- The drive from Sacramento to Reno takes about 2 hours (132 miles) via I-80 East, or just over 3 hours (167 miles) if you take US-50 East.
- Explore quaint shops in historic gold rush towns such as Auburn, Grass Valley, and Nevada City, and stop by one of the area’s gorgeous lakes, Donner Lake.
- If driving in the winter, check the weather beforehand as you may need to put on chains depending on the road conditions.
Having grown up in the foothills between Sacramento and Reno, I spent countless times exploring the towns and cities that dot the major corridors for this journey.
From perusing the shops in the historic downtowns of gold mining towns to eating great food at small family-owned restaurants at roadside diners, there is a lot to do along the way.
I decided to create this guide so that you will have all the information you could need to pick out the perfect stops along two routes for driving from Sacramento to Reno.
Now, get ready to see what options you get to choose from, and you may find something delicious or interesting that will make you want to pull over and stay for a minute.
How far is Reno from Sacramento?
The distance from Sacramento to Reno is 132 miles via I-80 E.
This route is the fastest, with approximately 2 hours and 11 minutes travel time.
An alternate route via US-50 E would take at least 3 hours and 10 minutes within 167 miles.
How is the drive from Sacramento to Reno?
The drive from Sacramento to Reno can be greatly affected by highway conditions and the day’s weather forecast, especially in winter.
Winter driving in the higher mountain passes in northern California must be done with precaution due to slippery roads from snowstorms.
Roads to Reno, like Interstate 80 and US Highway 50, may even require drivers to stop and put on chains.
Checking the weather forecast beforehand is important to help determine whether it’s safe to proceed with the trip.
There are also road signs to look out for as these will tell you the current road situation, and sometimes snow only stays for a few hours, allowing roads to clear quickly.
Severe weather may also cause both major and secondary highways to close, so it is important to pack warm clothes, food, and water in case this happens.
Sac to Reno Drive: Best Driving Routes
- Direct/Fastest Route: 2 hours and 11 minutes, 132 miles, via I-80 E
- Alternate Route: 3 hours and 10 minutes, 167 miles, via US-50 E
Driving to Reno from Sacramento: The Best Stops
➡️DIRECT ROUTE (VIA I-80 E)
- Grass Valley
- Nevada City
- Donner Lake
- North Lake Tahoe
🚗ALTERNATE ROUTE (VIA US 50-E)
- Apple Hill
- South Lake Tahoe
- Carson City
- Virginia City
#1 Fastest Route: Sacramento to Reno Drive
- Drive Time & Distance: 2 hours and 11 minutes, 132 miles, via I-80 E
- When to Go: Year-round, some restrictions during winter
Driving from Sacramento via Interstate 80 is the fastest route to Reno, with approximately two hours of travel time in 132 miles.
This route showcases some of the best stops for a quick meal, photo ops, shopping, and even a sneak peek of California’s rich history.
Several Gold Rush towns like Auburn, Grass Valley, and Nevada City offer interesting mines and attractions that even kids could enjoy.
A little detour may bring some of Sierra Nevada’s most beautiful lakes and grant a day filled with exciting water sports or just a chill afternoon at the lakeshore.
These stops are great to visit all year round, with some restrictions during the winter.
Remember to bring chains during the snow season, as it is required to ensure safety, especially when passing roads that are slippery from snow and ice.
In just a quick 34-minute drive from Sacramento, we reached this old charming town of Auburn with incredible historical sites that date back to the gold rush era.
This small town used to be an outpost for antiques, but it has become a vibrant city that has been slowly transformed by the creative and outdoorsy younger generation.
Among the list was the Placer County Courthouse, with a museum showcasing American Indian artifacts, a restored women’s jail, and an interactive display that even kids could enjoy.
On Saturdays, docents give a 1-hour informative tour of the courthouse starting at 10 a.m. for free!
Walking or driving around the area is easy, and we had the chance to find other great photo-op spots, a few microbreweries, and many great restaurants.
We recommend stopping by Ikeda’s to try their delicious burgers or grab one of their famous pies with many delectable flavors.
📢 LOCAL TIP: Stop by The Pour Choice for a good cup of coffee or a lavender latte.
This historic mining town is not only home to some of California’s most prosperous gold mines but also includes 15 blocks of historic old town with storefronts dating back to the 1950s.
You can walk along the old streets and check out the antique shops or make a stop at one of the tasting rooms to pick up a bottle from one of the local winemakers.
There are also several old saloons with a colorful past and plenty of great family-owned restaurants serving up homestyle dishes that will provide you with plenty of fuel to finish the drive to Reno.
Before leaving town, do not miss out on one of our favorite historic sites in the area.
The Empire Mine State Historic Park offers a chance to explore the lavish grounds along with the old mine shaft and equipment they have on display for only $5.
Located just up the road from Grass Valley, this small city makes for a great second stop on a short detour off Highway 80.
We made a quick stop downtown, where we felt like we traveled back in the 1800s as we witnessed its century-old buildings like the Nevada Theatre that still operates today.
The town made it to the list of the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, which is evident from its narrow streets that looked like they were preserved in time.
We also passed by the National Exchange Hotel, which had undergone restoration but still showcases the beauty of the Gold Rush era, great for travelers who want to relax a bit from the long drive.
As we passed by Truckee, we witnessed one of Sierra Nevada’s most beautiful lakes, which is also great to visit all year round!
Donner Memorial State Park offers a list of outdoor activities for any season, from swimming on its gorgeous beaches in summer to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during winter.
We tried their watersport rentals, where we had a wonderful kayaking experience and SUP while enjoying the calm lake.
For anglers, put your rod to the test, as Donner Lake holds a record for having some of the biggest lake trout in the state, as well as Kokanee salmon.
May it be for a couple of hours or just a quick stop, we will never get over the majestic mountain views every time we pass by Donner Lake.
Apart from Donner Lake, there’s also Truckee’s downtown area at Donner Pass Road, where you can grab a quick meal or shop for an hour or two.
This small town is a great place to stretch your legs out as it is packed with several blocks of great shops, cafes, restaurants, bookstores, and even creative artisan shops to explore.
Historic Downtown Truckee is worth the stop alone, where you can walk along the river or visit the Railroad Museum.
There are no free parking areas during our visit, but a parking fee of $6 is available for an all-day stay.
We also had a unique hiking experience in the historic Donner Pass train tunnels, where you can check out the abandoned corridors that are adorned with graffiti.
North Lake Tahoe
Just a 20-minute drive from Truckee is one of the most beautiful portions of Lake Tahoe.
For a quick meal break, we had difficulty choosing between the list of remarkable towns around the area, including Tahoe City, Tahoe Vista, Kings Beach, and Incline Village.
We ended up stopping by the Tahoma Market and Deli to try one of their famous sandwiches, which served as a perfect road trip meal.
📢 LOCAL TIP: If you have time, make sure to stop by Sand Harbor for a sunset in Lake Tahoe (except in the busy summer season).
From North Lake Tahoe, you will arrive in Reno in just under an hour, depending on the road conditions.
We did a quick stop at Chickadee Ridge and had the birds eat off of our hands which was a fun experience.
If you’re driving in the winter, you can also stop by Tahoe Meadows for some free sledding or go for a stroll on the boardwalks if visiting in the summer.
#2 Alternate Route via Hwy 50: Drive from Sacramento to Reno
- Drive Time & Distance: 3 hours and 10 minutes, 167 miles via US-50 E
- When to Go: year-round, some restrictions during winter
This alternative route via US Highway 50 takes approximately three hours (167 miles) as it makes its way up through the foothills before snaking along the South Fork of the American River.
If you’re an inexperienced driver and you’ve never driven on winding narrow uphill roads, it’s best to avoid Highway 50.
Some sections of 50 are very windy and require the driver to be highly focused on their speed and oncoming traffic.
With that said, there are a lot of great historical spots on this route, from old mining sites to history-filled museums at Placerville, Carson, and Virginia City.
Apple Hill is also an outstanding stop for exciting delicacies, fruit picking, and even stocking up on road trip snacks.
The bustling shores of South Lake Tahoe are also great for spending an extra day exploring the natural attractions and hiking trails, swimming on its gorgeous beaches, or trying some great microbreweries.
Most of these stops are available all year round, but make sure to bring chains when traveling during winter months.
This Gold Rush town was formerly known as Hangtown, based on its brutal justice system that included hanging criminals.
The old name began when three men in 1849 were hung from an oak tree in the center of the town after they stole from a wealthy gold prospector.
We dropped by its downtown area, located 8 miles from Sutter’s Mill, where James Marshall made the first gold discovery that started the California Gold Rush in 1848.
The town showcases a rich history in almost every corner, from museums, public houses, cheese shops, art galleries, and gift shops.
We recommend checking out Placerville Hardware, which is the oldest remaining original store west of the Mississippi River at over 150 years old!
It’s a great store to peruse items like camping gear or quirky refrigerator magnets.
You can opt to stay the night at the historic Cary House Hotel, which dates back to 1857 and may or may not have a ghost roaming its halls.
📢 LOCAL TIP: Grab a bite at Timmy’s Brown Bag, a quirky sandwich shop that serves some of the wildest combinations of unusual twists on classic and brand-new sandwiches.
From the name itself, Apple Hill is like heaven for the biggest of Apple fans.
It’s the perfect place to find the best-tasting apples that are nothing like those we typically find in grocery stores.
The mouthwatering smell of their pies welcomed us upon arrival, plus loads of must-try fresh products like a warm apple cider.
There are also outdoor picnic tables where we enjoyed the freshly fried apple donuts that were irresistibly good.
With over 50 family-owned orchards, farms, and even wineries, lots of fresh produce are available all year round.
It may be quite busy from October to mid-November when the harvest season peaks and many orchards are open.
📢 LOCAL TIP: If you’re short on time, you can check out our list of the best things to do at Apple Hill for your visit.
South Lake Tahoe
While we enjoy the more laid-back North Lake Tahoe, the South Shore offers us more of a bustling environment and a lot of fun evenings.
With the endless list of activities, from hiking to Emerald Bay to partying at casinos, we had enough options to keep us busy.
Part of the reason South Lake Tahoe is so busy is that it is jam-packed with many of the area’s top natural attractions, like Fallen Leaf Lake and D.L. Bliss State Park.
The beautiful Baldwin Beach and Pope Beach are enough reasons to add an extra day to the road trip.
More accommodation options are available in this part of Lake Tahoe, which is great for spending the night after having a great time in their microbreweries and dancing through their busy nightlife.
This city may be a little out of the way unless you also plan to stop by South Lake Tahoe.
Carson makes a good last stop before heading to Reno from Sacramento to try some good restaurants, breweries, and cafes.
We also didn’t miss our chance to experience the Nevada State Museum, where we learned more about the historic Carson City mint that played a significant role during the Gold Rush era.
Another fun-filled museum to visit was the Nevada State Railroad Museum, filled with locomotives and even cars bought from Hollywood studios that appeared in classic movies.
Carson City also offers a chance to go for a soak in the natural hot springs in the area, including a few resort-style options that offer day passes.
With only a 38-minute left drive towards Reno, this city also makes a good option for a quick last stop to experience more of this small Gold Rush town’s history.
There are a couple of must-see attractions, including multiple old saloons with museums and the historic Piper’s Opera House that still host excellent productions worth watching.
We also tried the Chollar Mine Tour, which gave us a glimpse of being a Comstock Lode miner.
As this is a natural underground mine with possible wet and muddy floors, we recommend wearing comfortable footwear that works well with a slippery path to avoid accidents.
Sacramento to Reno Driving Tips
- Check the weather
The weather during the shoulder seasons can change quickly, so make sure to check beforehand to avoid driving during or right after a storm.
This mainly applies during winter when some roads can be slippery from snow and ice.
There are also times when snow may stay for only a couple of hours, allowing roads to clear fast and maintaining a safe path for travelers.
- Check the road conditions
Road conditions from Sacramento to Reno may vary from time to time.
During summer, expect some ongoing road work as this is the best time to do it due to procedures that could be complicated if done at other times of the year.
Also, Highway 80 occasionally closes during winter when severe weather conditions occur.
Checking in advance will save you from the stress of delays and detours and may become handy in avoiding snowstorms and closed highways.
- Use or rent a 4WD if driving in the winter
Having the right vehicle for winter travel on these routes can save you a lot of frustration and time.
Driving in winter may be challenging for regular cars, which makes renting a 4WD or an all-wheel drive vehicle the best option.
We always use this website to find the best deals on rental cars when we need a 4WD vehicle.
A car with all-wheel drive and snow tires makes the drive a lot easier and saves you from having to install and remove chains in most cases.
If planning to leave the highway, this also works well with surface roads that are not always cleared of snow. For summer trips, this is unnecessary.
- Learn how to drive safely in the snow
The worst time to learn how to drive in the snow is when it’s already too late.
Learn as early as possible, as it may be helpful, especially in unexpected circumstances.
No one wants to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by tons of snow.
Before heading up the mountain, read up and familiarize yourself with driving in snowy and icy conditions.
- Pack accordingly
Knowing the right stuff to bring when traveling long hours on the road could significantly impact the trip.
Start off with packing some blankets or warm clothes, as Reno can get very cold.
You may also need to stock up on snacks and water in case you get stuck temporarily for highway closures that sometimes take hours or up to a day to open.
FAQs: Sacramento to Reno Road Trip
How long is the drive from Sacramento to Reno?
Driving from Sacramento to Reno might take approximately two to three hours.
The fastest route is via I-80 E, with a drive time of 2 hours and 11 minutes (132 miles).
There’s also an alternative route via US-50 E, which may take at least 3 hours and 10 minutes (167 miles).
This can be an easy day trip from Sacramento or an overnight trip if you want to spend more time.
Where do you stop between Sacramento and Reno?
Some of the best stops between Sacramento and Reno are Auburn, Grass Valley, Nevada City, Truckee, Lake Tahoe, Placerville, and Carson City.
These towns are perfect for a quick stroll, trying out some great restaurants, and even shopping for items to stock up for the trip.
How far apart are Reno and Lake Tahoe?
Lake Tahoe is 42.4 miles from Reno, with a 48-minute drive time via I-80 W.
It is a perfect stop to spend time on one of its gorgeous beaches and natural attractions and even have a quick meal break at the great restaurants and microbreweries.
Is Sacramento close to Reno?
The distance from Sacramento to Reno is 132 miles, which will take about 2 hours and 11 minutes via I-80 E.
Taking an alternative route via US Highway 50 may take 3 hours and 10 minutes (167 miles).
Is Reno or Sacramento closer to Lake Tahoe?
Reno is significantly closer to Lake Tahoe than Sacramento.
The drive from Reno to Lake Tahoe will take 48 minutes (42.4 miles) via I-80 E, while the drive from Sacramento to Tahoe is over twice as long at 2 hours (113 miles).
How long does it take to drive from San Francisco to Reno?
The drive from San Francisco to Reno is a three-and-a-half-hour drive (218 miles) via I-80 E.
You might pass through some tolls on the way if you take Highway 80 the entire way, and you will have to negotiate an interchange to stay on the highway before passing through Sacramento.
What town is halfway between Reno and Sacramento?
Emigrant Gap in Placer County is halfway between Reno and Sacramento, but this incorporated community has few amenities outside of a gas station.
The best options for a town to stop on along the way near the midway point would be Nevada City or Truckee, where there is plenty to explore and some great places to eat.
To reach the midway point, you will drive a roughly 66-mile distance from Reno to Sacramento, which could take at least a one-hour drive.
Can you fly from Sacramento to Reno?
Yes, there are flights from Sacramento International Airport (SMF) to Reno–Tahoe International Airport (RNO).
However, most flights may have a stopover in airports at San Diego (SAN), Portland (PDX), San Francisco (SFO), or Las Vegas (LAS), which may typically take a minimum of four hours.
Can you fly into Reno Nevada?
Yes, you can fly into Reno through Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which serves as the best airport for Lake Tahoe and Western Nevada.
While the Reno-Tahoe International Airport is not a major hub, there are plenty of connecting flights from larger airports on the West Coast.
Bottom Line: Drive from Sacramento to Reno by Car
Now that you know all the best stops along the drive from Sacramento to Reno, you only have to narrow it down to a few stops along the way.
You can also opt to stay the night and visit as many of these stops as your itinerary permits.
No matter what stop you choose, adding a few stops along the way will turn a boring drive into an epic road trip.
Lake Tahoe Quick Facts
Best Time to Visit: Lake Tahoe in the Fall and late Spring is the best time to go if you want to avoid the crowds. Winter is best for those into snowsports, while Summer is best for great weather, but it is also the most crowded.
Getting there: The airport closest to Lake Tahoe is Reno-Tahoe International which is 35 miles away. For the best flight deals, use Skyscanner to browse various airlines and prices.
Getting Around: The best way to get around Lake Tahoe is by car. Use Rentalcars.com to score the best deals on rental cars.
Best Self-Guided Tour: This audio tour from GyPSy Guide provides engaging commentary to make your trip more fun and interesting at such an incredible price!