Straddling the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe boasts the largest concentration of ski resorts in North America. With terrain considered the best in the West, it effortlessly offers thrills around the clock for the adventurous. Families flock to the Sierra Nevada mountains in ever-increasing numbers. Its laid-back vibe is coupled with a world-class learning environment, and the endless days of blue bird skies create the perfect backdrop for a family ski getaway. After spending over 20 years exploring Lake Tahoe, the National Parks TravelingMom shares her favorites places for winter family fun in Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe for Families
Looking for an intimate ski hill that never feels crowded? Lake Tahoe has it. A ski-in, ski-out resort that mirrors an alpine village? There again, Lake Tahoe. And for the daredevil boarders, Lake Tahoe offers gravity-defining terrain parks.
While grabbing glimpses of a pristine lake that never freezes, I carve powder through a glade of evergreens. On a sunny day the mountains sparkle like they are dusted with diamonds.
Since the scenery is for the adults, what about the kids? I found crazy amounts of tubing and sledding at the resorts or in the nearby national forests. Some ski resorts even offer outdoor ice skating rinks.
Snowmobile tours and horse-drawn sleigh rides can’t be topped for backcountry scenery. With snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, I found more ways to explore.
Lake Tahoe’s version of apres-ski includes casinos on the Nevada side. For all this, Lake Tahoe has been my go-to winter destination for over 20 years.
Squaw Valley for Families
Squaw Valley is a legendary Olympic resort that boasts 6,500 acres to explore. Their runs top lists across the world, like the KT-22. It’s a bucket list destination for skiers from around the world.
But what about the kids? My family loves this resort. Part of it is the allure of Old Tahoe, the make-you-smile vibe that resonates with today’s kids as much as it did 50 years ago. The other is telling the kids back home you got to ski Squaw.
Squaw is the resort where locals take their friends when they want to ski big. A day at Squaw is a day kissing the clouds while the snow and the lake try to out sparkle each other.
Best for families with older kids who can appreciate and handle mainly mountaintop skiing. Since the winds can howl and temporarily shut down operations, check out the weather forecast first.
The Village offers lodging, restaurants and shopping along with plenty of close-in parking. And I appreciate the way Squaw Valley handles traffic at peak times, though I hang out and grab a cup of cocoa and let the traffic ease instead.
Located at 1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, California, Squaw Valley is 12 miles south of Truckee, California, along California Highway 89. Squaw Valley and its sister resort, Alpine Meadows, share lift tickets and a shuttle bus for ambitious skiers who want to ski both resorts in the same day.
NorthStar California with Kids
NorthStar California offers families a premier program to learn how to ski or snowboard in Lake Tahoe. The indoor and outdoor facilities, along with engineered runs that guide kids into perfect turns, impressed me the most. The Burton Academy, the only Lake Tahoe resort to feature the program, teaches kids as young as 3 to snowboard.
In a protected location that keeps the wind a bay, families enjoy mountaintop skiing a gondola ride away from the village. Packed with an ice rink, theatre and live music along with a slew of restaurants and shopping, families can spend their entire ski vacation at Northstar.
Northstar Ski Resort is located at 5001 Northstar Drive, Truckee, California. It’s seven miles south of Truckee, California, along California Highway 267.
Diamond Peak Ski Resort
Diamond Peak, a local’s favorite, sits in the heart of North Lake Tahoe’s Incline Village. Boasting some the best views of the lake, Diamond Peak caters to families, with lift tickets parents can share and free skiing for kids 6 and under. Add that to family ski packages and you see why the locals flock to this resort.
Diamond Peak Ski Resort is located in Incline Village at 1210 Ski Way, on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe. There’s limited parking in front of the resort, so an open-air trailer shuttles skiers to a string of parking areas. Diamond Peak also offers a ski shuttle from several points around Incline Village.
Mt Rose Ski Tahoe
As the highest resort at Lake Tahoe with an elevation of 8,260 feet, Mt Rose is usually the first resort to open every year and one of the last to shut down the lifts.
My kids, 9, 12 and 14, love the Wizard lift. It drops them off in the Enchanted Forest area, packed with lots of green runs that wind through a treed glade. Since it’s a kids’ skiing destination, I love it’s not a green run tacked on to the bottom of a blue run. Keeping kids away from the older and faster skiers and boarders is a must for me.
On the downside, Mt. Rose doesn’t offer a full-day kids program. Instead it features two-hour lessons better suited for elementary students and not the preschool crowd. The lodge lacks luxury, but I love the fact I don’t battle traffic to get back to Incline Village.
Mt Rose Ski Tahoe is located in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest at 22222 Mt. Rose Hwy (Hwy 431) 25 minutes from Reno, Nevada.
Free Sledding in Lake Tahoe
Since Lake Tahoe is surrounded by a national forest, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite free sledding hills. We sled at areas with restrooms and off-highway parking along with sledding areas that slope away from roadways.
The Tahoe Rim Trail Head area offers off-highway parking and a year-round bathroom. Located in Tahoe Meadows, a year-round outdoor destination about seven miles southwest of Mt. Rose Ski Resort. It’s just pass the Mt. Rose Summit on the Mt. Rose Highway (Hwy 431) on the way to Incline Village.
Just pass Spooner Summit on Nevada Highway 50 at the turnoff for Lake Tahoe on Nevada Highway 28, I found a locals spot for free sledding. With off-highway parking and a steep hill, this area attracts a crowd quick.
Lake Tahoe Towns
Ringing the shores of Lake Tahoe, there are tiny towns, hamlets and villages stocked with winter family fun. I focus on the northern and western shore since South Lake Tahoe is accessible from the east only due to seasonal road closures.
Tahoe City for Families
A day of skiing can’t be beat, but this mom needs a break after a couple of days. Tahoe City offers several activities that scream fun like sledding, ice skating and snowshoeing, all within walking distance.
Tahoe City Winter Sports Park
Cross-Country Ski Trails
Tahoe City Ice Rink
Tahoe City Sledding Hill
The Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema
Commons Beach Park & Playground
Most of the winter fun starts for the Christmas Holidays though it all depends on the snow flurries. Since Tahoe City is at the lake level, sometimes the snow hides until January so check in before heading out.
Nestled in a glade of evergreens, Granlibakken Tahoe offers lodging, a small ski operation, and a super fast sledding hill. For nearly half what other ski resorts charge for an hour of snow tubing, Granlibakken offers a full day of crazy, sledding fun.
For less than 20 bucks, kids get a heavy-duty saucer and an all-day pass for a manual yet monitored sled hill (sledder must walk up the hill, no carpet lift available). After a few sledding runs, treat the kids to s’mores! Granlibakken’s ski hut at sells s’mores packages with enough chocolate, grahams, and marshmallows for a family of four to toast at the fire pit.
Located minutes from Tahoe City, find Granlibakken Tahoe at 725 Granlibakken Road.
Truckee for Families
Infamous for a group of unfortunate pioneers from the 1800s, Truckee sits along Interstate 80 as a quaint town stocked with restaurants and shops. If driving into Tahoe from the west, Truckee offers last minute must haves for family fun before heading to the nearby ski resorts.
Drive down Donner Pass Rd. in the heart of historic downtown for cute eateries and shopping. Truckee also features a regional airport and three-star accommodations. If car care is needed, Truckee along with Incline Village offer the best options.
The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe’s only AAA Five Diamond resort offers families a destination for laid-back luxury. Taking design clues from the historic Timberline Lodge, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe features scrumptious fabrics and a soaring Christmas tree for Mom along with the rustic furnishings that remind Dad of a hunting lodge.
Packed with programs for the kids, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe enchants kids with life-size gingerbread displays and wows them with an in-house marshmologist. Imagine savoring a glass of champagne while your rosy-cheeked kids toast house-made marshmallows while watching the Tahoe sunset slowly fade to stars.
As another bonus for families, the ski valet service keeps all the equipment stored, keeping mom and dad as cool as an icicle. The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe is located at 13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court.
Incline Village for Families
I’ve used Incline Village as our Tahoe base for over 20 years. It’s not the most picturesque town though it offers a few solid family restaurants along the best stocked grocery store on the northern and western shore.
Wildflower Café offers a homey dining room, perfect for families. A favorite for over 30 years, we order the omelettes and Belgian waffles time and again.
Find Wildflower Café at 869 Tahoe Blvd. and open for breakfast and lunch. Expect a wait for breakfast, especially on weekends.
Austin’s Restaurant, a family favorite for 20 years, serves up family friendly fare. Start with the buttermilk fries and follow with a salad, burgers or their chicken strips, all outstanding. The dining room is small so expect a wait.
Austin’s is located at 120 Country Club Dr. #24, across for the Hyatt Resort.
Raley’s Grocery Store sells inexpensive outdoor winter gear like gloves, hats and plastic sleds. It also feautures a large selection of wine, beer and liquor along with lots of grab-and-go items along with all your grocery needs.
Raley’s is located at 930 Tahoe Blvd.
Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino
With 422 guestrooms, suites and cottages with access to Lake Tahoe, the Hyatt offers an AAA Four-Diamond hotel perfect for family getaways. I found several restaurants on the property and the Lone Eagle Grille that offers lake views and upscale offerings.
The Stillwater Spa is one of the largest spa facilities in the area. And the Hyatt offers a free ski shuttle and a kids camp for kids 5 to 12.
Grand Lodge Casino offers adults an upscale mountain-themed casino that tempts locals and travelers alike.
Hyatt Regency Resort, Spa and Casino is located 111 Country Club Dr. at Lakeshore Blvd.
Ski School for Everyone
Need help picking the right ski school for your kids? Find a program that offers a separate fenced off area with surface lifts for the younger kids. For more tips, check out my ski school post.
All my kids ski better than me. I spend more time finding missing gloves than practicing my turns. And the preggo ski break (the almost 10 years I stayed off skis birthing and nursing) didn’t help either.
Ski resorts know that moms who ski are more likely to keep their kids on skis. So several resorts host lessons just for moms.
The lessons start after the kiddos get settled in their class and work on getting your confidence back on the snow. It takes a bit of courage to strap on skis again.
I know, I’ve been there. But I’m glad I did. Cheering my kids down a run while I follow them is a thousand times better than manning the snack bag at the lodge.
Tips from a TravelingMom:
- Lake Tahoe is not a ski in/ski out destination. To enjoy the best of Tahoe you will need to rent a SUV.
- Don’t skimp on the rental. AWD or 4WD a must for winter.
- Reservations are recommended during holiday breaks and long weekends. Ski School sells out.
- Helmet up the kids and get one for yourself. Most Lake Tahoe skiers wear helmets.
- Before heading out check out road conditions at NVroads.com for tire chain requirements, especially Mt. Rose Highway (NV Hwy 431). I use Nevada’s website for the Lake Tahoe region since it’s easier to use on a mobile device than California’s website.