5 Family-Friendly Lake Tahoe Activities That Don’t Involve Snow

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(April 2019)

Lake Tahoe may be famous for its good snow conditions and winter sports enthusiasts, but with a rich history and an abundance of natural resources, it holds treasures for everyone. And thank goodness for that, because it can be hard to find activities that the whole family likes.

These five hidden gems appeal to a wide range of ages and interests, making them family crowd pleasers.

  1. Smaller but similar to Hearst Castle in over-the-top opulence, Thunderbird Lake Tahoe was home to eccentric millionaire George Whittell, Jr., his stone mansion, 600 feet of underground tunnels, renowned wooden speed boat Thunderbird, a card house, an elephant barn, and a lion named Bill. Seventy-five minute docent-led tours of the mansion and grounds offer a fascinating look at Whittell, Jr.’s life—in addition to being a millionaire, he also ran away to the circus and married a chorus girl and then an actress before secluding himself at the Lake Tahoe property with his animals—as well as an excellent view of the lake. Reservations are required for all tours, which are available by land, tour boat or kayak, Tuesdays through Saturdays from mid-May until mid-October. Visitors must be at least six years old; comfortable walking shoes are required and a warm jacket is suggested.

  2. Tahoe Institute for Natural Science (TINS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing education on the natural history, conservation and ecosystem of the Tahoe region, offers a variety of nature walks, citizen science programs, talks and events throughout the year. If you’re planning to visit during the summer, kids ages 4-17 can explore the world around them at day camp while you go off on your own. They’ll hike, play games and create art at themed summer camps with names like Bug Camp, Animal Kingdom, Tahoe Explorers, and Insect Adventures.

  3. Once inhabited (though not at the same time) by several socialite families, two hotels, a casino, and the Washoe People during summer months, the Tallac Historic Site is now comprised of 74 acres of land and a couple historic buildings. Throughout the year it hosts tours, cultural events and festivals, and is open daily during the summer. Locals’ favorite events include a Native American festival in July, a Great Gatsby festival in August and a steampunk party in October. There are several tours especially geared toward families, like Washoe Ways, an interactive program on the summers Washoe families spent in Lake Tahoe; Kitchen Kids, a hands-on 1920s-inspired baking experience for kids ages 6-12; and Community Day, an exploration of what life was like for kids in the 1920s.

  4. For a trip back in Olympics history, take the 10-minute aerial tram ride up to High Camp, the Squaw Valley mountain top that once hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics games. Perched above Lake Tahoe, the area can be explored via hiking trails (free guided hikes are available at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm daily) and the history of the games at the recently renovated Olympics Museum. There you’ll find Team USA uniforms, newspaper coverage, a hockey stick and puck from the games, and a short film about the events. Meanwhile on the observation deck, the 1960 Olympic Rings loom in the background. Other High Camp activity options include roller skating, swimming, disc golfing, dining, geocaching, and playground fun. Hours and days of operations are subject to weather-related closures.

  5. There’s plenty to see, learn and do at the Tahoe Science Center at the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center in Incline Village. Through interactive exhibits, virtual laboratories, aquariums and 3D movies, visitors can investigate Lake Tahoe wildlife, the Tahoe watershed, and pollution from a scientific perspective. Tours of the Research Center, which is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building, are also available. The Tahoe Science Center is on the first floor and science classrooms and labs are on the second. Research labs on the top floor are closed to the public.