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Lake Tahoe Area, CA

Best Attractions in the Lake Tahoe AreaIn an area with a surplus of world-class attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for Lake Tahoe, as chosen by AAA editors.

Centuries-old pines stand along the water's edge at Tallac Historic Site , where old mansions cluster around the crumbling foundations of the demolished Tallac Resort. Built during the mining boom, this summer retreat attracted wealthy patrons who—just like today's tourists—came here to rest, gamble and sail on the lake. The Baldwin, Pope and Heller estates and more than 30 other buildings at the site are listed on the National Register of Historic Places; some are theater spaces serving a thriving arts community. The 1921 Baldwin House contains the Tallac Museum and the Washoe Indian Cultural Foundation Exhibit. Guided walks and house tours of the Pope Estate are offered in the summer, and that site is a lovely spot for a picnic.

The summer home of Illinois native Lora J. Knight, Vikingsholm boasts 38 rooms replete with Scandinavian decorative motifs. The exterior mimics a Viking fortress. An architectural wonder, this wood and stone mansion is even more remarkable because builders in 1929 could reach it only by water or via a steeply inclined trail through the woods. If you want to take the house tour you should be in good physical shape; it starts with the same 1-mile hike from a parking lot on the southwest end of Emerald Bay.

The Hellman-Ehrman Mansion in Ed Z'Berg-Sugar Pine Point State Park commands a promontory on Tahoe's southwest shore. This grand yet also informal Victorian mansion, named “Pine Lodge” by owner I. W. Hellman, exemplifies a lavish turn-of-the-20th-century architectural style. Fun things to do include touring the elegantly decorated rooms or strolling gently sloping lawns past croquet courts and a gazebo. The park itself has dense conifer forests edging more than 2 miles of lakefront, plus a nature center featuring animal and ecology exhibits.

The gatekeeper no longer lives in the log cabin at the Gatekeeper's Museum & Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum , but sightseers are welcome nonetheless. South of Fanny Bridge on the Truckee River, this was once a home for federal employees who managed lake levels by cranking a winch system by hand. Inside the restored cabin are historic resort artifacts and scale models of famous lake vessels. Next door, the Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum has a collection of more than 1,000 baskets and dolls. The nearby Watson Cabin, a 1909 honeymoon cottage, is a living history museum with exhibits about pioneer life in Tahoe City.

West of Truckee, Donner Memorial State Park marks the place where the ill-fated Donner Party spent a harrowing winter in 1846. Members of this Illinois wagon train camped at Donner Lake after getting lost in the Sierra Nevada range, and their epic struggle for survival—and tales of cannibalism—became part of American folklore. The Emigrant Trail Museum chronicles the saga, along with exhibits about Truckee's logging and railroad history. Three miles north of the park entrance, the Pioneer Monument honors those who traveled to California in search of a better life.

The state park borders Donner Lake, known as the “Gem of the Sierra” for its clear water and high mountain scenery. Walk the beach, launch a canoe or swim in a warm, shallow lagoon in the summer, or participate in a ranger-led campfire program. In winter, cross-country skiers navigate around bare trees in the midst of a snow-covered landscape.

High above Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness covers more than 100 mountainous square miles dotted with glittering lakes—the ultimate adventure travel destination for serious hikers. The most accessible trailhead is on the South Shore at Eagle Falls, where three successive waterfalls tumble into Emerald Bay. It begins on the west side of SR 89 (across from Vikingsholm); cross the footbridge and climb this steep, marked trail to Eagle Lake, where the wilderness begins. Permits are required for day hikes and back-country camping; they can be obtained at the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center (north of Camp Richardson on SR 89) or the Taylor Creek Visitor Center (just past Tallac Historic Site).

The 5-mile Emerald Bay Trail at D.L. Bliss State Park is an easy day trek that ambles through piney woods and along granite ledges above the pristine bay. After your hike, you can dive into the warm waters at Rubicon Point, one of the nicest beaches on the lake. Among the things to see here is the 130-ton Balancing Rock, a local landmark.

At Zephyr Cove Resort on the lake's southeast shore you can rent canoes, kayaks, pedal boats and high-octane watercraft. Fishing charters leave the marina for some of the best freshwater angling in the lower 48. If you’re looking for things for couples to do, Lake Tahoe Cruises offers tours of Emerald Bay aboard The MS Dixie II . This chugging paddlewheeler is one of the best ways to enjoy the lake's beauty.

Motor through the backcountry on a dune buggy or ATV with Lake Tahoe Adventures , which offers guided tours of the Rubicon Trail. Experienced guides teach drivers how to navigate the tricky roads, and the trip includes fascinating detours to areas off the beaten path. The views of the Sierras and the distant Nevada desert are worth the drive.

Take a ride on the Aerial Tram at Palisades Tahoe. From a base elevation of 6,200 feet, it climbs skyward for another 2,000 feet, providing breathtaking views of mountain ranges and the lake. Passengers disembark at the upper mountain base, where the High Camp offers a pool, hot tub and a couple places to eat. The Olympic Ice Pavilion at the top is open year-round (ice skating in winter and roller skating in summer). Stop at the Olympic Museum to learn about the Olympic Valley's 1960 winter games, or hike trails through a gorgeous alpine landscape.

West of Stateline, Gondola Sightseeing & Adventure Peak takes passengers on a scenic ride up to the Heavenly Mountain Resort . This high-altitude mecca for skiers is also a favorite stop for summer tourists—the sightseeing deck at the top looks out over the mountains of Desolation Wilderness and chugging paddlewheelers on the lake. The Tahoe Vista Trail also begins here. In addition to skiing there's snow-tubing, sledding, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Adventure Peak Snow Park, plus hiking trails and a rock-climbing wall during the summer.

With more than 15 alpine ski resorts in Tahoe, skiers never have to hit the same slope twice. Tackle the mountain at tried-and-true Palisades Tahoe .

Stateline's casinos are open 24/7 all year. Test your luck (and rub shoulders with the occasional celebrity) at Harrah's Lake Tahoe , Harveys Hotel, Casino & Resort or the Bally's Lake Tahoe . You can always sleep in late.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

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Lake Tahoe Area, CA

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