Our Favorite Family Summer Activities in North Lake Tahoe

Every summer I look forward to spending time in Tahoe. It is one of my favorite places and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to return to Tahoe year after year and experience all that the area has to offer with my family. We stay in the Tahoe Donner area near Truckee, California and tend to spend the majority of our time in North Lake Tahoe. Every year we revisit some of our favorite spots and try to experience several new activities. I want to highlight just a few of our favorite family summer activities in the North Lake Tahoe area for you today. I am excited to continue to update this list for you in the future as we continue to explore everything the area has to offer.

Zip Line and Ropes Course

Tahoe Vista Adventure Park 6600 Donner Rd, Tahoe Vista, CA 

Before we came up to Tahoe this summer, I asked my kiddos to choose the one activity they would like to do most during our vacation. They both chose the Tahoe Vista Treetop Adventure Park. Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks has three locations in the North Lake Tahoe area.  We have visited both the Tahoe Vista course and the Tahoe City course. Our favorite is the Tahoe Vista course which offers 9 courses ranging from beginning to advanced and includes views of Lake Tahoe from some of the platforms and zip lines. You must be at least 5 years old to participate Each sessions lasts 2 ½ hours and costs $50 for ages 5 -12 and $60 for ages 13+. On our last trip my kids were able to complete all of the courses once and revisit their favorite course a second time before our time was up. Our favorite course is Lake View because it has the longest zip lines and best views. After spending a couple hours zip lining we like to head down the road to GarWoods to enjoy a refreshing Wet Woody (read more about GarWoods in this post). This is my #1 recommendations for families that have an adventurous streak.

Lake Time

It wouldn’t be a trip to Tahoe without some serious lake time. We enjoy spending time at both Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe. Donner Lake is much smaller, but offers both public and private beaches, public piers and a campground. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and it is known for the clarity of its water and breathtaking surroundings. Lake Tahoe straddles the state line between California and Nevada and offers countless recreational areas. Our favorite lake activities include stand up paddle boarding, crawdad fishing, building sand castles, swimming, and simply lounging on the beach. Here are a few beaches that we have enjoyed visiting.

West End Beach

This is the public beach on the west end of Donner Lake. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for youth (age 2-17). Boat rentals, lifeguard swim areas, concessions, horeshoe pits, play areas, picnic areas, BBQ’s and beach volleyball are some of the amenities this beach has to offer. If you find yourself in need of a cool treat the Little Truckee Ice Creamery is walking distance from this beach. You can read more about it here.

Tahoe Donner Beach Club Marina 

This is a private beach for members of Tahoe Donner and their guests. It is not open to the public.  If you are renting a home in Tahoe Donner I recommend checking to see if your rental includes access to this beach. It is located on the east end of Donner Lake and offers a variety of activities for members and their guests to enjoy, including boating, swimming, windsurfing, standup paddleboard, lessons and rentals. The Marina Grill is on site and serves lunch and refreshments and lounge chairs are available on the beach. We like to take a paddle board, kayak or pedal boat along the east side of the lake until we reach the calm inlets that border the campground. Dragonflies are frequently spotted and when my kids were younger we kept a close eye out for fairies in the this portion of the lake that we have nicknamed “pixie hollow.”

Sand Harbor 

This beach on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe is picture perfect and very popular. it opens at 8 am and fills up quickly. On a weekday the parking lot is usually full by 10 am (even earlier on the weekends). There is a $10.00 entrance fee per vehicle. Parking is also available in nearby Incline Village and a shuttle will transport you to Sand Harbor. My kids enjoy climbing on the large rock boulders and I can’t think of a prettier spot to paddle board the afternoon away. Sand Harbor offers two boat ramps, SUP and kayak rentals and the Sand Harbor Bar And Grill for snacks and drinks.

Hiking

The Lake Tahoe area has an abundance of beautiful hikes that range in difficulty and length . Each summer we try to explore at least one new trail. Here are a few that we have especially enjoyed and in order from easiest to hardest. You can pick up a Tahoe Donner Summer Trail Map at the Northwoods Clubhouse in Tahoe Donner for more detailed information on the Northwoods Trail Nature Loop and Glacier Way Trailhead.

Northwoods Trail Nature Loop (easy)

This is a great hike for beginners that is just over 2 miles. There are signs along the trail with information about the plants and wildlife that you might encounter. Our favorite part of the hike is a long boardwalk that crosses a beaver pond and provides and up close view of a beaver dam on the southern portion of the loop. Parking is available at both the Trout Creek Recreation Center and  Northwoods Clubhouse.

Update on the Nature Loop Tail:  Nature Loop South is currently closed to ensure your safety across the broken boardwalk and in an attempt at protecting the wetlands. Plans are underway for a possible Fall 2018 construction start date.

Historic Donner Pass Trail (easy)

This is an easy and unique hike through graffiti lined tunnels high above Donner Lake. Upon entering the tunnels you will feel the temperature immediately drop which is refreshing on a hot day. We parked at the China Wall Marker Parking Area on Donner Pass Rd. and hiked past the Native American Petroglyphs before reaching the tunnels above. A porta-potty is available at the parking area.

Tahoe Donner
Historic Donner Pass Trail
Glacier Way Trailhead (easy-moderate)

This trailhead leads to several different trails ranging in length and ability. The path to my favorite lookout spot (pictured below) starts 0.5 mile from the trailhead at a flat area on the left hand side of the Glacier Way trail that looks like a small parking lot. Follow trail marker 20a on the left until you reach a large rock marking a panoramic view of Donner Lake. On occasion we have been lucky enough to come across patches of snow during our summer hikes along the Glacier Way Trail and enjoy an impromptu snowball fight. A parking lot and porta-potty are available at the trailhead.

Tahoe Donner Hike
Donner Lake Overlook
Mount Judah Loop Trail (moderate)

This 4.8 mile trail is off of the Pacific Crest Trail. It is the most difficult of the three and is rated moderate due to the uphill portions. We parked on Donner Pass Road and caught the Pacific Crest Trail on Old Donner Summit Road. The Pacific Crest Trail led us to the Mount Judah Loop Trail. The wildflowers and views made for an amazing hike. There was a porta-potty available on the paved portion of the road near the start of the hike.

Truckee Hike
Mount Judah Loop Trail

River Rafting on the Truckee River

Truckee River Raft Company 185 River Road, Tahoe City, CA

One of my favorite ways to spend a day in Tahoe is floating down a five mile stretch of the Truckee River that starts in Tahoe City and ends at River Ranch.

Tips for rafting on the Truckee River:
  • Wear a bathing suit. It can be quite warm on the river and there are a couple great swimming holes that you can stop and swim at along the way.
  • Pack a cooler full of food and beverages to enjoy while out on the river (no styrofoam or glass).
  • Our favorite time to raft is in the middle of the day. We pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the many picnic spots along the river.
  • Bring a large trash bag to keep your belongings dry.  I also bring a smaller plastic bag to protect our phone/camera, wallets and keys.
  • We love to bring these water guns with us. They are not only great for an impromptu water battle with other boats, but they work well at removing water that accrues at the bottom of the boat as well. Our rule is that we only fire upon boats that want to participate in a water gun fight.
  • Don’t forget your sunscreen. The sun reflecting off the water can leave you with a nasty burn.
  • Use the bathroom before you get on the raft. There are two porta-potty stops along the river, but you will have to wait a couple miles to reach the first one.
  • Make sure that people and belongings are safely secured in the boat towards the end of your ride since there is a short stretch of low level rapids. There will be a sign warning you of rough waters ahead.
  • Bring money so that you can enjoy a beverage, treat or meal on the deck at River Ranch once your rafting trip is completed. It is fun to watch the other rafters “survive” the rapids.

There are two river rafting companies that rent rafts out of Tahoe City. Our favorite is the Truckee River Raft Company with the orange paddles. Truckee River Raft Company has a large parking lot directly across the street from River Ranch. You can park there and a shuttle bus will take you to the launching deck in Tahoe City. When you are finished rafting your car will be conveniently located.  When it is time to exit the river, Truckee River Raft Company has a platform that exits directly onto the River Ranch patio.

Truckee River Rafting

Miniature Golf

Magic Carpet Miniature Golf 5167 N Lake Blvd., Carnelian Bay, CA

On cooler days or when we need a break from water activities we head over to the Magic Carpet Miniature Golf course in Carnelian Bay. We like to play a round or two before we head across the street to GarWoods for lunch or dinner (read more about GarWoods in this post). There are two 19 hole courses and one 28 hole course to choose from at Magic Carpet Miniature Golf. Our family has a tradition of taking a picture whenever one of us gets a hole-in-one. We also like to ham it up for the camera with all of the fun attractions on the course. The courses are well maintained and entertaining. Some favorites are an opening/closing castle door, a spider guarding a hole and golf club swinging back and forth over the hole. Restrooms, an indoor arcade and vending machines are also available on the premises.

Roller Skating at Northstar

During the summer months the Village at Northstar transforms their outdoor iceskating rink into a rollerskating rink. You are welcome to bring your own skates and enjoy the rink for free or you can rent classic roller skates or in-line blades  for $15 and helmets for $5.00. Comfortable seating and fire pits surround the rink. Some of our favorite summer evenings have included roller skating and roasting s’mores at one of the fire pits with friends. You can bring your own s’more ingredients or pick up a s’more roasting kit in the village. There is also music at the rink on certain nights. See details below:

  • Every Tuesday Night (June 26th through August 31st): Retro Skate Night from 5PM-8PM
  • Every Friday Night (June 29th through August 28th): Family Fun Night from 5PM-9PM

Don’t forget to let me know if you visit any of these spots during your next vacation. We are starting to think about next summer’s family vacation plans. Washington DC is on the top of our list. I would love to receive your recommendations for places to stay, see and eat. Happy Travels!

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