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A Complete Family Vacation in Lake Tahoe

Escapes Under $500
by , SmarterTravel Staff
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North Lake Tahoe (Photo: North Lake Tahoe/Tom Zikas)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 17, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, Anne Banas, beach, California, destination, Escapes Under $500, family travel, inn, mountain, Nevada, pet travel, soft adventure, summer, Tahoe City, weekend getaways.

Beaches. Forests. Mountain villages. Casinos. Lake Tahoe has it all. And if you go this summer, you can have it all for under $500. With flights taking up only about half the budget, those departing from the West can rejoice, as well as some other folks as far-flung as Chicago. But no matter where you're from, comfy lodge-style inns come at comfortable prices, and you can even tote your furry friends for a complete family vacation.

Getting to Lake Tahoe

Many people drive to Lake Tahoe, but those needing to fly have affordable options. For example, here's a sample of round-trip fares (including taxes and fees) to Reno, the closest major airport, for late-July and August trips:

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  • Los Angeles: $227 (Delta)
  • Denver: $227 (United)
  • Seattle: $230 (United)
  • Portland, OR: $238 (United)
  • Salt Lake City: $239 (Delta)
  • Phoenix: $249 (US Airways)
  • Chicago: $260 (United)

The best fares were from cities in the West; those coming from the East can expect to pay about $100 to $300 extra. While Reno is the closest airport to Lake Tahoe at about an hour away by car, you can also fly into Sacramento, which is about two hours' drive or more, depending on which part of the Lake you're heading to. To snag the best price, always compare fares to both airports, but remember to factor in the cost of ground transportation.

Most likely, you'll choose to rent a car to get to and from the airport and to explore the area. When I checked, the cost of a three-day economy car rental at the Reno airport, found on CarRentals.com, came to $130.47 (including taxes and fees), or $65.24 per person if you travel with a companion.

Staying in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe has a range of accommodations options from campsites to casino resorts. If you want an affordable place to kick back and be close to lakeside activities, consider the happy medium, where you'll find comfortable B&Bs, inns, and cabins. I found a couple of ideal options in Tahoe City located on the North Shore.

The rooms at the lodge-style Mother Nature's Inn are inspired by wildlife, with names like "Bear Room," "Moose Room," and "Wild Horse Room." Wedged between a golf course and the shoreline, the inn is perfectly situated and convenient to local activities. And, your best friend can enjoy most of it with you since pets are allowed to stay for a nominal fee. In the summer, rooms start at $95 per night, which comes to $104.50 when you add in the 10 percent tax. Plan a three-night getaway, and pay $313.50, or $156.75 per person if you share with someone else. Note that AAA members save 10 percent on room rates.

Priced similarly, the Lake of the Sky Inn sits among tall pines and is a stone's throw from shops, restaurants, and outdoor activities. Amenities include a heated pool, continental breakfast, and clean rooms with vaulted open-beam ceilings. Summer rates start at $105 for weekday stays ($115.50 including the 10 percent tax). A three-night stay comes to $346.50, or $173.25 per person.

Cost breakdown

Here's the cost breakdown for the most expensive airfare-and-hotel pairing on my list, based on two people traveling together:

$260 (airfare from Chicago) + $173.25 (three nights at Lake of the Sky Inn) + $65.24 (rental car) = $498.49 per person

All other combinations will cost less, perhaps enough to allow for an extra night's stay. Note that if you bring the kids, you might be charged a small fee for extra persons in the room.

Visit the Official Lake Tahoe Visitor Bureau Websites for more hotel options, as well as special deals and packages.

Been to Lake Tahoe? Comment below on your favorite money-saving tips, activities, or places to eat and stay. Or, post questions for fellow travelers to answer.

 
 
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