North Lake Tahoe vs. South Lake Tahoe for a Ski Vacation

Lake Tahoe on the border of California and Nevada offers two distinct areas for a ski vacation: North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe. Excitement and adventure await at each incredible location, but which is best for your next ski trip? Here we dig into the pros and cons of each– it’s North Lake Tahoe vs. South Lake Tahoe in a battle of winter supremacy. From the best ski vacation deals and lodging to nightlife and gambling opportunities, we’ve got you covered.

There's ample skiing and entertainment on both the north and south side of Lake Tahoe. Which is best? We break it down here.
There’s ample skiing and entertainment on both the north and south side of Lake Tahoe. Which is best? We break it down here.

Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts

Winner: North Lake Tahoe. While very close, North Lake Tahoe gets the nod for better skiing basically because there are more total ski resorts to explore on the north end. In the North, skiers can hit the slopes at top resorts like Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar and Sugar Bowl.

Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics and has a colossal base village and spans more than 4,000 acres over six mountains. Alpine Meadows delivers 2,400 acres and seven bowls in a uniquely relaxed atmosphere. Northstar is consistently named one of the best ski resorts in the West for both beginners and advanced skiers. Sugar Bowl is a smaller, lesser-known resort with a rich history and big action at an incredibly affordable rate.

Other ski areas in the vicinity include Boreal Mountain Resort, Diamond Peak, Donner Ski Ranch, Homewood Mountain Resort and Mt. Rose Ski Resort.

South Lake Tahoe offers skiing at popular resorts like Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe and nearby Kirkwood. Heavenly Resort lives up to its angelic name, with more than 400 inches of snow and 300 bluebird days per year on average. It’s the largest ski resort in Nevada and California. Sierra-at-Tahoe has a strikingly diverse amount of terrain with steep chutes and electrifying backcountry that’s a hit will skiers of all ages and abilities.

But North and South Lake Tahoe are comparable in overall size of terrain and difficulty, so it’s really a win-win for skiers and riders no matter which you choose. We chose North Lake Tahoe because it has a larger concentration of ski areas in comparison.

Lake Tahoe Activities

Winner: North Lake Tahoe. The North Lake Tahoe area is a wonderland of big outdoor adventure for families and children. The remote and wide-open landscape provides an abundance of fun outside during all four seasons. In the winter, there’s ample cross-country skiing trails, high-altitude snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sledding and tubing. Nearby Donner Lake is both awe-inspiring and beautiful, and a perfect getaway for a picturesque day trip.

South Lake Tahoe has legendary ice fishing opportunities at Red Lake near Kirkwood along with Caples Lake and Silver Lake. There are also some nice Nordic spots, snowmobiling outings, sleigh rides, ice skating and other winter amusements. You won’t have a hard time finding something unique to try when you’re not ripping the mountain.

This one was almost too close to call a winner, but we went with North Lake Tahoe because of its vast array of activities, stunning scenery and more secluded feel when you’re out exploring. 

Gambling and Nightlife at Lake Tahoe

Winner: South Lake Tahoe. The South Shore has fewer ski resorts than North Lake Tahoe but presents a livelier nightlife scene. The North Shore is surrounded by wilderness and is generally quieter.

South Lake Tahoe is a constant party off the mountain, with gambling, Vegas-style shows, live music and lots of tasty beverages and après-ski fun. (Gambling is legal on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.) The South Shore is peppered with breweries, clubs, pubs and a public fire pit. Play a few hands of blackjack at Montbleu Casino & Resort, Harrah’s Casino or the Hard Rock Casino. Harrah’s is the most upscale casino in South Lake Tahoe and is within walking distance to the Heavenly gondola. The hotel/casino has six restaurants on site and serves up an endless list of live music, stand-up comedy and theater performances throughout the year.

The North Shore is no slouch when it comes to nighttime fun and there are plenty of diversions after a day on the mountain. Try your luck on the loose slots or catch a stand-up comedy show, then dance at a trendy night club with a live DJ on the ones and twos. It’s the perfect end to an exciting ski day. Crystal Bay Casino is a popular destination for big-name acts in music and stand-up comedy and presents an entertaining environment to try and strike it rich. Nearby Incline Village is another hip spot for late-night shenanigans.

You can’t go wrong on either side of the lake when it comes to grown-up entertainment, but we’ll give the nod to South Lake Tahoe because of the sheer number of casinos and the never-ending party atmosphere.

Lake Tahoe Dining

Winner: South Lake Tahoe. You won’t go hungry on either side of the lake, but South Lake Tahoe takes the win on this one based on the number of excellent dining experiences that have awesome food and amazing views. Foodies love the choices in and around South Lake Tahoe.

The South Shore is sprinkled with delectable dining in a wide variety of cuisines ranging from perfectly grilled American steaks and fresh Pacific seafood to flawless spicy Thai cuisine and immaculate Italian fare. Jimmy’s is a stylist Greek eatery with a scenic patio. Café Fiore is an intimate Italian spot with an excellent wine list. Scusa Italian Ristorante is a more upscale place for Italian fare in Lake Valley. The Chart House has premier seafood and breathtaking views. Bistro Edgewood is another great spot to dine, have a drink and catch an unbelievable view of the lake.

Dining on the north end of the lake is more sporadic, with restaurants spread across the North Shore and the nearby city of Truckee. Gar Woods Grill and Pier on the lake serves up tasty eats and has a patio with picture-perfect views. Bite American Tapas near Crystal Bay is a festive place for small American plates and the Lone Eagle Grille at the nearby Hyatt Regency is a great spot for a prime cut. Austin’s Restaurant is laid back and unfussy while serving up all the usual American favorites.

Lake Tahoe is an enormous lake that straddles the California/Nevada state line.
Lake Tahoe is an enormous lake that straddles the California/Nevada state line.

Peace and Quiet at Lake Tahoe

Winner: North Lake Tahoe. The North Shore is more wooded and remote than South Lake Tahoe and is recommended for those who want a more secluded getaway. North Lake Tahoe has fewer developments and more natural wildlife, so it has more of a traditional mountain feel. The nearby towns of Incline Village, Tahoe City, Tahoe Vista and Truckee are laid back and no-frills, but have a warm and welcoming charm. They’re not known as party towns, but there’s plenty to do.

South Lake Tahoe has more of a Vegas feel – with bright lights, bustling traffic and partygoers getting after it until the wee hours of the morning. The casinos run 24/7 and there’s lots of late-night eats and treats on the South Shore. There are quiet spaces to be had, but you’ll need to travel a little further off the beaten path to find them. South Lake Tahoe is chock-full of nonstop stimulations, and certainly isn’t the place to visit if you want to catch up on sleep.

Lake Tahoe Lodging

Winner: South Lake Tahoe. South Lake has a long list of lodging choices ranging from family-owned bed and breakfasts to high-end luxury brand hotels. Nicer accommodations feature breathtaking views of the lake and mountains as well as all the amenities you’d expect at a first-class resort. Skiers and riders have no problem getting first chair at Heavenly with a few luxury hotels only steps from the gondola for a true ski-in, ski-out experience. Forest Suites Resorts and Hotel Becket both have current deals for savings on lodging right here on our site. There are also coupons for savings on ski rentals, ski rental delivery, lift tickets, transportation, ski vacation packages, spa services and massage specials.

Kirkwood, about an hour south of the lake in a remote area with untouched trails, has some great ski-in, ski-out options and a few more affordable hotels just off the slopes. SkiCoupons.com has big savings on condo rentals and lift tickets with Rocky Mountain Getaways.  At Kirkwood, you can also save on ski rentals, rental delivery, lift tickets, relaxing spa treatments and massages.

At North Lake Tahoe, the self-contained village at Northstar is a popular destination for families and powder hounds. Everything you need is right there – cozy and elegant lodging, great restaurants and fun off-mountain activities. There are a few hotels that range from five-star luxury resorts to more affordable options. Rocky Mountain Getaways has ski vacation deals at Northstar-at-Tahoe that include free nights of lodging and additional savings and benefits. Guests can choose from several guest rooms and the largest inventory of lodging choices in Tahoe.

Squaw Valley has epic skiing in the north and serves up deals on lodging, rentals, lift tickets and overall ski vacation packages. Condo-style rooms at Squaw Valley Lodge are located on the mountain and grant immediate access to the ski lifts.  The four-star resort has an on-site sauna, health club and spa and is a short walk to the nearby base village.

Share Your Lake Tahoe Ski Experience

Have you skied North Lake Tahoe during the winter? Have you ever skied the South Shore during the day and hit the casinos at night? Did you win big on the slopes and at the tables? While it’s possible to stay on one side and ski the other, it’s probably best to take two separate trips and decide which is best for you.

Was our head-to-head analysist spot on or did we miss the mark? What would you recommend? Let us know how your perfect Tahoe vacation would go. We’d love to hear from you!

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