How to Swim in Lake Tahoe in the Winter


While we tend to think of some sports as summer-only, like swimming, bike riding, and even running, in reality, these activities can be enjoyed year-round with some nice weather and good preparation. You can read my Winter Running Guide and keep a look out for a winter biking post, coming soon! 

Winter swimming does not necessarily mean you are out for an hour pushing your limit. It can be anything from a cold plunge to a quick out and back, to a long distance swim session.

My obsession this winter has been with swimming in Lake Tahoe. While some sunny winter days can be downright warm, there is no reason to be a fair weather winter swimmer. 

Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe in February

Live in Truckee and prefer to swim in Donner Lake instead? Check out our Donner Lake swimming blog post.

I have been swimming at least once a week all winter in a wide range of weather conditions. From early morning plunges with outdoor temps in the teens, to a day so windy that my shoes blew away while I was in the water, to multiple sunny and 50-degree lunch break swims. To answer the question I know you are all asking yourselves – I did eventually find my brand new running shoes that blew away! 

These are my tips for getting motivated and being prepared to get out there and swim in the winter: 

Check the weather

Swimming in the winter but still sunny

Really any day is a swim day in my book, but if you’re looking for a more pleasant one, outdoor temps above 40 degrees, plenty of sun and most importantly, no wind, are the way to go.

Pick a good spot to swim

For me, the ideal spot has:

  • easy access from the car 
  • an entry that isn’t too shallow so that I can get in the water right away versus wading forever
  • a sandy entry for ease of getting in
  • a great place for running so that I can get in all my exercise at once
  • a gorgeous view, although that criterion can be met almost anywhere in Truckee and Tahoe

My favorite winter swimming spot is Sand Harbor.  I don’t dare venture over there with the summer crowds. In the winter, there is ample parking any time of day, plenty of space on the beach, and that gorgeous East Shore clear blue water.

Swimming at Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe in the winter

Get the right gear

Being prepared with the right gear makes all the difference.

Swim Buoy

These are brightly colored inflatable pillows that you can rest on at the first sign of a cramp. Or if your breath is taken away! No matter how fit I am, I am always out of breath as soon as I hit the cold water.

Swim Shoes

I found the coldest part of the experience is on my feet. This isn’t an issue on a sunny 40 degree afternoon; however, if you’re swimming early morning or after a snow, your feet will be extra cold walking to the water on the snow or on frozen sand. If you’ve chosen a spot that is shallow for a long way, the walk into the water will be a bit torturous on your feet without swim shoes.

Swim Goggles and Cap

If you normally use them!

Wetsuit

I deem this completely optional for a plunge or a short out and back, but that’s up to you! In fact, I prefer without one since they are so hard to get into!

Towel

Don’t skimp here. A nice big, thick, absorbent one is important so that you are toasty warm when you get out (or you can at least dry off quickly).

Sunblock

Always a good measure, but I leave mine at home for a quick dip.

Unfussy and Ultra-warm Clothes

It helps to bring something that you can easily get back into after your dip. Full zip hoodies and loose sweatpants are best. 

Summer Beach Stuff

If it’s one of those sunny warm 50-degree days, bring everything that you would normally bring to the beach, including chairs, good snacks like Honey Stinger Waffles, and tasty beverages. And why not go for a paddleboard or kayak while you’re there? Enjoy the views of the snow-covered mountains and empty beaches.  It will be warmer than you think, I promise! You can hang out for hours.

Always go with a friend

While it’s always safest to swim with a friend, in the winter it’s even more imperative. With cold water temperatures and the limited amount of time you can spend outside in a bathing suit before freezing, having someone there just in case is a good safety measure.

Don’t jump or dive in

Save that for the warmer summer water! The cold water can literally take your breath away. While I’m not a fan of inching my way in, there is a happy medium, which for me is a running start. Think: Baywatch but not in slow motion.

Running into the water while swimming in the winter

Have fun! 

The most important part is to just have fun! Savor that moment after you get out when all seems good in the world.

And finally, the most-asked question about winter swimming.

I figured I should answer the most commonly asked question about winter swimming at Lake Tahoe – How cold is the water?  Check out this link for daily recorded water temps in Lake Tahoe and even a 5-6 day forecast!

Learn how to stay warm for winter biking here!

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