Sacramento to Lake Tahoe Road Trip

If you’re looking for a scenic and adventurous road trip in Northern California, look no further than the drive from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe. This route takes you through the stunning Sierra Nevada mountain range and past some of the region’s most beautiful natural landmarks. Whether you’re looking for outdoor activities, charming small towns, or breathtaking vistas, this road trip has a little something for everyone. In this guide, we’ll take you through the highlights of a Sacramento to Lake Tahoe road trip, providing different route ideas, tips on where to stop, what to see, and how to make the most of your journey.

What's the Distance Between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe?

The distance between Sacramento, California, and Lake Tahoe is approximately 95 miles when traveling along US-50 E. The distance will vary depending on the specific starting and ending points in each location, as well as the route taken. The travel time by car is typically around 2 hours, subject to traffic and weather conditions.

View of downtown Sacramento
Sacramento, the state capital of California is the starting point for this road trip.

Best Routes Between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe

The destination for this road trip, Lake Tahoe, encompasses a significant area. It not only includes the large lake but also a series of excellent towns and stops along the lake’s shoreline. So, for this road trip, we’ve used Tahoma in Lake Tahoe as the endpoint, while downtown Sacramento is our starting point. 

There are two main routes to consider when driving this route from Sacramento to Tahoma: the northern route along the I-80 and the southern route on US-50. Both routes are an identical distance, although the northern route is slightly quicker to travel. Both routes also offer stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and access to beautiful parks and natural landmarks.  

The northern route is the most popular among travelers due to its picturesque drive through the Donner Pass and the historic town of Truckee. The Donner Pass is a high mountain pass that provides breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Donner Lake. Shortly afterward is the historic town of Truckee, which is a charming destination that offers plenty of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

The southern route offers a different perspective on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and takes you through winding roads that pass through scenic forests and mountain towns. This route also provides access to some of the best hiking trails in the region, including the famous Rubicon Trail.


Main Attractions


Driving Time

Northern Route on I-80

  • Auburn
  • Donner Memorial State Park
  • Squaw Valley

121 miles

2 hours 15 minutes

Southern Route on US-50

  • El Dorado Hills
  • Folsom
  • Placerville
  • Apple Hill
  • Sutter Creak
  • Emerald Bay State Park

121 miles

2 hours 30 minutes

Northern Route on I-80

If you’re looking for a scenic drive from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe, you can’t go far wrong with the I-80 route. Starting from Sacramento, you immediately take the I-80 E towards Lake Tahoe. After traveling through Roseville and Rocklin in northern-east Sacramento, you’re onto the open road. The first stop on the route is Auburn, a charming town located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The town is known for its gold rush history, and visitors can explore Old Town Auburn with its historic buildings, antique shops, and galleries.

From Auburn, continue along the I-80 E, passing through the towns of Colfax, Emigrant Gap, and Soda Springs. Your destination is Donner Memorial State Park, located on the north shore of Donner Lake. Before you reach the park, you’ll pass through the spectacular Donner Pass with far-reaching views of the Sierra Nevada.

Donner Memorial State Park is named after the infamous Donner Party, who were stranded here during a brutal winter in 1846-1847. It’s one of the best parks in Northern California, and visitors come to hike the trails, picnic by the lake, and explore the museum to learn about the area’s history.

From Donner Memorial State Park, it’s then a short drive to Truckee, where you leave the I-80 and head southbound on CA-89 S. This leads you to the final stop on our road trip, Squaw Valley, a world-renowned ski resort that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. In the summer, visitors can take the aerial tram to High Camp, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and access to a swimming pool, roller skating rink, and other activities.

The bridge at Donner Pass
The spectacular Donner Pass provides great views of the Sierra Nevada.

Southern Route: Scenic Drive on US-50

The southern route starts in downtown Sacramento, and you head east on US-50. The first stop is Folsom, located about 30 minutes east of Sacramento. Folsom is a charming city known for its historic district, where you’ll find antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. If you have time, check out the Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, which showcases the city’s gold rush history.

The next potential stop is El Dorado Hills, a picturesque community nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Visitors can enjoy various outdoor activities here, including hiking and mountain biking. Alternatively, you can explore the town’s unique shopping and dining options.

Continuing along, US-50 takes you to Placerville, known as the “Old Hangtown” due to its history as a Gold Rush-era town. Most visitors head for the historic Main Street, lined with charming shops and restaurants, or tour the nearby Gold Bug Mine. One attraction outside Placerville is Apple Hill, a region known for its rich apple orchards and pumpkin patches. It’s a great stop during the fall months.

A possible detour From Placerville and the US-50 is Sutter Creek. It’s a 45-minute drive south of Placerville along the CA-49 S. Sutter Creek is another Gold Rush-era town famous for its preserved Main Street and historic architecture. It’s popular with visitors who love to explore the town’s galleries, antique shops, and wineries. The guided walking tours to learn more about the area’s history are very popular and come highly recommended.

The final stop on the route is Emerald Bay State Park, a must-see attraction in the Lake Tahoe region. The park features stunning views of Emerald Bay, one of the most photographed spots in Lake Tahoe, as well as miles of hiking trails and a historic Vikingholm Castle.

From Emerald Bay State Park, it’s just a short hop to the final destination of Tahoma. By the end of your road trip, you will have covered at least 121 miles and considerably more if you’ve taken the detour to Sutter Creek. You will have experienced a good mix of history, outdoor adventure, and natural beauty along this route, which makes it a great option for anyone looking to explore the region between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.

Aerial view of Emerald Bay in Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay State Park is one of Lake Tahoe's most picturesque areas.

Best Things to see Between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe

There’s no shortage of attractions in this picturesque part of Northern California. That includes both Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, which are both fantastic destinations in their own right.

Here are 10 of the very best things to see between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe:

  1. Lake Tahoe: This natural wonder is the main attraction of the road trip. With its crystal-clear waters and picturesque scenery, Lake Tahoe is a must-see destination.

  2. Emerald Bay State Park: This park is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Tahoe and is famous for its stunning views of the bay and the surrounding mountains. The park also offers access to a beautiful beach, hiking trails, and a historic mansion.

  3. Donner Memorial State Park: This park is located near the Donner Pass and is a great place to learn about the area’s history. The park includes a museum, hiking trails, and beautiful picnic areas.

  4. Squaw Valley: This ski resort was the host of the 1960 Winter Olympics and is one of the most popular skiing destinations in the region. Even if you’re not visiting during the winter season, the resort offers plenty of hiking trails and outdoor activities.

  5. Auburn: This small town is known for its historic charm, with numerous buildings dating back to the Gold Rush era. Stop by the Auburn State Recreation Area to enjoy hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities.

  6. Placerville: Another Gold Rush-era town, Placerville is home to the historic Hangman’s Tree, a former execution site. Check out the local wineries and breweries, or explore the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

  7. Folsom: The city of Folsom is known for its beautiful lake, which offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and swimming. Visit the Folsom State Recreation Area or the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary for outdoor fun.

  8. Apple Hill: If you’re traveling in the fall, stop by Apple Hill, a region known for its apple orchards and pumpkin patches. Enjoy some fresh apple cider, or pick your own apples straight from the trees.

  9. Sutter Creek: This charming town has numerous art galleries and antique shops. Stroll down Main Street and check out the local museums, or head to the nearby Black Chasm Cavern for some underground exploring.

  10. Old Sacramento: The historic district of Old Sacramento is a must-see on any road trip between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento. Walk along the cobblestone streets and check out the historic buildings, or ride a riverboat.

Your Destination - Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a beautiful destination that offers something for everyone. It’s also a destination that offers something a little different each season. Visitors to the area can enjoy a wide variety of different outdoor activities, including hiking, skiing, and water sports, while there are also more relaxing activities available. Fishing, spa resorts, and exploring the area’s rich history and culture rank highly amongst visitors.

One of the top attractions in Lake Tahoe is the lake itself, which is known for its crystal-clear waters and stunning mountain views. You can take a boat tour, rent a kayak or paddleboard, or relax on one of the many beaches around the lake. You can even swim in the lake during the summer months.

For those who love hiking, Lake Tahoe has numerous trails that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and forests. The Tahoe Rim Trail is a popular option, as it circles the entire lake and covers more than 170 miles. While the mountains are popular with hikers in summer, during the winter months, they’re a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. The area is home to several world-class ski resorts, including Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and Heavenly.

In addition to all the outdoor activities, Lake Tahoe also boasts a rich history and culture to explore. The area was home to several Native American tribes, and visitors can learn about their history and traditions at the Gatekeeper’s Museum in Tahoe City or the Thunderbird Lodge. There’s also a vibrant nightlife scene with plenty of concerts, festivals, and other events throughout the year, as well as a variety of dining and shopping options across the towns surrounding the lake.

The clear waters and forests of Lake Tahoe
The combination of mountains, forests and crystal clear waters make Lake Tahoe a beautiful setting

Best Towns to Visit Around Lake Tahoe

If you’ve made the road trip to Lake Tahoe, you might be tempted to kick back and relax.  The lake’s crystal clear waters and stunning mountain scenery give it a serene feel, but there are plenty of good reasons to get out and about exploring. The area is home to several charming towns that are well worth visiting. From historic landmarks to world-class dining, these towns each have something to offer to every type of traveler. Here are some of the best towns to visit in Lake Tahoe.

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is one of the most famous towns in Lake Tahoe, and for good reason. The town offers easy access to the lake, several ski resorts, and a vibrant nightlife scene. You can enjoy various outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and water sports, as well as world-class dining and shopping.

One of the highlights of South Lake Tahoe is the Heavenly Ski Resort, which offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the area. You can also take a scenic gondola ride to the top of the mountain, where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding mountains.


Located on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Truckee is a historic town that offers a glimpse into the area’s rich past. The town is home to several historic landmarks, including the Donner Memorial State Park, commemorating the tragic story of the Donner Party.

Visitors to Truckee can also enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including skiing, snowboarding, and hiking. In the summer months, the town hosts several festivals and events, including the Truckee Thursday street fair.

Tahoe City

Tahoe City is a charming town that is located on the western shore of Lake Tahoe. The town offers a variety of shopping and dining options, as well as access to several beautiful beaches and hiking trails.

One of the highlights of Tahoe City is the Tahoe City Marina, which offers boat rentals and scenic lake cruises. You can also explore the Tahoe Maritime Museum, which showcases the area’s rich maritime history.

Incline Village

Incline Village is a beautiful town that is located on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. The town is home to several beautiful beaches and hiking trails, as well as world-class golf courses.

One of the highlights of Incline Village is the Diamond Peak Ski Resort, which offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the area. Well-heeled visitors can also explore the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, which provides various dining and spa options.

Kings Beach

Kings Beach is a charming town that is located on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. The town offers access to several beautiful beaches, as well as a variety of shopping and dining options.

One of the highlights of Kings Beach is the Kings Beach State Recreation Area, which offers a variety of water sports and beach activities. Visitors can also explore the North Tahoe Regional Park, which offers numerous hiking trails and various recreational activities.

Best Time to Road Trip Between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe

The best time to take a road trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe is during the summer months, from June to August. During this time, the weather is warm and sunny, and the roads are clear of snow and ice. This makes it easier to explore the area’s natural beauty, including hiking trails, lakes, and scenic drives. Additionally, many of the area’s attractions, such as Emerald Bay State Park and Tahoe City, are open and bustling with activity during the summer season.

However, it’s worth noting that summer is also the peak tourist season in Lake Tahoe, so expect larger crowds and higher prices for accommodations and activities. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and save some money, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of spring (April to May) or fall (September to November). During these months, the weather is still pleasant, and the area’s natural beauty is on full display, but with fewer tourists and lower prices. Winter (December to March) is also a popular time to visit for winter sports enthusiasts, but road conditions can be more challenging due to snow and ice, so plan accordingly.

Related Content

Can you Drive to Whidbey Island?

Seattle to North Cascades

Zion National Park to Horseshoe Bend

Best National Parks to Visit in June

Vancouver to Cabo San Lucas

Latest Blog Posts

Can you Drive to Morocco?

You can drive to Morocco from the neighboring countries of Spain and Mauritania, but not Algeria, despite a nearly 2000 km long border between the two countries. Travel between Morocco and any of its neighbors comes with its fair share of challenges. At first glance, you could be mistaken for

10 Best National Parks in Western Australia

If you love solitude, amazing landscapes, and vast open spaces, you’re going to love Western Australia. This amazing land, and the northwest in particular, is often referred to as the ‘Last Frontier’. It’s a land of endless remote possibilities and nowhere showcases this better than the amazing array of national

17 Best Things to do in Vlore

The Albanian port city of Vlore is one of Albania’s spectacular coastal highlights. Situated at the northern end of the Albanian Riviera and overlooking the beautiful Bay of Vlore, the city is blessed with a wealth of attractions. The home of Albanian independence and the gateway to the Riviera, the

Can you Drive to Tuktoyaktuk?

You can drive to remote Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean using the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, also known as the “Mackenzie Highway” or “Tuk Highway.” The road provides access to Tuktoyaktuk from Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Inuvik is accessible from mainland Canada by using the Dempster Highway, which runs all the