From Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe: 4 Best Ways to Get There

Written by Freddy Sherman
Updated May 11, 2023

Lake Tahoe is a spectacular alpine lake and resort destination, partly in California and partly in Nevada. Known for summer recreation on the lake and winter recreation on the local mountains, it's a popular tourist destination that also offers incredible natural scenery and beauty.

There are many ways to get from Los Angeles up to Lake Tahoe, a distance of about 450 miles by car. A direct drive from LA will take about eight hours, a bus will take about 12 hours, or you can opt for a 90-minute flight from LAX. The LAX flight takes you to the Reno-Tahoe Airport (RNO), about 45 minutes away from Lake Tahoe, requiring the use of a bus (or car) to get to Tahoe itself.

1. From Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe by Car

Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe
Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe

Highlights: Independent, self-paced travel with direct or scenic route choices

If you want to get to Lake Tahoe from Los Angeles by car, there are two main route choices, and either way takes between seven and eight hours. Sometimes the choice of route depends on the weather or the season, as one way tends to get more snow than the other.

The slightly faster and somewhat less scenic route is to take I-5 north, about five hours from LA, all the way to the Stockton/Sacramento area. Then you get on CA-88 for the final three hours, and this road takes you directly into the Lake Tahoe area.

Alternatively, you can take the route via Yosemite. You start in LA by getting to CA-14, the Antelope Valley Freeway. Take this to US-395 and head north - it's the same route people take to drive from LA to Mammoth to go skiing. Connect with US-50 after Yosemite to continue on to Lake Tahoe. This route gets more snow and can even be completely closed during the winter time. Either route will take you about eight hours, and each one is about 450 miles in distance.

Many visitors drive rental cars to Lake Tahoe from Los Angeles. With possible snow conditions running sometimes into May, an all-wheel-drive or even a four-wheel-drive rental car may be a good idea. As an alternative to airport rentals, consider Audi on Demand. This Audi-owned rental car company is based at 30 Audi dealerships around the country. There are two locations in the Los Angeles area, including one right near Ontario Airport (ONT). They only rent Audi vehicles, all of which have all-wheel-drive.

Turo is another car sharing rental car alternative that offers four-wheel- and all-wheel-drive vehicles.

2. From Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe by Plane

Aerial view of Lake Tahoe with snow-capped mountains
Aerial view of Lake Tahoe with snow-capped mountains

Highlights: Maximize your vacation time with fast and direct 90 minute flights

The easiest and quickest way to get from LA to Tahoe is to hop on a short, 90-minute-long flight. Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) is just south of downtown Reno and about an hour by car from Lake Tahoe. Alaska Airlines, United, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest all have non-stop flights to RNO from LAX. You can fly from other LA-area airports like Burbank (BUR), Ontario (ONT), Long Beach (LGB), and Orange County (SNA). All also have non-stop flights.

A luxurious option is Jet Suite X. The small airline offers a semi-private jet experience with service to RNO from Burbank and Orange County airports. The planes are one-class and leave from the uncrowded private jet terminal at the airport.

To get from Reno airport to Lake Tahoe, you have a few options depending on whether you want to go to the California side or the Nevada side. Also depending on whether you want to go to downtown Lake Tahoe, South Lake Tahoe, or the ski resorts.

A good option is North Lake Tahoe Express, with frequent mini-bus service between various points in Reno and various destinations in Lake Tahoe. Check your arrival time, as the shuttle operates from 6am to 11:45pm. Of course, if you're visiting a specific resort, check to see if they provide transportation for guests from the airport, as most do.

You can also rent a car at Reno airport on arrival or use Uber or Lyft to get to Lake Tahoe. It takes about an hour by car to get to Lake Tahoe from RNO.

3. From Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe by Bus

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe
Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

Highlights: An inexpensive and relaxing way to enjoy the full day's journey

The least expensive way to get to Lake Tahoe from LA is to take the bus. Greyhound can get you there (well, to nearby Reno at least) in as little as twelve hours, with only one bus change.

You start in Los Angeles and take a bus to Fresno. A typical bus itinerary has you depart LA at 10am and get to Fresno about 2pm. Then it's on to Sacramento, where you arrive around 5pm. You transfer to a different bus in Sacramento for the ride to Reno and arrive around 10pm.

Reno is about a 45-minute drive from Lake Tahoe, and there are multiple options to get between the two cities. If you're visiting a ski resort in Lake Tahoe, many offer free shuttle service from Reno's airport. If you're not staying at a ski resort, a good option is North Lake Tahoe Express. They have frequent mini-bus service between various points in Reno and destinations in Tahoe. Once you're in Lake Tahoe, the area's regional bus transportation system, TART (Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit), gets you all over the Tahoe area, including to all the ski resorts.

FlixBus is another bus company that can get you from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe (Reno). They have new buses, with restrooms, free Wi-Fi, and power outlets at each reclining seat. You can even upgrade to seats with extra legroom.

FlixBus has multiple departures each day from various locations around Los Angeles (DTLA, San Fernando Valley, Downey, and Hollywood), each route requires one change of buses. The journey takes between 14 and 17 hours and can be done as a same-day trip with an early-morning departure from LA. As with Greyhound, the FlixBus bus takes you to Reno; you'll need to take a local bus, rideshare car, or shuttle to get to Tahoe.

4. From Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe by Train

Lupines at Lake Tahoe
Lupines at Lake Tahoe

Highlights: For a different experience, try combining bus and train travel in one journey

While there isn't a direct Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe train, you can ride Amtrak's San Joaquins train for about a third of the 16-hour journey. The rest of the trip is on their Thruway buses (which have Wi-Fi, restrooms, and power outlets at every seat).

Your journey starts at Los Angeles' vintage Union Station train station, but instead of a train, you board a Thruway bus for a three-hour ride up to Bakersfield. Here, you board the Amtrak San Joaquins train for an almost six-hour train ride up through the heart of California to the state's capital, Sacramento. In Sacramento, you transfer to another Amtrak Thruway bus for the three-hour ride to Reno.

From Reno, you have a few transportation options depending on which part of Lake Tahoe you want to visit, with North Lake Tahoe Express providing bus service from the Amtrak station to Lake Tahoe.

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Things to Do at Lake Tahoe: What you choose do to here depends on when you are visiting. Most visitors who come here in winter are here to enjoy the ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. In summer, people come here to relax on the beaches or head out on the hiking trails. Another popular way to appreciate the area in summer is by staying at one of the campgrounds.