Lake Tahoe Camping at Its Best
Lake Tahoe is known for its year-round activities, diverse wildlife and fabulous winter skiing (cross-country and downhill runs). It’s also known for its year-round alpine views, and its cold, clear lake edged with clean sandy beaches. With dozens of popular biking and hiking trails, fishing, and museums and exhibits, there’s always something to do in Lake Tahoe. But outdoor enthusiasts say the best outdoor experience to seek out is Lake Tahoe Camping. Being anywhere on Lake Tahoe – on either side of the California / Nevada situated park, you can’t go wrong enjoying any outdoor activity.
Unlike many State and Federal park areas, Lake Tahoe is not lacking for facilities. More than a dozen campgrounds line the 71 miles of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline, or are nestled in the surrounding mountains near the lakes – most, if not all with amenities that make them more resort comfortable than boondocking rough. It’s not a matter of getting a campground site, it’s a matter of choosing the best Lake Tahoe campground – near the water or in the woods, for your vacation adventure.
If you’re not a camping fan, and your idea of “roughing it” is a hotel without a restaurant and bar downstairs, don’t worry. There are dozens of lodges, cabins, resorts, and hotels to stay in, and plenty of shopping venues, restaurants, and casinos to enjoy while your outdoor family and friends are off exploring the woods.
About Camping at South Lake Tahoe and Lake Tahoe
You MUST Have a Bear Proof Cooler if You Have Food
Bear-Proof Coolers (Yeti, Pelican, Yukon etc.) must be secured with locks per the manufacturer’s instructions in order to meet Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) standards in the park. Don’t ignore this warning. Failure to secure your food may result in a Food Storage Citation and up to a $1,000 Fine, according to Title XIV CCR 4323(b) of California law.
Each campsite has its own fees for sites. Miscellaneous fees you may encounter include day use fees, campsite fees, car fees, entrance fees, boat launch fees and admission fees. Nevada State Parks also offer Annual Permits, including special rates for seniors and disabled veterans. Permits and/or reservations are required for commercial photography, group use areas, special/commercial uses and concessions. In some cases, discounts and special fees apply. For a full list of camping and other State Park fees, please see the Park’s website.
Day Use Facilities at Lake Tahoe Campgrounds
The Day Use facilities, including the historic Hellman-Ehrman Estate, picnic area, beach, and pier are located only 3/4 of a mile from Sugar Pine campground. If you want to come for the day, and enjoy the trails and park, but not camp, day use areas are an excellent and affordable option.
Day Use parking fees are generally $10 per vehicle during the peak season, $5 per vehicle in the winter, or free if you are camping at Sugar Pine Point. Fees are due by self-registration when the kiosk is unstaffed. There is a separate fee for historic tours of the Hellman-Ehrman Estate. Please contact the Sierra State Parks Foundation for tour schedule information.
Most Popular Campgrounds at Lake Tahoe
Ask any camper what their favorite campground at Lake Tahoe is, and they’ll say, “The one I’m staying in!” It’s hard not to have a good time at any of the dozens of campgrounds around Lake Tahoe, and South Lake Tahoe. There are a variety of privately owned / run parks, resorts, and public campgrounds around Lake Tahoe, but most visitors want to stay in the state park campgrounds. They’re more affordable, closer to nature, and are located near the famous bike paths and trailheads in the parks.
Kings Beach State Recreation – Lake Tahoe Camping
Kings Beach State Recreation Area features 979 feet of beautiful frontage property along the North Shore of Lake Tahoe with a large sandy beach and multiple picnic tables under the shade of Jeffrey pines. There’s also a public boat ramp that’s open from 9-5 daily. Dogs, alcohol, glass and fires/charcoal are not permitted on the beach at Kings Beach SRA. Unfortunately, there is no overnight camping here.
Donner Memorial State Park – Lake Tahoe Camping
If you know your history, and the “Donner” name sounds just a little too familiar, you’re right. California’s Donner Memorial State preserves the site of the Donner Camp, where members of the ill-fated Donner Party were trapped by weather during the winter of 1846–1847 and members were forced to, gulp, resort to cannibalism to stay alive. Darker times aside, Donner Memorial State Park is located in the Sierra Nevada amid the pine and fir forests just west of the historic town of Truckee. Directly adjacent to beautiful three-mile-long Donner Lake the park offers camping, picnicking, hiking, boating, fishing and water sports.
Historic and cultural amenities include the Emigrant Trail Museum and Pioneer Monument showcasing the overland immigration of the 1840’s, the Donner Tragedy, natural history of the Truckee Basin as well as local Native American communities.
D.L. Bliss State Park – Lake Tahoe Camping
The name Bliss has nothing to do with the blissful views or scenic location of this park, although the name is serendipitous. The park was named in honor of timber and railroad magnate Duane Leroy Bliss, whose heirs donated 744 acres of land to the state in 1929. Located on the western shore of Lake Tahoe just north of Emerald Bay State Park, D.L. Bliss is best known for Rubicon Point Lighthouse, the highest-elevation lighthouse in the United States, and a large balancing rock.
The park’s campground is set high up above the lake. You can’t stroll down to the beach, but if you get sites closest to the lake you will be able to catch a glimpse of the water through the pine trees. Campsites are set in a heavily wooded area and are generally well-spaced and private. The Beach Camp Loop, which includes sites 142 to 165, is closest to the beach and is the most desirable camping area in the park although all five loops of the campground are equally as desirable. If you can’t get a site here, then go next door to Emerald Bay State Park.
Emerald Bay State Park – Lake Tahoe Camping
Emerald Bay State Park is adjacent to D.L. Bliss State Park on Lake Tahoe’s west shore. Emerald Bay’s blue-green waters and rugged rocky shores make it one of the most photographed places in the world – and for good reason.
Photographers, head to the scenic overlook on Highway 89. You’ll be able to photograph an amazing panorama of Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, Lake Tahoe and the distant Nevada shore. After you visit the visitor center, go behind it for even more breathtaking photos. Located at the base of Emerald Bay, nearby Eagle Creek cascades over three falls and disappears into the lake.
Falling Leaf Campground – Lake Tahoe Camping
Falling Leaf Campground is in South Lake Tahoe, about ¼ mile north of Fallen Leaf Lake. It’s also located directly across from the Taylor Creek Visitor Center on Highway 89. Nearby Pope and Baldwin Beaches are convenient for water recreation, and a paved bike trail that runs 3 miles along Highway 89 can be used to access the campground, the visitor center and the south shore of Lake Tahoe, which is less than a mile away. The sites don’t offer lake views, but the two lakes are just a short walk away.
If you want to spend time on the water, this is the perfect campground. There is non-motorized and motorized boating, tubing, water skiing and windsurfing available at both Fallen Leaf Lake and South Lake Tahoe. Fishing is available at both lakes, but anglers generally have better luck at Lake Tahoe. There are no designated swimming areas, but visitors can find many natural sites along the shoreline and beaches to swim in Fallen Leaf Lake. The south shore of Lake Tahoe offers the Pope and Baldwin swim beaches.
There are also standard tent and RV sites as well. If you’re looking for a place to extend your camping, with day hiking trips, or overnight backpacking, you’re in luck. The Desolation Wilderness is close by, via the Glen Alpine or Mt. Tallac trailheads.
Meeks Bay Resort – Lake Tahoe Camping
Meeks Bay Resort is on the west shore in California and is 20 miles south of Tahoe City.
The resort offers rental kayaks, pedal boats, stand-up paddleboard and powerboats at the adjacent marina. Known for its beautiful white sand beach, Meeks Bay also has adjacent camping on a quiet bay. It’s the prime location for beach camping and those who want to be in and near the water in Lake Tahoe. This is a very popular campground, so book your RV or tent sites well in advance. Be aware there’s a two-night minimum stay for both RVs and tent campers, and there is a no-refund policy on cancellations, although they will allow rescheduling dates, availability permitting.
Not interested in camping? Cabins are also available for those who would rather have indoor lodgings. Pets are not allowed anywhere at Meeks Bay, so your dog has to miss out on this vacation spot.
Zephyr Cove Campground – Lake Tahoe Camping
If your idea of camping involves biking, boating, and fishing, then Zephyr Cove Campground is your destination campground. Located by Lake Tahoe, Zephyr Cove Campground is close to sandy beaches, and a full-service marina. This campground is located on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe, and although not directly on the beach, this RV park is just across the street from it. You can rough it, or “glamping” (comfort camp) if you like. Catamaran trips on the Woodwind II depart daily from the Zephyr Cove Marina. The evening champagne cruise is a great way to enjoy the sunset as well as the lake and the incredible views.
The campground is just a few minutes walk from the services and activities offered at the Zephyr Cove Resort, which includes a restaurant, private beachfront, lake cruises, horseback riding, marina boat rentals, and a gift shop.
Zephyr’s campground sites are equipped with full hook-ups, including cable and Wi-Fi. If that doesn’t feel like home, then maybe the main shower house, with its heated floors and coin laundry will help. When booking a site, ask for 178 or 179. Both sites back up to the surrounding forest and have the most space.
Sugar Pine State Park – Lake Tahoe Camping
If you’re backpacking, or a minimalist, consider staying at Sugar Pine State Park. There’s a bike path adjacent to the campground and mountain bike trails nearby as well. All the sites at Sugar Pine have great views and forested surroundings, but if you want to be closer to the bike trails and the Lily Pond hiking and biking trailhead, stay on the 126-175 campsite loop. There’s a paved bike path that connects the campground to Tahoe City. The path is about 10 miles long and is a popular trail with cyclists. If you want to go somewhere less commercial, try the lakeshore at Edwin Z’bert Natural Preserve, just a 10-minute walk or even shorter pedal from the Sugar Pine campground.
During the summer, there are 10 Group Campsites and 120 Family Sites at Sugar Pine Campground.
There are a limited number of sites that stay open throughout the winter season on a first come first serve basis. Winter fees are $25 per night. Fees include one vehicle. Extra vehicles are $5 per night each. The showers and dump station are closed for the winter season. However, the campground has a centrally located heated restroom with potable water year round. Fees are due by self-registration immediately after selecting a vacant site.
Maintenance workers will plow the road and campground parking areas as conditions and staffing allow. Campers are responsible for shoveling out fire pits, food lockers, and picnic tables.
Things to know:
Of course, if you have an awesome dog or dogs, you want to bring them camping with you. The good news is, at Sugar Pine State Park you can! There are some restrictions, of course. Dogs on a 6-foot leash are allowed on paved areas, in the campground, and in the historic zone. However, dogs are not allowed on beaches, unpaved trails, or in undeveloped areas even if they’re on a leash. Park rules say, “Leashed dogs are allowed on the General Creek Fire Road when it is not maintained as a ski trail. Dogs are not allowed on any of the ski trails or off trail in the Sugar Pine Point State Park ski network from November 1st to May 1st when snow is present. Dog regulations are enforced year round.” Don’t worry, there are places around Lake Tahoe that welcome you and your dog.
Dogs at Lake Tahoe
Yes! You can take your dog swimming at Lake Tahoe, but only at designated locations. Different campgrounds, resorts, attractions, and beaches have different policies concerning dogs. Some welcome your pet with some restrictions, and some don’t want dogs anywhere near their facility. Dog regulations are strictly enforced year round.
Don’t worry. Lake Tahoe is pet-friendly if you know where to go. The most well known and frequented, dog-friendly beaches at Lake Tahoe are:
- KIVA BEACH on the South Shore
- The north end of ZEPHYR COVE BEACH on the East Shore
- COON STREET BEACH in King’s Beach on the North Shore
Less Crowded Places –
- The stretch of pebbly shoreline across from Blackwood Canyon on the West Shore
- Fido-friendly Patton Landing in Carnelian Bay
- On the Nevada side of the lake, you can pull off almost anywhere south of Incline Village and find a trail leading to a pocket cove with crystal-clear water and smoothly sculptured rocks. Parking is tightly restricted to deter crowds, so arrive early in the morning to find a good spot, and be prepared to take what you can get.
- On the West Shore, next to Obexer’s Marina is another great dog friendly spot. Eat outside on the dog friendly patio at Obexer’s Marina. Yes. They have great food and are a full-service Marina and general store as well. Then head to the cold blue waters at the left of the boat launch for a plunge away from the boats and the crowds. Don’t worry, the smooth pebbly beach is shaded and a great place for you and your dog to hang out, play fetch and watch the activity at the Marina. The Obexer’s folks ask that you please clean up after your pups to ensure this area remains dog friendly.
If you’re an avid outdoors person who loves to travel and experience adventures with your dog, check out The Dog Trekker Blog – a blog about where to go, camp, boat, and what to do in California with your dog. THINGS TO DO WITH YOUR DOG
Fishing at Lake Tahoe
Anglers love Lake Tahoe, and for a lot of reasons, including the cold, clear blue waters. They also like the variety of fish they can catch, including Lake (Mackinaw), Brown and Rainbow Trout, as well as a self-sustaining population of Kokanee Salmon. If you want to fish, but didn’t bring your gear, you can charter a fishing trip. Local fishing guides know where and when to go, and how to increase your chances of success. All gear and license are provided with a Charter. If you’re going it alone, remember Lake Tahoe is a Bi-State lake and you will need either a California or Nevada Fishing License before heading out. A Short Term License (for a Day, 2 Day, etc.. ) for the date you plan to fish the Lake is the minimum one to obtain.
Tactics & Gear –
Fishing Lake Tahoe itself can require rather specialized tactics and gear designed for deep water. If you’re not a pro you probably won’t do much more than get a tan and wet your fishing line. However, if you’re determined to try your luck, remember that the large majority of the fish are found deep, from 80-to-200 feet deep, especially the Mackinaw and Kokanee that prefer the colder water. You’re going to need a boat to reach them. Shore fishing at Lake Tahoe is not recommended for several reasons, mostly because most of the shoreline you’d want to fish from, is on private property. Besides that, most of the fish, like we said, are deep. If you’re serious about fishing, charter a boat.
Don’t be afraid to cast your line in the many tributaries and streams that feed into Lake Tahoe. Look for brookies, rainbow and cutthroat trout, and even some good bass fishing. Enjoy an angler’s day in paradise on any of these lakes:
- Donner Lake – North Lake Tahoe
- Fallen Leaf Lake – South Lake Tahoe
- Taylor Creek – South Lake Tahoe
- Caples Lake – South Lake Tahoe
- Boca & Stampede Reservoirs – North Lake Tahoe
- East & West Carson Rivers – Markleeville, CA
- Truckee River – West Shore Lake Tahoe
Wildlife Viewing at Lake Tahoe
You know with bear-proof coolers required for all campgrounds, there’s obviously wildlife in and around Lake Tahoe’s Campsites. Just for a start, you can expect to see:
- American Beavers
- American Martens
- Black Bears
- Douglas Squirrel Or Chickaree
- Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels
- Mountain Beavers
- Mountain Lions
No matter where you stay, what you do, or where you go in Lake Tahoe, you’re going to have a great time!