Thinking about a trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe?
From the bustling streets of Sacramento to the pristine alpine shores of Lake Tahoe, this journey promises an unforgettable adventure through diverse landscapes, captivating vistas, and an array of hidden gems along the way.
Leaving behind the metropolitan allure of California’s capital city, Sacramento, the road trip begins. As the city’s skyline recedes in the rearview mirror, the rhythm of the journey picks up, taking you on a captivating expedition that leads to the jewel of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe.
We are here to guide and reveal the scenic wonders and local secrets that await intrepid travelers along this unforgettable route. From alluring pit stops to breathtaking viewpoints, we’ll delve into the must-see attractions, outdoor adventures, and charming towns that make a road trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe an experience like no other.
Whether you’re a nature enthusiast seeking outdoor thrills, a history buff searching for intriguing tales, or a food lover craving delightful culinary encounters, this road trip offers a tapestry of experiences to suit every traveler’s taste.
So, fasten your seatbelts and join us on an enchanting road trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe!
Sacramento to Lake Tahoe stats
|Stats||North Lake Route||South Lake Route|
|Distance||149 miles/240 Km||138 miles/222 Km|
|Driving Time (Low Traffic)||2 Hours and 9 Minutes||2 Hours and 21 Minutes|
|Road Trip Duration||2 Days||2 Days|
|No. of Stops||7||9|
The distance from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe via the North Lake Tahoe route on I-80 E is 113 miles/182 Km, while the South Lake Tahoe Route on US-50/El Dorado Freeway is 110 miles/177 Km. That’s without making any detours to neighboring attractions.
Now, with the itinerary we tailored and followed, the North Lake Route covers 149 miles/240 Km, while the South Lake Route has 138 miles/222 Km.
If you drive nonstop with low traffic, your ETA range between 2 hours and 2.5 hours. The South Lake Tahoe route will diverge from the original US-50 to CA-16 E, covering 138 miles/222 Km and needing a little over 3 hours to complete with a nonstop drive. The North Lake Tahoe route via CA-113 N covering 149 miles/240 Km will take 3 hours and 50 minutes of continuous driving.
Recommended Road Trip Time
We added some changes since we tailored this itinerary so that you and your loved ones can see most while on the road. Both will need roughly an overnight stay at one point so you can enjoy the attractions without rushing.
Here are some notable checkpoints between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe:
- Folsom Lake State Recreation Area: Sitting NEof Sacramento, this recreational area offers beautiful views and outdoor activities.
- Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park: here, gold was first found in 1848, igniting the California Gold Rush. There’s a gold panning experience, a museum showcasing Gold Rush artifacts, trails, picnic areas, and special events. It offers a unique opportunity to explore the history of the Gold Rush and enjoy the scenic beauty of the area.
- Black Chasm Cavern is a National Natural Landmark in Volcano, California. It’s an underground limestone cave known for its stunning formations, rare minerals, and bat habitat. Guided tours offer insights into its geological features and ecosystem. The cave is a protected site, and aboveground amenities include picnic areas and nature trails.
- Englebright Dam and Lake is a reservoir on the Yuba River in California. The dam generates hydroelectric power and offers recreational activities like boating, fishing, camping, and picnicking. The area is known for its scenic beauty and historical significance.
- Emerald Pools are natural attractions characterized by pristine, green-colored pools of water. They are known for their scenic beauty, often found in national parks and accessible via hiking trails. Some allow swimming, while others are protected habitats.
States you Drive Through
You’ll drive mainly through California, although the east side of Lake Tahoe is in Reno.
Most Scenic Route
The North Lake Tahoe route offers more scenic vistas, fun activities, and deeper immersion into the heart of nature, although it will require more time.
Both routes are considered safe. But North Lake Tahoe passes more towns, which means more access to amenities and emergency services.
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Best Time for Sacramento to Lake Tahoe Road Trip
Lake Tahoe’s beauty doesn’t care about the season. But, if you want to experience the best not only at your destination but also along your journey, it’s best to hit the road during summer. You can enjoy its refreshing cold waters.
Springtime is also excellent for a Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip. The temperature is not as brutal, the crowds are not thick, and the prices have already dropped. Whether you’re out for a swim or ready to conquer the surrounding trail, the weather is just right.
Winter also invites skiers and snowboarders. But dipping in the waters is not as fun since it’s freezing cold.
Sacramento to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Map
What to See in Sacramento
Sacramento has several attractions and landmarks worth visiting. Here are some things you can try while in Sacramento:
- California State Capitol Museum: Check out the stunning architecture of the California State Capitol and its surrounding gardens. The museum is home to the state’s rich past and politics.
- Old Sacramento Historic District: Immerse yourself in history through the legendary streets of Old Sacramento. This well-preserved historic district offers unique boutiques and riverboat cruises.
- Crocker Art Museum: Explore the country’s oldest public art museum in the West, featuring a diverse collection of Californian, Asian, and European art.
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park: Showcasing California’s Gold Rush era, this reconstructed fort will educate you about pioneer life through displays and exhibits.
- California State Railroad Museum: Have a peek at California’s railroad history through interactive exhibits, various restored train models, and well-preserved rail cars.
- American River Bike Trail: Pedal your way or clock in your steps along the scenic American River Bike Trail. It’s a 32-mile trail next to the river and offers views and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
- California Automobile Museum: Car enthusiasts will enjoy exploring this museum, which showcases a vast selection of iconic automobiles, from vintage cars to muscle cars and other famous vehicles.
These are just a few of the things you can do in Sacramento. There’s also a vibrant culinary scene, lively arts community, and various parks and gardens to explore.
What to see at Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe possesses a diverse collection of things to do at any time of the year. Here are some of our recommendations:
- Water Sports: Lake Tahoe’s crystalline waters make it the ideal playground for kayaking, swimming, SUP, and boating. You can bring your own gear or rent equipment from the shops nearby.
- Enjoy the beaches: Soak up the sun on numerous stunning beaches, namely Sand Harbor, Zephyr Cove, and Meeks Bay. Spend a day relaxing, picnicking, and getting lost in the jaw-dropping views.
- Hike nature trails: Lake Tahoe boasts numerous trails for all skill levels. There are the Eagle Falls, Mount Tallac, and Rubicon trails. Take your pick. All of them will reward you with refreshing and picturesque vistas.
- Take a cruise: Pamper yourself by relaxing on a cruise. These tours offer scenic views, narrated guides, and even sunset cruises. It’s one of the best ways to simply absorb the beauty of Lake Tahoe.
- Explore Emerald Bay State Park: Sitting at the southwest end of the lake, Emerald Bay State Park is famous for its transparent waters and the home to the only in-lake island in Lake Tahoe known as Fannette Island. Hike and visit Vikingsholm Castle, or simply bask in the panoramic vistas at various lookout points.
- Spend time at Lake Tahoe, Nevada State Park: A haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking recreational adventures. It’s the home to the famous Sand Harbor Beach.
- Go on a scenic drive: Cruise in your car around the lake, just experiencing the beauty of the place. You can follow the Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive with different sights at various lookout points.
These are just for starters. There are many more. Whether you’re an adventure-seeker or out for a mellow vacation, Lake Tahoe has something to the traveler in you.
Which Route to Take
There’s very little difference between the North and South routes’ ETA. The South will save time, while the North offers more fun and scenic stops.
What to see in the South Lake Route
Here are some of the best stops you can take by following the South Lake Route:
Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park
Half an hour from Sacramento via US-50 and turning left on Folsom Blvd., the Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park is your first stop. Open Wednesday through Sunday, from noon until 4 PM. You’ll learn how the area innovated and thrived using electricity.
Massive heavy types of machinery are well-preserved and are all laid on the first floor of the old powerhouse building. You can also see the office replica, and although you can get in and inspect the exhibit, scouring your eyes is enough to give you a glimpse of the past. No worries, even if you know nothing about how these things work, knowledgeable and friendly docents are ready to help. Whether you’re a history buff or love anything mechanical and electrical, the Folsom Powerhouse will be a rewarding stop for your Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
From Folsom Powerhouse, take a left in Natoma St. and follow to E Natoma St before taking a left next to Taco Bell. At around 15 miles, turn left at Green Valley Road and continue to Lotus Road. Once the road merges with Coloma Road, take a left following CA-49 until you reach Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. This section will need a little over 30 minutes of driving.
This historic place is the starting point of the country’s gold rush between 1848 to 1855. It all started when one of Col. John Sutter’s construction workers, James W. Marshall, stumbled on gold while building a sawmill on his 576-acre land.
You can drop by any day of the week, from 8 AM to 6 PM, and explore the museum or participate in gold panning. Don’t forget to check out the historic homes in the area and climb up the hell, where you’ll see a statue of Marshall pointing to the spot where he first broke gold. You can also join the 45-minute tour and learn about the place’s exciting past.
After the historical tour and gold panning, you must drive for another 40 minutes. Retrace the Lotus Road back to CA-50 crossing it and taking a left at Mother Lode Drive. Continue to Pleasant Valley Road until it merges with CA-49 S, and you’ll be downtown at the traffic circle in no time.
Also famous as Gateway to Shenandoah Valley, Plymouth boasts its diverse collection of wines and massive vineyards. The town is a renowned regional supplier, making it a good stop for some winery-hopping. From picking to tours about processing to wine tasting, a relaxing detour around Plymouth is a worthwhile stop just to mellow down during your Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip.
Some of the best wineries we recommend are Scott Harvey Winery (try out their Mountain Select Zinfandel!)Jeff Runquist Wines (Barbera is a must!) and Cooper Vineyards (surprise yourself with some Sangiobello!).
Around one hour and 10 minutes from Plymouth, follow CA-49 S and take a left at Ridge Road. Keep your eye open for CA-88 E on the left, and then take a left at Pine Grove Volcano Road towards Chaw’ Se’ Roundhouse.
A.k.a Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, this 135-acre area is the home to North America’s most extensive bedrock mortar collection. Step back into the native Miwok lives, where they use the holes to grind food. There’s also a museum and reconstruction of their ceremonial roadhouse. Some petroglyphs depict the tribe’s way of living. Wildlife is also everywhere, with turkeys, bobcats, woodpeckers, squirrels, and black bears. People of all ages will love a journey through the grounds of Chaw’se’ Roundhouse.
Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark
Just 3 minutes from Chaw’se’ Roundhouse, this natural gem is a cradle to helictites, a rare rock formation that only five percent of caves worldwide have. Going down 225 feet below the ground and 3136 feet, venturing into the unique beauty of this place is like living the movie “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
Every family member will enjoy a 50-minute guided tour with stalagmites, stalactites, and helictites while traversing through stairs in the cavern system. You can come Monday to Friday, from 9 AM to 6 PM. Wear grippy shoes so you don’t trip.
You’ll reach the historic landmark Maiden’s Grave almost an hour from Black Chasm Caves, tracing CA-88. It was a marker for Rachel Melton, who was traveling with her family when she got sick and succumbed to death. Her family buried her under an unmarked tree, which they returned to after a few years but didn’t find her. That was until campers found a body a couple of miles from the site. They thought it was Rachel’s and added a headstone at that point.
But then, another was found on the original site after a property owner cleaned his land, and it was proclaimed the “Real Maiden’s Grave .” The mystery of the first body was unraveled, and identified as Allen Miton from Henry County.
There’s nothing much to see on this site but the nature and serenity surrounding it. Travelers who pass by stop to pay their respects to the tragic death of an innocent child.
Fallen Leaf Lake
An hour from Maiden’s Grave, pushing on through CA-88 until it merges with CA-89 and taking a left, you’ll finally arrive at Fallen Leaf Lake at South Lake Tahoe. Although not as big as its sibling Lake Tahoe, this 415-foot lake captures the hearts of many with its clear waters and Mt. Tallac and Desolation Wilderness in the background.
You can enjoy a 15-minute stroll towards the water or opt for more challenging ones, such as the Angora Ridge loop trail. There are rentals for kayaks and boats so you can enjoy and explore Fallen Leaf’s beauty as part of your road trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe.
What to see in the North Lake Route
Taking the North Lake Route? Here’s what you can expect to see and experience:
California Agriculture Museum
Just 20 minutes from Sacramento, pedal tractors, wagons, and harvesters, the collection at California Agriculture Museum celebrates the rich history of the state’s farming culture since it boomed during the Gold Rush Era. Kids will enjoy the tractors at Kid’s Corner, and you will enjoy the informative tour led by friendly docents or walk around on a self-guided audio tour. To get there, get to I-5 N and exit at Co Road 102 before heading straight to Hays Lane. Remember to check out the displays at the Blacksmith Shop and Early Barns and Livestock.
Forty minutes from the California Agriculture Museum is Yuba City. To reach this culturally diverse town, take a left on Co Road 102 for 8.3 miles before continuing CA-113 N for another 17 miles and taking a right turn at Obanion Road. Follow it until it merges with CA-99 N, and take a right at Colusa Avenue.
Yuba City has plenty of offers for its visitors. Whether you’re out as a foodie, a nature lover, or on a family trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe, there is something for everyone. Your family can play at NorCal Escape Co. or have a friendly race at Millenium Kart Racing. Join a guided tour at Sutter Buttes, visit the Bok Kai Temple, or simply enjoy the beauty of Ellis Lake Park.
Englebright Dam and Lake
Roughly half an hour away from Yuba City via Hwy 20 E, you’ll get to Englebright Dam and Lake. The 40-mile Yuba River travels through the 815-acre reservoir of Englebright Lake, with the 280-foot dam holding the waters back. You can rent a boat and enjoy cruising or throw in a line. You might be lucky to catch largemouth bass, brown trout, or catfish. Hike up to the overlook and see the dam from a different point of view or simply plunge into the water and enjoy swimming.
South Yuba River State Park
Just 20 minutes of drive through Mooney Flat Road and Pleasant Valley Road, the swimming holes of the 11,000-acre South Yuba River State Park await. Hike up the Buttermilk Bend Trail, or enjoy the accessible and ADA-friendly Independence Trail. If you come around during April, the wildflowers in the area bloom to their most beautiful, adding more allure to the overall magic of South Yuba River State Park.
Many people spend the whole day just cooling off at the swimming holes, following the trails, visiting the Bridgeport Covered Bridge, or fishing. You might also spot black bears and lions during your visit.
Driving back through Pleasant Valley Road and turning left at Bitney Springs Road, you’ll hit the Grass Valley after half an hour. Famous as the wealthiest gold-mining town in the state, spending some time here will lead you to a rich history, culture, and plenty of fun.
Have fun on your Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip and see the Empire Mine State Historic Park collection, watch a show at Del Oro Theatre, or enjoy some wine at Lucchesi Vineyards Tasting Room and Sierra Star Winery. Get some adrenaline kicks going through the rope courses at Project Adventure and swing the club at 49er Fun Park. Once you’re beat, head to South Pine Cafe for a massive and delicious meal (their Smoldering Pine Burger is to die for!) to refuel.
Rock Creek Nature Study Area
Half an hour away from Grass Valley through Hwy 20 E, the piece of nature at Rock Creek Nature Study Area offers opportunities to hike and fish. The streams and wooden boardwalks make it ideal for families. Picnic tables are also available.
Take the 1.3 km loop trail at the heart of the forest, where you’ll also encounter information boards about the specific ecosystems and will only need around 20 minutes to complete. You can also check out the historic Rock Creek Mill Site near the trailhead. There’s also the more challenging Mosquito Flats Trail to add to your Sacramento to Lake Tahoe itinerary.
Head back to Hwy 20 E and drive for another 18.9 miles before exiting at Forest Route 18 to reach the Emerald Pools after 40 minutes of driving. These swimming holes at the South Yuba River allow you to replenish after hiking the nearby trails. Bouldering and fishing are also popular activities here.
Now, the water flow in the cascading waterfalls and the depth of the waters in Emerald Pools depends on how much water the Englebright Dam releases. So depending on the weather, you might find it shallower/deeper than usual during your Sacramento to Lake Tahoe trip.
The Upper Falls needs you to climb borders carefully before getting to a scenic outlook. The Middle and Lower are easier to traverse. Just a reminder, the water current is unreliable, so stay aware of your surroundings.
Learn more in our guide, How Deep is Lake Tahoe?
Donner Pass and Donner Summit Bridge
The Donner Pass and Summit Bridge are just half an hour from Emerald Pools. Just head back to Hwy 20 E, drive until it merges with I-80 E, and exit at 174 to Soda Springs. Turn right to Donner Pass Road and continue driving until you reach the pass.
Its name was from the tragic history of the traveling group known as Donner Party using the route whose members were trapped due to heavy winter. Only half of them survived by consuming other members to keep themselves alive.
Today, the 7,056-foot Donner Summit Bridge offers travelers a safe, scenic route. You can access the bottom of the bridge through nearby parking lots. There are also neighboring sites you can check out if you have the time, such as the Donner Lake Vista Point, Donner Lake Swing, China Wall Donner Pass, and Donner Tunnels.
The last stop for your Sacramento to Lake Tahoe via the North Lake Tahoe route, Truckee, this mountain town barely 20 minutes from Donner Pass, is packed with fun and exciting activities to offer.
Explore Donner Memorial State Park, kayaking at Truckee River, and gulp ice-cold drinks from Truckee Brewing Company. If you stop by during winter, you’ll love the diverse winter sports in Truckee. Even walking downtown will immerse you in the local scenes without spending a penny.
Where to stay
The trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe is pretty short. Your accommodations will also depend on which route you take. But if you decide to take it slow, here are some of our recommended stays:
The South Lake Route
We recommend spending the night at Plymouth if you’re following the South Lake Tahoe Route. There are some of the best stays in the area:
The North Lake Tahoe Route
We suggest you take your first stop at Yuba City for North Lake Tahoe.
- Thousand Trails Lake Minden
- Bonanza Inn & Suites
- Best Western Yuba City Inn
- Hampton Inn & Suites Yuba City
Staying overnight at South Yuba River State Park is also fun. You can camp in the designated area or do dispersed camping. There are 16 sites for tents, 6 for RVs, and 15 for ADA-friendly, all equipped with clean water, tables, fire rings, and pit toilets.
If you decide to book a room, check out these accommodation options for a comfy stay during your Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip:
The Donner/Truckee area has a plethora of overnight stays, both camping, and lodges. You can pitch up a tent at Donner Memorial State Park. You can also check out these accommodations for a good night’s rest:
Other Ways to Reach Lake Tahoe
Flying from Sacramento (SMF) to Reno (RNO) near North Lake Tahoe will cost a round trip of $250-$500. Travel time will also depend on how many stops you will take (usually one or two).
Once you reach the airport, you must ride a shuttle like the North Lake Tahoe Express to drop you to your accommodation.
There are various ways to use the bus from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe. Here’s a quick rubric to help you:
|Bus Line||El Dorado Transit||Greyhound|
|Travel Time||2.5-4 Hours||3.5 Hours|
|Departs From||Sacramento Valley Station||Greyhound Sacramento Bus Station|
|Arrives At||South Lake Tahoe Stateline Transit Center||Greyhound Truckee Bus Station|
|Services on-Board||Wi-Fi, bike, and wheelchair racks||Wi-Fi, restroom, power plugs, entertainment|
|Operational Times||10 AM||10:35 AM and 6:55 PM|
El Dorado Transit has only one trip to Lake Tahoe, so make sure you book your ticket in advance and arrive at the station at least 20 minutes before the scheduled departure. The Greyhound is your best option for North Lake Tahoe. Once Greyhound drops you at Truckee Bus Station, you must hop aboard a TART bus heading for Highway 267.
You can also take the Amtrak train from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe. The journey will take around 4 hours and cost $33-$44/person. Just head to Sacramento Valley Station, and you’ll be dropped off at Truckee Amtrak Station, where you must ride the TART bus afterward.
You can also opt for a rideshare like Uber or Lyft. Carpooling is also possible if you’re with friends and split the gas expenses among yourselves. Travel time will only take under 4 hours if you go nonstop.
There’s no shuttle service from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe.
What to bring – Checklist
Here’s a quick guide on things you might need for your Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip:
- Driver’s license
- Road maps/GPS
- Cell phone
- Power bank/ Car charger
- Cash and bank cards.
- First aid kit
- Emergency roadside kit
- Spare car keys
- Vehicle manual
- Spare change for tolls or parking meters.
- Food, snacks, and drinks for the journey
- Reusable water bottles.
- Travel pillows and blankets
- Extra clothing and shoes
- Sunscreen and insect repellent
- Entertainment options include books, magazines, games, or portable music players.
- Travel adapter or charger for electronic devices.
- Camera or smartphone for capturing memories.
- Binoculars for scenic views or wildlife spotting.
- Travel-sized laundry detergent for washing clothes during long trips.
- Plastic bags or Ziploc bags for organizing and storing items.
- Umbrella or raincoat.
- Extra batteries for electronic devices.
- Portable phone mount or holder for hands-free navigation.
- Portable gas can or fuel container, especially for remote areas.
- Travel-sized toiletries and cosmetics.
- Paper towels or napkins.
- Portable camping stove or grill if you plan to cook outdoors.
- Camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, camp chairs) if you’re camping
Remember to tailor this checklist as needed. Have a safe and enjoyable journey!
Sacramento to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Itinerary
South Lake Tahoe
- Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park
- Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
- Chaw’se’ Roundhouse
- Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark
- Maiden’s Grave
- Fallen Leaf Lake
North Lake Tahoe
- California Agriculture Museum
- Yuba City
- Englebright Dam and Lake
- South Yuba River State Park
- Grass Valley
- Rock Creek Nature Study Area
- Emerald Pools
- Donner Pass and Donner Summit Bridge
The road less traveled has led us to hidden gems and breathtaking vistas, reminding us of the incredible wonders that await just beyond our comfort zones. It has reminded us of the power of exploration and the joy of discovering new places, cultures, and experiences while on a road trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe.
But this Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip is not just a simple trip but also a metaphorical one—a reminder that life is about embracing the journey and appreciating the moments that unfold along the way. It teaches us to savor our surroundings’ beauty, connect with nature, and cherish the simple pleasures that bring us joy.
So, pack your bags, hit the road, and let the enchantment of the Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip unveil itself to you. Embrace the serenity of alpine lakes, the grandeur of mountain peaks, and the warmth of local hospitality.
And remember, the road awaits, eager to guide you on your next adventure, where new horizons and exciting possibilities await.
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How long is the drive from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe?
With the itinerary we tailored, the North Lake Route covers 149 miles/240 Km, while the South Lake Route has 138 miles/222 Km.
Learn more in our Sacramento to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Guide.
How long does a road trip take from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe?
riving nonstop will only need 2 hours and 9 minutes for the North Lake Tahoe Route and 2 Hours and 21 Minutes for South Lake Tahoe Route. Both will need roughly an overnight stay at one point so you can enjoy the attractions without rushing.
Learn more in our Sacramento to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Guide.
What to see on a Road trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe?
On the North Lake Tahoe you can see:
– Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark
– Maiden’s Grave
– Fallen Leaf Lake
On the South Lake Tahoe you can see:
– Englebright Dam and Lake
– Grass Valley
– Rock Creek Nature Study Area
– Emerald Pools
Check out more places to see in our Sacramento to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Guide.