If you are taking a ski trip to South Lake Tahoe, you might wonder what kind of family-friendly activities are available on and off of the ski hill. You are in luck, because there is lot to do at and nearby this lakeside resort area! Hop along and follow our guide to winter family activities in South Lake Tahoe for some ideas on how to have fun with the kids (that would be tadpoles to my husband, Leap, and me) on your family vacation.
Winter Family Activities in South Lake Tahoe
Skiing and Snowboarding
Skiing and snowboarding are among our favorite winter family activities in South Lake Tahoe, especially at Heavenly Ski Resort and Kirkwood. Heavenly is located right in town and on the state line between California and Nevada. The ski runs lead to the most gorgeous views of the topaz Lake Tahoe. Kirkwood Ski Resort is further away from town — it's about 55 minutes from Heavenly. At Kirkwood, you to get away from it all while enjoying an old school charm and fluffy powder. Kirkwood has a variety of terrain with nearby cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Heavenly offers a nice blend of outdoor activities, as well as shopping and nightlife.
Of course, the north end of the lake offers some great family skiing at Northstar and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. Consult our guide to help you pick from the best Tahoe ski resorts to find the perfect mountain for your family. You can get a jump on saving by bundling your lift tickets with lodging and reserving your equipment rentals through Undercover Tourist. If you buy before the season gets underway, you can spring for a 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-day Epic Pass or unlimited Epic Pass, good for Heavenly, Kirkwood or Northstar ski resorts in Lake Tahoe (as well as many other great family ski resorts in Colorado and at Park City, UT).
Go Tubing and Try UTV Riding or the Mountain Coaster
Wheeee! Tubing is another one of our favorite winter family activities in South Lake Tahoe, or really anywhere with snow and hills! Adventure Peak tubing hill is smack dab in the middle of Heavenly Ski Resort. You can take the gondola from the Heavenly Village to Adventure Peak or even ski down to it.
On select days — usually weekends and holidays — you can go UTV riding. Your party of five and a driver will explore Heavenly outside the ski areas. You'll take in some awesome views from your open-air vehicle. Another fun exciting thing to do is ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster. You can control your own speed and whoosh down the mountain! You can only book these fun activities the same day. Space is limited for the UTV. We hate missing out on any planned fun, so we buy our tickets in the morning at the base of the gondola.
You can chill out après at Tamarack Lodge in some Adirondack chairs or mats on the snow with discount drinks for adults and some afternoon snacks for the tadpoles. Then, let the kids play in the snow. It can be a nice place to end your ski day, but if you are arriving there from skiing, we recommend bringing your snow boots or other footwear. Store them in the lockers at the top of the gondola so you can easily and efficiently transition to tubing and snow play. Sometimes a band plays in the lodge. You can relax and wait for the gondola return line to dwindle before heading back down the mountain.
Your lift ticket is good for the gondola ride, but if you want to access Adventure Peak on a day you aren’t skiing, you will have to purchase a one-time scenic gondola ticket to ride up. That ride alone is pretty pricey, so accessing the area when you have a lift ticket can save you money. Make sure to stop on your way up and walk around the scenic viewpoint. The path takes you around and provides views for days and information about the area. It's a great spot to have a snack and take pictures. You can only stop on the way up, not down.
Keep in mind that you can purchase an all-day tubing ticket down in the village at the base of the gondola or on-site at Adventure Peak. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, tubing can sell out, so purchase tubing first thing in the morning before you ride up the gondola so you don’t miss out. As we say, the early frog gets the flies — in this case, the early frogs get to be flying down the hill in a tube! The scenic gondola does stop one time on the way up if you want to hop out and take in the views. The tubing hill has a Magic Carpet conveyor belt to take you to the top.
Another smaller tubing option (that doesn’t require a gondola ride) is Hansen’s Snow Tube and Saucer hill, which has a 400-foot Snow Tube Run and hourly rates, but you’ll have to use the trail to climb back up to the top.
Does flying downhill on snow ever get old? You can pick up an inexpensive sled at most grocery stores, drug stores or sporting goods stores and take it out for a spin. Raley's Supermarket, next to the village, sells snow-play toys and clothing. You can find a snow-play area just behind Heavenly Village, but you can also find more snow play and sledding areas around the city and lake. Grab a sled and drive over to the Nevada side of the lake for free sledding and snow play at the large park at Spooner Summit, Adventure Mountain (Hwy 50 at Echo Summit).
On the California side is a snow park in a former ski area that is popular for tubing and sledding. You pay to park and can rent tubes or sleds, or bring your own. The parking lot is known to fill up quickly on weekends. Taylor Creek SNO-Park in South Lake Tahoe is the gentlest and least-crowded location for small children and beginners. Keep in mind that when you visit SNO-Parks, you’ll need to bring a $5 parking pass. You can purchase online or in town at Tahoe Paradise Chevron, Tahoe Roadrunner and the Tahoe Bike & Ski Company. You’ll pass a few SNO-Play areas (marked with signs) on the way to Kirkwood, as well.
Find Winter Fun in the Heavenly Village
At the base of the gondola is Heavenly’s village, right on the city streets of South Lake Tahoe. There are family-friendly activities such as ice-skating and a bungee trampoline. Your tadpoles will love hopping in and out of the shops, including crazy sock stores, toy stores and fun candy stores. There is a movie theatre in the village and The Loft theatre with a family-friendly magic show. The village has a kickin’ family-friendly après ski vibe. Many bars and restaurants have kids' menus, coloring pages and fire pits for warming little hands and feet. We even saw a face painter near a live band!
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
Lake Tahoe offers some of the best snowshoeing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you’ve never done it, it’s about as easy as regular walking. Snowshoes allow you to take hikes on the snow. You can snowshoe at a number of places. Camp Richardson rents snowshoes, cross-country skis and sleds. You can snowshoe at Emerald Bay or Bijou Park in South Lake Tahoe, but you may need to rent equipment in town and bring it with you.
At Kirkwood Ski Resort, you can find snowshoe and cross-country ski rentals and trails at the center. Tadpoles love the Kiddy Kilometer with animal cutouts and flip-up signs (and later, getting to sip hot chocolate at the lodge).
Take in the Views by Water or Land
Winter and boating don't seem to go together, but the main body of Lake Tahoe does not freeze. The blue lake is breathtaking to look at, and it’s even more fun to go out on its glassy water and explore beautiful spots. Emerald Bay and other scenic spots are even more majestic when seen up close from the comfort of a heated boat. Head out on the M.S. Dixie II for a daytime or dinner cruise out of Zephyr Cove Resort & Marina. There are other boats and smaller yachts and packages you may enjoy, as well.
Find out why Mark Twain called Lake Tahoe “the fairest picture the whole earth affords.” Visit Emerald Bay State Park on land for a snowshoe hike to get an idea of how Twain was inspired. Perhaps find your own inspiration around the incredibly clear turquoise waters.
There are a few lodging choices with great views right on the lake if that is important to you. Lakeland Village (as low as $222 a night through Undercover Tourist) has a private beach and dock. It also has larger accommodations with kitchens and spectacular sunset views from the hot tub. The Landing Resort and Spa is a waterfront location near Lakeside Marina.
Snowmobiling in South Lake Tahoe
Imagine cruising along peaks up to nearly 9,000 feet high on a snowmobile with incredible views. You’ll feel like you are top of the world! You can take a family snowmobiling scenic tour or one that takes you out in to the backcountry. The company can provide (or rent) the necessary gear and clothing. If you’ll be in Lake Tahoe on a Wednesday, take advantage of kids (15 and under) ride free with an adult deals at Zephyr Cove Resort.
Hopfully some of these winter family activities in South Lake Tahoe and the nearby areas have inspired you to create some hoppy family vacation memories. We love to save money on our ski (and really any) vacations, so if you are looking to save some green on your winter family activities in South Lake Tahoe, follow our top tips for saving on a family ski trip. Undercover Tourist can also help you find discount lodging, lift tickets, equipment rentals and rental cars. That makes it so you have more cash in your pocket for tubing, boat rides and caramel apples in the village. Anyone who follows our theme park blog knows I always budget for my favorite treats. (It’s all about the apples.)
Do you have any favorite winter family activities in South Lake Tahoe when traveling with the kids? Please share them in the comments below.
Related: Guide to South Lake Tahoe