South Lake Tahoe in Winter
California, Travel

South Lake Tahoe in Winter: Two Day Guide

California is known worldwide for its sunshine and beaches. However, many people don’t realize the vast mountain terrain and snowfall that California has! South Lake Tahoe in winter time is a certainly a sight to behold. It looks like something out of Frozen!


Lake Tahoe is a massive lake that lies in both California and Nevada. The Southern portion of the lake is referred to as South Lake Tahoe and very popular for all of the skiing and snowboarding on Heavenly Mountain. It is about 190 miles northeast of San Francisco, CA sitting atop the Stanislaus National Forest. South Lake Tahoe in winter is probably just as busy as it is the rest of the year! It is truly a year-round destination.

Road Conditions

Unless your vehicle is a 4-wheel drive, you definitely want to have tire chains in your car. The road conditions in South Lake Tahoe in winter can change quickly, and they may be required for you to be able to drive on the freeways. To get updated information about road conditions, you can visit the CalTrans website here and enter the number of the highway you are driving on. If you are in South Lake Tahoe, it will most likely be the 50 or the 89.

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

Day One: Heavenly Village, Gondola, Lakeside Beach, Harrah’s Casino

Heavenly Village

Heavenly Village is a popular area in South Lake Tahoe in winter time. The area is bustling with skiers, snowboarders and families who just want to sled and enjoy the snow! There are plenty of shops that people refer to as the Shops at Heavenly Village. There are many shops that sell clothing and gear for skiers and snowboarders, shops to rent your gear at, and regular boutiques and candy shops. It is a lot of fun to walk around and purchase a few things. There are also plenty of amazing restaurants in Heavenly Village to try! I will share a bit more about them below.

The Gondola in Heavenly Village

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

One of the things I read the most raving reviews about was the gondola ride up to Heavenly Mountain. It is the same cable car that the skiers and snowboarders take up, but it stops first at an observation deck, which is a lookout point that overlooks all of Lake Tahoe! I was prepared for it to be expensive from what I read, but apparently winter time prices are sky high. We ended up paying about $64.00 per person, which was higher than anything I read.

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

I agree that the view was amazing and so worth it if you love nature and great views (that is everyone….right?), but it was seriously overpriced. I would do it once, but I would not drop this kind of dough every visit. The good news is, it sounds like the prices drop significantly when it is not winter time in South Lake Tahoe!

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

It is also very cold up at the observation deck because of the altitude. Thankfully, there is little Blue Café to provide you hot chocolate and coffee, as well as plenty of tables and benches to sit at. We spent about a half hour up here and enjoyed some hot chocolate before moving on.

Cafe Blue Tahoe

When you get back on to the gondola, you will get to the very top where all of the skiers and snowboarders get off to get to the trails. Unless you are going to ski or snowboard, it really isn’t necessary to get off here. We were curious though and walked around. Again, we were pretty cold, so we got back on the gondola and went down the mountain after about 10 minutes!

Lakeside Beach

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

My sweet husband had left his thick jacket in the car, not realizing how cold the mountain would be so he was eager to go rest at our hotel for a little while where it was warm. I will write another post about our stay at Basecamp Hotel in South Lake Tahoe, but let me just say here that I really enjoyed it and recommend it!

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

After resting for about twenty minutes and warming up, we left to wander around by the lake, seeing if we could find any entrance to get to the water. Lucky us, there was an entrance to Lakeside Beach just half a mile from our hotel! This is a great free beach to access in South Lake Tahoe in winter time.

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

Normally this beach is very busy in the summer with all the lake activities. When we arrived, there was nearly no one there. The sand was completely covered in about three feet of snow until you get right to the edge of the water. The sand was probably visible because of the changes in tides throughout the day and night.

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

We hung out at Lakeside Beach taking pictures and playing in the snow for about an hour. It didn’t cost us anything to get in, so it makes for a great free activity!

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Harrah’s Casino

Harrahs South Lake Tahoe

So I know gambling isn’t for everyone and it is definitely not child appropriate, but Harrah’s is a pretty low-key, clean casino. My husband had not been to a casino in America yet (or any, ever), so he was pretty excited to see what all the hype was about. We walked around looking at all the “slot machines” that aren’t actually slots anymore, and the poker and blackjack players. I have to say it was a pretty calm Saturday night and we lost a solid forty dollars at the slot machines! My husband wanted to keep playing, but I said no we had wasted more than enough money already. They do serve free alcohol, so at least we both got to enjoy a free beer!

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Day Two: Snow Tubing, Sledding, or Skiing/Snowboarding, Emerald Bay

Snow Tubing/Sledding/Skiing

I am not a skier or snowboarder, both sports actually terrify me because I am afraid of heights and flying down a mountain very fast just doesn’t sound fun. BUT, I know many people do love these sports, so the best advice I can give is- start early! The Gondola opens around 8 AM and the lift tickets can cost about $125.00 or more.

Snow Tubing South Lake tahoe

If you still want to play in the snow, some great alternatives are sledding, snow tubing or even snow shoeing. We checked out Hansen’s Resort, where we saw families rent inflatable donuts to tube down the mountain for an hour. They charge 20$ for the hour and it looked like a great family activity. It seemed unnecessary though, so we decided to keep walking up Ski Run Rd. to see what else people were doing up there. At the end of the road, we saw a sign that read “Open House.” People were bringing their own sleds and sledding down the hill. Kids were playing in the snow. It was fun to watch and after walking around for a little while headed back to our car.

South Lake Tahoe Winter

Emerald Bay

Sadly, the dates we were in South Lake Tahoe, the part of the 89 freeway that leads to Emerald Bay was closed. I was disappointed because this activity was very high on my list, but alas, this is just part of the travel experience. You can plan, and sometimes those plans just aren’t going to work out. I still want to add it to the list though, because we would have visited that day if the roads were open.

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

Leaving South Lake Tahoe

There is really only one way in and out of South Lake Tahoe, which is the 50 freeway. Because of the traffic lights, getting out can take a while, so add an extra hour or three to what your trip would usually be if you are planning to leave Tahoe on a Sunday afternoon/evening.

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

Restaurants in South Lake Tahoe

Gunbarrel Tavern & Eatery

Gunbarrel Tavern Eatery South Lake Tahoe

Gunbarrel Tavern & Eatery is located within Heavenly Village right underneath the gondola. It has all the hipster and snowboarder vibes that the village has and the servers were all very kind. I opted for tacos and my husband got a burger! It was a great place for lunch and they had a pretty solid looking happy hour with 3$ beers and 5$ nachos! I’d go back here again. Check em out on Facebook!

Ten Crows BBQ

Ten Crows BBQ South Lake Tahoe

We had dinner here and boy, was this barbeque something else. They had live music playing and the restaurant was packed. I ordered trip-tip with a side of mac&cheese and coleslaw. My husband ordered ribs with a side of mashed potatoes and coleslaw. I think we both agreed that I need to learn how to make coleslaw! This barbeque was incredible and one of the best I have ever had. I am heading to Austin, TX next month so… yeah, I would say the bar has been set pretty high Texas. What you got? Check out Ten Crows on Facebook!

South Lake Tahoe in Winter

Overall, we had a dream of a weekend exploring South Lake Tahoe in winter time and I hope these tips were helpful! Have you ever been to Lake Tahoe? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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South lake Tahoe in Winter Guide

7 thoughts on “South Lake Tahoe in Winter: Two Day Guide”

  1. Great article & very well written. It stinks that you missed some of our hidden gems on our side of the lake though like:
    1. Free Bird Cafe (makes their own Chai from scratch – takes him over 4 hours to simmer it with real spices)
    2. Blue Angel Cafe (great option for any diet)
    3. South Lake Brewing (our local brewery serving up amazing brews)
    4. Curry Grill (Best Indian Food I’ve had outside of Bangalore India – have to take it to go though)
    5. Artemis Grill (The Original restaurant is better in mid-town; not the one by the lake)

    Just means you need to come back & visit again 😉

  2. Alex,
    These recommendations are so amazing! We only had two days so our time was so limited. I am definitely going to check these places out next time we head to Lake Tahoe! I am so excited to come back when the weather is warm. 🙂

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