Outbound Collective logo

How to fall in love with Lake Tahoe (if you don't ski or snowboard)

By: Christine La + Save to a List

Growing up in Northern California with a not-very outdoorsy family, I thought Lake Tahoe was just a skiing destination. Once I reached adulthood and could form my own “field trips,” I discovered the vast recreation opportunities the area offers. 

In January, during a light-snow winter, my friend and I spent 3 days exploring new experiences in Lake Tahoe, including boarding the M.S. Dixie II scenic cruise across the lake. We snowmobiled and discovered unique views of Lake Tahoe while at the Zephyr Cove Resort which sits on the Nevada side of the lake.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America at 122,160,280-acres and resides on the state line between California and Nevada. The region offers breathtaking views of calm waters and the surrounding Sierra Nevada and Carson mountain ranges.

The community has activities for everyone, like lounging on a beach, paddling on the crystal-clear water, getting air on mountain bikes, or hiking one of the many mountain peaks.

Zephyr Cove Resort

Zephyr Cove Resort is a top-notch vacation choice for many reasons, including its commitment to sustainability. The lodging avoids styrofoam food and beverage containers, uses low-flow water fixtures, and provides collection containers for guests to dispose of compostables and recyclables. 

The location has direct access to Zephyr Cove Beach, a marina, and multiple restaurants. Heavenly Valley ski area is nearby, and the resort is a 15-minute drive to the bustling town of South Lake Tahoe for groceries, casinos, and nightlife. 

Guests who stay at the lodge are steps away from the shore, and there is a roomy campground for tents and RVs just across the road. Don't want to bring your own lodging? There are also rental Airstream campers for a cozy stay.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

Upon arriving at the resort in the late evening, we spotted a red neon “Zephyr Cove” sign off Highway 50 indicating that we had made it to our destination. We made a turn into an area dotted with cabins affording glimpses of Lake Tahoe. After finding our way to the gift shop parking lot near the turn off the highway, we were greeted by friendly staff who helped answer questions about the location and activities.

We had a one-bedroom cabin complete with a pull-out couch for extra sleeping space, a fireplace, a TV, bathtub, and a kitchen facing the lake. Smaller and larger accommodations are available for those with different needs.

Image courtesy of Christine La.
Image courtesy of Christine La.

Waking up in the coziest bed made it a bit difficult to embrace the winter chill, but the breathtaking views just outside our front door gave us the motivation to get moving! The kitchen was fully stocked with a fridge, cooking gear, and cleaning materials, allowing us to make home-cooked meals every day.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

One of my favorite aspects of the whole trip was having a gorgeous vista straight from the living room thanks to a large floor-to-ceiling window. Warm meals and computer work from the couch across the fireplace were made even more pleasant with the calming views of the natural landscape. Opening the blinds every morning was such a treat! The cabin faced big trees, white snow, Lake Tahoe, and the mountains beyond.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

Snowmobiling in the Backcountry

Our first day in town started with an adrenaline rush on our snowmobile adventure. Before heading out, we made sure to have waterproof clothing, boots, warm gloves, and snacks. Being on a motorized set of skis was a new experience for me. It took a bit of practice for me to find my rhythm. Our instructor Garrett from Lake Tahoe Adventures was fun, patient, incredibly knowledgeable, and well-versed in the technical aspects of snowmobiling.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

My apprehension about developing driving skills quickly dissipated upon seeing the jaw-dropping views of the Lake Tahoe backcountry. Enjoying the mountaintops while comfortably seated (instead of fumbling over skis or a snowboard) definitely felt like a luxury. 

As someone who struggled with common winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, I was pleasantly surprised to engage with the terrain with something more approachable. Our instructor Garrett named the mountain ranges, provided a historical perspective of the land, and recommended photo ops at the best spots.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

Time flew by on the snowmobile tour. On the bus ride back to our car, we couldn’t stop marveling at the fun experience and memorable views.

Upon returning to the resort, we made a quick stop at Zephyr Cove Restaurant, which features pub fare, specialty cocktails, and drinks. There's a warm fireplace and large windows where guests can soak in the magnificent scenery while staying warm indoors. The restaurant also offers wifi access and plenty of tables for lounging, working, and socializing.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

There is a well-stocked gift shop with fun souvenirs and gear adjacent to the bar and grille. The shop is committed to supporting the local economy, and most of its products are made in the USA. In addition to fun stuff like beanies, toys, shirts, blankets, and socks, there’s a variety of snacks, drinks, and wine. Aside from resort guests, visitors traveling on Highway 50 can stop and shop here.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

Each evening, we made it a point to watch the sunset from the shore a few steps from our cabin. It was an incredible way to end the day. The colors of the sky reflected on the water in the dreamiest hues of purple, blue, orange, and pink. The cove adjacent to the resort cabins offers a neat perspective of the lake where you can see sandy shores amid rocky projections, with mountains and forests off in the distance.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

Scenic Cruise to Emerald Bay

On our second day, we took a leisurely approach to sightseeing and walked a few minutes from our cabin to the marina. There, we boarded a 2.5-hour daytime scenic cruise called the M.S. Dixie II. It was voted “Best Cruise in Nevada” by Nevada Magazine! 

The vessel took us across the lake to Emerald Bay. Being on the water gave us a different perspective of the vastness of the lake. Instead of a boat ride, many visitors take a 72-mile, three-hour drive around the lake perimeter.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

The mountains surround the waters from every angle. With plentiful windows all over the yacht, it was hard to pick a bad viewing spot! Imagining what secrets lurked in the 1,645 ft abyss below the surface was a bit haunting and added to the surreal atmosphere. I sipped on a cocktail aptly named “Emerald Bay” and explored the two stories of the boat for vistas from all angles.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

As we entered Emerald Bay, the intercom switched on to a story about Fannette Island, the only island in the entire lake. We listened to the history of the mansion residing on the shore as we cruised over shallow areas where the water glistened with beautiful blue and green hues.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

Before this trip, I had climbed, hiked, skied, snowboarded, backpacked, kayaked, shopped, gambled, attended yoga and musical festivals, and explored the breweries and hidden speakeasies in the area. With this visit, I had a more luxurious, peaceful, and cozy stay that allowed for sightseeing from new vantages.

The opportunity to learn about the history of the landscape gave me a new respect for maintaining its alluring beauty. Waking up each morning to stunning views made us grateful for the existence of places that offer such a captivating feeling.

Image courtesy of Christine La.

When planning your trip, be sure to check the local road conditions as the weather can change without notice. The grandeur of Lake Tahoe and the comfort and amenities of Zephyr Cove contributed to a magical three-day stay. The proximity to attractions allowed us to efficiently enjoy the visit.

On our way out, we stopped at a friend’s house in South Lake Tahoe and talked about the rise in tourism. Vigorous growth in the area brings increasing traffic, expanding construction, and proliferating cell towers. The locals appreciate conscientious guests who care enough to preserve the natural environment so everyone can enjoy this inspiring place for generations to come.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


An ode to Midwest adventure

Erica Zazo

Our guide to bringing dogs to national parks

Aurora Slaughter