we were all beginners, we wanted to make sure the tour would be appropriate for us. I’m happy to say that at no point did we feel like we were in over our heads. The instructor was great at coaching us through the ropes at the start, then letting us loose later on.

Insider’s tip: Remember to wear layers as weather conditions can change rapidly in the Sierra Nevada mountains. When we went, the weather went from cold to hot to frigid all within the span of a couple hours.


Snowmobile tour during snow fall - Lake Tahoe In December

It doesn’t get much cooler than a snowmobile ride at night just as snow begins to fall. | Photo 136743017 © Serge Novitsky | Dreamstime.com


Enjoy an Outdoor Hot Tub under the Stars

A bit of a bonus activity, but definitely worth trying, and definitely a local favorite! We were lucky enough to stay at a cabin in North Lake Tahoe that had an outdoor hot tub ready to go. 

After a long day of skiing, snow tubing, or snowmobiling, nothing beats stepping out of the cold and into a delightfully bubbling hot tub, especially at night.

Put on some music, open a bottle of wine, and enjoy the spectacular view of the cosmos above. 

Insider’s tip: I highly recommend calling your hotel/cabin in advance to confirm that the hot tub will be open for use.


When You Go


Getting To Lake Tahoe From L.A.

Depending on where you decide to stay, Lake Tahoe is between a seven-and-a-half to an eight-hour drive from Los Angeles. Close, but not so close that you can’t enjoy that quintessential Lake Tahoe winter trip vibe as a family. At least, that’s how we like to look at it!

Just before we were about to leave, my father-in-law took me aside and recommended I pack chains for the car tires in case the roads got icy. Yeah, these things… I didn’t even know people still used chains! 

But, I took his advice and packed them, and than goodness I did, because the next morning it snowed and our car was sliding all over the place — not safe! I put the chains on and BAM! it was like my car suddenly learned four-wheel drive! 

So, I highly recommend you prepare for the cold weather conditions at Lake Tahoe. Bring chains, blankets, emergency supplies in the car, and so on. There are plenty of guides online that offer lists of what to bring. Better safe than sorry!

Located close by to Lake Tahoe is the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. From the airport, it’s only about a 45-minute drive to Lake Tahoe, which is a nice improvement over the seven (or eight) hours from L.A.

Start your research for flights with exclusive discounts from Scott’s Cheap Flights. Try out their free 7-day membership to save BIG money on flights. I’m not kidding. They have the best deals out there and we’ve tried them all, or so it seems. There’s no need to buy a membership (you’ll still have access to great deals with their free one).

Another excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia!


Where To Stay In Lake Tahoe

I’ve mentioned Heavenly a couple of times already in this article. It’s the place in South Lake Tahoe for fun activities like ice skating and shopping. So what better place to stay than right in the middle of everything at the Heavenly Valley Lodge!

Looking for something a little more private? It doesn’t get any better than your very own cabin in the woods! That’s precisely what you’ll get when you decide to stay in a private cabin through VRBO!

Sometimes, you just need to lie back, relax, and enjoy a soothing spa experience. Sure, it might be the dead of winter, but that doesn’t mean you have to freeze! Book a stay at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort in North Lake Tahoe, and find that perfectly tranquil vacation you’ve been searching for.


Discount Tours In Lake Tahoe

To get discounts on tours in the area, try Get Your Guide or Viator (which offers 51% off last-minute tours!).



Lake Tahoe Dec Pin #2


Matthew LaMourie is a travel writer and photographer based in San Francisco, CA. A natural explorer, he specializes in finding out of the way places, even in the most well trodden of destinations. When not on the road, he devotes his time to his loving family, his watercolor painting, and just walking around his adoptive city, ever curious to see what’s round the next corner.