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South Lake Tahoe in Winter: Buy tire chains for your car and drive on up to South Lake!

Updated on November 1, 2011
If you are coming in the winter- check the weather. If it's snowing you need either 4-wheel drive or chains on your tires.
If you are coming in the winter- check the weather. If it's snowing you need either 4-wheel drive or chains on your tires.


Tire Chains - Other Sizes, a Sizing Guide and Reviews Available through These Links

Welcome to South Lake Tahoe!!

Whether you visit because you want to enjoy the beauty of our South Lake Tahoe winter, plan to participate in our many outdoor activities or come to ski or ride one of our world-class ski resorts, South Lake Tahoe offers something for every visitor in the wintertime.

Driving in South Lake Tahoe-- Safety: Most visitors seem to come from Sacramento, or more commonly, the Bay Area. That means a drive up over Echo Summit on highway 50. Often you will be doing this in a long line of of cars on a Friday afternoon, all trying to get to the same place. Please be careful and remember, you are driving in the mountains. Mountain and South Lake Tahoe weather is unpredictable and sometimes unforgiving. Please time your drive to 1) avoid as much of the crowd as you can - come on Thursday if you can get Friday off. 2) avoid the snowstorms. The roads are cleared pretty well and pretty quickly but while it's still snowing, it's going to be tough to drive. Which brings me to another point. Be prepared. It's rare that the road ever stays closed for long, but it can close. Have emergency supplies and enough gas in your car that you can wait out a delay, or have an alternate plan if a storm makes it unsafe to travel. A four-wheel or all-wheel drive car is ideal and everyone that I know who lives here has one or the other. Of course, if you live in the city and only visit occasionally, you aren't going to buy a 'mountain car'. If you don't have 4-wheel or all-wheel on your car, then you will need tire chains.

You can buy chains on the drive to South Lake Tahoe, but of course, you will pay a hefty convenience fee to get them at the last minute, during a storm when you are desperate. And the one or two places that sell them might not have your size. Plan ahead and get these online before you come. You will be so glad you did. Carry them in your car, but be prepared to use them. If you need to put chains on, please get out of the middle of the road. Have your winter coats and gloves accessible in the car and not packed away in the trunk. There are usually some friendly, helpful dudes who will help you put them on for $30 (2010 rate) at the chain control checkpoints. Probably worth it since it's a pain in the snowpants to do it yourself.

View from Heavenly- easy to see how it got its name.
View from Heavenly- easy to see how it got its name.
Powder day, a little off trail. That's what winter is all about to lots of Tahoe locals.
Powder day, a little off trail. That's what winter is all about to lots of Tahoe locals.

Winter in Tahoe!

Ahh, clean air, fresh snow and that beautiful lake. Welcome to Tahoe in the wintertime. Chances are you are here to ski or snowboard.


*Heavenly is overwhelmingly the visitor's choice resort in South Lake Tahoe. The hotels and casinos and all that is tourist are located around the base of Heavenly. It's a large resort with plenty of terrain for all ability levels. Lessons are available without much hassle but they are pricey. There are shops and restaurants nearby, so that area of town is a good choice for convenience. I and most other locals (at least the ones Iknow) do have season passes to Heavenly, so it's a local's choice as well. We wouldn't dream of shopping at the village there, though - overpriced. Many of our kids have ski-school there on the weekends so be careful out there and stay in control on the slopes. For your sake and theirs.

But Heavenly isn't the only resort in South Lake. Sierra-at-Tahoe attracts a pretty good crowd too. If you did drive here on the 50, over Echo summit from the West, you likely saw the sign for the resort about 15 to 20 minutes before you got to town. This smaller but still fun resort also has terrain for everyone. A lot of locals like it for their kids as it's more manageable and harder to get separated or lost. Plus many of us live on that end of town. If you just want to go do a few runs, it's easier and quicker to go there.

**Locals note** If you do ski at Sierra-at-Tahoe, go early and plan to leave well before closing. The parking lot exits to a two lane road that intersects highway 50. On a Sunday afternoon, it's so slow or impossible to get out of there and join the hoards driving home on the 50 that highway patrol will have to direct traffic. It can take well over an hour to get back onto the 50 if you try to leave at that time. Save yourself the aggravation and leave early.

Lake Tahoe Visitor's Authority has great guides for visiting South Lake Tahoe

Heavenly skiing! Fresh powder, groomers...always something fun to ski or ride! and that view!!

Ok, so you probably already knew you could ski, snowboard, eat and drink in Tahoe in the winter. So what else is there?

*ice skating- There's an outdoor ice skating rink at Heavenly village. This is a really beautiful setting, especially around Christmas time when the village is decorated. The South Tahoe Ice Arena is located at indoor rink is located at 1176 Rufus Allen Blvd, not far from Ski Run Blvd. They host hockey practices and games so call (530-542-6262) for hours of "open skate" times.

*sledding- Bring your own sled or buy one inexpensively in a drug or grocery store so you can take advantage of sledding hills as you drive through town.  If you rent a house out in the neighborhoods, ask if they are stocked with toys like sleds, as they sometimes can be. Be careful with little kids on crowded, icy hills. We get lots of visits to our hospital from sledding injuries. Helmets for kids are a good idea.

*snowshoeing- This is definitely one of the Tahoe local's favorite ways to enjoy the scenery and get some exercise. Many of us have snowshoes in our cars (along with our ski gear, of course) in case the opportunity arises on the way home from work or wherever. If you happen to be around during a full-moon, you may see groups of locals going out for a midnight snowshoe by the light of the moon. Great experience. Snowshoe rentals are becoming easier to find but snowshoes are so inexpensive to purchase these days, it probably worth it to invest in a pair of your own, especially if you are going to be a return visitor.

EAT AND DRINK: So, so many choices for what is essentially a small town. Hard to believe but this little mountain town has something like 6 or 7 sushi restaurants. My faves are Samurai, Off the Hook and Naked Fish. The others may be good too, but I haven't tried them. Sushi isn't your thing? There are plenty of restaurants in and near the casinos. If you want to venture into town and try some local favorites, try one of these:

Freshies: Organic, hawaiin-inspired, fresh and lots of yummy vegetarian choices in a sit-down restaurant. Seating is limited in the winter, so try to go at off-times. This one is close to ski-run boulevard, so not that far from the hotels. Love everything especially the grilled fish tacos.

Red Hut Cafe: Yep, we love it too. They now have several locations but the one on Ski Run Blvd is the largest, and so the easiest at which to get a seat. Cheap, diner-like, but tasty food. My current fave is the grilled cheese with avocado and mushrooms.

Apres Wine Co.: This is a newer addition to the Tahoe scene. Located in the corner of a strip of shops, it can be easy to miss. But don't. They have wines for tasting and have guided tastings on Tuesday and Sunday evenings. For $25 you get 5 tastings with appetizer pairings. And the appetizers are tasty. They are created and/or prepared by their onsite little piece of cheese or a cracker with your wine. Save $5 by making reservations in advance.

Steamers: So this is closer to the "Y" (intersection of Lake Tahoe Blvd-the 50 and Emerald Bay Road-Rt 89), than the resorts. This may be the quintessential locals hangout. Cheap and delicious tacos on Saturday and Monday bring a large crowd. Service isn't fast, but we know that and it's part of the experience. Come on in, the locals are friendly. This is our favorite place for an after-work thirst-quencher.

Fresh Ketch: Also near the "Y", just off of Tahoe Keys Blvd, is Fresh Ketch. This spot is popular in the summer for their outside seating overlooking the marina. But they still have good food, drinks and atmosphere in the wintertime. The ahi appetizer is quite good and they have great happy hour specials. Good drinks to be had also.

Fine Dining: We have some fancier places too. Edgewood is well-known for excellent food, a top-notch wine list and great service. They make a fantastic Manhattan, for the record and an amazing brunch a couple times a year too. Another amazing fine-dining experience is Evan's. Evan's is located on Emerald Bay Road, so if you are staying at the casinos or resort hotels, you will need to drive over. It's totally worth it, though. And in my experience, their best dishes come from their huge selection of specials that they will present to you. Fantastic! Both of these places require a reservation.

**Local's tip** If you still want the Edgewood feel without the frill or prices, check out Brooks Bar and Deck. When you enter the lobby of Edgewood, turn right and go through the golf shop. Brooks has a great menu all its own (think upscale bar food) and the same fantastic drinks as Edgewood's main restaurant. Plus they have a couple of TVs if the game is on. Definitely a more laid back atmosphere, but never disappointing. They don't have a kids menu, but they do have plenty of items that kids like. Call first, they sometimes close during the early winter and reopen in mid-December. Brooks is a fun place to get together for drinks after a long day skiing or riding, since it's close to the main hotels.

Comments: Let me know what else you'd like to see here OR if you are planning to come to South Lake Tahoe and want to know what conditions are like? Ask me here

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    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      The snow melted off pretty quickly this morning, but it was definitely icy early this morning.

      The roads are wet and will freeze when the sun goes down. It seemed to me that they were ok by late morning, and weren't that bad at 830 when my kids got on the school bus. But, people were saying they were icy last night.

      There is no way to know for sure which will be worse. There will be more traffic coming in tonight for better or worse (might keep ice away, but will be lots of cars). There might be sun to melt the snow by late morning again tomorrow, but could still have icy patches. If you drove very early in the am, I would expect more ice.

      The point is, it could be icy either way- it's just got that layer of liquid under the snow that froze or freezes. But, unlike the last storm, people aren't sliding all over the place. My personal preference is to drive when I can see better. But, that's just my opinion based on what I am comfortable with.

      It is snowing right now, but is letting up some, but the temps are staying low so refreezing will happen tonight and/or tomorrow. I slid as I pulled into my driveway a little bit ago, but it's on a secondary street and I kinda did it on purpose to test the ice. The highway was fine this morning.

    • profile image

      Kassandra 5 years ago

      Hi again. I am hoping you see this soon...but I just spoke with a person who is not as risk-averse as I am -- and they said that tonight might be better...and then said that morning tomorrow (Saturday) likely a situation of 'ice on the road.' Of course, this has sent me into a tailspin- as I FEAR ice in the most extreme way (no control with vehicle whatsoever). Thoughts? thank you thank you!!

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Glad your 1st trip was a success!

      It is supposed to snow this evening again. It probably won't snow much, but it can still make driving more challenging.

      Driving up over the 50 into South Lake (Echo Summit) is not enjoyable in the dark, even without snow (even for me and I have the road pretty well memorized). This road has tight curves and near the summit, some pretty big cliffs protected by a short guard wall. It is also narrow in spots.

      If you have the choice, I'd wait until daylight when it is easier to see and the roads will likely be mostly cleared and chains are less likely to be required.

      As always, stay alert and take your time & keep your chains in your car.

    • profile image

      Kassandra 5 years ago

      Hi there. I wrote to you about a month ago as was afraid to drive to Tahoe -up 80 - and it ended up being wonderful, no worries. Now, was planning to drive up from Bay Area to South Tahoe -- but see snow in forecast for tomorrow (Friday, 2/8) and really really reconsidering coming on Friday evening - as work until 4pm. My thoughts are to instead come on Saturday...your thoughts? Note - I have an SUV but it is not 4-wheel drive (I do have chains with me). Scared to drive with my preschooler at night in snow-conditions....Kassandra

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      About 10 feet of snow in the last 2 weeks - roads should be open tomorrow 2/26/11. Be careful and come on up!

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Hey Alex, Unfortunately, there has been NO snow for quite a while. The slopes are getting pretty crunchy, although the sunny ones soften up in the afternoon. It's been beautiful though, if you just want to hang out - temps in the 40s and 50s, bright sunshine...and the roads are bone dry. Make sure you have washer fluid, windshields are getting dirty quick. Welcome back :)

    • profile image

      Alex 7 years ago

      Hi Cheryl,

      When was the last time it snowed in Tahoe? I'll be up there this upcoming Monday. Thanks! Love your website.


    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Are you sure? Fifty degrees and sunny in South Lake today, January 15, 2011. Of course it's a holiday weekend so I'll be hiding in my house out in the county today too :)

    • bgamall profile image

      Gary Anderson 7 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      I will stay warm in Reno and patiently wait for the Sunnyside Restaurant and Grill to open up in North Tahoe. :)

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Well, thank you very much :)

    • profile image

      DavidLivingston 7 years ago

      This hub is a good post. Thanks for posting too.

    • profile image

      Alex 7 years ago

      Thanks for the advice, Cheryl. I'll check back with you about driving up on Monday morning. Better to be safe than sorry.

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Hey Alex. Right now it's snowing/icing/slushing in town with very slippery roads. It's snowing pretty hard over Echo summit (the 50) on and off. The heaviest snow is supposed to be tonight and tomorrow night. If there's a break in the weather, you might be able to get in tomorrow afternoon, but may not want to risk it. The forecast for above 7000 feet is for up to 8 FEET of snow. Might be tough for road crews to keep up. Is Monday afternoon an option? Be safe! We are still going to get some fresh snow after Monday and it should be lighter and better than this slush we are getting now anyway.


      My sister lives in Sac and I wouldn't let her drive up until at least Monday, if that helps.

    • profile image

      Alex 7 years ago

      Hello TahoeDoc. I was really hoping to make it up to the mountains tomorrow, Sunday, but the snow storm is making me think twice. Heading up there on Monday is an option as well. What do you think? I heard its going to be dumping in Tahoe for the next few days. Should I hold off? I would be heading up from Sac/SF.



    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Planning to come to South Lake Tahoe and want to know what conditions are like? Ask me here...I check this fairly regularly and am glad to help...

    • kenwrites profile image

      Ken Crawford 7 years ago from Yreka, California

      This is a great guide for locals as well as out of town visitors. The photography is beautiful. Thank you for the tips and the 'insider" knowledge. great hub! :)

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Thank you. It's so naturally beautiful, these were pretty much taken with a small digital camera or my iphone. I feel lucky to live here and see this every day and welcome everyone to come see nature at its best!

    • FGual profile image

      FGual 7 years ago from USA

      Beautiful photography of a beautiful place, I can see why it remains so popular.


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