5 Ways to Visit Lake Tahoe on a Budget


Lake Tahoe is one of the most visited destinations in the United States and for good reason. It is absolutely beautiful and there is plenty of outdoor recreation year round. Although the area has a reputation for being expensive, it’s still possible to visit and get a lot out of your trip without breaking the bank. These tips will allow you to maximize your time and enjoyment while having money left over for future trips.

1. Visit During the Week

If you’re taking vacation time anyway, you might as well plan your trip during the week to make it more affordable. The busiest time is the weekend and so there will be plenty of vacancies that need filled so hotels and lodges offer midweek specials. Many restaurants also have deals running during the week to generate business on slower days.

Another perk of visiting on weekdays is that you will beat the crowds. With less people, there won’t be as much competition for things like parking which can add up and become expensive. Fewer tourists also means shorter lines and less waiting at each attraction so you can maximize your time in Tahoe and get the most value for your money spent.

Visiting on weekdays also gives you a sneak peak into what a place is like without all the tourists and crowds. Things move at a slightly slower pace and you won’t feel as rushed or stressed. You’ll get to feel like a local and take your time to soak everything in.

2. Nature is Always Free

One of the biggest draws of the Tahoe area is the lake and surrounding nature. Chances are you’re already planning to spend time outside so there’s no need to pay for access to pristine natural areas. There are free beaches for swimming or sunbathing and you can splurge on kayak rentals instead of paying for access to the water. Check out Thomas F. Regan Memorial Beach, Commons Beach, King Beach, and Kiva Beach.

You can also hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail which is 170 miles long and goes around Lake Tahoe. With all that mileage, you can break it up into several smaller day hikes that will keep you busy for a while. Many people also like to mountain bike on the trail. And if hiking isn’t for you or you just need a break, then you can drive around the lake which will only cost you the price of gas. The 78 mile round trip takes about 2.5 hours with plenty to see along the way, including stops for picnics and photos.

Two popular hikes for scenic views are also free. Check out Mount Tallac and Mount Rose, two of the tallest mountains with spectacular views from the top. The elevation gain is significant on these trails so take your time and remember to bring plenty of food and water along.

3. Camp Instead of a Hotel

Camping will bring fun and adventure to your trip while simultaneously saving you a lot of money. Although you’ll need to make plans in advance to reserve a spot at a campground, you can find several cheap places to camp, including Fallen Leaf Campground. If you have other means of camping, there’s always the option to boondock as well.

If camping isn’t an option due to the time of year you visit, then look into some of the lesser known lodges which may be cheaper. You can also stay further out of town if weather permits you to drive in each day for your activities. Also look on AirBnB to find rooms at cheaper rates or consider sharing lodging with friends to cut costs even further.

4. Check out Free Things to Do

Throughout the year there many opportunities to find entertainment and other activities for free. During the summer, there are free movies every Wednesday and music on the north shore every Friday night in July and August. Comedy shows at Crystal Bay Club are free and you only pay for drinks. Emerald Bay State Park is also free although you may need to pay to park there.

Other indoor activities such as visiting the Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum are also free. The parking there is paid but you could always walk or bike to get there. The Northstar Village Skating Rink is also a popular free activity with ice skating in winter and roller skating during the warmer months. You will have to pay for skate rentals but if you have your own, bring them along for free access to the rink.

5. Plan Ahead and Get Creative

If you’re not planning a last minute trip, spend some time in advance to search for discounts and other savings. A little time up front can save you a lot of money later on. Search resort websites or Groupon for various activities. Make all your bookings as far in advance as possible as well so you can get cheaper options or guarantee a spot at a campground.

Decided what’s most important to you and spend on those things while cutting mercilessly on what isn’t important. If you want to spend all day on the slopes, splurge on lift tickets and stay in a cheap hotel since you’ll only be sleeping there anyway.

Another way to cut a lot of costs is to not eat out. Instead, stop at a local grocery store such as Safeway or Raley’s and grab a bunch of snacks and foods that you can heat up at your hotel. Or pack some food from home and bring a cooler along if you’re visiting on a road trip.

Overall, there are many ways to fully enjoy and immerse yourself in the spectacular beauty of the Tahoe area. You may need to invest a little time up front, but it will be worth it in the end. You can access all the wonders Tahoe offers and save money so you can keep coming back again and again.

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18 Dec 2018


By JoAnne Stein
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