There’s something about traveling that just screams “advenchaaaa!“ and embarking on an LA to Lake Tahoe road trip is no exception. Starting from the sunny streets of LA and winding up in the picturesque wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it offers a glimpse into the diversity of California’s landscapes.
Whether you’re looking to escape the city for a few days or seeking some outdoor adventure, the journey promises to be one for the books. So pack your bags, gas up the car, and prepare for an unforgettable ride from the coast to the mountains. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know for a unique LA to Lake Tahoe road trip.
LA to Lake Tahoe stats
The distance between Lake Tahoe and LA will depend on the route that you’ll take. If you take the Death Valley Route (US-395), your trip will cover 440 miles. Following the Interstate Route via Sacramento is about 485 miles, while the Sierra Nevada Route is the longest at 640 miles.
The amount of time needed for your LA to Lake Tahoe Road Trip will depend on your route, mode of transportation, and overall itinerary. It will take between seven hours to 15 hours by car. That’s driving with little to no stops.
Recommended Road Trip Time
It’ll be wise to allocate at least three days to soak in the scenery and experiences along the way without rushing. Besides, what’s the point of your LA to Lake Tahoe Road Trip if you’re missing out on things because you’re running out of time? Might as well take a plane to Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) from LAX. It will only take roughly 90 minutes.
There are several checkpoints along the route from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, depending on your specific route. Here are some of the major ones:
- California State Border: This is the first checkpoint you’ll encounter if you drive from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe via I-5 North. You’ll cross the state line from California into Nevada.
- Donner Pass: This is a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada range that you’ll cross if you take I-80 East from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe. It’s elevated at 7,239 feet and is known for its scenic views.
- Kingvale: This small town is located along I-80 East, just before you reach Donner Pass. It’s a popular spot for skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
- Truckee: This town is on Lake Tahoe’s north shore, along I-80 East. It’s known for its outdoor recreational opportunities, including skiing, hiking, and mountain biking.
- Tahoe City: This small city sits on Lake Tahoe’s northwest shore, along CA-89. It’s known for its stunning views of the lake and is a popular destination for water sports, hiking, and skiing.
- South Lake Tahoe: This city at the south shore of Lake Tahoe, along US-50. It’s a popular tourist destination year-round, with skiing and snowboarding in the winter and water sports in the summer.
You can take many routes from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, each with checkpoints and points of interest. It’s always a good idea to plan your route and check for any road closures or traffic advisories before you start your journey.
States you drive through
Some of the best cities you’ll pass through during your LA to Lake Tahoe Road Trip include Malibu, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, and Sacramento, all in California.
Most Scenic Route
If you want to pamper the wanderer in you, take the Sierra Nevada Route. It might be the longest drive, but you’ll have fun while on the road. You can take your time exploring three national parks serving as home to six national forests. Taking this route is worth it, especially if you love nature and are willing to invest as much time as necessary to take in the beautiful scenery. For starters, you’ll pass by the world’s largest tree, General Sherman, while the Zumwalt Meadows offers numerous trails you can conquer. The famous Yosemite Valley is also waiting for you.
Generally, the most direct and safest route from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe is the Interstate Route via I-5 North to Sacramento, and then take US-50 East to South Lake Tahoe. This route is well-maintained, and many services are available along the way. It is also the most popular route for travelers to Lake Tahoe. Regardless of your path, it is always important to check the weather and road conditions before embarking on your journey and to take appropriate precautions.
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When is the Best Time for an LA to Lake Tahoe Road Trip?
The best time for a road trip from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe would be during the summer months between June and September. During this time, the weather is generally warm and dry, making for pleasant driving conditions, and the scenery is at its best.
However, it’s important to note that Lake Tahoe can be busy during the summer. You may encounter heavier traffic and larger crowds. You might also have to book your accommodations way ahead of time to secure them. (And yes, expect that the prices are higher than usual since its peak season).
If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of late spring or early fall when the weather is still pleasant, but the crowds are thinner. Taking the 395 Route during fall will surprise you with a beautiful west coast color palette.
Now, for winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding, the winter months from December through February would be the best time to visit. Remember that road conditions may be challenging due to snow and ice, so check the weather and road conditions before heading out on your road trip.
LA to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Map
Death Valley Route (US-395) vs. Route l-5
What to See in LA
Los Angeles, also known as LA, is a sprawling and diverse city on the west coast and home to iconic landmarks, world-renowned museums, famous theme parks, and a vibrant arts and culture scene. Here are some of the must-sees:
- Hollywood Walk of Fame: This iconic sidewalk features stars dedicated to some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.
- Universal Studios Hollywood: A theme park and working movie studio where you can experience popular film franchises like Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and Transformers.
- Griffith Observatory: A historic observatory perched on a hill overlooking the city, featuring exhibits on astronomy and space exploration.
- Santa Monica Pier: A popular attraction featuring a historic amusement park, an aquarium, and various restaurants and shops.
- Rodeo Drive: A famous shopping district known for its high-end designer boutiques and luxury shops.
- Venice Beach: A colorful and eclectic beach community with a famous boardwalk featuring street performers, artists, and vendors.
- The Hollywood Sign: A symbol of the city, this iconic sign can be seen from various vantage points throughout LA, including Griffith Observatory and Hollywood & Highland.
What to see at Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a beautiful alpine lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a variety of activities year-round. From beach time at the shallow south shore to kayaking at the deepest part of Lake Tahoe at Crystal Bay.
Here are some of the top activities to do in Lake Tahoe:
- Visit Emerald Bay: One of the most photographed places in Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay is a stunningly beautiful spot with turquoise waters, a picturesque island, and a historic castle.
- Take a hike at the Tahoe Rim Trail: The trail is a popular destination for hikers, backpackers, and equestrians, and has several sections, each offering its unique challenges and rewards.
- Check out the Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks: The park offers a variety of exciting activities, such as zip lines, aerial courses, rope bridges, and climbing walls, designed to challenge and thrill visitors of all ages and skill levels.
- Swim at Sand Harbor Beach: The beach is known for its crystal clear turquoise water and the beautiful granite boulders that line the shore. The place also offers a variety of activities for visitors, including swimming, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing.
- Aerial Thrill at Sky Combat Ace: You’ll have the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of a high-performance aerobatic aircraft alongside an experienced fighter pilot. The pilot will then guide the customer through numerous aerial maneuvers, including loops, rolls, dives, and simulated air combat maneuvers.
Which Route to take?
Again, this will depend on your preferences. The best route for your LA to Lake Tahoe road trip to save time while having fun is via the US-395. The longest and scenic route is through the Sierra Nevada route, while the safest is by driving through I-5.
What to see via Highway 395
Here’s what’s in store for you if you choose to follow the Highway 395 route:
Red Rock Canyon Park
Via I-10 W, you’ll come across Red Canyon State Park, where your eyes will enjoy the scenic canyons and follow trails. Here, you can conquer a mile loop called the Red Cliffs Trail. It’s accessible for hikers of all skill levels. Anyone can enjoy this journey.
From Red Rock Canyon Park, head to Us-101 and take an exit at 19A to get to I-404 N heading to Sacramento. Keep driving until you hit I-5 N, exit at 162 for CA-14 N, and exit at 30 towards Pearblossom Highway. Turn right at CA-138 E until you reach US-395 N, and turn left. Follow 395 and turn right at Trona Road and right again at CA-178 E. Continue driving through Trona Wildrose Road and turn left at Panamint Valley Road. Keep cruising until you see a sign for Furnace Creek at CA-190 E.
You’ll also all pass through Death Valley, the biggest national park in the continental part of the country. However, you’ll have to take a little detour for this one. Remember to be careful during the summer season. It gets hot and dangerous, so bring sun protection and plenty of water!
If you spend ample time at Death Valley, you can visit North America’s lowest point, known as the Badwater Basin, or go sandboarding at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Want to stay inside your car? Take the 9-mile Artists Drive loop and hit the Artists Palette overlook to enjoy the surrounding views.
Stopping at the town of Lone Pine will lead you to the Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney covering 30,000 acres. You can take trails, go fishing and capture some of the most beautiful photos you can snap during your LA to Lake Tahoe Road Trip.
Roughly 12 minutes from Lone Pine, the Manzanar National Historic Site will take you back to World War II. There’s a self-guided 3-mile driving tour around the area, where you’ll see monuments, buildings, and a small cemetery that existed during its era.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Sixty miles from Manzanar, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest awaits when you take Highway 168 East to the Schulman Grove Visitor Center. Then, head to Patriarch Grove, where you’ll meet the world’s oldest living tree, 4,700-year-old Methuselah.
An hour from Ancient Bristlecone, you’ll reach Bishop. Just stay for a quick stop to grab some food and replenish your supply for the rest of your LA to Lake Tahoe road trip. But if you’re a boulderer or a climber, you must take advantage of conquering the Buttermilk Boulders. You might need an extra day for this one.
Just 40 minutes from Bishop, the deep blue waters of Convict Lake with Laurel Mountain and Mount Morrison at the backdrop will welcome you. You can hike the 3-mile trail. Camping grounds and the marina are also open between April and October.
Hot Creek Geological Site
Hot Creek Geological Site’s hot springs and steaming vents are just 15 minutes from Convict Lake. Just follow the boardwalk that traverses through the canyon and enjoy the picturesque views of glistening turquoise waters and how they contrast with the rest of the site. Caution: You can’t dip in the waters since they’re hot af!
Now, for an all-out adventure, Mammoth Lakes, just 20 minutes from Hot Creek, offers hiking, fishing, skiing, and more (depending on what season you visit) all year round. Some places you’ll encounter include Mammoth Mountain, Rainbow Falls, and Duck Pass Trail.
Your next stop, June Lake (20 minutes away), is another fantastic spot for nature lovers and adventurers. The 16-mile June Lake Loop via Highway 158 is a scenic route surrounded by lakes and mountains. As you cruise the loop, you see Lake June first, followed by Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake. Many hiking options exist, such as those at Fern Lake and Gem Lake.
Around half an hour away from June Lake, you’ll find Mono Lake. Saltier than the ocean and rich in alkaline, the mirroring water of the lake surrounded by Tufa towers offers the most magical sunrise and sunsets you’ll see throughout your LA to Lake Tahoe road trip. You can take a self-guided tour on a mile-long trail at South Tufa or plunge into the waters near Navy Beach.
Lee Vining and Yosemite
The town of Lee Vining, leading to the eastern part of Yosemite National Park, is only 15 minutes from South Tufa. And no LA to Lake Tahoe road trip is complete without wandering in Yosemite! Adding another day or two to your tip will allow enough time to explore the natural gems in the area, such as the Olmstead Pont, Tuolumne Meadows, and Ellery Lake.
Lundy Lake and Lundy Canyon
Ten miles from Lee Vining, Lundy Lake, and Canyon has a 100-acre lake for water sports and a 4-mile moderately-difficult trail with waterfalls, ruins, and canyon walls along the hike.
Bodie State Historic Site
The Bodie State Historic Site is sitting 30 miles away from Lundy Lake. It’s the biggest ghost town in the west, with over a hundred structures still rotting since they were abandoned around the 1940s. From Highway 395, take Highway 270 and drive 13 miles east.
Travertine Hot Springs
Last stop before Lake Tahoe, driving for another 42 miles, and you’ll reach Travertine Hot Springs. You can unwind and dip into the springs at various temperatures. Here’s your chance to go skinny dipping since the place is “clothing-optional.”
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Where to stay
If you’re still wondering where to stay for the duration of your LA to Lake Tahoe road trip via Highway 395. I’m a camping person myself but here are some recommendations for whether you choose to camp out or opt for a lodging:
There are only limited open campgrounds in Death Valley if you visit between May and September. It’s on a first-come-first-serve basis, and with the summer crowd, it’ll take a bit of work to find a spot. To skip the scorching heat, choose the high grounds of Mesquite Spring, Wildrose, and Emigrant for a refreshing night’s sleep. Texas Springs and Furnace Creek are typically busy, especially during winter. So to be sure you’ll have a spot to camp, just head to Sunset Campground, the biggest in the area.
Lone Pipe and Alabama Hills
The Turtle Neck, Portuguese Joe, and Lone Pine campgrounds have plenty of sites for RVs and tents. You can also use the picnic tables, grills, and vault toilets during your stay.
You can use any of the 85 sites between April and October. There are also showers and picnic tables available for use.
Twin Lakes Campground, Lake Mary Campground, and Minaret Falls Campground are some of the best spots at Mammoth Lakes. Fire grills, potable water, and toilet facilities are within reach. Keep in mind that Lake Mary and Manaret are only open between June to mid-September, while Twin Lakes is accessible from May to October.
June Lake Campground has 28 sites, and Gull Lake Campground has 11, while Oh! Ridge Campground has 143. Picnic tables, fire grills, and drinking water are available. Dispersed camping is prohibited, so stay within the designated campgrounds.
Eastern Yosemite at Lee Vining
Lower Lee Vining Campground, Moraine, and Mono Vista RV Park come on a first-come-first-served basis. They’re also not open during winter months. Junction, Sawmill, and Saddlebag Lake Campground are also scenic alternatives.
Eagle Point offers 100 sites for RVs and tents, while Nevada Beach can accommodate up to 54. William Kent Campground has over 80 spots. These are open between mid-May and October. Plenty of picnic tables, bear lockers, and toilet facilities can be used whenever needed.
What to bring – Checklist
This is a basic checklist, and you may want to add or remove items based on your specific needs and preferences:
- Driver’s license, car registration, and proof of insurance
- Road map and/or GPS navigation system
- First-aid kit with basic medical supplies
- Spare tire, jack, and lug wrench
- Jumper cables
- Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
- Basic tool kit with screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches
- Portable phone charger or power bank
- Water bottles or hydration system
- Non-perishable snacks and food items
- Cooler with ice or ice packs
- Comfortable clothing and shoes for driving and exploring
- Warm clothing and blankets for cooler temperatures
- Insect repellent
- Personal hygiene items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and wet wipes
- Travel pillow and blanket
- Entertainment items, such as books, music, or games
- Camera or smartphone for capturing memories
- Cash or credit cards for emergencies and expense
LA to Lake Tahoe Road 3-Day Trip Itinerary
Here’s a simple itinerary stops you can follow and alter as needed:
- Red Rock Canyon Park
- Death Valley
- Lone Pine and Alabama Hills
- Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
- Convict Lake
- Hot Creek
- Mammoth Lakes
- June Lake
- Mono Lake
- Lee Vining and Yosemite
(*Add an extra day if you want to explore Yosemite further)
- Lundy Lake and Lundy Canyon
- Bodie State Historic Site
- Travertine Hot Springs
That wraps up our comprehensive guide for a memorable LA to Lake Tahoe road trip! Make traveling to USA a fun and memorable experience!
We hope this guide has provided valuable insights and tips for planning an unforgettable journey through some of California’s most beautiful and scenic destinations. This road trip offers a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation from the bustling city of LA to the serene and picturesque Lake Tahoe.
Whether you plan to embark on this journey solo or with your loved ones, we’re confident that you’ll have a fantastic time exploring the stunning landscapes and trying out delicious cuisine.
So, pack your bags, buckle up, and prepare for an epic adventure on the road!
How to plan a road trip from LA to Lake Tahoe?
Planning for your LA to Lake Tahoe road trip can be stressful yet fun. Here are some steps to help you plan your trip:
Decide your travel dates: Determine when you want to go on your road trip. Consider the time of year, weather conditions, your schedule, and availability.
Choose your route: You can take several routes from LA to Lake Tahoe. You can take Highway 395, the Interstate via Sacramento, or a scenic route through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Research the different options and decide which path you prefer.
Map out your stops: Plan where you will stop along the way. It can include rest stops, restaurants, scenic overlooks, or other points of interest. Make sure to factor in enough time for rest and breaks.
Book your accommodations: Decide where you will stay overnight. It can include hotels, motels, campgrounds, or other lodging options. Consider booking your accommodations in advance, especially during peak travel times.
Prepare your vehicle: Before you hit the road, make sure your car is in good condition. Check the tires, brakes, fluids, and other components. Pack an emergency kit, including a spare tire, jumper cables, and essential tools.
Pack for the trip: Decide what you will bring, including clothing, food, drinks, and entertainment. Pack lightly but be sure to include any essentials you may need along the way.
Enjoy the journey: Finally, take the time to enjoy the trip. Stop and take in the scenery, try local cuisine, and make memories along the way.
With these steps, you should be well on your way to plan a great road trip.