Tahoe in the winter. What can I say? It’s the yin to the summer’s yang. A snowy winter wonderland. A place where frost glistens across sheets of ice. Where peaks are packed with fresh powder. A place where snowboarders and skiers revel in delight. Yes. Lake Tahoe. It’s a magical place to be in the winter. Truly it is.
But if you’re heading to Tahoe in the winter, you’re likely wondering what it’s like. What can you do here in November? What’s the weather like in December? What are the best peaks? Which ones have the longest runs or biggest vertical drops? Where should you eat or stay or play? These are all valid questions. Some of the answers are objective. Some, not so much.
If you’re traveling to Tahoe in the winter, you’re likely interested in North Lake Tahoe. Convenient access to 10 peaks makes this a mecca among winter destinations. The season here tends to start towards the end of the holidays. Right around the beginning of the year. That’s when tourists really begin to flock to Tahoe in the winter.
I fell in love with Lake Tahoe in the winter. I visited mid December to put together our complete guide to Lake Tahoe. It was before all the crowds arrived. And the weather was hovering just above freezing. There was only a little bit of snow on the ground, which made it ideal for us to check out some of the accommodations on both the north and south shores.
I gasped at the scenery. You will too. Believe me. But if you’re wondering what you can do in Tahoe in the winter, here’s the scoop. Pretty much everything and anything winter-fun related. While traditional hiking won’t really be possible, especially after big snowfalls, snowboarding, skiing, mountaineering, and even snowshoeing are fair game.
The obvious choice when it comes to Tahoe in the winter is skiing. There are loads of peaks and resorts to choose from. Where you go or which one you choose is entirely up to you. Some feature longer runs. Others feature bigger vertical drops. Still others feature cross-country skiing.
In North Lake Tahoe you’ll find 10 peaks and ski resorts to choose from. In South Lake Tahoe, you’ll discover 3 peaks and ski resorts to pick from. It’s simply a matter of preference.
Heavenly Mountain Resort (California) - 6567 ft base (2001 meters), 10067 ft (3068 meters) summit - Longest run is 5.5 miles (8.85 km) and biggest vertical drop is 3502 ft (1067 meters): 97 total runs and 30 chair lifts - call 800-220-1593 for lift tickets.
For skiing at Heavenly Mountain Resort, we recommend staying at Sierra Shores, which is about 1 mile from the slopes.
Kirkwood (California) - 7800 ft base (2377 meters), 9800 ft summit (2987 meters) - Longest run is 2.5 miles (4.02 km) and biggest vertical drop is 2000 ft (609 meters):
Sierra-at-Tahoe (California) - 6640 ft (2023 meters) base, 8852 ft (2698 meters) summit - Longest run is 2.5 miles (4.02 km) and biggest vertical drop is 2212 ft (674 meters)
Boreal Mountain Resort (California) - 7200 ft base (2194 meters), 10067 ft (3068 meters) summit - Longest run is 1 miles (1.6 km) and biggest vertical drop is 500 ft (152 meters)
Diamond Peak (Nevada) - 6700 ft base (2042 meters), 8540 ft (2603 meters) summit - Longest run is 2.5 miles (4.02 km) and biggest vertical drop is 1840 ft (560 meters)
Donner Ski Ranch (California) - 7031 ft base (2143 meters), 8012 ft (2442 meters) summit - Longest run is 1.5 miles (2.41 km) and biggest vertical drop is 750 ft (228 meters)
Homewood Mountain Resort (California) - 6230 ft base (1898 meters), 7880 ft (2401 meters) summit - Longest run is 2.0 miles (3.21 km) and biggest vertical drop is 1650 ft (502 meters)
Mt. Rose - Ski Tahoe (Nevada) - 8260 ft base (2517 meters), 9700 ft (2956 meters) summit - Longest run is 2.5 miles (4.02 km) and biggest vertical drop is 1800 ft (548 meters)
Northstar California (California) - 6330 ft base (1929 meters), 8610 ft (2624 meters) summit - Longest run is 1.4 miles (2.25 km) and biggest vertical drop is 2280 ft (694 meters)
Squaw Valley - Alpine Meadows (California) - 6200 ft base (1889 meters), 9050 ft (2758 meters) summit - Longest run is 3.2 miles (5.15 km) and biggest vertical drop is 2850 ft (868 meters)
Soda Springs (California) - 6700 ft base (2042 meters), 7352 ft (2240 meters) summit - Longest run is 0.4 miles (0.64 km) and biggest vertical drop is 652 ft (198 meters)
Sugar Bowl Resort (California) - 6883 ft base (2097 meters), 8383 ft (2555 meters) summit - Longest run is 3.0 miles (4.82 km) and biggest vertical drop is 1500 ft (457 meters)
Tahoe Donner (California) - 6750 ft base (2057 meters), 7350 ft (2240 meters) summit - Longest run is 1.0 miles (1.60 km) and biggest vertical drop is 600 ft (182 meters)
One of the best times to visit Lake Tahoe is from September through November. You’ll find lower prices. But also lower temperatures. We call this the shoulder season. It’s when the summer crowds dwindle down but the winter crowds haven’t quite heated up yet.
Around Thanksgiving, you’ll pay a bit more for everything. Accommodations will run their holiday rates. But aside from that, it’s an ideal time to visit. You can experience the outdoors while possibly snagging a chance for some snow on the highest peaks.
The best part? You can do all sorts of activities in November. From hiking and fishing to mountain biking and sightseeing. November is ideal. The average temperature in Lake Tahoe in November is about 40 °F (4.4 °C). The high, usually around 65 °F (18.3 °C). The low, around 14 °F (-10 °C).
Lake Tahoe in December is magical. Snow blankets the mountains, capping its peaks. Large snowflakes glide down, covering the entire area in fresh powder. The snow brings a sense of quietude. It absorbs the echos and outside sounds and in its place inserts solace.
Walking in the snow in Lake Tahoe is one of the those experiences that are impossible to describe. Words won’t relate the feelings. There’s an intoxicating atmosphere of serenity and calm that sets in. It instantly implants a sense of nostalgia that you’ll carry on for years and years to come.
In early December, you’ll likely still beat the crowds. But when the snow falls, you can guarantee a big rush of nearby tourists who’re just itching to carve up the peaks and slopes that dot the Lake around its entire circumference.
Starting around Christmas, you can expect to pay significantly more to travel to Lake Tahoe. Not only are the cabins and other rentals in the area more expensive, so is getting around, grabbing ski passes and so on. Plus, you’ll be dealing with crowds. Droves and droves of people who will flock to Tahoe during winter break.
If you’re serious about seeing Lake Tahoe in December, plan early. If you wait until the last minute, not only will you end up paying more, but you’ll likely fail to secure the cabin of your dreams. Be sure to book early. The best places fill up first.
January is a popular month in Lake Tahoe. In January, you can expect more snowfall. However, thanks to average temperatures in the 40’s °F, you won’t get bombarded the entire month. However, when snow does come, it often comes fast and fierce. Like December, January in Lake Tahoe will bring more crowds and higher prices. So expect to pay more.
Plan early. December through February are some of the busiest months in Lake Tahoe. Nearby, residents of San Francisco and Sacramento flock to the area at the first sign of a big snowfall. So be sure to plan early and book in advance. Especially if you’re looking to secure a Lake Tahoe cabin or townhome that you have your heart set on. Do not wait until the last minute.
January weather is typically defined by cold snaps. Daily temperatures will hover around 18 °F (-7.7 °C). Normally, you won’t see temperatures climbing above freezing at 32 °F (0 °C) in January and it will typically stay above 4 °F (-15.5 °C). Cold? Definitely. But, then again, this is a proverbial winter wonderland that you absolutely have to experience in person to believe.
February is the tail end of the winter in Lake Tahoe. But still very much busy. After all, Valentine’s Day falls in February. And, if there ever was a romantic destination on earth, it’d certainly be this earthly haven. In February, you can expect snow. For the most part at least. You can also expect moderately cold temperatures.
Much of the swimming and hiking will be off limits in February. Especially during the heavier snowfalls. You can also expect average temperatures of around 23 °F (-5 °C) and a low temperature of around 7 °F (-13.8 °C). The high temperature in February usually won’t exceed 33 °F (0.5 °C).
March borders on Spring in Lake Tahoe. Although it does still qualify as a winter month, March is considered a shoulder season. The winter traffic is winding down and the summer traffic hasn’t quite picked back up. In March, you can expect to get a bit of both worlds. From cold snaps with snow to warm sunny days.
The best part? March still has plenty of snow in Lake Tahoe. You can enjoy all the peaks and the resorts. All of the chair lifts in Tahoe are in full swing during March. But you’ll also enjoy almost picture-perfect ski conditions with a condition called “corn” on the slopes. It’s a period when grains of snow will often freeze together at night and loosen in the warmth of the sun the next day. The snow becomes far more forgiving, especially when falling through turns.
You’ll find the average temperatures in March in Lake Tahoe to hover around 27 °F (-2.7 °C) with temperatures rarely falling below 12 °F (-11.1 °C) and highs rarely going above 35 °F (1.6 °C). It’s an ideal climate for skiers and snowboarders looking to really carve up the slopes. The best part? You’ll find much smaller crowds in March, lower prices for accommodations, and you might even find a golf course or two open up.