Everything You Need to Know About Lake Tahoe Camping

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When you first lay eyes on Lake Tahoe, it’s almost hard to believe it isn’t a protected national park. But for the millions of visitors that flock here each year, that means unprecedented public access to some of the clearest water in the world. 

There’s no shortage of fun in the Tahoe Basin, from motorized or human-powered boating to exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains on foot or bike. To help you set up your RV as an adventure sports basecamp in Tahoe, here’s everything you need to know about Lake Tahoe camping. 

How To Get To and Around Lake Tahoe

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Photo by Vineyard Perspective via Shutterstock

A common remark that I hear from visitors is, “I didn’t realize it was so spread out.” Indeed, the lake is approximately 22 miles long, 12 miles across, and 72 miles in circumference. Because of the windy mountain roads, RVers will need to travel slowly and carefully when visiting Lake Tahoe. 

Be aware that it usually takes about two hours to drive around the entire lake–if you don’t run into any summer traffic. There are multiple ways to get to different parts of the lake. So here’s a quick rundown: 

From The East

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Photo by instacruising via Shutterstock

If traveling in from the east, the two main cities before Lake Tahoe are Reno and Carson City. From Reno, you can take Interstate 80 to the town of Truckee. From there, you’ll have the option of taking Highway 89 to Tahoe City or Highway 267 to Kings Beach. 

Another option from Reno is to take Mount Rose Highway, which offers some of the most spectacular views of the lake for first-time visitors. The drive is a bit more challenging, but it will bring you to the lake just west of Incline Village. 

From Carson City, you’ll take Highway 50 up and over Spooner Summit to get into the basin. At the summit, you’ll continue on Highway 50 to head south down the lake’s eastern shore or turn onto Highway 28 to head back north towards Incline Village. 

From The West

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Photo by ZikG via Shutterstock

Interstate 80 is a great choice if you’re heading somewhere on the lake’s north or west shores if traveling in from the west. Like the directions above, you’ll exit in Truckee and use Highway 89 or 267 to access Tahoe City or Kings Beach. 

For those that are heading to the southern end of the lake, Highway 50 through Placerville might be the most direct route to get you to South Lake Tahoe. From there, you’ll choose to continue up 50 on the east shore or turn onto Highway 89 to access destinations on the west shore.

Ride-Sharing in Lake Tahoe

Quick aside: options for ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft in the Tahoe basin are limited. Many folks arrive here and find this out the hard way. The options that do exist can be very expensive, and other public transportation in the basin is relatively unreliable. 

Because of that, you may consider towing a dinghy if you’re traveling in a larger RV. If not, choose a campground that’s close to a bike path if you travel with bikes or consider renting a car to get around Lake Tahoe. 

Lake Tahoe RV Camping

Because there is no ‘city’ of Lake Tahoe, start by choosing which side of the lake you want to be closest to during your stay. Keep in mind that the east shore is largely undeveloped and provides no feasible camping options for RVers. 

North Shore RV Camping

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Tahoe State Recreation Area Photo by CA Parks

West Shore RV Camping

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Emerald Bay Photo by topseller via Shutterstock

South Lake Tahoe RV Camping

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Zephyr Cove Photo by mllejules via Shutterstock

Good Sam Parks Nearby

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Coachland Village Photo by Good Sam

If you’re having trouble getting a reservation in the Tahoe Basin for your stay, check out these nearby parks: 

How To Prepare For Lake Tahoe Camping

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Photo by Asif Islam via Shutterstock

Regardless of where you decide to stay, these tips will help you prepare for your trip so you can maximize your relaxation or recreation time once you arrive: 

  • Make reservations early. Many campsites in the basin fill up months in advance. Start planning your Tahoe trip now to ensure you have a comfortable place to park your RV.
  • Shop in town. Stop and support local groceries to stock up your RV refrigerator or load your camping cooler before continuing to your campground. 
  • Pack layers. Even summer nights in the Tahoe Basin can dip into the 40s. You’ll need a few extra layers at night, especially if local restrictions prohibit campfires during your stay. 
  • Check fire restrictions. Campfires can be prohibited from as early as the beginning of June all the way through the end of the camping season. Check local restrictions to ensure compliance during your stay. 
  • Be sun safe. It doesn’t take long to get sunburnt in Tahoe. Use sunscreen or wear performance apparel to minimize UV exposure. 
  • Take time to acclimate. The lake sits at roughly 6,224 feet in elevation, and the surrounding mountains rise above 10,000 feet. Plan a day or two of acclimation time before attempting very strenuous exercise.
  • Test your RV furnace. Even summer nights may require you to fire up your RV’s heater, so make sure it’s in good working order before your visit. 
  • Plan to be self-contained. Not all campgrounds in Lake Tahoe will offer hot showers or a picnic table for meals. Bring what you need to make your trip as comfortable as possible.  

Things To Do in Lake Tahoe

Adventure enthusiasts rejoice! Tahoe offers an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, but there’s a lot of interesting human history in this area as well. Here are some ways to fill out your itinerary for your Lake Tahoe camping trip: 

Hiking in Lake Tahoe

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Photo by AJ9 via Shutterstock

The best hikes near Lake Tahoe range from beginner-friendly to expert-only. Because most of the trailheads begin near lake level, you can expect to gain significant elevation if you’re looking for a scenic lake view. 

Here are a few places to start if this is your first Tahoe visit: 

  • Picnic Rock: About 3.1 miles round trip to a north shore vista. Trailhead is located near Brockway Summit.
  • Eagle Rock: About 1.5 miles round trip to a west shore vista. Trailhead is located on Highway 28, north of Homewood, CA. 
  • Spooner Lake: An easy 2.5-mile loop trail on the east shore with good wildlife viewing and beautiful fall colors. Trailhead in Spooner State Park.
  • Lam Watah Nature Trail: About 2.8 miles round trip ending at Nevada Beach on the lake’s south shore. Trailhead is located west of Highway 50 near Kahle Road. 

Keep in mind that there are loads of other alpine lakes within the basin to explore. Trails leading to locations like Fallen Leaf Lake and Desolation Wilderness are great options for more experienced hikers.

Boating in Lake Tahoe

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Fannette Island in Emerald Bay Photo by my leap year via Shutterstock

Getting out on the water is a must for your Tahoe visit. Fortunately, you have options to do so on a motorized boat or a personal watercraft. You can book a guided kayaking tour if you want to get a workout, paddle around, and learn more about Tahoe’s geology, human history, and local wildlife. 

You can also rent or charter a boat from several locations on the lake’s north, south, or west shores. This gives you the freedom to explore a larger territory and enjoy your favorite watersports on the lake’s clear waters. 

Lastly, there are cruises available on old paddle-wheel boats that launch from the north and south shores. The Tahoe Gal Cruises begin just east of Tahoe City, and MS Dixie II launches from Zephyr Cove. 

Biking at Lake Tahoe

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Flume Trail Photo by aaronj9 via Shutterstock

Many trails in the Tahoe Basin are accessible for mountain biking, and there’s a great network of bike paths for road bikes or e-bikes as well. Bike paths run through Tahoe City and down a vast majority of the lake’s west shore. Other sections run through most of South Lake Tahoe and through Incline Village down to Sand Harbor State Park. 

One of the best bases for self-guided mountain biking on the north shore is the Tahoe Cross Country Center. While skiing isn’t on the agenda during camping season, the center’s network of ski trails provides mountain bikers with excellent double-wide and single-track trails during the summer. 

Additionally, many of the region’s downhill ski areas offer mountain biking during the summer months. Bike rentals are available at some, and the ski lifts turn into easy ways to get back to the top of the mountain to maximize downhill action for the day. 

Beach Days at Lake Tahoe

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Sand Harbor Photo by AlessandraRC via Shutterstock

If you just want to relax on a sandy beach and enjoy the occasional dip in the lake’s cool waters, you’re in luck. Many of the campgrounds above have lakefront access, but you’ll be close to at least one of the lake’s best beaches no matter where you camp. 

Here are a few of our favorites: 

Tram Rides Near Lake Tahoe

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Tram at Heavenly Photo by gg5795 via Shutterstock

There are two tram rides at local ski resorts for a quick chance to ascend in elevation and enjoy some of the area’s best scenic views. The first is in South Lake Tahoe at Heavenly Mountain Resort and takes you 2.4 miles up the mountain with a stop at the Observation Deck for photos of the lake and surrounding mountains. 

The second is located in Olympic Valley, California, at the site of the Palisades Tahoe resort. This historic tram ride takes you to High Camp, where you can enjoy the pool, hot tubs, and views of the lake’s east shore and the valley below, which played host to the 1960 Winter Olympics. 

Lake Tahoe Historical Tours

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Vikingsholm Photo by Heather Lucia Snow via Shutterstock

The Lake Tahoe Basin had been a summer home for Native American tribes for thousands of years before the first European settlers arrived at the dawn of the Gold Rush era. But a lot of interesting human history remains from the mid-1800s and beyond. 

There are a few sites around the lake where you can go to take a step back in time. The Thunderbird Lodge on the east shore, the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion in Sugar Pine Point State Park, and Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay are some of the oldest remaining structures in the Tahoe Basin. 

Food and Refreshments

In addition, there are local breweries to quench your thirst and delicious eateries to satisfy your hunger after a long day in the sun. Research options in your specific area to find the best choices for you and your family. 

Tips For Responsible Lake Tahoe Camping

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Photo by Rick Nelson via Shutterstock

Lake Tahoe receives millions of visitors annually. Despite the region’s reputation as a winter sports destination, one can argue that summers are even more popular. That means a lot of human impact on the lake’s pristine beaches and clear waters. 

Here are some tips to help you minimize your impact and leave Lake Tahoe just like you found it (or maybe even better!): 

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Not all trailheads and beaches have trash receptacles. If you can’t find one immediately available (or the one you find is full), carry your trash out until you find a proper receptacle with space. 
  • Be campfire safe. Wildfire danger is a serious threat to the area. Check local restrictions to see if fires are allowed during your stay. And always practice campfire safety if building a fire. 
  • Store food in animal-proof containers. Some campsites have bear lockers. If yours doesn’t, keep food in a sealed bin inside a vehicle or your RV. Bears, raccoons, squirrels, and other wildlife will have a proper buffet if you don’t.  
  • Take only pictures and leave only footprints. While taking one of Tahoe’s iconic sugar pine cones (up to 20 inches long!) might sound good, it’s best to leave what you find to keep this sensitive habitat intact for its year-round residents. 
  • Practice patience. Summers get crowded in Lake Tahoe. Whether you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting in traffic to get to the beach, be considerate of others and keep in mind that you are probably here on summer vacation after all. 

These tips will help you protect the beautiful landscape surrounding Lake Tahoe. For more tips on responsible RVing, check out our guide to making your RV trips more environmentally friendly.


With an average of nearly 250 days of sunshine each year, Lake Tahoe provides chances to recreate or relax in an ideal climate. With these tips at your disposal, you’re ready to plan your next trip to make the most of this outdoor lovers’ paradise! 

Do you have any additional tips for visiting and camping in the Lake Tahoe area? If so, please share them with your fellow readers in the comments below!

Tucker Ballister is a Technical Content Writer for Camping World and a lover of the open road. You can check out more of his adventures and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.

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