10 Things to do in Lake Tahoe in Fall

categories: Sierra Nevada Mountains

Are you looking for fall activities that go beyond pumpkins and spiced lattes? Lake Tahoe is one of the best places to experience fall in California, with warm sunny days and fewer crowds during this shoulder season. If you’re heading on a California road trip, I recommend staying here for a few days.

Aside from water sports, Lake Tahoe is also known for its wildlife, hiking, and fall colors. We visited Lake Tahoe in October because that’s when we managed to book one of the popular campsites here. We started our Lake Tahoe journey in the north and drove down the east shore to get to the south shore.

Overall, this is an easy road trip with plenty of activities and viewpoints along the drive.

Lake Tahoe scenery

Lake Tahoe weather during fall

While September’s weather tends to be similar to late summer, it gets cooler starting in early October. Daytime temperatures hover between 60 to 70 F, dropping to 30s at night. Towards the end of October, the weather gets a little more variable with some cloudy days.

By then, several outdoor lodges and campgrounds would have closed for the season. The first snowfall tends to arrive in November, and skiers cheer in anticipation of the winter season.

If you’re planning to visit Lake Tahoe from late September to mid-October, you’re in for a treat. In this guide, we’ll explore the best things to do to make the most of your fall visit.

Kokanee salmon

1. See Kokanee Salmon at Taylor Creek

One of the most fascinating things to witness in Lake Tahoe during fall is the migration of Kokanee salmon when they return to Taylor Creek to spawn. I’ve never seen live salmon before, let alone Lake Tahoe’s Kokanee species, so I was looking forward to this. Did you know that they’ll turn red and the males will develop a hooked jaw?

The best time to observe this phenomenon is in mid-October, and usually takes place between September and October. During this time, bears are also active around Taylor Creek as they’re attracted by the live fish. After they spawn, both males and females eventually die and are eaten by other scavengers.

To find these Kokanee salmon, take a walk along the easy Rainbow Trail at Taylor Creek. Look out for bridges that let you peer over the creek, and read the signs explaining a Kokanee’s life cycle. Look out for the annual Fall Fish Fest which usually takes place on the first weekend of October. It is a popular wildlife viewing event for families and there are educational activities for children.

Take note to keep a safe distance from the bears. As tempting as it is, avoid trying to take selfies with them.

Fall foliage

2. Drive To See Fall Foliage

Lake Tahoe is an excellent destination to see bright yellow Aspen trees during fall, and they are found in many regions around the lake. In general, the best time to see Lake Tahoe’s vibrant fall foliage is from mid to late October.

Some of the best places to see Aspen trees include Taylor Creek and Fallen Leaf Lake in South Lake Tahoe. Another popular spot to view the fall foliage is Spooner Lake, which is a 20-minute drive away from South Lake Tahoe. Alternatively, there are also plenty of meadows and paths to explore the fall foliage along Highway 89. Noteworthy areas include Hope Valley and Sorensens.

Sadly, Aspen trees around Lake Tahoe have been logged extensively in the past. Although they rebound quickly after fires, pine trees have started to dominate the region as natural fires are suppressed. These pine trees tend to grow taller more quickly as they compete for space and sunlight, hence the Aspen tree population takes a longer time to recover.

Cherish these Aspen trees while you can, and catch their vibrant yellow hues during fall.

Tahoe Hike

3. Go On A Hike

I can’t think of a better time to go hiking around Lake Tahoe than during fall when you have cooler temperatures just before snow arrives. In addition, you’ll still have plenty of daylight. Why not consider a sunset hike to cap off your adventure-packed day?

If you’re looking to explore the East shore, hike up to Monkey Rock for a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe. It is relatively short, at just 2.6 miles round trip, and takes about 1.5 hours. I noticed people taking shortcuts but would advise against it to prevent off-trail erosion.

Along the South shore, you can also hike to various attractions like Vikingsholm and Eagle Lake. These are in the Emerald Bay region and are also relatively easy.

For a longer hike, the Rubicon trail, which joins Emerald Bay State Park with D. L. Bliss State Park, also offers close-up views of Lake Tahoe. You can start from either end and turn back at any time if you don’t want to complete the full length.

4. Bike Along The Tahoe East Shore Trail

Another active way to soak in the fall scenery is to hop on a bike and get on the Tahoe East Shore Trail. It is about 3 miles long and connects the southern end of Incline Village to Sand Harbor State Park.

This bike trail was created to provide a safer way for cyclists and pedestrians to access the beaches and enjoy the lakeside views as they were previously right next to the road. The trail is well-maintained, and the gentle slope makes it accessible for cyclists of all levels.

You can either bring your own bicycles or rent them at Lake Tahoe. Overall, this is a fun way to see Lake Tahoe’s East shore without a car.

Water sports

5. Try Water Sports Without The Crowd

Fall afternoons are still relatively warm, perfect for enjoying water sports without the frenzy of the summer crowds. That also means that getting parking at popular spots like Sand Harbor State Park will be less stressful.

Some of the water sports you can try are kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. You’ll still be able to find a few water sports rental kiosks that operate up to mid-October. If you want to rent any equipment here, make sure to do so earlier in the day or make online reservations.

Alternatively, bring your own equipment and just get out onto the lake. We were quite amused to see people stand-up paddleboarding in their Halloween costumes at Sand Harbor. That would be a fun idea to try with some friends.

Traveling Soon? These useful links will help you prepare for your trip.

6. Camp In South Lake Tahoe

You can also throw in a night of camping into your Lake Tahoe fall itinerary. The off-peak season starts in the fall when you’ll have a better chance of getting a campsite reservation in South Lake Tahoe. Don’t worry if you can’t get a spot during summer.

The camping season typically ends in mid-October, after which it closes for the winter season. Even though the weather is slowly getting colder in fall, it is not freezing yet and you can still enjoy the night as you sit by a campfire.

Some popular options for camping are at the Fallen Leaf Campground and Camp Richardson Campground. These campgrounds are just a short drive away from various amenities in downtown South Lake Tahoe, making them beginner-friendly choices.

That said, be prepared for some bear encounters and take all precautions. We were warned by the campground staff about this since it was our first time camping at the Fallen Leaf Campground. A fellow camper even told us that he saw a bear sniffing around his picnic table the previous morning. Fallen Leaf Campground is near Taylor Creek where the salmon are, so it made sense that the bears are active around here.

Despite that, we awoke in shock when we heard banging and clanging noises on a food locker at 2 am. It might have been a bear, though we did not try to verify it. We knew we’d probably be alright since we followed all the bear safety guidelines provided, like removing all scented items from our tent and car.

Donner summit

7. Drive To Donner Summit Overlook

Take a detour off Highway 80 onto Donner Pass Road to check out Donner Summit Overlook. It is a convenient roadside stop where you’ll see Donner Lake and other landmarks like the Donner Summit Bridge.

Another thing to know about this scenic location is the dark story behind it. It was named after the Donner party, a group of American pioneers who were traveling westward toward California in the 1800s. They faced multiple challenges including getting trapped in a snowstorm. Some of them eventually turned to cannibalism as they were stranded near Donner Lake due to the harsh conditions.

As I looked out to the stunning landscape around Donner Lake, I was in awe of the great forces of nature. Sometimes, the most beautiful places have the roughest terrain so we need to respect it and make sure we’re well prepared as we head outside.

Apple hill

8. Visit Local Ranches At Apple Hill

No fall adventure to Lake Tahoe is complete without indulging in seasonal treats and activities at nearby ranches. Make a stop at Apple Hill Growers Association, located just 1 hour away from South Lake Tahoe. There are over 50 different ranches to visit, ranging from apple orchards to pumpkin patches, and even Christmas tree farms.

Depending on the time of the month, you can usually go apple picking. One of my favorite seasonal treats is apple cider donuts. We checked out Rainbow Orchards which is known for their made-to-order apple cider donuts. They also have picnic tables outside on the grass where you can enjoy your warm donuts in front of the rows of apple trees.

These fall activities and treats are usually available from September to early December. Do check the opening dates of the ranches you wish to visit as most of them are only open to the public on a seasonal basis.

clear lake

9. Go On A Lake Cruise

During fall, the water in Lake Tahoe starts to become clearer. That’s because algal populations decrease together with reduced daylight and lower input of snowmelt nutrients. This makes it the perfect time to get out onto the clear lake, such as admire it from a cruise.

There are several options for lake cruises near South Lake Tahoe, and you can decide based on your preferred boat and style of travel.

Zephyr Cove Resort offers lake cruises all year round, with a variety of cruise boats, including their M.S. Dixie II which can take 500 passengers. They typically last for 2 hours, ensuring a relaxing time on the boat.

Spirit of Tahoe and Tahoe Bleu Wave are other cruise companies that offer a happy hour cruise, or even a sunset champagne cruise. Nothing’s stopping you from chartering the whole yacht if you want to make it even more memorable for you and your loved ones.


10. Join The Oktoberfest Celebrations

Immerse yourself in the lively Oktoberfest celebrations around Lake Tahoe which are usually organized between late September to early October. You can find these events all around Lake Tahoe, with the typical locations at Palisades Tahoe, Tahoe City, and Camp Richardson. I’m definitely looking forward to the European pastries and performances. Kids may even have a rootbeer float to join in the fun.

Camp Richardson is a popular spot on the south shore where their annual Oktoberfest event is free to attend. In the north, Palisades Tahoe organizes a paid event and offers family-friendly entertainment and games. The events usually start at noon, with a variety of activities lined up for a fun-filled afternoon.

As each location celebrates Oktoberfest on different days, do check the dates as you plan your trip. Prepare to dress up and soak in the festive atmosphere – you might even win the best-dressed award!

Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay

Additional Tips For Visiting Lake Tahoe In Fall

Whether you’re checking out salmon, savoring apple cider donuts, or enjoying a leisurely bike ride, experiencing fall in Lake Tahoe is definitely worth it. Before you go, here are some tips to help you prepare for your fall trip.

  • Since the weather is still warm during the day, make sure to use sun protection and bring more than enough water on your hikes.
  • You could even pack a picnic along to eat on the beach.
  • If you’re planning to stay out past sunset, prepare more warm layers as the weather gets pretty cold at night.
  • In addition, remember to store all your scented food and personal items in the food lockers if you’re planning to go camping. Bear activity is still quite high in the fall, and we want to keep the bears wild and away from our food.

With these fun activities and things to do, I’m sure you’ll fall in love with Lake Tahoe!

10 Things to do in Lake Tahoe in Fall #california #lake-tahoe #tahoe #sierras #travel #vacation #trip #holiday #fal #autumn

Janice Lim

by Janice Lim

Janice, a California-based travel writer from Singapore, discovered her love for hiking and camping during her studies in Los Angeles. Through wheresjanice.com, she shares informative guides on California itineraries, gear recommendations, and adventures in Asia, hoping to inspire others to explore the great outdoors with confidence.

One Response to “10 Things to do in Lake Tahoe in Fall”



Embracing the vibrant hues and cool breezes of autumn, Lake Tahoe beckons with its array of outdoor activities and scenic vistas. A perfect getaway for fall enthusiasts!

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