The allure of Lake Tahoe may begin with its sparkling waters and mountainous backdrop, but it’s the unique cultures of its neighboring towns that make it a package deal for elopers. Though it spans two states—Nevada to the east and California to the west—the real divide is between North Lake (Tahoe City to Incline Village) and South Lake (Emerald Bay to Zephyr Cove). The former spot is more of a locals’ hideaway and will deliver a serene, nature-filled elopement. (And to clarify, as this is confusing: For North Lake, Incline Village is in Nevada, and the rest is in Cali. For South Lake, Zephyr Cove is in Nevada, and again, the rest is in Cali. As such, they require different marriage licenses.) Spend nights stargazing, and kayak or snowshoe the days away before hitting the ale trail and retreating to a private lodge, or a room at the upscale Edgewood or boutique Basecamp Hotel.
Cross the lake by boat shuttle (or circle around it by car), and the scene shifts: The south shore is mostly in Nevada, and feels more like if a ski-resort town had a baby with Vegas—nightlife galore (casinos! bars! clubs!) and enough live shows to see a new one every day for a week. Yet it also has its fair share of stunning ski slopes and sandy beaches. Our take? Carve out time in your elopement for both sides (pencil in a trip on the gondola ride at Heavenly Mountain Resort for an aerial view of the whole shebang), and tie the knot in whichever locale better suits your vibe.
Best Time of Year to Visit
May - June and September - November
The slim shoulder season between late spring and early summer is prime time for good weather in Tahoe. Snow lingers through March, and late-season squalls are common in April, but when May rolls around, temps rise to comfortable 60s and 70s, and precipitation drops off. By June, most days are gorgeous and sunny, and warm-weather activities are in full swing—hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, laying on the beach.
As summer progresses, though, crowds fill hotels, and prices and traffic soar before dropping off come September, when the lake also warms to comfortable temps for a dip. Summer crowds thin out, making the early fall months ideal for an elopement.
Tahoe averages 300 days of sunshine and it rarely drops below 20 in the winter and the summer has warm days with no humidity
For winter lovers, Lake Tahoe is magical come November (hence Tahoe’s 15 beloved ski resorts). Blanketing the area’s forests and mountains, the heavy snowfall turns the already-beautiful setting into a scene plucked from a snow globe—just be sure you have a vehicle with four-wheel drive and snow tires for navigating the area. Contrary to popular belief, the area typically doesn’t get as frigid as the East Coast, with average highs in the 30s and 40s throughout the season.
Pro Tip: The period between Christmas and New Year’s will be one of the most expensive weeks to visit Tahoe as it corresponds with time off from work and school, and hits during peak powder season for skiers and snowboarders. If you’re set on a winter elopement, aim for a few weeks before the holidays, or in January—when the north shore’s ski resorts offer specials for newbies—to secure the best rates.
Pair the rugged backdrop of a quaint mountain inn with the planning savvy and put-togetherness of an experienced hotel, and you have Black Bear Lodge. Nestled amid towering pines about a ten-minute walk from the lake’s southern shore, this is your spot if you’d like to gather a couple loved ones, exchange intimate “I do’s” in a flower garden, then cozy up to a fireplace in a woodsy cabin (at max capacity, the property sleeps 22 across cabins and rooms). You can do all that by booking the $250 elopement package, then sit back, relax, and consider it planned. Or, add an additional $100 for an arch and chair set-up, plus $50 more for a champagne toast. And did we mention there’s an outdoor hot tub and on-site wine bar? Welcome to eloping heaven.
Here’s some news you can use: Tahoe isn’t the only lake in Tahoe. Donner is a much smaller—yet equally pristine—freshwater lake about 20 miles northwest, in the town of Truckee (home to the area’s top breweries), and it shares Tahoe’s stunning views of the Sierras. In short, it’s all the beauty and outdoor goodness of its better-known cousin—there’s swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, and more—but with a fraction of the crowds. Perhaps its most appealing asset, however, is the row of 37 public docks along its north shore, each one just wide enough for a small group. Any of these makes an intimate, photo-ready ceremony venue (arrive early in the day for the best chance at claiming one), with cobalt water and mountains as far as the eye can see.
If there were a Lake Tahoe elopement playbook, Emerald Bay State Park—which the lake spills into from its southwest corner—would be on page one. With its dazzling blue-green waters, punctuated only by the tiny dot of Fannette Island, and sweeping display of dramatic alpine peaks, the Bay (and the surrounding D.L. Bliss State Park) is a must-visit for any newbies to the region. If you’re up for an adventure, consider trekking the scenic (yet very steep) two-mile portion of the Rubicon Trail down to Emerald Bay Beach; it curves around granite outcroppings and serves up stunning views of the water along the way.
The actual marriage spot is actually called “mile marker 53” and is run by the CA state parks, rather than the U.S. Forest Service, which controls the mountain side. Certain vendors have permits through the state park, and it’s a first come, first served basis for a ceremony. During peak season, expect lines to use the spot. To avoid crowds, aim for early morning or evening time slots.
Some height might be just the thing you need to set your wedding day apart from just any ol’ day. Head skyward in a hot-air balloon from Lake Tahoe Balloons, and you’ll gain an entirely fresh perspective on Tahoe—with a bird’s eye view, its size and color are that much more magnificent—and exchange vows among the clouds at an altitude of 9,000 feet. The balloon holds up to 16 passengers, starting at $300 per person for an hour-long trip (including drinks, snacks, and a post-flight sparkling-wine toast), though the fee for wedding services on-board varies per season. (And this option is best for early risers, since your boat ride to the launch point will be at dawn, when atmospheric conditions are optimal for flight.)
If it’s a bit too chilly for an open-air journey, head to the South Lake Tahoe airport to board a helicopter with Alpenglow Weddings. You’ll be pronounced married during a 20-minute cruise over the lake and the area’s snow-capped peaks and forests ($875 on Mondays through Thursdays, and $975 on Fridays and Saturdays).
Sunset seekers, take note: The eastern shore’s Logan Shoals beautifully frames the setting sun behind the lake and the mountains to the west. Host an early evening ceremony at the rocky outcropping or the paved resting area with stone benches, then head north on the footpath to shoot portraits atop granite boulders before twilight. What’s more, these vantage points are easily accessible with a short walk from a free parking lot off Highway 50, just north of Cave Rock.
Like Emerald Bay, because the land falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, you’ll be need to go through a wedding-service provider that holds a Special Use Permit.
For true lake enthusiasts and out-of-the-box elopers, there’s no Tahoe wedding quite like a wedding on Tahoe. And since the lake’s sparkling beauty lends itself perfectly to romance, there’s no shortage of boat companies that will take you for a scenic spin, park in a calm cove, and even provide the officiant services for your big day (often from the captain himself or herself, as many are authorized to perform weddings in Nevada, California, or both).
Board a powerboat with up to eight loved ones at the Tahoe Keys Marina and zip over to crystalline Emerald Bay to tie the knot with Lake Tahoe Boat Rides (starting at $400), or charter the Tahoe Dreamer—a new 36-foot catamaran motor yacht from Tahoe Sailing Charters that can fit up to 12 people—for a 2-hour sunset cruise, and toast your love with beer, white wine, Prosecco, and light apps (for $1,300).
Or, go even more intimate, and book the “Grateful Red,” a 27-foot luxury powerboat from Tahoe by Design that seats just six. With the $650 elopement package, you’ll say your “I do’s on the water, then head to a secluded beach for dinner around a bonfire or at a local restaurant (starting at $65 per person).
In the quiet northeastern Nevada-side corner of Lake Tahoe, its waters pour into a crescent beach, formed by the wooded peninsulas that make up Sand Harbor State Park. Studded with boulders and towering cedars and pines, the park’s array of natural fixtures makes it yet another peaceful lakeside venue to exchange vows. This one is particularly great if you’re gathering some friends and like the idea of a waterfront ceremony on a quiet beach followed by a small celebration in a park pavilion; you can reserve the group-use ramada for $400 and will have exclusive access to it—as well as the adjacent private parking lot—all day. (Note that the entrance fee of $10 per car still applies.) You’ll be able to decorate the covered ramada however you’d like, serve booze and food (it’s equipped with a large barbecue, electricity, and water) and hire an acoustic musician. And whenever the lighting feels just right, you’ll have free rein to explore the park’s many hidden coves and dramatic rocky outcroppings alongside your photographer, so long as he or she has obtained a commercial permit to shoot in Nevada State Parks.
Like the rugged backyard of South Lake Tahoe’s bustling downtown, Zephyr Cove Resort is ideal for elopers with an outdoorsy itch to scratch—but who don’t want to stray too far from the beaten path. It boasts a selection of fully equipped cabins and Airstream campers on-site, as well as resources for just about every outdoor activity under the sun (parasailing, snowmobiling, jet skiing, you name it). And yet it also occupies land protected by the U.S. Forest Service, making it a wooded oasis with a pristine sandy shoreline. Through a special permit with the Forest Service, the resort can also offer wedding services anywhere on the property.
And the folks at Zephyr Cove Resort are pros at hosting big, traditional events (with a tent set-up or aboard their luxury yacht or paddlewheeler), they can also arrange for smaller affairs inside one of the cabins or on the beach; inquire through their information form for pricing. Post-ceremony, toast s’mores around a fire pit, then camp under the stars. The next day, consider rising early for a newlywed horseback ride through the woodlands, or book the weekender pontoon (which fits up to 12 people and has a BBQ and water slide) to keep the celebration going on the lake.
Because Lake Tahoe spans Nevada and California, the marriage license you’ll need to make your elopement a legal union will depend on the state where your ceremony venue is located.
Licenses are issued by county clerks and are valid anywhere in the state—but if you’re looking to get your license near Tahoe, Washoe and Douglas counties will be the most convenient (the first has offices in Reno and Incline Village, and the second, in Tahoe and Minden). Regardless of the location you choose, the license fee is $60, plus $15 for a certified copy. You can complete the first part of the application from home (via either the Washoe county license pre-fill or the Douglas county online application), and then both of you will need to appear at the respective county clerk’s office in person with proof of your age and name (i.e. passport or driver’s license). If either of you was previously married, you won’t need to present any documentation, but you will need to list the date, city, and state of the divorce or annulment. Once you have the license, you can be married right away (there’s no waiting period), and for up to a year by an authorized officiant (check the Nevada Marriage Officiant search to ensure yours is qualified) with at least one witness.
Like Nevada, marriage licenses in California are issued by county and valid throughout the state. If you’re in the North Lake Tahoe area, the most convenient county office will be Placer (located in Auburn) and if you’re in South Lake Tahoe, it’ll be Eldorado (locations in South Lake Tahoe and Placerville). To note, Auburn is more than 100 miles away, but there is a satellite office in Carnelian Bay that issues licenses Monday through Friday, 9 AM to noon, by appointment only.
However, California is the only state that issues both public and confidential marriage licenses; while both are valid documents for making your marriage official, the latter option means that only you two can access a copy of your marriage license, while others would need a court order to do so. Some elopers prefer this option because it requires no ceremony witnesses (whereas the public option entails at least one), and any notary public (who has approval from the county clerk) can issue the confidential type, even at the ceremony site on the day of your wedding. For this kind, you’ll also need to sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that you and your spouse are living together at the time when you apply.
In any case, you’ll begin by applying online via the Placer county public-license application or confidential-license application, or the Eldorado county license application (which allows you to choose which type you’re applying for). The fees range from $57 to $68 for the license, depending on the type and the county, with an additional $15-20 fee for a certified copy. Then, you’ll both appear in person at the respective county clerk’s office (make an appointment for Placer online, or call 530-573-3409 to reserve your time for Eldorado), where you’ll need to present photo ID (i.e. passport, driver’s license), and if either of you was previously married, the date of dissolution. Once you obtain the license, it’ll be valid for 90 days (for a ceremony anywhere in the state).