With its incredible weather and diverse terrain, the California High Sierra region is brimming with fun and unique outdoor adventures for families. Whether your family is full of adrenaline-fueled adventure-seekers or laid-back relaxers (or a combination of both), there are plenty of activities for kids of all ages, abilities, and adventure levels to enjoy in and around the area.
Run Wild In The Lake Tahoe Region Of The High Sierra
Hello! I’m Sara McCarty, mom and founder of Run Wild My Child, an online resource for busy parents all about getting their kids off screens and OUTSIDE! As a mom with school-aged kids, I’m always looking for ways to spend quality time together disconnecting to reconnect. One of the best ways we’ve found to do this is through travel.
Adventures In Travel
Traveling to a new place and partaking in exciting experiences together with your kids is an amazing way to build confidence, foster independence, and bond with your children. As our kids’ social and extra-curricular schedules get busier and screens dominate their attention, it’s more important than ever to make time for adventure with kids. California’s High Sierra region is the perfect destination for families looking for a wide variety of activities for everyone in their family.
My kids and I had the opportunity to spend some time in and around the High Sierra to check out some of the amazing things to do outside with kids. We were blown away with the variety of activities and unique experiences this destination has to offer. For every adventure with kids we did, there were ten others we wanted to do (we’ll have to come back)! It truly is a magical family-friendly location. Here are some of the highlights from our trip that we’d love to recommend to you.
Explore North Lake Tahoe
We started our adventure in the Village at Palisades Tahoe in North Lake Tahoe. This historic resort formerly known as Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Olympic winter games and is now a thriving dining, shopping, lodging, and ski resort. Did you know that some years you can ski into June?! What a fun place to get some slopeside action well past most traditional ski seasons. My kids were bummed we didn’t have time to ski. But even during the spring, there’s a ton for families to do! Have lunch at one of the many adorable restaurants (we loved 22 Bistro), ride the aerial tram to the top of the peak and take a rock climbing lesson, check out the unique shops, sign up for a yoga class, or zip through the ropes course.
Next, it’s time to get your blood pumping and go for a hike! The Lake Tahoe Basin has no shortage of unbelievably amazing hiking trails. No matter your kids’ skill level, you should easily be able to find a hike near you that’s sure to impress and burn some energy. If you want a relatively easy hike that ends with a bird’s eye view of the lake and all the snow-capped peaks, we highly suggest the Eagle Rock Trail. This hike takes you up to some of the most stunning views in the area. We felt like we were on top of the world!
If you’re up for a water adventure with kids, Tahoe Sailing Charters offers cruises on the crystal clear lake multiple times a day all summer long. Cruises leave out of the charming and picturesque Tahoe City and are the perfect way to experience the beauty of Lake Tahoe in comfort and luxury. The staff at Tahoe Sailing was top-notch and were great about letting the kids get involved and answering their questions. My kids got to steer the boat, help with the rigging, explore the cabin and even help pick the playlist! Watching the sunset on the sparkling water and feeling the wind through your hair was an incredible experience! It also worked up our appetites. So, we headed over to Za’s for dinner and drinks on their waterfront patio, surrounded by twinkle lights.
Rest & Reconnect
At the end of the day, rest and reconnect at the beautiful Sunnyside Lodge on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. This rustic beachfront hotel and restaurant has the most gorgeous views of the lake, incredible food, and friendly staff. They even provided the kids with string and hot dogs so we could watch the sunset and catch giant crawfish on the beach! Plus, the view out your window in the morning will take your breath away!
Outdoor Action In Truckee
A trip to the Lake Tahoe region wouldn’t be complete without exploring the town of Truckee. Truckee is well-known for its year-round outdoor adventures. Hiking, biking, skiing, climbing, skiing, fishing, and watersports to name just a few. It’s the perfect place for any family looking for an active outdoor vacation.
We started our day with a hike on the new Ridgeline Nature Loop in the Sawtooth Recreation Area of the Tahoe National Forest. Built by the Truckee Trails Foundation, this 1-mile loop complies with accessibility guidelines and is perfect for kids of all ages and abilities. The trail is flat, but there are plenty of opportunities to climb giant rocks, splash in the vernal pools, look for wildflowers, take in stunning vistas, and let your child run wild!
Have A Historic Time
Next, we highly recommend checking out the historic downtown Truckee area. This gem of a town is straight out of a postcard, with boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, book stores, coffee shops, and more. We had the most amazing pizza at Best Pies and the kids loved the complimentary tabletop games. They also loved the old-fashioned soda shop and the toy store. I could have spent hours browsing the book store and checking out the little boutiques. But, of course, our favorite was the fly fishing shop. The staff was super kind to the kids and outfitted my son with a few favorite local flies and tips for fishing the area.
The town of Truckee is rich with history and there’s no better place to learn about it than the Museum of Truckee History and Old Jail Museum. We took a tour of both with the super knowledgeable and charming Greg Zirbel, President of the Truckee-Donner Historical Society. Dressed the part and in full character, we got to hear tales of the past and learn a ton of history in a fun and entertaining way.
Keep It Green
While you’re popping into shops, be sure to pick up a Keep Truckee Green litter bag at one of the eleven participating businesses around town. Scan the QR code with your cell phone to fill out the one-time volunteer waiver. Then do your part to pick up trash and litter when you’re out exploring the area. Bring your bag of litter back to the business and exchange it for a discount, reusable straw, bamboo utensil set, swag, or a freshly baked treat!
A Bit Of Fishing
Finally, before leaving, we did a bit of fishing in the Truckee River that runs right through town. We walked along the beautiful bike path that runs along the river and did some geocaching! We loved this area and can’t wait to come back and explore more!
Family Friendly South Lake Tahoe
In South Lake Tahoe, family-friendly activities are found around every turn! No matter the season, the abundance of adventure with kids will keep your family happy, entertained, and having a blast! If you ask my kids about their favorite activities from our trip, nearly all of them were in Tahoe South!
Get The Kayaks
We began our day with a morning kayak trip on the lake with Tahoe Paddle Sports. This is a “must do” adventure. The clear kayaks let you see 60 feet down into the clear blue water. Our guide was knowledgeable and great with the kids. But the BEST part…he took tons of photos of all of us kayaking together and sent them to me after the trip. As my family’s photographer, I’m rarely in any of the photos with my kids when we’re out adventuring. These photos meant the world to this mama and were such a lovely surprise.
Space With A Waterfront View
If you’re staying in the South Lake Tahoe area, we highly recommend a suite at the Hotel Azure. We were blown away with how spacious and comfortable the suite was. With 2 separate bedrooms and a full kitchen, it’s perfect for larger families that like space, privacy and the option of cooking at your hotel! The pool and hot tub were also both big hits with the kids. The location was perfect for us; right across the street from the beach with lake views and easy access to the water. We made sure to take a dip, even though it was chilly!
From the hotel, you can easily walk down the beach (or bike path) for some shopping or grab a bite. We stopped for some delicious paninis and pastries from Revive Coffee & Wine, which has an adorable outdoor shaded back patio.
The Magic Of The Village
In the heart of South Lake Tahoe is Heavenly Village and ski resort. Heavenly Village is an experience all of its own. Filled with restaurants, shops, and entertainment, my kids could have spent all day here. They offer all kinds of outdoor family fun. Putt-putt golf, bungee trampoline jumping, ice skating, outdoor dining, shopping, and live music.
We wrapped up our South Lake Tahoe experience by attending the Magic Fusion live performance at the Loft Theater starring Nick Paul. This is a perfect family-friendly show for kids of all ages. From the card tricks in the lobby to both kids getting onstage during the show, this experience blew their minds! They spent the rest of the trip trying to figure out how the tricks were performed and haven’t been able to stop talking about how incredible South Lake Tahoe was!
Exploring Alpine County
Let’s move away from the hustle and bustle, south to Alpine County. Located on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas, northeast of Carson Pass sits Alpine County, California’s least populous county. The US government owns 96% of Alpine County, the highest percentage in the state, including 3 national forests: Eldorado, Stanislaus, and Humboldt–Toiyabe.
Perfect Little Mining Town
What’s left of the little mining town of Markleeville is about as cute and quaint as can be. Despite only being a few blocks long, Markleeville has a rich history and a lot of charm. We had the pleasure of meeting local historian and author Karen Dustman for a personal tour of Markleeville and the nearby Emigrant Trail. Karen and her husband were fantastic guides through the history of the town, its inhabitants, and local lore. We learned how the Comstock Lode found near Virginia City, NV and the subsequent silver boom triggered the city’s growth in the mid-1800s (and then led to its near demise when the industry collapsed).
The Alpine County Museum in Markleeville held the cleverly curated history of the area, from the silver boom to present day. It’s home to the original school house, jail, and the only fully operational stamp mill. We then went on a short hike up the Emigrant Trail, where we experience first-hand the route taken by the earliest settlers, straight up the mountains. The route isn’t difficult to hike, but nearly unfathomable when you think of hauling wagons full of everything you own over these mountains. There are places along the trails where you can still see wagon wheel tracks on the rocks and date markings from the crossings.
Relax In Hope Valley
Finally, we settled in for the evening at Wylder Resort in Hope Valley. Located along the banks of West Carson Fork River and nestled in a grove of aspen trees, Wylder Resort offers a variety of lodging options, such as cabins, traditional campsites, RVs, and custom yurts. Most of the adorable cabins were brought in from around the world, themed, and impeccably outfitted. On-site activities at Wylder include hiking, fly fishing, sauna, fine dining, snowshoeing and mountain biking, with many more nearby. Also, because of its sparse population, Hope Valley is one of the best places in all of California to stargaze! We just happened to be there during a lunar eclipse, which was a magical experience.
I have to give a little shout-out to the amazing staff at Wylder for being so incredibly family-friendly for our adventure with kids. Very rarely in my travels have I ever found a hotel (yet alone a luxury resort) that was so welcoming and kind to my wild kids. The staff helped us get set up, gave us tours of the property and cabins, showed us the best fly fishing spots, answered our questions, and went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. It was the perfect ending to an amazing trip.
If you’re looking for the perfect active, outdoorsy and kid-friendly destination for your family, we hope you’ll give the High Sierra area a try. Chances are, you’ll fall madly in love with the place (like we did) and have an adventure with kids that your family will be talking about for years!
Author: Sara McCarty
Sara is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Run Wild My Child. She leads, manages, and coaches the RWMC teams (Creative Team, Social Media Team, Executive Team), reviews all digital content for the website and products, works with brands on sponsored content, hosts the Run Wild MyChild podcast, and handles the behind-the-scenes aspects of the publication and brand.