Skiing on the north side of the lake.

- © CSNafzger / Shutterstock
Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe

Villégiature in the heights of the Sierra Nevada

Lake Tahoe in short

The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range straddling California and Nevada. Straddling it all the way, Lake Tahoe stretches along the border between these two states. With a circumference of more than 115 km, it is the largest alpine lake in the United States, situated at an altitude of 1867 metres. So it's a great way to cycle or drive around it.

The air is pure, mild and invigorating. Mark Twain wrote at the turn of the last century: "To breathe the same air as angels, you must go to Tahoe". The image is still relevant today. Bordered by forests and numerous fine sandy beaches that add to its charm, this lake is also remarkable for its water, sometimes sapphire blue, sometimes emerald. There are many areas where you can see at depths of over 20 metres. The clarity is impressive, as the lake is also very deep: it has been sounded to a depth of over 500 metres. The Natives called it Big Water.

© Michael Marfell / 123RF

Its characteristics logically gave rise to the Tahoe Tessie, the myth of a monster directly modelled on that of Loch Ness (Nessie to his friends). But don't let that put you off, the Americans are gamblers. And if you're a fan of gambling and casinos, all you have to do is walk around the lake to indulge yourself in one of the many casinos on the eastern shore of the lake. Indeed, gambling is permitted in Nevada (fortunately, since Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, was founded on this principle!)

But the lake is above all an unspoilt natural site where the sapphire blue of the water contrasts with the greens of the surrounding coniferous forests. In winter, the snow falls in abundance and the ski resorts of Palisades Tahoe (Squaw Valley Ski Resort) in Olympic Valley and Heavenly Mountain fill up with people who love to slide. But there's also Northstar, Sugar Bowl, Homewood, and half a dozen other resorts.

© topseller / Shutterstock

In summer and winter alike, you can enjoy a wide range of activities on and around the lake. Kayaking, canoeing, paddle surfing, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, boating, fishing, swimming... there are so many activities to enjoy around Lake Tahoe.

There are countless walks and treks around the lake. Hiking trails abound, and if you're a keen hiker, you've come to the right place. You'll need a guide or, failing that, a map, which you'll probably find in your hotel. Don't forget that at an altitude of 2,000 metres, you run out of breath more quickly.

© Exploring and Living / Shutterstock

Travelling around the lake

If you opt for the car, which is the best way to see as much as possible in as little time as possible, you'll first be served by the panoramic Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive, which circles the lake. The north shore of the lake is very popular, rather posh and commands relatively high prices, while to the south-east, you'll be in Nevada and have a choice of casinos. Your car will take you wherever your aspirations take you, but first we recommend Lake Tahoe for its undeniable natural heritage, its wooded mountains, its coniferous forests, its cliffs and its breathtaking viewpoints. Along the way, learn to respect the basic rules, such as never leaving food in your car or camper van. If you do, you risk finding them in a sorry state, as brown bears never shy away from a bit of tin when it comes to snatching a packet of cakes.

© Galina Barskaya / Shutterstock

Finally, the weather on the lake is fine from May to October, giving you plenty of scope to choose the most favourable period for you. Keep a close eye on the weather all year round. If you're coming to ski, you'll obviously want to do so between December and March, when the snow is abundant.

If you want to visit museums, the South Lake Tahoe Historical Society and Museum, the Tallac Historic Site in South Lake Tahoe and the Nevada State Museum in Carson City are all open to you.

Carson City to the northeast of the lake.

- © Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock
Lake Tahoe

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How to get there?

Flights with a stopover at Reno-Tahoe International Airport from Paris are available every day. You'll need to take the bus, or drive via I-80 to Sacramento, then US 50 to South Lake Tahoe. This will take you around 1 hour.

If you're coming from San Francisco, you should allow around 3? hours by car to get to South Lake Tahoe.

Where to stay?

You'll be spoilt for choice: hotels, rental accommodation, youth hostels, bed and breakfasts and campsites. And there's no shortage of places to park your motorhome.

If you opt for camping, the bases are in the east (Nevada) and west (California): Camp Richardson, Campground by the Lake, Tahoe Valley Resort & Campground and William Kent Campground.

Practical information

Uses and customs

In the United States, tipping is a serious issue, especially for those professions that are paid only by the tip, which is legal in the USA. This is the case, for example, for waiters and waitresses, car valets and tour guides.

You should also leave a minimum of $1 for baggage handlers and porters, a barman for a drink ordered on its own or a taxi driver for a short journey. 10% for a café or fast-food restaurant.

In restaurants, it is customary to wait at the entrance to be seated.


Be careful in all situations, as travelling changes our habits. The high mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe have precipice areas that are not necessarily signposted or protected by railings. It's potentially dangerous, and you'll need to keep a particularly close eye on your children and warn them.

We've also told you about bears. In California, they don't attack humans, but are used to collecting rubbish. They enter built-up areas at night, so don't be afraid to come and inspect yours if you're staying in a lakeside lodge. Or in a tent in the forest. The key is food, which must be locked up in airtight, opaque tins so that the bears can't see or sniff the contents. You'll find bear boxes on site. This is what the rangers recommend. You should be aware, however, that Hank Le Tank, a handsome 220kg brown bear, devastated the interiors of 28 houses in the South Lake Tahoe region between summer 2021 and summer 2022 in search of food. If such an encounter - a rare one, it must be said - should occur, call 911 quickly and, above all, do not obstruct the animal.

You should also be aware that there are snakes around the lake, as there are all over California and Nevada, particularly garter snakes, which are not dangerous.

There are also several species of lynx, including the adorable bobcat, which is so shy you'll probably never see it. So no danger there.

California is not always safe, especially in the desert areas, but the Lake Tahoe region, which is very popular with tourists, is considered safe.

Finally, take care when practising lively or violent sports, extreme mountain sports, skiing and scuba diving in the lake. It's a real blow to end up in hospital, especially if you haven't taken out hospital insurance: hospitals are very expensive in the USA.

HealthCurrently, the only compulsory vaccination is against COVID-19. You will need to be vaccinated according to a complete vaccination schedule if you are over 18 (with vaccines recognised by the US CDC), and quarantined if you are a non-vaccinated minor. The telephone number for the COVID-19 hotline in Lake Tahoe is 800-232-4636.

There is rabies and plague in California. In August 2021, the Californian authorities closed off areas of Lake Tahoe after a squirrel (chipmunk) was found dead of bubonic plague.

If you are bitten, scratched or even licked on the mouth, eyes or any other mucous membrane by a mammal, have an anti-rabies vaccine and its boosters administered immediately. Keep an eye on your children.

Keep an eye on the weather

Whether you're on the water or in the mountains, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the weather throughout your stay.

Where to shop?

The well-known shopping districts with luxury shops in Lake Tahoe are: Carnelian Bay / Tahoe Vista / Kings Beach, Incline Village, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Tahoe City, Squaw Creek Resort, Truckee, Squaw Valley Village.

Formalities for entering the United States

As a French citizen, you are automatically exempt from visa requirements (except if you are travelling for work), and must apply on the Internet for and obtain authorisation to travel to the USA (ESTA) at least 72 hours before departure. Do this as early as possible.

However, an electronic or biometric passport will be required for all family members, including infants.

Otherwise, you will need to obtain a visa.

As far as COVID is concerned, adults must still be vaccinated according to a complete vaccination schedule. However, it is no longer compulsory to present a negative virological test for Covid-19.

For more information, see the link below.

The US authorities pay particular attention to checks on people and goods in transit at airports. So take care not to be late at the airport, as the wait could be long. Also take care to pack your personal belongings well and not to carry any prohibited foodstuffs or bottles of prohibited sizes. They will end up in the bin and delay you.

lightbulb_outline Editor's tip

Lake Tahoe is a holiday destination for many Americans, who often have a second home there. As a result, the summer months are busier than those of spring or autumn, when the weather is also fine. We suggest that you give priority to these periods.

There is no specific guide to Tahoe and the surrounding region written in French. To make up for this shortcoming, we recommend the Guide "Tahoe & Reno" by Nicole Szanto, published by Editions Moon (provided you read English). It suggests stays and itineraries, summer and winter, according to their level of difficulty, with maps. So well done that it has become a reference.

We also advise you to ask your travel agency to apply for your ESTA on your behalf. Agency staff are trained to do this, which will avoid any disappointment. The information on the form must be identical to that on your passport.

Useful links
ESTA: the official website

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