Out list of things to do in Lake Tahoe off the beaten track features the region's most unique sights and experiences. From crystalline waters to snow-covered mountains, Lake Tahoe is one of America’s greatest natural wonders. Once a secluded summer paradise for San Francisco’s elite, Lake Tahoe’s jaw-dropping beauty is now on the radars of international tourists. About 3 million people visit the USA's largest alpine lake each year, and crowds can become hectic during peak season.

    Whether you’re hoping to sunbathe during summer or ski during winter, finding seclusion at Lake Tahoe is sometimes difficult. However, 72 miles of shoreline and its surrounding forests and mountains have some unbelievable hidden treasures. These interesting places in Lake Tahoe only locals know can help you escape the crowds during your visit.

    1

    Emerald Bay Underwater State Park

    Dive beneath the surface to discover sunken watercraft

    Emerald Bay Underwater State Park provides the rare opportunity of scuba diving in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe. Opened in 2018, the mysteries buried beneath Emerald Bay became California’s 1st underwater state park. It contains one of the largest untouched groups of sunken watercraft in the USA. Scuba divers will discover boats, launches and barges used around a century ago.

    After being designated a special underwater area in 1994, the Maritime Heritage Underwater Trail unlocked the artefacts to the public. Diving beneath the surface gives you a glimpse of the watercraft used during the golden age of Emerald Bay. Interpretative panels are at multiple dive sites to enhance the experience for divers on the trail.

    Location: 138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 7 pm

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    2

    Whale Beach

    Gaze at enormous rocks just offshore this secluded beach

    Whale Beach is a pristine spot along Secret Harbor, on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. It’s the last of a series of beaches scattered in this remote section off Route 28. You’ll need hiking boots to reach the shoreline since it’s about a 2-mile trek from the Secret Harbor parking lot. If you’re searching for a quieter beach to relax, the beautiful hike helps you escape the more crowded shores.

    Whale Beach gets its name from the rocks just offshore that eerily resemble whales breaching the surface. The enormous boulders dotting the 100-yd shoreline provide lots of space to explore. Perching yourself atop the rocks lets you stare into the crystal-clear water or watch a dreamy sunset.

    Location: Carson City, NV 89703, USA

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    3

    Truckee River Bike Trail

    Run or cycle along the pristine Truckee River

    The Truckee River Bike Trail gives adventurous runners and cyclists an excellent off-road route around Lake Tahoe. At 7.5 miles, the trail offers countless scenic views of the peaceful Truckee River flowing through the Tahoe National Forest. The path stretches from Squaw Valley Ski Resort to Tahoe City around the lake’s north shore. At the Squaw Valley section, you’ll follow the footsteps of athletes from the 1960 Winter Olympics.

    It’s paved and mostly flat, making it accessible for all skill levels looking to explore the Truckee River. Although the trail parallels Route 89, you’ll remain beside the river and a safe distance from the highway. As you wander the path, you’ll find spots to soak your feet in the refreshing water.

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    photo by Darron Birgenheier (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    4

    Fannette Island Tea House

    A unique historic structure overlooking Emerald Bay

    • Unusual
    • Photo
    • Budget

    The Fannette Island Tea House sits atop the only island in Lake Tahoe, nestled in Emerald Bay. The rocky island presents a mesmerising panorama of the forests and mountains encircling the deep-blue bay. Fannette Island, which rests inside Emerald Bay State Park, is only accessible by boat or kayak. Known as the “Tea House,” the ramshackle building atop the island resembles an old miniature castle.

    The teahouse was once private property where the owner brought her guests to share tea overlooking Emerald Bay. Over time, the neglected stone building has fallen into disarray. Despite this, the rock scrambling up the hilltop towards the teahouse gives you unbelievable views of Emerald Bay.

    Location: Rubicon Trail, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA

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    5

    Rubicon Point Light

    A historic lighthouse on Lake Tahoe

    Rubicon Point Light is among the most historic buildings on Lake Tahoe. One of the 4 lighthouses built beside the lake around a century ago, it was abandoned due to expensive operations. The 12-ft-tall structure stands at an elevation of 6,300 ft in D.L. Bliss State Park. 

    The lighthouse is near the popular Rubicon Trail, which follows the shoreline to Emerald Bay. By hiking the lighthouse trail instead, you’ll be greeted with a stunning panorama of Lake Tahoe. The trek is about 1.5 miles roundtrip, but the path isn’t well marked. You’ll walk through the enchanting forest and see the lake’s glistening waters before reaching Rubicon Point Light.

    Location: Rubicon Trail, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA

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    photo by ray_explores (CC BY 2.0) modified

    6

    Webber Falls

    An enchanting swimming hole in Tahoe National Forest

    Webber Falls remains a relatively hidden waterfall on the Little Truckee River. The 2-tiered cascade plummets from a rocky cliff and forms pristine pools that are great for swimming. It’s a half-mile roundtrip hike to reach the waterfall. Accessible even for novice trekkers, you’ll find the trailhead north of Lake Tahoe not far off Highway 89 between Truckee and Sierraville.

    The first cascade drops 25 ft, and the waterfall makes a dramatic 80 ft plunge into the lower pool. When you hike to the upper falls, the swimming hole provides a stunning panorama of the Tahoe National Forest. Make sure to watch your footing to the base of the falls due to steep terrain.

    Location: Nevada City, CA 95959, USA

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    7

    St. Francis of the Mountains

    A rustic church made from its natural surroundings

    • Unusual
    • History
    • Photo

    St. Francis of the Mountains is a historic church near the shores of Fallen Leaf Lake. The sparkling glacial lake lies a few miles from Lake Tahoe, with a skinny path leading to the chapel. Its architecture complements the Lake Tahoe landscape by using a stone foundation and walls made from pine. Until its construction began in 1921, church services took place in the forest.

    After the chapel’s completion in 1923, it was named after St. Francis Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. The church became an endearing symbol of the peace and tranquillity of the Fallen Leaf Lake region. You’ll find memorial plaques inside the church and a nearby garden that observes the pioneers of this area.

    Location: 280 Fallen Leaf Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA

    Phone: +1 530-544-6635

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    8

    Bonsai Rock

    Take a photo of this iconic Lake Tahoe image

    Bonsai Rock, situated on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, has awed nature photographers for many years. The massive boulder and the lake's still water are especially picturesque at sunset. Earning its name from the small trees growing from its crevices, Bonsai Rock is a timeless Lake Tahoe photo. The resilient bonsais continue to survive the elements and inspire travellers who arrive to capture their beauty.

    You’ll find Bonsai Rock just off Route 28 between Hidden Beach and Sand Harbor Overlook. When you hike the steep path to the shoreline, the rugged boulder rises from the azure water. The natural harbour hosts kayakers enjoying the calm environment and photographers setting up their equipment offshore.

    Location: New Washoe City, NV 89704, USA

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    9

    Thunderbird Lodge

    One of Lake Tahoe’s most luxurious summer estates

    • Unusual
    • History
    • Photo

    The Thunderbird Lodge is one of Lake Tahoe’s former extravagant summer homes, located on the eastern shore. The 6.5-acre waterfront estate was once home to George Whittell Jr., an heir of a wealthy San Francisco family. Construction of the Thunderbird Lodge began in 1936, and Whittell Jr. owned most of the Nevada shoreline of Lake Tahoe. The non-profit Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society now runs the estate and offers tours to visitors.

    Reservations are required, and events hosted at the lodge include weddings, corporate events, school field trips, and intimate dinners. Visitors can experience multiple museums and collections on display for the public. The historic lodge is also home to the Thunderbird Yacht, one of America’s most iconic wooden speedboats.

    Location: Incline Village, Nevada 89450, USA

    Phone: +1 775-832-8750

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    photo by Michael Santella (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    10

    Silver Lake Potholes

    Take a refreshing dip in these natural granite pools

    The Silver Lake Potholes are natural swimming pools overlooking the reservoir and the Sierra Nevada. The Silver Fork American River flows into natural granite wedges to form unique soaking spots during the summer. Located near the Silver Lake West Campground, it's around a 15-minute hike from the campground to the pools, but you won’t face a strenuous incline.

    Whether you lounge on the rocks or go for a swim, it’s a surreal hangout beside the forest. The campground sits adjacent to Route 88, roughly a 50-minute drive from Lake Tahoe’s south shore. To reach the potholes, follow the gentle stream cascading from Silver Lake until you find the granite slabs. Be careful when swimming as some pockets are deeper than you'd expect.

    Location: Pioneer, CA 95666, USA

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    Daniel Grenier | Contributing Writer

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