If you live in the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles or just visiting the City of Angels, you can take a road trip to relax, explore nature and see some beautiful sights. One of the best options for a scenic trip is a visit to Lake Tahoe.

The journey from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe takes just over 7 hours, plus stops for gas and food. It can take 2-3 days to explore the Sierra Nevada and other sights along the way.

From breathtaking desert landscapes to lush forests and quirky towns, read on to learn how to make the most of your experience of Lake Tahoe.

How far is Lake Tahoe from Los Angeles and how long does it take to get there?

Depending on the route you choose, the journey from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe is between 440 and 640 miles. The fastest route takes just over 7 hours without any problems and the slowest route through the Sierra Nevada is twice as long.

Route Distance Driving time
Death Valley Road
(US-395)
440 miles 7 hours 15 minutes
Sierra Nevada Road 640 miles 14 hours 30 minutes
Route
Long distance (via Sacramento)
485 miles 7 hours and 45 minutes

On paper, the US-395 is both the shortest and fastest route, but if you want to get to Lake Tahoe quickly, the trip through the states will be easier, with more stops for food and less need for navigation.

US-395 is the fastest way to get from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe and offers breathtaking scenery along the way.
The US-395 traverses a breathtaking landscape between the Sierra Nevada and the Death Valley.

aounphoto/Shutterstock.com

If you take the US-395, which connects the Sierra Nevada with the Death Valley, or if you cross some of the national mountain parks, you should have at least 2-3 days to make the most of the places you pass.

Best Road Trip from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe

There are two great routes from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, which is perfect because it means you can take one on the road and the other comes back for an epic journey.

If time is limited, use the US-395 in either direction or return via an interstate route. The I-5 goes from Los Angeles to Sacramento, and you can take the US-50 or I-80 through the Eldorado or Tahoe National Forests, depending on which part of Lake Tahoe you are heading for.

Death Valley (US-395)

From Los Angeles, take the I-5 north to Santa Clarita. Just before arriving, take the Antelope Valley Freeway (State Route 14), which runs through Palmdale and Lancaster, and join US-395 shortly after Indian Wells.

From here take the highway to the north with the Sierra Nevada Mountains on your left, past Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon, turn right through the Mammoth Lakes and Inyo National Forest, before reaching Yosemite Tioga Pass in the west.

On the right you will see a completely different landscape – the rugged, dry Mojave Desert eventually becomes Death Valley National Park, unlike the forests that stretch over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

After Yosemite stay on the motorway to Gardnerville, where the road stops, depending on which part of Lake Tahoe you enter.

Sierra Nevada Road

If you want to see the most amazing nature in the United States, you’re in luck. Some of the country’s most beautiful mountains, rivers and forests are on their way from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe.

Along the way you can choose from 6 national forests and 3 national parks. I recommend driving north on the I-5 and California Highway 99 to Bakersfield.

From there take Highway 65 to Exeter, where you take exit CA-198 to the mountains of the Sequoia National Park. This beautiful road takes you past beautiful giant sequoias, including the world’s largest tree – General Sherman.

The road leading to the Sequoia National Park runs through an immense sequoia forest.
Driving through the giant sequoias of Sequoia National Park is magical.

Oleg Bulgakov / Shutterstock.com

When you reach the intersection on the 180, turn right and drive past Zumwalt Meadows. Along the highway there is an endless selection of beautiful walks overlooking death.

Take the same way back from Kings Canyon National Park and head north on the CA-41 when you reach Fresno. Follow the road that climbs higher and higher and the view improves towards the Yosemite Valley.

After exploring world famous sites and rocks, head east through Yosemite National Park on the Tiogapass to Tuolumne Grove. At Mono Lake you take the US-395 and from there you reach Lake Tahoe.

Best ports of call between Los Angeles and Lake Tahoe

With so much to see and do on the way from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, you’ll really want to make the most of your trip – especially if you’re traveling through the national parks of Sierra Nevada.

Here you will find a selection of excellent options, depending on the route you take.

Overnight stay in Yosemite (Sierra Nevada Highway)

View of the Yosemite Valley at sunrise from the Mercedes River, California.
The Yosemite Valley is an ideal stopover on the way from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe.

Stephen Moel/Shutterstock.com

If you want to explore the Yosemite Valley, and probably won’t be there before dusk, you really should stop for the night and discover the morning hype.

Hotels in the Yosemite Valley itself are either incredibly expensive, unavailable, or both. But as we approach the national park, it’s a much better option.

Tenaya Lodge is located a few minutes from the south entrance and offers an excellent combination of price and quality in the Yosemite area. It’s not cheap, but it’s much more convenient than most of the cheaper options, and you save a bucket of goods without having to stay in the park.

You have to pay extra to get a room in your cabin instead of staying at the main hotel, but they are much nicer and more spacious if you feel like pampering yourself. Not only do they have a fireplace, they also have a pizzeria nearby.

Relaxation and recreation in Death Valley National Park (US-395)

Yeah, you read it right. The Death Valley may be the hottest place in the world, its landscapes are some of the most challenging in the world, but in the middle of it lies a green oasis with manicured green lawns and a spring pond.

Death Valley Lodge is ideal if you decide to spend a day or two exploring the United States’ largest national park outside of Alaska. Since the 1920s it has been a popular holiday destination for the rich and famous of Hollywood.

Whether you want to see the mysteriously moving rocks on the Playa circuit or the sand dunes created by this legendary Apple Mac setting, you can spend an evening at the hotel without leaving the park.

Death Valley is a green oasis in the middle of an inhospitable desert.
The Death Valley Inn is a literally green oasis in the middle of a desert.

Travel collection © Xanterra Travel collection

Places of interest for a trip from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe

The highway from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe runs through some of California’s most picturesque areas, national parks and beautiful scenery. You can extend your trip by two weeks and still not see half of the great places on your way.

With this in mind, here are some suggestions of places you might add to your itinerary:

  1. Angel of the National Forest: Chances are you know this area well if you were born in Los Angeles, but if not, the wooded landscapes and the ridge of the Sierra Pelona are beautiful.
  2. Death Valley National Park – An incredible number of attractions, landscapes, salt plains, sand dunes and even a 14 mile long path to the top of the telescope.
  3. Sequoia National Forest and National Park – with hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest and huge sequoias.
  4. King’s Canyon National Park – north of Sequoia National Park, it also offers redwood heroes and endless hiking trails.
  5. Mammoth Lakes – Located in the Iño National Forest, this town is a renowned ski resort in winter and a paradise for mountain activities in summer.
  6. Devil’s Monument – a unique rock formation at Mammoth Mountain.
  7. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest – Located near the Episcopal Palace, this forest has the oldest trees in the world. You may look dry and strange, but you’d look the same if you were almost 5,000 years old.
  8. Yosemite National Park – almost every corner of this park is worth exploring, the highest point is the Yosemite Valley.
  9. Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in America, known for its towers of limestone tuff and salt water.
  10. Stanislas, Eldorado and Tahoe National Forests – Mountains, lakes, rivers and endless rugged terrain
  11. Sacramento – California’s quirky capital is on the road if you follow the interstate highway or the Sierra Nevada.

Like I said, this is just your starting list. Most of these places have many days or even weeks to visit, so you can take as much time as your travel time allows.

Old conifers grow in a forest near Bishop, California.
Old arm pines (#7 above) have been growing for thousands of years and certainly look like this.

Joy Stein/Shutterstock.de

Best time to travel from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe

If you’re not afraid of the inevitable crowds, summer is the obvious time to travel from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe. The weather in the mountains and on Lake Tahoe at high altitude varies greatly and is best from May to September.

If you want to spend time at the lake, avoid spring, because the water will still be cold due to the freezing cold in winter. Autumn can be a great place to avoid tourists and still enjoy the end of a good weather forecast.

Winter in Lake Tahoe is also great if you like skiing, but travelling by road will not be fun – all the picturesque passes in Sierra Nevada are closed during the snow season, including the Tiogapass, which passes through Yosemite. Death Valley will also be cool and rugged, so you won’t want to spend much time hiking.

If you decide to drive in winter, the US-395 is an acceptable option, but it can suffer from snow overlap and not have a good alternative route. The road passes at an altitude of more than 8000 feet, so you can crawl over it in snow chains.

In California, the Iño National Forest Road is closed in winter due to snowfall.
Most passes of the Sierra Nevada and other roads (such as those in the Inye National Forest) are closed in winter.

4kclips/Shutterstock.com

Although the road is much less beautiful, you can take the state road to Sacramento and then cross one of the roads that are normally open on the I-80 or I-50.

If you plan to explore Death Valley, make sure you avoid the burning summer temperatures. October to November and March to April is a good time to visit.

The Sierra Nevada is ideal at any time, from the reopening of the passes after the snow season to the renewal of the snowfall. In some places, such as the Yosemite Valley, there may be more action in summer, but the national parks are so vast that it doesn’t really matter – you won’t see too many other people on your walks.

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