The journey between the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles and the calm alpine hideaway of Lake Tahoe is nothing short of stunning, and I say that as someone who has visited both places multiple times. You’ll love going on a Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip to get away from the glittering lights of the city and head to the placid reflections of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
This trip will take you through some of my favorite spots in California, including Death Valley National Park, Yosemite National Park, and more. You’ll love exploring some lesser-known spots as well, and leave this trip with a new appreciation for California’s nature. I personally think Lake Tahoe is the most beautiful lake in the state, which is why I’ve been there both in the summer and winter.
In this article, we’ll go over tips to know before your LA to Lake Tahoe drive, ten stops you’ll want to make, and give you two sample itineraries for a LA to Tahoe road trip.
Tips for a Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe Drive
Proper prior planning goes a long way in making a good trip great. Before heading out to Lake Tahoe, here are some finer road trip tips to ensure yours is epic and memorable.
Can You Drive From Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe in One Day?
The short answer is yes, you can drive from Los Angeles directly to Lake Tahoe in one day. Without any stops along the way, the drive can be done in anything from around eight hours up to a staggering 15 hours, depending on the route you decide to use.
The first option for your Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip is the faster Death Valley Route on US-395. A more popular trip for most, heading to Lake Tahoe lets you get the best of the arid, harsh Mojave desert and the lush forest landscapes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. You’ll cover 440 miles with a total drive time of seven hours and 15 minutes.
On the other hand, the second option is the slower and more lengthy Sierra Nevada Route. This takes you along the I-5 and eventually onto CA-88, heading past six national forests and three national parks. You’ll cover 640 miles with a total drive time of 14 hours and 30 minutes.
Want a really long trip? You can go on this trip in the middle of a San Francisco to San Diego drive.
Are There Other Ways to Reach Lake Tahoe from Los Angeles?
Beyond driving to Lake Tahoe, there are a few alternative ways to reach this epic destination, although you’ll miss out on a lot.
You can choose to head out from LA to Lake Tahoe by these different methods:
- By plane: This is the easiest and quickest way to reach Lake Tahoe. It’s a short 90-minute flight from Los Angeles International (LAX) to Reno-Tahoe International (RNO). You’ll still need to drive for about an hour from RNO to reach the lake.
- By bus: By far, the cheapest way to reach Lake Tahoe is by grabbing a seat on the Greyhound bus to Reno. This option is quite long as you’ll be inside the bus for roughly 12 hours, with one bus change along the way.
- By train: There isn’t a direct train to Lake Tahoe from Los Angeles, but you can board Amtrak’s San Joaquins train. You’ll start with a bus from Union Station to Bakersfield, where you’ll get on the train. Arriving in Sacramento, you’ll get onto one of the Amtrak Thruway buses that will take you to Reno. This journey takes about 16 hours to complete.
However, the point of this article is to encourage you to drive it with all the stops along the way.
Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Map
10 Stops on a Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe Road Trip
You can’t simply tackle a road trip that crosses paths with the Mojave Desert, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and Yosemite without making a few stops. Here are some rave-worthy possible pitstops for your road trip to Lake Tahoe from Los Angeles.
1. Red Rock Canyon State Park
Sitting 120 miles from Los Angeles, the first majorly impressive stopping point is Red Rock Canyon State Park. You’ll reach this jewel after about two hours of driving, with it nestled at the converging point of the Sierra Nevada and El Paso mountains, and see why it’s a popular California to Arizona road trip stop.
You shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to see this somewhat undiscovered gem along Highway 395. What makes it so unique, though? Beyond its dramatic and colorful landscapes, several hiking trails are short enough to consider while you take a break from driving.
Two of the easiest ones, which won’t take up too much time, are the 1.2-mile Hagen Canyon Nature Trail and the 1-mile Red Cliffs Trail. If you’re not up for hiking, there are numerous sites where you can view ancient petroglyphs that don’t require any hiking to reach.
2. Death Valley National Park
Although it’s not technically on Highway 395, Death Valley National Park is a must-visit destination on your trip. The best way to reach Death Valley is to head from Red Rock Canyon to the entrance of Death Valley at Furnace Creek. It’s a 155-mile drive from Red Rock, easily doable in roughly two hours and 50 minutes.
The first time I was here, I was blown away by how beautiful it was (it’s one of my top California parks in addition to Joshua Tree). I had no idea what to expect, but I loved going on unique hikes, stopping at some of the roadside attractions, and discovering more about the history of the area.
As the largest national park in the continental US, it also boasts a few other titles, including the hottest, driest, and lowest point in the entire country. You’ll have enough eye-catching scenery from sand dunes, salt flats, multiple canyons, and captivating views here.
Some of, if not the top spots within the park, are:
- Badwater Basin: Officially the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin was once covered by a lake, which has long since evaporated. Today, at 282 feet below sea level, it’s a dramatic landscape almost stripped from an entirely different planet.
- Artists Drive & Artists Palette: One of the most scenic drives in the park, this 9-mile loop road takes you to some spectacular areas. Aside from the marvelous colors displayed along the various canyons and hills, you can stop and venture to the lookout point at Artists Palette after about five miles.
- Zabriskie Point: An iconic viewpoint in Death Valley, Zabriskie Point offers the most striking views of the surrounding badlands. Do a quick stop at the lookout point or hike either the Gower Gulch or Golden Canyon trails.
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: As one of the most accessible points in the park, the world-famous Mesquite sand dunes stretch for miles. If you’re up for some adventure, you can sandboard along the dunes or just capture a few Instagram-worthy snapshots.
Love national parks? Check out a Los Angeles to Sequoia National Park road trip.
3. Alabama Hills
Reaching the Alabama Hills once you’re done in Death Valley is a short-ish drive of about 105 miles, which should take, at most, just under two hours on your road trip from LA to Lake Tahoe. Before you reach this stunning area, you’ll travel through the small town of Lone Pine.
Considered the gateway to Mount Whitney and the Alabama Hills, it’s a fantastic place to grab a quick bite before heading for the hills. Covering 30,000 acres, the Alabama Hills showcase a sharp contrast in the landscape to the imposing Sierra Nevada Mountains.
A recognized National Scenic Area, there are a few popular activities that most come to indulge in when here. Your stop here, however, is all about photography, with these being the top spots for it:
- Movie Road: This scenic drive takes you along a stretch of the Alabama Hills that have been the visual backdrop to more than 400 Hollywood movies. You’ll reach Movie Road after a 2.5-mile drive from Lone Pine along Whitney Portal Road.
- Mobius Arch: There are many natural arches within the hills, but the most famous is Mobius Arch. Thanks to it perfectly framing both Mount Whitney and Lone Pine Peak, it’s a must for avid photographers.
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4. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
After making your way through the Alabama Hills, after roughly 70 miles, you’ll reach a prehistoric site that you can’t skip out on. After driving for one hour and 30 minutes, the next pitstop on your Lake Tahoe trip is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
This fantastic natural marvel, situated 10,000 feet above the slopes of White Mountain, is the home of several of the world’s oldest trees. Don’t expect greenery and sprawling, lush scenery, though. Most trees here display a twisting and gnarled appearance, with the oldest tree, Methuselah, being 4,700 years old.
The drive here provides stunning views of the Eastern Sierra Mountains, located along Highway 168 just off the path from the Schulman Grove Visitor Center.
Another gorgeous California trip idea is a road trip to Big Sur from San Francisco.
5. Hot Creek Geological Site
After taking some time to look at the old trees in Bristlecone, you’ll head about 38 miles away to the charming town of Bishop. Stop for a quick bite to eat and prepare for the next part of your epic trip. Heading out for another 42 miles from Bishop, the one-hour drive brings you to the Hot Creek Geological Site.
This hotbed of geothermal and volcanic activity is quite a sight to behold, with a boardwalk that winds throughout the canyon. See several boiling hot springs, steaming vents, and shimmering light blue and turquoise water pools on your Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip.
Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.
6. Mammoth Lakes
Luckily, the next destination on your trip is only a 10-mile drive from the Hot Creek Geological Site. Tackle the short 20-minute drive arriving in the resort town of Mammoth Lakes. There is a lot to do and see here, but considering your time, these are a few highlights to include:
- Mammoth Scenic Loop: This 16-mile loop trail is the best way to see premier spots such as the Inyo Craters, Earthquake Fault, and the Obsidian Dome.
- Devils Postpile National Monument: If you’re after some mesmerizing geological formations, these hexagonal basalt formations were formed nearly 100,000 years ago.
- Rainbow Falls: A short hike from Devil’s Postpile brings you to the eye-catching 101-foot Rainbow Falls. If you’re here at midday, you’ll get the chance to see the namesake rainbow effect.
Need more ideas? Check out this Big Sur to Los Angeles road trip.
7. Mono Lake
Next up on your road trip to Lake Tahoe, 35 miles from Mammoth Lakes, the second oldest lake in North America, is where you’re headed. The ancient saline lake, Mono Lake, is estimated to be twice as salty as the ocean. It is most famous for its tufa towers and the beautiful way its still waters reflect the mountains around it.
The southern tufa area is where you’ll find the largest collection of these calcium carbonate towers and an easy one-mile self-guided nature trail. Close to Mono Lake lies the Panum Crater, the “youngest” crater leading to the lake, and you can undertake the short hike to the crater’s core.
Ready for more road trip ideas? The Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip via 101 is stunning.
8. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of the most famous stopping points for most travelers on Highway 395. Before getting to the park, though, there’s a short drive of seven miles from Mono Lake to the quaint town of Lee Vining. Seeing as you’re on the eastern side of Yosemite, you can stop here for a bite to eat at the famous Whoa Nellie Deli.
Head along Highway 120 (Tioga Road) once you leave Lee Vining to drive through the captivating Yosemite high country. This short 12-mile drive from town takes you past some epic highlights, such as Ellery Lake, Pothole Dome, and Olmstead Point.
Entering Yosemite via the Tioga Road entrance, it’s roughly 60 miles from Yosemite Valley, but take note that Tioga Road is only open from May to October, so plan your Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip accordingly.
9. Bodie State Historic Park
Around 40 miles from Yosemite, the next stop on your Highway 395 road trip is Bodie State Historic Park. What was once a blossoming mining town home to more than 10,000 residents now has 100 deserted buildings for you to explore.
Take some time to walk around the remains of the town and for a glimpse into the past. You can visit homes, stores, and even an abandoned school when driving from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe. It’s bizarre, as some homes still display beds, clothing, and cutlery.
Getting to Bodie means taking a short detour onto Bodie Road (Highway 270), seven miles south of Bridgeport. You’ll head out on 10 miles of paved road and then three miles of dirt road to reach Bodie.
Feel like being in a big city? Why not go on a San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip?
10. South Lake Tahoe
Finally, South Lake Tahoe is the last stop on your road trip and the predestined finish line. The homestretch from Bodie consists of a 110-mile drive, which you can cover in just over two hours. As the largest and second deepest alpine lake in North America, it’s guaranteed to be the crowning glory of your trip.
There is lots to do and see here, but some activities and attractions are worth a mention and a spot on your Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles road trip. These include:
- Explore the lake: This one is a bit obvious, but the only surefire way to appreciate the lake is by driving around it.
- Emerald Bay: One of the most stunning spots in Lake Tahoe is Emerald Bay, and it’s home to the only island, Fannette Island.
- Go hiking: Another obvious one, with hundreds of miles of hiking and nature trails, you can’t pass up the chance to trek around Lake Tahoe.
- Head onto the water: A staple attraction at Lake Tahoe is going offshore on the M.S. Dixie cruise.
Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Itinerary – 3 Days Along US-395
The most popular route for eager travelers to Lake Tahoe from LA, the US-395 route (Death Valley Route), is quick, easy, and jam-packed, with must-see sights to fill your trip itinerary.
Day 1: Los Angeles to Bishop
Travel Distance: 4 hours (266 miles)
Setting out of LA along CA-14 N, you’ll head through Santa Clarita, Mojave, and finally, join Highway 395 just outside Ridgecrest. Sticking to Highway 395, you’ll venture through Lone Pine and Big Pine before reaching Bishop.
Where to Stay: The Cielo Hotel Bishop-Mammoth is a fantastic three-star option in the center of Bishop.
Day 2: Bishop to Lee Vining
Travel Distance: 1 hour and 10 minutes (65 miles)
Your second day starts off with a short drive to the small town of Lee Vining. Closely located to Yosemite, it’s the ideal spot to spend a night, allowing you to explore some of the national park’s highlights.
Where to Stay: Book a room at the Yosemite Gateway Motel. It’s right in the middle of Lee Vining and features everything you’ll need for a comfortable stay.
Day 3: Lee Vining to South Lake Tahoe
Travel Distance: 5 hours and 44 minutes (313 miles)
A bit of a backtrack might be needed, but from Lee Vining, you’ll head through Mono Hills to Benton, where you’ll take US-95. Once through Yerington and Smith Valley, you rejoin Highway 395, which leads to South Lake Tahoe.
Where to Stay: You have several options of where to stay once at Lake Tahoe, but the stellar 4-star Hotel Azure is one of the best.
Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Itinerary – 5 Days Along The Sierra Nevada Route
Although it’s not as short as Highway 395, the longer and equally scenic Sierra Nevada Route is perfect if you have more time on your hands.
Day 1: Los Angeles to Bakersfield
Travel Distance: 1 hour and 54 minutes (111 miles)
Taking the I-5 N, you’ll leave Los Angeles and head through Santa Clarita, making your way through Gorman and Grapevine, and arriving in Bakersfield. You can use this as a base for exploring the nearby Los Padres National Forest.
Where to Stay: The Padre Hotel in the heart of Bakersfield is the perfect place to spend the night.
Day 2: Bakersfield to Fresno
Travel Distance: 1 hour and 40 minutes (109 miles)
Departing from Bakersfield along CA-99 N, this part of the trip takes you through a few small towns ending in Fresno. The city of Fresno is a great place as it’s close to Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and the Sierra National Forest.
Where to Stay: One of the best places to overnight in Fresno is the charming Summerfield Inn Fresno Yosemite, located in the city’s downtown area.
Day 3: Fresno to Modesto
Travel Distance: 1 hour and 30 minutes (95 miles)
A stone’s throw from Fresno, the charming city of Modesto is your next stop along CA-99 N. If you’re not keen on spending the night in the busier hub of San Jose, this is a fantastic alternative, close to Yosemite National Park and Henry W. Coe State Park.
Where to Stay: A little outside of Modesto’s center, the best accommodation for the night is the Holiday Inn Express Hotel in Salida.
Day 4: Modesto to Sacramento
Travel Distance: 1 hour and 15 minutes (76 miles)
Heading out of Modesto on CA-99 N, this part of your trip goes through Stockton and ends in Sacramento. The city is a fantastic place with a few attractions and is the last central hub before heading to Lake Tahoe.
Where to Stay: Located in downtown Sacramento, the 4-star Hyatt Regency offers a beautiful place to rest your head in a convenient central location.
Day 5: Sacramento to Tahoe City
Travel Distance: 2 hours and 3 minutes (113 miles)
Finally, on your last day, you’ll leave Sacramento on the I-80 E, through Colfax, towards Tahoe City. This is a scenic home stretch with the Eldorado National Forest on one side and Tahoe National Forest on the other.
Where to Stay: A standout accommodation option in Tahoe City, the Sunnyside Resort and Lodge features a beachfront location and epic lake views.
You’ll love going on this beautiful Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip, especially during the summer!