Ski-Free Fun in Tahoe

Not a skier? Not a problem. Here are 15 ideas for family outings near the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.

By Carolyn Jensen

The entire Lake Tahoe region is the perfect family winter getaway. Of course, with an average of 300 to 500 inches of fresh powder annually, most visitors – our family included – head straight for the ski slopes. And in a winter like this one, no one can blame us.

lake tahoe winter

But what if you and yours want to take a break from the mountain mayhem? Not a problem. There’s no need to be stuck in a cabin all weekend long with your kids climbing up the walls – or worse yet, glued to their iPads.

Read on to find out fifteen ideas for family outings in the west Tahoe area that don’t require too much more than snow to have an awful lot of fun.

snowball fight

  1. Snowshoeing – For far less effort than cross-country skiing, snowshoeing offers the chance to hike across the sparkling snow and take in the Sierra beauty for next to nothing. Tahoe Dave’s rents shoes for $15 adults/$12 kids and will give you a map of the best local spots. We love D.L. Bliss State Park and Sugar Pine State Park for their incredible lake views and nonexistent crowds. Page Meadow is a nice, flat do-able venture inland from the West Shore for younger kids. If snow levels are low, the Rim Trail is also snow shoe-able in spots. Or simply amble down to Commons Beach or any snow-covered lakeside beach and let the kids slosh about and get the hang of it. West Shore Sports runs full-moon snowshoe walks too.

snowshoe feature
2. Cross Country Skiing – If you’re not a skier, cross country is not a bad way to start. If you’ve never had a day swooshing across the flats, give it a shot! Stop in at Tahoe City Cross Country and they will sort you out with an individual or family lesson, give you skis and a map, and you’ll be off! Tahoe Donner also offers a $100 family cross-country lesson for four or a 1.5-hour adult lesson and daylong trail pass for $63.

3. Snow Biking – Someone invented snow bikes so the mountain bikers wouldn’t have to wait ‘til spring to get a dose of Sierra air. These fatties are a bit tough to ride and a bit tough to find rentals but click here to read more about renting snow bikes in Tahoe Donner.

snow bike close small

  1. Snowmobiling – Yep, you can tear up the snowy silence on a rippin’ snowmobile in several spots around the lake. Tours aren’t cheap but when you compare the price to a day of skiing, it seems like a bargain! You need to be 5 years old to ride and 16 years old to drive. Lake Tahoe Snowmobiling and Eagle Ridge Snowmobiling offer a variety of tours. Coldstream Adventures runs tours from Truckee and also runs the kiddie snowmobile rides at Squaw. Full Throttle Tahoe is the only outfitter for self-guided snowmobile tours.


  1. Sledding/Sleighing – If your kids are tired of the sled run in the street, make a day of it. Some of the sledding and tubing hills at Granlibakken, Tahoe City Winter Sports Park and even Northstar and Squaw are fun for a change. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are available at Squaw and near Sand Harbor. Wilderness Adventure even offers dog sled tours at Squaw, if that’s your thing.
  1. Ropes Course-ing – The ropes courses and zip lines at Granlibakken are open during the snowy season on weekends and holiday breaks for the folks who can deal with heights, challenging routes and really cold hands. Book in advance to be sure they are open and you can secure a reservation.
  1. Ice Skating – The kids can rent ice skates and get lessons at Northstar or High Camp at Squaw. Both spots have places for adults to watch the fun with a warm or cold beverage. The Truckee Ice Rink has outdoor skating for reasonable prices during the winter.
  1. Village Wandering – You don’t have to be a skier/rider to enjoy what draws visitors to Squaw. You can ride the aerial tram up to High Camp, take in the fantastic views, watch the skaters, get a bite or a drink and hang out. But the base of the mountain is just as fun. A walk through the shops and restaurants at Squaw or Northstar or will give you one of the few real ski village experiences in Tahoe. At Northstar, a basket of smore fixin’s, some warm drinks and settle in for an afternoon around the bonfire. The kids can bungee or skate or shop.
  1. Spa-ing – When you’re really ready for a day off, head to the Spa at the Resort at Squaw Creek – it’s rated one of the best resort spas in the country according to Condé Nast Traveler – and I can vouch for the healing powers of their Swedish massage. There is also a Trilogy spa in Squaw village with winter specials – like après ski mini-treatments and a peppermint pedicure – if you’re really looking for something frivolous to do.
  1. Trampoline-ing – When the outdoors is just too cold, head to Woodward near Boreal and let the kids jump wild. Click here to read more about this indoor trampoline park, which also offers a parkour course and skate park.
  1. Truckee Shopping – The best shopping day you can have near Lake Tahoe is on the old High Sierra downtown streets of Truckee. If you haven’t been – or haven’t been lately, check out Bespoke, Lorien Powers, Nomad and Kalifornia Jean Bar for boutique shopping on a San Francisco level. Riverside Studios showcases the work of local artists and California 89 has some fun souvenir-y stuff. We like to lunch or happy hour at Moody’s. This local favorite has a bar, large dining room, outdoor seating and live music almost every day (or choose another spot from this 2016 Truckee dining roundup in the SF Chronicle.)  If you are there the right weekend, don’t miss the First Fridays evening event in downtown Truckee. (Check this LA Times article’s ideas for a high-end weekend in town.)
  1. Class Taking – The artisans, shopkeepers and restaurant owners in Truckee are teaming up to offer a variety of art, craft, cooking and other classes/seminars for the public at Atelier Truckee. In winter, I’ve seen knitting, calligraphy, scarf painting, watercolor and cookie making classes. The Stella restaurant in The Cedar House Sport Hotel offers occasional cooking “experiences” which are also worthwhile.
  1. Gambling – I’m not a much of a casino person but the Incline Village area has a lot of places for you to lay down a bet. Save enough cash for a craft beer and nibble at the Mellow Fellow pub in King’s Beach on the way home. (Be aware you’d have to go to the south shore for a casino with a big arcade – like Harvey’s or Harrah’s. Neither provides childcare but kids 12 and older can stay on their own while you gamble. Harvey’s awards prizes a la Chuck E. Cheese.)
  1. Bowling/Golfing – The lanes at Bowl Incline are the same ones you went to as a kid. They’ve got billiards and an arcade too. King’s Beach Miniature Golf is another Tahoe classic – but doesn’t open for the summer ‘til Memorial Day weekend. Tahoe Donner offers a winter golf academy on virtual simulators.
  1. Movie Watching – When all else fails, check the listings at the art house cinema in Tahoe City, or the mainstream theaters at Northstar or Incline and enjoy a family movie.

… And Much More! – Whenever you arrive in Tahoe, check Go Tahoe North, the Tahoe Weekly or the Tahoe Quarterly for a current list of the latest and greatest winter activities. Or just stay put for snowball fights, snowman building and marshmallow toasting followed by some games by the fire – my idea of a really good time.












Carolyn Jensen  – February 2016

ROAM Contributing Editor   


carolyn jensen

A trained chef, ice skater, sports mom and karaoke artiste, Carolyn is religious about the Thursday Marin Farmer’s Market, her family and escapes to their Lake Tahoe cabin. Follow her cooking on her blog and her food photography on Instagram at #gatherweekly. Read: Ski-Free Fun in Tahoe

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