Emerald Bay State Park#1 in Best Things To Do in Lake Tahoe
Carved millions of years ago by passing glaciers, this state park is a must-see for anyone looking to experience Lake Tahoe's beauty. Sheltered by towering trees, this inlet along the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe is known for its colorful granite cliffs and stunning panoramas. Follow Highway 89 south from Tahoe City (about 20 miles) or north from South Lake Tahoe (about 10 miles) and you'll come across the Emerald Bay Lookout, the park's crown jewel. And you should make sure you have a camera on hand – the scenery is breathtaking and travelers say there are photo opportunities everywhere you turn.
But staring off into the sunset isn't the only thing to do here. Emerald Bay State Park is also home to several attractions. Budding geologists can hop a boat out to Fannette Island (the only island on Lake Tahoe) where evidence of glacial activity abounds. If you're into history, a stop at Vikingsholm is a must: Built in the 1920s, this former summer home is one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture in the country. Plus, many of the materials used to construct Vikingsholm came from the Lake Tahoe area, making this mansion an authentic part of the landscape. Adults can tour the home for $10 (children ages 7 to 17 and college student pay $8). Getting to the house takes a bit of doing. After parking in the Vikingshom parking lot by Highway 89 at Emerald Bay, visitors must hike via a steep 1-mile trail that drops 500 feet in elevation. Those with medical conditions or mobility issues are advised not to attempt this hike.
In the winter, snow and ice can make the trail treacherous. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear, clothing and bring food and water. Cell phones may not have reception and there are no services or drinking water from October through May. According to visitors, bathroom facilities can be lacking no matter the time of year, so plan accordingly.
Another activity at the park is to don some scuba gear and explore the Underwater Park. This stretch below the surface of Emerald Bay is the final resting place for boats used during the construction of Vikingsholm.
Entrance to and parking in Emerald Bay State Park is free, and although you'll have to bring your own gear, snorkeling and diving at the Underwater Park is free as well. The park is open to visitors all day, every day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and you can also spend the night at one of the campgrounds. For more information, visit the park's website.
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#2 Squaw Valley
Sprawling across six peaks on Lake Tahoe's western shore (about 10 miles northwest of Tahoe City), Squaw Valley has been dubbed one of the world's finest ski resorts thanks to its nearly 4,000 acres of ski-worthy terrain and its advanced lift system. It's no wonder this resort was chosen to host the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Recent visitors were impressed by the sheer size of the resort and said it offers a wide range of exciting runs – when the weather cooperates. Squaw is a smart choice for first-time skiers too; about 70 percent of its slopes are geared toward those at the beginner and intermediate level.