Outbound Collective logo

Lake Tahoe's trifecta: 3 Days of adventure at Zephyr Cove

Join us on an exciting three-day journey as we uncover the beauty and excitement of Zephyr Cove Resort, a hidden gem for adventure seekers and nature lovers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

By: Ranz Navarro + Save to a List

Presented by Nation's Vacation.

Day 1: Sunset serenity and starlit splendor

Our journey began with a scenic 50-minute drive from Reno airport, taking us through the mountain pass and into South East Lake Tahoe, where Zephyr Cove Resort is located. We checked in and settled into the cabin that would be our home for the next few days.

Eager to explore, we ventured out to discover the resort's sprawling grounds, sandy beaches, and towering trees. We wandered the shoreline, feeling the soft sand between our toes, and admired the serene beauty—a perfect prelude to the adventures ahead. The highlight of our evening awaited.

A from-above image looking down at a cove with boats floating on the water.
Zephyr Cove. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

As sunset approached, we boarded the M.S. Dixie II, a grand paddle-wheeler, for a sunset dinner cruise to Emerald Bay. We were seated next to a lovely couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. 

One partner, Tim, gave me a brief history of the M.S. Dixie II and how they have been coming to enjoy the cruise every year on the M.S. Dixie II. Tim’s wife said the dinner cruise is their favorite part of the trip. 

I savored a mouthwatering Cowboy Ribeye Steak while Mary delighted in the Copper River Salmon. We have a habit of switching plates midway through our dinners, and I enjoyed the salmon more than my steak.

A large paddle wheel boat is cruising on a large body of water.
The M.S. Dixie II Sunset Dinner Cruise on the way to Emerald Bay. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

We capped off dinner with a divine New York cheesecake drizzled with strawberry sauce, which I enjoyed because it satisfied my sweet tooth. We went up to the top deck just in time to witness the sun setting over Emerald Bay. Nature painted the sky with hues of orange and pink, casting an ethereal glow.

An island rests in the middle of a large body of water surrounded by trees.
Fannette Island at Emerald Bay. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

As darkness blanketed the lake, the boat’s galley transformed into a dance floor with a two-person band. We danced and sang along to the music. Dancing and sipping cocktails beneath the starlit sky was the perfect way to end our first day.

A cabin is lit up among tall pine trees and the milky way shines in the navy night sky.
Milky Way right outside our cabin. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

Back at our cabin, we stepped onto the porch, and I seized the opportunity to capture the Milky Way with my camera—a celestial spectacle that left us in awe.

Day 2: A day of lakeside exploration

Our second day began with a hearty breakfast at Zephyr Cove Restaurant, where I ordered the signature Zephyr Special. Mary opted for French toast—a delightful start to our day of adventures.

A log cabin restaurant has a neon sign that reads
Zephyr Cove Restaurant. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

Energized and ready to explore, we embarked on a lakeside stroll, dipping our feet into the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe. 

A line of colorful kayaks sit on a beach with pine-lined shore behind them.
Zephyr Cove Resort - Kayak & SUP Rentals. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

We rented a 23-foot powerboat and cruised across the pristine lake to Emerald Bay, Meek's Bay, Sand Harbor Beach, Secret Beach, and Cave Rock.

Our first stop was the iconic Emerald Bay, where we admired Fannette Island and its charming tea house. Meek's Bay offered a serene spot for a picnic lunch with sandwiches, fruits, and the lake as our companions.

A person is standing on the front of a boat on a body of water with an island in front of it.
Hanging out on a 23' Powerboat at Emerald Bay (Fannette Island in the background). Photo by Ranz Navarro.

Continuing our aquatic odyssey, we visited Sand Harbor Beach, renowned for its sculpted rocks and azure waters. Nearby, we stumbled upon the secluded Secret Beach, a tranquil haven away from the crowds.

A white power boat with a green awning is floating on a large body of water with tree-line shores.
Drifting around Secret Beach having lunch. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

Our adventure culminated at Cave Rock, a monumental volcanic formation rising majestically from the water. 

Pro tip: Hike to the top of Cave Rock for sunset. You won't be disappointed.

A long-haired person sits on a boat looking out at a body of water surrounded by trees.
Cave Rock. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

I highly recommend renting a powerboat to explore. Seeing Lake Tahoe from the water opened up an entirely new experience. We avoided traffic going around the lake, and took a lot of shortcuts getting to point B from point A.

When we got back to Zephyr Cove, we couldn't resist renting a kayak and paddling around the cove. The peaceful serenity perfectly contrasted the adrenaline-filled moments of our boat adventure.

A person wearing a life jacket paddles a kayak on a body of water surrounded by trees.
Chill kayak cruise around Zephyr Cove. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

The day concluded with a mesmerizing sunset from the dock.

A pier leads out into a large body of water at sunset or sunrise.
Enjoying the sunset from the dock. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

As the twilight deepened, we went back to our cabin to refresh and prepare for dinner. The day of exploration left us invigorated and ready for the next adventure.

Day 3: High-octane fun in Carson Valley

Our final day began with a sense of bittersweet anticipation. We woke up early to watch the sunrise one last time and went for a walk around the beach. After a light breakfast and coffee, we packed and loaded the car, ready for one last adventure.

A person is standing in a sunbeam on a beach.
One last walk before departing Zephyr Cove. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

A scenic 45-minute drive led us to Minden, Nevada, where we met Lee from Lake Tahoe Adventures. Paul and Keegan, a father-son duo visiting from Colorado Springs, CO, joined us. They were in town to watch the legendary Reno Air Races before it shuts down forever over the weekend.

After a quick lesson on how to drive the off-road vehicle and going over safety guidelines, Lee guided us on an exhilarating two-hour off-road razor tour through the rugged terrain of the Pine Nut Mountains. The experience was a thrilling mix of high-octane adventure and an intimate connection with the delicate high desert ecosystem.

A person in a helmet and goggles is driving an off-road vehicle in sand.
Watch out now! Mary on the wheel. Photo by Ranz Navarro.

Mary seized the opportunity to take the wheel, declaring it "the gnarliest experience" she'd ever had. Lee led us through winding washes, up challenging hills, and down rugged canyons, offering grand vistas of this remote landscape.

As our adventure concluded, we exchanged contact information with our newfound friends, Paul and Keegan. It was a reminder that adventures bring us closer to nature but to one another.

With hearts full of gratitude and memories to cherish, we embarked on the road to Reno, where our flight home awaited. Our whirlwind three-day getaway provided a much-needed respite from our busy lives—a testament to the beauty, joy, and enduring friendships that Zephyr Cove Resort and Lake Tahoe can offer.

Feature image by the author.

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.


Overnighter on the Sonoma Coast

Benjamin Canevari

10 Things you need to do in Baja

wyld honeys

Journey to Wyoming’s premier snowmobiling destination: Togwotee Mountain Lodge

Samuel Brockway

Hiking in comfort: a review of Danner Mountain 600 Evo boots

Meghan White