Lake Tahoe, CA/NV

Top 10 Things to do in Lake Tahoe in the SPRING & FALL

Lake Tahoe
View from Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive, Emerald Bay

The beautiful, stunningly clear water of Lake Tahoe, a freshwater lake, straddles the states of California and Nevada, and is an absolutely stunning destination. Most people visit Lake Tahoe as a winter ski destination visiting the areas of Heavenly, Northstar, Tahoe Donner, Homewood, etc. This is definitely on our list, and we are actually planning a Lake Tahoe skiing trip this December 2018 with my family!

However, we visited Lake Tahoe in the fall before all of the snow fell, and it was beautiful weather and such a lovely time for our 2 year old! These are our top 10 things to enjoy in Tahoe during fall that could also be enjoyed in the spring/summer months:

Travel: The closest airport is Reno and the drive will take you appx 1 hour to Heavenly Village, less or more depending on where you are staying along the lake. We usually rent a car to have our own transportation, but shuttle service is available from Reno to Lake Tahoe to 6 main resort areas (Lakeside Inn, Horizon, Harvey’s, Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, Harrah’s, and Mt. Bleu Resort) via South Tahoe Airporter. If staying elsewhere you can then continue on via public transport.

1.) Emerald Bay Cruise: Emerald Bay is the most photographed place in Lake Tahoe and with good reason. It hosts gorgeous landscapes with peaks reaching 3000 feet starkly rising from the water and is a National Natural Landmark. Cruising Emerald Bay allows you to see the stunning scenery of Emerald Bay State Park from the water. You get a glimpse of Vikingsholm, the Scandinavian castle and Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. We cruised on the Tahoe Blue Wave which departs daily from the Tahoe Keys Marina and includes a buffet lunch. I researched lots of cruises beforehand, and we settled on this 70 foot yacht because the max passenger load is 49, and we wanted a more intimate feel especially with the 2 year old. We really LOVED this cruise. The crew was fantastic and offered lots of 1 on 1 attention. We really had wonderful views from aboard the yacht, and the cookies are pretty great too!

2.) Ice Skating: There are lots of opportunities for ice skating in Lake Tahoe. Heavenly and Northstar Villages both offer outdoor seasonal skating rinks in the villages. These ice skating rinks open seasonally usually at the beginning of November. And in March Northstar turns their ice skating rink into a roller rink in time for Spring! For year round ice skating; however, you can visit the South Lake Tahoe ice arena. There are daily public skate sessions, and lessons offered. My daughter loved this experience. There is also an outdoor playground located on the premises of the sports complex that we visited after skating which is wonderful!

South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena

3.) Heavenly Village: We love Heavenly Village. My daughter loved the fountain and throwing coins into it. Village Toy Store is a great stop off with little ones. We love Base Camp Pizza as well. They have outdoor seating with lawn games for kids plus the pizza is great and affordable. You can take the gondola up to the mountain from the village for a scenic tour at different times throughout the year.

4.) Lakeside Beach: Located in South Lake Tahoe this is a brilliant beach. There is playground equipment on the beach with stunning views of the lake and mountains. And the great thing about visiting Lakeside Beach in fall is that it is free and open to the public without a pass!

5.) Kings Beach: Located in North Lake Tahoe is Kings Beach which is a great destination for families. It offers a playground on the beach, a cute little strip of shops and eateries as well as paddle board rentals etc beach side. A visit to the Sweet Tahoe Time Ice Cream Shop is also a must with little ones!

6.) Visit the original & new Red Hut Restaurant: My favorite breakfast spot is the ORIGINAL Red Hut Waffle Shop! It is a small dinner with amazing food, and has preserved the intimate diner atmosphere, and they make Mickey pancakes for kids 🙂 We also enjoyed the new Red Hut location for the soda bar! We enjoyed the ice cream and little store inside.

7.) Drive the Lake, Hike, & Picnic: The Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive is stunning and makes a 68 mile loop around Lake Tahoe, CA and NV. The loop passes thru some lovely little Tahoe villages such as Incline Village, King’s Beach, Tahoe City, etc. Some sections of the road are closed during the winter months so visiting during other times of the year is a fantastic way to enjoy the full loop. There are several spots to pull off and admire the scenery as well as hiking trails and picnic spots! Sand Harbor in Incline Village is a great place to stop!

8.) Smores & Drinks at The Ritz Carlton Northstar: We decided to drive to Northstar and visit the Ritz Carlton for drinks and appetizers. They have an outdoor bar/dining/sitting area that is perfect for children. They have lots of lawn games and activities set up which our daughter enjoyed, and she made little friends playing. In addition they bring out the smores cart daily, and you can enjoy roasting smores in the open fire pits with little ones! This is a stunning property!

9.) A day trip to Virginia City: Virginia City is the United States’ largest National Historic Landmark, and visiting the city is like taking a step back in time. The drive from Lake Tahoe will take you appx 1 hour to Virginia City. Read my full review of Virginia City here!

10.) A weekend trip to Yosemite: Before winter, The Tioga Pass is usually open which is a great convenient way to visit Yosemite. The drive will take you appx 2.5 hours from Tahoe and will take you to the Eastern Entrance of the park. Yosemite is one of those places that is mostly indescribable unless you have been there to see its beauty, but still I have tried to catalog our experience with a toddler here!

Yosemite
Yosemite

Yosemite, CA

Yosemite

Having been to Yellowstone twice, I did not do research on Yosemite as I thought since both were National Parks that they would somehow be similar. I was wrong, and never have I been more disappointed in my lack of trip preparation. I love both parks, and while they do have some similarities they are also vastly different.

Yellowstone seems to have the upper hand when it comes to wildlife, thermal springs, and more easily accessible 2 lane paved roads making travel in Yellowstone more efficient. Yosemite seems to have more hiking trails and varied terrain. Yosemite is also home to the famed sequoia trees. Both parks boast gorgeous landscapes, but Yosemite, only in my opinion, is more majestic and truly a marvel to behold. Yosemite is full of natural, rugged terrain that is awe inspiring. It seemed around every turn there was another postcard view waiting. Yosemite is big (roughly the size of Rhode Island), but it is still smaller and more compact than Yellowstone. Yosemite 1190 square miles appx compared to Yellowstone appx 3,468 square miles.

I traveled to Yosemite in October with my 2.5 year old. We only spent 2 days in Yosemite which is not enough time!!! We loved Yosemite so much that my husband and I are already planning a trip back with our daughter to Yosemite, hopefully within a year, to stay at least a week in a camper van!!! What an adventure that will be!

Entrance to Yosemite is $30 per car. A yearly Yosemite visitor’s pass is $60 which is a great deal if you plan on visiting the park more than once or for longer than the 7 days allowed in the $30 entrance fee. Info can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fees.htm

Travel: The closest airport is Fresno, and the drive will take you an appx 1.25 hours to the South Entrance. Public transit is also available from Fresno airport via Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS). From San Francisco the drive will take you appx 2.5 hours to the Big Oak Flat Entrance. We actually traveled via car from Lake Tahoe, and the drive took us appx 2.5 hours via the Tioga Pass to the Eastern Entrance. However, the Tioga Pass is closed during various times of the year as the road is not safe so this will need to be checked prior to route planning. You can call the National Park’s service for a daily update about road conditions at 209-372-0200. From the Eastern Entrance, we had to drive 2 hours to the Valley Floor where the more popular sites are, but we did stop at several stops along the way.

Logistics: The roads in/out of Yosemite are very windy. The Tioga pass was especially curvy. We were, after all, driving across a mountain. My daughter and I suffered from car sickness, and had to pull over several times on the side of the cliffs to allow ourselves to re-calibrate. This increased our travel time. Yosemite has a network of one lane roads which can be problematic if you pass your destination so keep this in mind, and mark your map beforehand.

Hotel: We chose to stay at The Yosemite Valley Lodge directly across from Yosemite Falls. The property was very family friend as is convenient right in the middle of the Valley. It has a cafeteria style restaurant on site, and a dining room with a proper menu. I found the options in the cafeteria to be very good and enjoyable. Someone travelling with us also ate in the dining room, and raved about the salmon. For breakfast they also have a simple self serve express lane in the dining room with barista made coffees in addition to the full selection in the cafeteria. The shuttle also picks up/ drops off at this hotel.

Activities:

Little Cub Program: You can buy the handbook at the visitor’s center, and it encourages kids to complete the activities to earn a button as a little cub!

Junior Ranger’s Program: Geared towards children ages 7-13, you can be pinned as a junior ranger. You can purchase the handbook at a visitor’s center. Your child must complete the book, collect a bag of trash, and choose one of the seminars they offer to attend. I saw some kids really engaged in this endeavor, and serious about that pin!

Tenaya Lake: Near the eastern entrance of Yosemite on Tioga Road is Yosemite’s largest natural lake, Tenaya Lake. Due to its location appx 1.5 hours from the Valley Floor, we found this lake/area to be much less populated. The lake is absolutely stunning, and our daughter enjoyed climbing on lots of the rocks present. We also enjoyed a picnic here. There are 2 picnic areas available, but we chose to picnic on the rocks! This lake is easy to get to as well with a tot in tow as it is steps off the main road. You can also kayak and swim in this lake! The water is crystal clear! This was my favorite stop in Yosemite!

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite

Sentintel Meadows: We enjoyed watching the sun set here in the meadow. My daughter also found it amazingly fun to run up and down the wooden foot paths. You can see a great views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome! This meadow was close to our hotel which made it a convenient stopping point for burning off energy before heading into the hotel!

Sentinel/Cooks Meadow, Yosemite

Yosemite Falls: The largest waterfall in North America! A must see in Yosemite! And luckily for us, right across from our hotel. We found this hike to be easy. The entire path is paved, and we pushed the stroller the entire way. My daughter also walked for a good portion. We spent a good amount of time in this spot. Children will need constant supervision as the rocks present are very slippery. With help from my father, my daughter was able to climb to the bottom of the rocks and play in the stream and rocks for at least an hour!

Bridal Veil Falls: The stunning waterfall that you see in all of the tunnel view photos! This was an easy hike for the 2 year old and took appx 30 minutes round trip with her. We did not take the stroller. And the leaves were all falling while we were there in October, and this was the biggest hit. She collected tons of leaves and carried them with her to the falls! She kept proclaiming “beautiful” looking up at the waterfall!

 

Mirror Lake Hike: Due to my lack of research beforehand, this ended up being a bit of a challenging hike for us. I did not realize that there is a completely paved road that you can hike all the way to Mirror Lake which is stroller accessible. Instead, I ended up taking the stroller and daughter on the wooded hiking path, and abandoning the stroller appx 1/2 way in. My father, being gracious and benevolent, went back for the stroller and crossed the woods to bring the stroller to me on the paved pathway. So many people passed us trying to yank that stroller up rocks and rugged terrain. Now realizing the paved road runs parallel to the wooded trail makes me realize they thought us crazy.  This hike took us way longer than needed, but it states the full round trip hike can be completed in 1 hour. Mirror Lake was low during our visit since it was fall. The lake has the highest water level in spring after all of the snow melts! The reflections on Mirror Lake though were still beautiful, and we could see the full reflections of the cliffs.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Swinging Bridge Yosemite Valley: This is a great easy hike across the bridge, and down to the Merced River. This is a great spot for picnicking, swimming, or wading. There is also lots of room to run. This attraction was also close to our hotel which was a perk. The bridge doesn’t actually swing though. In order to visit an actual swinging bridge in Yosemite, you would need to go to the Wawona Swinging Bridge.

Valley Visitor Center: Beware! This is quite a long walk from the parking lot! I was ill prepared for this, and did not bring the stroller. Bring your stroller if you have tots! Otherwise the visitor center is nice with a great history display. My daughter actually loved this area and spent a great deal of time climbing under the rocks and looking at all the exhibits. There is also an Indian village in the back and museum to view that is free. You can also collect your official US Parks “Yosemite” Passport stamp here!

Also of note: you can rent bikes during select times of the year at the Yosemite Valley Lodge with bike trailers! In the winter there is ice skating at Half Dome Village! We also found the Half Dome Village Gift and Grocery to be great. We were able to get lots of groceries and souvenirs including snow globes in this store!

We covered a lot of ground for 2 days in Yosemite with a 2 year old, but we also missed SO MUCH. Next go around, a definite on our list is Tunnel View. Since we entered via Tioga Pass, we missed this iconic view. Also next time, we will not miss the Sequoias! Please offer up your favorite activities with kids in Yosemite as I would love to include them in our next camper van trip!

2 ADDITIONAL TIPS: BEARS ARE A LEGITIMATE CONCERN. Pay attention to all of the warnings and information. They told us to remove even scented chap stick from our vehicles while staying at the lodge. They have videos playing of bears breaking into cars!

BATHROOMS AND HIKING WITH A TODDLER: As any parent knows, a potty trained toddler may need to potty in the middle of a drive around a cliff or during a hike where there are no facilities. My absolute favorite contraption is my toddler’s portable potty with bag liners by “Potette Plus”. It has made our life so much easier. The potty folds up small enough to fit in a purse or backpack. The liners are absorbent and easy to throw away. Do yourself a favor, and buy this potty. This is by no means a paid endorsement, I really just love this travel potty that much! The things that excite a mom!  🙂 http://potette.com/how-it-works/

 

Mirror Lake Hike, Yosemite