Winter, spring, summer, or fall, Lake Tahoe is always gorgeous. But autumn tends to be overlooked. Why wait for ski season to experience everything this gorgeous destination has to offer? The stunning cobalt blue of the water in Lake Tahoe is one of those rare natural phenomena that’s even more breathtaking in person than on Instagram, and fall is the perfect time for appreciating its otherworldly beauty amidst the vivid foliage along the Sierra Nevada mountains. And fall may not be the best time for skiers, but it is prime time for parasailing — and hot air ballooning, if you schedule your vacation right. Read on for 10 reasons why Lake Tahoe should earn a spot on your fall travel list: From leaf peeping to hiking to exploring the local villages, this wilderness oasis has everything you could possibly need for your autumnal getaway.
1. It’s peak leaf-peeping time.
This nearly goes without saying, but whether you’re in a boat or on exploring on foot, the land is never more gorgeous than it is in the fall, when the leaves turn hues of gold and fiery orange. The aspens are particularly gorgeous when overlooking Emerald Bay, though you truly can’t go wrong wherever you look. Set out on your journey with a breakfast sandwich from Tunnel Creek Cafe in Incline Village, and be ready for a colorful (and always adventurous) getaway.
2. The water is still (relatively) warm.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America; with an average depth of 989 feet, the temperature feels pretty chilly all year long, though it warms up in early fall. While the leaves have started changing and the region can get snowfall 12 months out of the year, you can still often enjoy unexpected warm spells in November. Since the weather is so changeable, we recommend hoping for the best: Pack sweaters and bathing suits, and prepare to put on your wetsuit for a day of paddleboarding or kayaking.
3. There’s more solitude and fewer crowds.
While Tahoe is often popular in the summertime, the fall is ideal for solo exploration, or at least some journeying through the unspoiled wilderness without the selfie-taking throngs. Head over to Sand Harbor State Park (pictured above) on the Nevada shores of Lake Tahoe for some epic sunrises (and endless opportunities to find yourself in nature). This state park in Incline Village is picturesque enough to satisfy lovers of the outdoors as well as lovers of some peace and quiet — it’s the ultimate digital detox. Or visit the laid-back Kings Beach on the Californian north shore for the ultimate Instagram-worthy beach day.
4. The Great Reno Balloon Race is a must-see.
One of the best reasons to visit Tahoe in the fall is to coordinate your trip to coincide with The Great Reno Balloon Race in nearby Reno. This underrated (and seriously cool) city is a mere 45 minutes from the Nevada shores of Lake Tahoe, and there’s even a shuttle service available for those who loathe renting cars. The balloon race, held in early September, is nothing short of majestic: There is something so nostalgic and whimsical about hot air balloons, particularly when you watch them rise over the Nevada desert at dawn. Wake up early for the Glow Show and Dawn Patrol to watch the balloons light up the night sky. Keep in mind, when we say early, we mean seriously early, as in “set your alarm for 4am to be in Rancho San Rafael Park by sunrise.” Just remember to bring along some Bloody Mary mix — it’s 10am somewhere.
5. The autumn wonderland is perfect for hiking.
When the leaf peeping is at its prime, the mountain trails are accordingly that much more picturesque. Hike the Flume Trail to Monkey Rock for panoramic views of Lake Tahoe: This view is one of the most iconic, and the hike isn’t too strenuous (despite a tongue-in-cheek sign that reads Beware: Well, Just, Beware, which is generally good advice to heed).
6. You can live like a queen in Incline Village.
Nevada’s Incline Village is a home away from home for endless millionaires and billionaires and their envy-inducing abodes (best viewed from the water, of course). But it’s perfect for non-tycoons as well — especially in the fall, when the off-season cost of visiting this Nevada oasis tends to be lower. Drink in the view of Crystal Bay (pictured above) and dine at Lone Eagle Grille at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe Resort. Make sure you order the Baked Tahoe, which is like a Baked Alaska, only better (trust us).
7. Fall means experiencing the Sierra Nevadas at their peak.
Lake Tahoe is surrounded by peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains on both the California and Nevada side, and never are they more beautiful than when the leaves are changing in the fall. There are myriad ways to explore this multicolored paradise. Hiking, of course, is one of them. But we also recommend hopping aboard a 55′ catamaran for a Sierra Cloud cruise: You get to experience the beauty of your surroundings without the accompanying blisters or fatigue from, you know, actually hauling yourself up a mountainside.
8. It’s not too late for water sports on the lake.
Book a sailing charter with Action Water Sports of Incline Village, or opt for an individual boat or kayak rental. We personally recommend parasailing to get the best view of the foliage while serenely floating above the lake (a feeling nearly as meditative as ascending in a hot air balloon). There are also options for jet skiing, paddleboarding, and kayaking, so the world (or the lake, at least) is your oyster.
9. There are tons of great mountain biking trails.
If you’d rather cruise around on land, then rent a bicycle from Flume Trail Bikes in Incline Village and prepare for a day of adventure. While we’ve already noted that we’re partial to the Monkey Rock trail, there’s an endless array of options for trail rides in that area of Lake Tahoe (including easier routes for beginners, of course).
10. There’s never a wrong time to visit.
It’s always beautiful in Lake Tahoe (see Emerald Bay’s sunrise, pictured above, as if you need more proof). But the trip isn’t just worth it for the ‘gram: Maybe you’ll find your life’s calling. Mark Twain came out to Lake Tahoe to be a prospector in the Gold Rush, but then decided his true vocation was as a writer (and aren’t we all lucky for that?). He also declared Lake Tahoe to be the “fairest picture the whole world affords.” So, if you don’t believe us, believe Mark Twain, at the very least.
What are your favorite surprising fall destinations?