Lake Tahoe is a magical California vacation spot any time of the year, but Lake Tahoe in the fall is especially enchanting. Lake Tahoe is one of the best places to visit in California in October.
Straddling the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America.
With many beautiful resorts and cozy cabins, Lake Tahoe makes for one of the most romantic California getaways for couples.
It’s also a fun family vacation destination for families looking for that perfect fall getaway.
Why visit Lake Tahoe in the fall? Between the high seasons of summer and winter, fall in Lake Tahoe is a quieter time.
You may be able to score lower prices on accommodations and not have to wait in long lines at attractions and restaurants.
But the weather is still generally nice, and there are plenty of things to do in Lake Tahoe in the fall, making it the sweet spot for visitors looking to have a fun vacation away from the crowds.
Considering a fall vacation at this lovely lake? Read on for the best things to do in Lake Tahoe in the fall!
Lake Tahoe Weather in the Fall
The weather in Lake Tahoe can vary wildly depending on when in the fall you visit. And of course, the weather can vary from year to year as well: you may even get a freak snowstorm in September!
But here’s what you can usually expect if you are considering a fall visit.
In September, expect average daytime highs in the mid 70s and average nighttime lows of about 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Towards the end of the month, nighttime lows can get closer to freezing, although days still generally remain pleasant.
In October, daytime highs are in the low to mid 60s, and nighttime lows in the mid to high 30s Fahrenheit. You can still expect many sunny days, perfect for exploring outside, hiking, and leaf peeping.
In November, daytime highs are in the low 50s, and nighttime lows in the mid 20s. You may see more cloudy days, and perhaps some snow towards the end of the month.
Check weather forecasts closer to your visit to get a better idea of what to bring in terms of clothing and gear. Layers are always a good idea, even in September and early October.
In our opinion, October is the ideal month for a fall Lake Tahoe visit.
Lake Tahoe in October offers still balmy daytime weather for the most part, the opportunity to enjoy the fabulous fall leaf color show, and the chance to see the kokanee salmon run.
Looking for a car rental for your Lake Tahoe trip? We use Discover Cars for our car rentals. They scour multiple providers to get the best price and find one with the lowest one-way rental surcharge if there is one.
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Things to Do in Lake Tahoe in the Fall
Go Leaf-Peeping around Lake Tahoe
One of the best reasons to visit Lake Tahoe in the fall is the opportunity to see fall colors!
And you’ll find scenic drives as well as hikes around Lake Tahoe that will take you up close to the brilliant color display, mainly from aspen.
Visit Lake Tahoe in October to enjoy the best leaf peeping. At this time, aspen, willow, cottonwoods, and grasses dress in shades of yellow, gold, orange, and red.
Here are some of our favorite fall leaf peeping destinations around Lake Tahoe!
Hope Valley is one of the top fall color destinations in California.
The drive up and down Highway 88 offers fabulous color from aspen trees.
At peak, you’ll see swathes of yellow and orange from aspen stands, set against the scenic backdrop of evergreen forests and the Sierra Nevada peaks.
Be sure to stop at the roadside turnout for photos of the Hope Valley cabin, located along Highway 88 a couple miles east of Red Lake.
Sorensen’s Resort, which has towering mature aspens ablaze with color at peak, is a great place for lunch!
Markleeville is a small community along Highway 89 that’s well worth visiting for leaf color.
The drive leading up to Markleeville from South Lake Tahoe has lots of color from aspens as well, so allow for time to make roadside stops for photos.
Stop at the historic Alpine County Courthouse, where you’ll see color from aspen, and drive around to take in the scenery.
The town itself has lots of eateries and boutiques, if you want to stop for a bite or browse the shops.
Highway 4 to Ebbetts Pass
Highway 4 is not for the faint-of-heart driver, but it makes for a stunning fall drive at peak time, with sweeping swathes of yellow, orange, and red from aspens in various stages of leaf turning.
Look for especially scenic color along the East Fork of the Carson River, and along the banks of the many creeks in the area.
Fallen Leaf Lake
Fallen Leaf Lake is a wonderful fall destination, with great views of Mt. Tallac.
Park at the campground and take the trail to the lake, from where you can continue walking along the shore for a bit if you like, before heading back.
Be sure to drive to the Saint Francis Chapel (also known as the Fallen Leaf Chapel): the colors from aspen and the picturesque little chapel make for fabulous photo ops.
The chapel is located on the southern shore of the lake, and accessed via the narrow Fallen Leaf Road.
If you drive further along the road, past the two fire stations, you will come to a beautiful little waterfall, another great photo spot.
Fallen Leaf Lake is just a 15-minute drive from South Lake Tahoe, and you’ll see lots of color from aspens on the drive to the lake.
Zephyr Cove and Sand Harbor
You won’t find a lot of native fall color right around the shore of Lake Tahoe, but two spots where you can find some leaf color are Zephyr Cove and Sand Harbor, both on the east shore of the lake.
At the Zephyr Cove Resort, you’ll find a stand of aspen trees that change to yellow and orange in October.
At Sand Harbor, we saw a few trees that had changed color when we visited in early October. They weren’t aspen, but still, the color looked beautiful against the blue of the water.
Planted trees put on a show of color at the Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe, so if you are out shopping, enjoy the bright orange and red of maples!
Planning a California leaf-peeping trip? Check out our detailed guide to fall colors in the Eastern Sierra of California, where aspen, willow, and cottonwood put on a show each fall against the majestic backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains!
Cruise Lake Tahoe
One of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe, regardless of the time of year, is to take a relaxing cruise. And that’s the case in fall as well.
Getting out onto the water gives you a different perspective of the iconic beauty of Lake Tahoe and its picturesque setting.
Cruise aboard a regular boat, or enjoy a sailing cruise for a wonderfully relaxing small-group experience with no motor sound to distract from the scenery!
You can opt for a daytime cruise to enjoy the vistas and the weather, or you can enjoy a sunset cruise. We’ve done both on different visits and enjoyed both experiences.
Cruises generally run across the lake to Emerald Bay, one of the most beautiful parts of Lake Tahoe.
Here you can see Fannette Island, the only island on Lake Tahoe, and marvel at the beautiful blue-green color of the water. The shoreline is covered in rich green evergreen forest, making for a beautiful foil to the water.
Bring a sun hat and wear sunscreen so you can enjoy the beautiful scenery safely!
This highly-rated cruise aboard a motorized boat takes you across Lake Tahoe to much-photographed Emerald Bay. The narrated cruise lasts 2 hours and you can pick from a daytime or sunset option.
Book this cruise now!
Do the Scenic Drive around Lake Tahoe
One of the classic things to do in Lake Tahoe, on a nice weather day, is a drive around the lake.
The scenic drive around Lake Tahoe is a 72-mile loop, and is supposed take about 3 hours without stops. You will, of course, want to allow for more time to stop and enjoy the beauty!
The drive gives you the chance to explore all around the lake, not just near where you are based.
We usually give ourselves a full day for the drive, and focus on stops in parts of the lake we would not otherwise visit during our trip.
Not-to-be-Missed Stops on the Lake Tahoe Drive
Along the north shore of the lake, Kings Beach is a beautiful sandy beach, and the mountain town is charming.
On the west shore, Sugar Pine Point State Park offers hiking trails: the pine trees here are tall and mature, making it a joy to walk amongst them.
Also on the west shore, at D. L. Bliss State Park, stop to view Rubicon Point Light, the highest-elevation lighthouse in the USA!
Inspiration Point at Emerald Bay, on the west shore, is one of the best scenic overlooks at Lake Tahoe. The vista point offers fabulous views over the blue-green Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, and the lake beyond.
Cave Rock, on the southeast shore, has a small beach for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. It is a wonderful spot from which to enjoy the beauty of the lake!
Also on the east shore, Sand Harbor State Park offers a beautiful sandy beach and an easy boardwalk trail.
Incline Village, on the Nevada side, and Tahoe City, on the California side, offer dining options, if you want to stop for a meal or a drink.
Note that Highway 89 is subject to weather-related closures, so check road status before your drive, especially if you plan to be in Lake Tahoe in late fall.
If you want to enjoy the scenery without the hassle of driving, consider a tour! This highly-rated 7-hour shuttle tour takes you all around the shore, with stops at Emerald Bay, Sand Harbor, Squaw Valley, and Tahoe City.
Book this tour now!
Enjoy Kayaking or SUP-ING Lake Tahoe!
To really appreciate the beauty of Lake Tahoe, consider getting out onto the water. While a cruise or a boat tour is an option, smaller craft allow you to explore the beautiful coves around the lake.
For water sports enthusiasts, kayaking the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe is an adventure that can’t be missed.
Stand-up paddleboarding is another way to actively explore the water.
But be warned, Lake Tahoe’s waters are icy cold and can be dangerous if you are unprepared and fall in. Wind and weather can also change abruptly.
Get advice from the rental shop staff or tour operators on what to wear, including the need for a wet suit or dry suit, and definitely wear a life jacket and a SUP leash.
You will find launch areas all around the lake, and you can also find rentals (and guided tours, if you’d rather join a group excursion). Tandem kayaks are available as well.
Consider this highly-rated kayak tour that leaves from Sand Harbor State Park. The kayaks are transparent, allowing you to fully enjoy the beautiful blue-green waters.
You’ll paddle to Bonsai Rock, enjoying 360-degree views along the way.
Book this tour now!
Go Hiking around Lake Tahoe
One of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe in the fall is go hiking.
The crisp cool air and the changing leaves make for a wonderful fall hiking experience, especially if you choose a bright clear day.
There are numerous day hiking opportunities around Lake Tahoe, ranging from easy to challenging, and you can choose to go backpacking as well.
Sand Harbor State Park Boardwalk Trail
This short, flat, and easy boardwalk trail at Sand Harbor State Park on the Nevada side of the lake is great for most visitors to Lake Tahoe, including families with small kids.
The 0.5 mile nature loop features interpretive signage, and follows the shore, where you can look into the crystal clear water all the way to the pebbles at the bottom.
There are picturesque boulders all the shore, as well as evergreen trees and other vegetation. Look for birds and small animals as you stroll. There is a little bit of fall color, but the attraction here is the scenery.
The trail offers beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and the mountains around the lake, and is especially scenic at sunset. Enjoy the many photo spots!
An out and back trail, the hike to Eagle Lake past Eagle Falls is extremely scenic, and classed as moderate. You can choose to hike just up to the falls and back as well.
At about 2 miles round trip, with about 450 feet of elevation change, the Eagle Lake hike is considered one of the best family-friendly hikes in Lake Tahoe.
One of the perks of doing this hike in the fall is that it’s less crowded than in the summer, but even so, go early in the day for even fewer people.
From the trailhead in Emerald Bay State Park, the trail ascends gradually at first, followed by a series of steep stone steps that bring you to Eagle Falls.
From the falls, you’ll climb further to get to Eagle Lake, with its picturesque setting at the base of Maggie’s Peak.
You can enjoy the views at the lake, and take a dip in the cold waters if you choose, before heading back down.
If you plan to hike all the way to the lake, be sure to pick up a Desolation Wilderness permit at the trailhead.
The hike around Spooner Lake is one of the best fall foliage hikes you can do around Lake Tahoe. You can also hike from Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake for more colors!
Spooner Lake is a man-made lake located within Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.
The 2.5-mile loop is flat, making it suitable for families. You’ll find plenty of interpretive signage along the route, which follows the shore of the lake.
In the fall, you’ll see color from aspen and willows, which turn to brilliant yellow, gold, orange, and red. Look for birds and wildlife as you walk: lots of waterfowl call Spooner Lake home.
Pro Tip: Visit Spooner Lake and Sand Harbor on the same day to save some money on parking fees!
Emerald Point and Vikingsholm
The hike to Emerald Point involves first hiking down to Vikingsholm Castle, the Scandinavian mansion on the western shore of Lake Tahoe at Emerald Bay.
From the castle, hike further down to the shore, where you’ll take the Rubicon Trail along the water.
At about 2.5 miles into the hike, you come to a group of tall evergreens to the right of the trail: this is Emerald Point.
Of course, you don’t need to go all the way to the point: you can hike as far along the shore as you like before retracing your steps. You can also continue a little past Emerald point along the shore for a wide-open view of Lake Tahoe.
Once you reach the shore, the hike offers expansive views of Emerald Bay and Fannette Island, and there are spots where you can access the water.
Emerald Point Hike is classed as moderate: the climb back up is steep.
Vikingsholm Castle closes for the season on September 30, so if you want to tour the interior, you’ll have to visit in very early fall.
If you visit when Vikingsholm is open, arrive early, as parking spots can fill up early in the day.
Sagehen Creek Trail
An excellent fall foliage hike northeast of Lake Tahoe, the Sagehen Creek Trail can be accessed from Highway 89 North.
Sagehen Creek Trail is a 5-mile round trip out and back hike that’s classed as moderate. It’s flat and family-friendly.
Boasting beautiful fall color from aspen, the Sagehen Creek Trail follows the creek to the scenic Stampede Reservoir.
Look for birds and wildlife as you walk. You may see deer, squirrels, and perhaps bear, as well as many species of birds.
To access the parking at the trailhead, take Highway 89 North from I-80, towards Sierraville. Drive for about 7 miles, to the Sagehen Creek bridge. The parking lot is just after the bridge.
The parking lot and trailhead are unmarked, so keep your eyes open for the bridge, where you will make the sharp right turn into the parking lot.
Try a Lake Tahoe Mountain Biking Trail!
Lake Tahoe is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, and apart from epic hiking trails, you’ll find numerous mountain biking trails around the lake.
Mountain biking trails at Lake Tahoe span the gamut, from easy trails suitable for beginners to challenging rides for advanced cyclists.
The Flume Trail
If you have the time for only one biking trail at Lake Tahoe, make it the Flume Trail!
Considered one of the top biking routes in the western US, the Flume Trail offers spectacular views over the east shore of Lake Tahoe.
The loop trail is about 21 miles. Start at Spooner Lake and climb to Marlette Lake, from where you will climb along the ridge to a couple thousand feet above the lake for breathtaking views.
The trail is mostly single track and is classed as moderate.
The Tahoe Rim Trail
At 165 miles, the Tahoe Rim Trail is an epic loop along the ridges that surround Lake Tahoe, and mountain bikes are allowed on parts of the overall length.
For a day ride, you’ll want to choose a section to cover, and the terrain features easy sections as well as challenging ones, so research to find one suited to your skill level.
The Bench is a moderate 11.5-mile round trip ride with stretches of spectacular views of Lake Tahoe. The ride culminates at a wooden bench at South Camp.
The Stanford Rock Loop is a difficult 14-mile ride on mostly single track. It features rock steps for technical interest. The vistas are stunning.
Burton Creek State Park
Located near Tahoe City, Burton Creek State Park offers six miles of unpaved road for mountain biking (and hiking).
The park features a variety of conifers and shrubs, with possibilities for some fall color from cottonwoods. Also look for wildlife as you ride.
Trails wind through meadows in the park and can be combined with trail systems outside the park for longer rides.
The Powerline Trail is a single-track mountain biking trail in South Lake Tahoe, classed as moderate, and 7 miles one way.
Start at the end of Saddle Road, at the top of Ski Run Boulevard, and end at Oneidas Road, before heading back (or arrange a ride at the end point).
The trail meanders through a pine forest and connects with the Tahoe Rim Trail. You have the option to make it a loop by adding on a part of Cold Creek Trail or Saxon’s Creek Trail.
Looking for a less adventurous way to enjoy biking at Lake Tahoe? Check out this highly-rated self-guided e-bike tour on the coastal trail along the east shore from Incline Village to Sand Harbor.
The bike path keeps you away from traffic and you can stop along the way to enjoy the views and take photos!
Book the Lake Tahoe East Shore Trail electric bike tour now!
Watch the Kokanee Salmon Run at Taylor Creek
If you are planning to visit Lake Tahoe in the first part of October, you may be there at the right time to see the kokanee salmon run!
Although the exact timing varies by year, an early October Lake Tahoe visit gives you a pretty good chance of viewing the salmon.
Each fall, Lake Tahoe hosts a Fall Fish Festival, which celebrates the kokanee salmon (and other types of fish that call Lake Tahoe home).
Head to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center to experience this unique Lake Tahoe phenomenon. The story of the kokanee salmon is fascinating!
The Story of the Kokanee Salmon
Taylor Creek was first stocked with kokanee salmon back in the 1940s, and became a prominent species of game fish in Lake Tahoe.
Each fall, adult Lake Tahoe kokanee salmon return to Taylor Creek to spawn and end the cycle of life.
In preparation for defending mating rights, adult males develop hooked jaws and humped backs as fall draws near. And both males and females change color, from silver to a bright red.
The fish make their way to the creek and swim upstream, selecting a mate and laying out territory to build their redds, where the females lay their eggs.
A few days after spawning, the male and female both die.
When the eggs hatch in January or February, the babies swim to Lake Tahoe, where they mature and live until it’s their time to spawn.
What to see at Taylor Creek
Taylor Creek Visitor Center is located along Highway 89 near Camp Richardson, about three miles northwest of South Lake Tahoe.
Walk the boardwalk trail, where you can stand on a bridge over the creek and watch the bright red salmon in the water.
There is also an underground viewing chamber along the Rainbow Trail, from where you can view the creek at eye level as if you are in an aquarium.
The salmon act as food for a variety of predators, from bear to eagles, raccoons, and more.
You may see bear trying to catch salmon at the creek, or mergansers swooping down to catch a fish. Keep your distance from all wildlife and practice safe viewing.
Along with the fish and wildlife, you’ll also enjoy fall colors at the creek: the vegetation, from willows to aspen and grasses, is decked out in yellow, gold, orange, and red, creating a beautiful setting.
The Taylor Creek Visitor Center is open from Memorial Day until the end of October, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Enjoy a Resort Stay
Resort prices at Lake Tahoe tend to be a little more affordable in the fall, so if you are planning a special occasion (or a just because) splurge, consider a stay at one of the many beautiful resorts in the area!
Edgewood Tahoe Resort is located in Stateline, convenient for fall leaf peeping south of Lake Tahoe. The beautiful beachfront property has an outdoor heated swimming pool and evening entertainment.
Rooms are beautifully furnished and many come with great views. The resort offers a spa and an outdoor hot tub and terrace. There is an onsite bar and restaurant.
The Landing Resort and Spa is a beachfront property with a full-service spa, a heated swimming pool and a hot tub. The property also offers a lake-view patio, a rooftop terrace, and fire pits.
Rooms are well-appointed, and the bathrooms are spacious, featuring heated marble floors. The onsite restaurant is well-reviewed, and the resort offers complimentary transport to Heavenly Village.
Do a Day Trip to Apple Hill
If you plan to spend a few days at Lake Tahoe, consider a day trip to Apple Hill! It’s a fabulous place to spend a few hours in the fall.
Apple Hill is located along Highway 50, about an hour’s drive from South Lake Tahoe.
With several dozen family farms, charming Apple Hill is a great place to go apple picking in the fall. Apple harvest usually starts in early September and continues through the end of October.
The area is also famous for its vineyards and wine tasting rooms, and a pumpkin patch is open until Halloween. The baked goods offered by many local farms are irresistible!
On weekends in the fall (mainly in October), you’ll find lots of fun activities for kids, as well as craft stalls, but expect crowds on October weekends.
Remember to pack a cooler so all the goodies you buy stay fresh and safe until you get back to your accommodation!
Venture down Highway 395
Fall is a wonderful time in the Eastern Sierra, especially if you visit when the fall color show is on, generally from the the third week of September through the middle of October, although every year is a little different.
If you plan to spend a few days in Lake Tahoe, take a road trip down Highway 395 on one of the days.
The drive from South Lake Tahoe to Bishop takes about 3 hours, so a full day will allow you to make brief stops along the way to enjoy the views and the scenery.
You’ll see colors along the Walker River as you drive south, and Conway Summit offers breathtaking views.
Just a little further south, Mono Lake makes for a beautiful stop if you have not visited before. The limestone tufa towers are stunning.
Have lunch in Bishop before driving Highway 168 West to three beautiful lakes: North Lake, South Lake, and Lake Sabrina.
Then head back to South Lake Tahoe, enjoying the views along Highway 395 on your drive back!
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