I’ve traveled extensively through other mountain destinations around the world and I have to say that Lake Tahoe remains one of my all-time favorite outdoor vacation venues—with and without kids. I grew up going to this area throughout all the stages of my childhood. It’s an outdoor paradise and jaw-dropping scenery and the fresh air and alpine smell never get old for me.
Winter and summer seasons are both fantastic, but summer is particularly great with kids of all ages given the wide range of activities. It's hard to narrow down a list of just a few favorites, but here are my top picks in the main activity categories (rafting, hiking, biking, beach, and dining).
Rafting down the Truckee River. If you are a thrill-seeker, look for another venue. The Truckee River from Tahoe City to Alpine Meadows is a famous kid-friendly stretch and a blast for all ages. The river is calm and even young kids (and dogs) can raft and get in the water. Inner tubes are popular too. What makes the experience unique is the social atmosphere—water fights are guaranteed and it’s not unusual for rafts to gather at an “island” on the way. There is definitely a party component with college-aged kids too—but not so much to make it inappropriate for the younger set.
Rafts are available at Truckee River Raft Company and don't forget to join the crowd for refreshments and snacks at River Ranch Lodge"a rafting institution of sorts during summer months.
Bike around the Lake. There is a multi-use trail that goes around the North/West Shore of the lake (and also towards Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley) and perfect for a family-friendly bike ride. The terrain is "flatish" (although with the altitude it is nonetheless tiring) and perfect for school age kids that can control their bike and stay on one side of the trail. It's also easy to rent various bike trailers and seats for younger kids that can't make it on their own. My favorite ride is from Tahoe City to the beaches on the West Shore. Be sure and pack a picnic. The fun is that there are plenty of great stops along the trail, so it's easy to play the distance by ear.
We've had good experiences with Tahoe Dave's for bike rentals and they have an array of kids bike gear too.
Head to the beach. The beaches of Lake Tahoe are insanely gorgeous and there are many wonderful options for families. Sand Harbor on the East Shore of the lake in Nevada has soft sand and particularly clear water. Families are everywhere on this beach playing sports and wading in the water. Note, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and notoriously cold, although, this doesn't seem to bother kids as long as the weather is warm.
I also love the beach area around Homewood. It's really rocky which is not as comfortable for lounging, however, skipping and throwing rocks into the lake provides hours of amusement. The setting is incredible too.
Commons Beach in downtown Lake Tahoe has developed into a wonderful lakefront playground and grass area; it's perfect for picnics and convenient to many North Shore accommodations.
Hike to Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake. The beauty of this hike is that it's short"1 mile each way"with spectacular scenery and a wilderness vibe. Eagle Lake Trail is relatively steep and rocky, so it's not well-suited for toddlers, but school age kids can definitely make it without going into bribery. In fact, the trail provides a great introduction to hiking for kids. There's waterfall part way up the trail for a mid-trail distraction and the lake itself is a gorgeous venue for relaxing and swimming.
Emerald Bay is breathtaking and there are a few wonderful hikes in this area with lake views and beach access. Be sure and bring in your own supplies for lunch (and have plenty of gas) as there are no stores, shops or restaurants in this area.
Eat dinner on the deck at Sunnyside. It's unusual for me to outline dining as a top activity with kids, but Sunnyside is an exception. This lakefront lodge and restaurant is another Lake Tahoe institution in the summer. They have an enormous deck that overlooks the marina and lake. The view and setting is amazing and it's always buzzing with families. We never go to Tahoe during the summer months without spending at least one evening on the deck.
Eat in the bar area to keep pricing down (noting it is first-come-first-serve, so you need to get there early to beat the rush or plan to wait).
There's a long list of other things to do. Boating and sailing is very popular on the lake, but this is not one of the activities I've spent much time doing given that it's expensive unless you own a boat or know someone that does. In addition, the ski resorts like Squaw Valley and Northstar have structured activities and facilities for kids during the summer months. Be sure and check the North Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce website for special activities and events.