Story & photos by Jenn Sheridan ·
The iconic views of Emerald Bay are a highlight during a summer drive around the lake, but the view is only a fraction of the draw to Emerald Bay State Park. Hidden just out of sight from the road, Emerald Bay is home to endless outdoor recreation including hiking, camping and boating, cascading waterfalls and Vikingsholm Castle. Whether you only have a few minutes or you plan to spend the weekend exploring, Emerald Bay State Park offers many adventures.
The most difficult part of visiting Emerald Bay State Park is finding a parking spot. Visiting Emerald Bay midweek in the early morning or late evening is the best way to avoid the frustration of searching for an open spot. During the summer, the Tahoe Trolley offers rides from Homewood to the wye in South Lake Tahoe including stops at Emerald Bay and connects to regional transits systems.
Adventures at Eagle Falls
Upper and Lower Eagle Falls are easily accessible from Highway 89 and can be enjoyed in less than an hour. Lower Eagle Falls is on the north side of Highway 89 just a short walk from the road. Carefully scramble over the rocks to the brink of the falls and enjoy the views as the water crashes more than 100 feet down toward the lake below.
From the Eagle Falls Picnic Area, the trail to Upper Eagle Falls climbs for nearly a mile following Eagle Creek and ending at a bridge the crosses the falls. Follow the trail for another three-quarters of a mile to reach Eagle Lake.
Spend a day on the bay
From the Vikingsholm Castle parking lot, a 1-mile steep trail leads to a sandy beach in Emerald Bay. In the late spring, the wildflowers near the beach are in full bloom and lucky visitors may catch a peek of ducklings as the follow the mother duck around the bay.
Begin with a tour of the Vikingsholm Castle. The mansion was built by Mrs. Lora J. Knight as a summer home in 1929. Impressed by the towering granite peaks that surround Emerald Bay, Knight sought to build a house of Scandinavian design inspired by her travels to Nordic countries. The house features ornamental trim that is reminiscent of Viking ships. The Sierra State Parks Foundation raised money to restore the sod roof on the home this summer. Once the green grass has taken root, wildflower seed will be added to achieve the original look of the mansion. Tours are offered daily from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and last about 30 minutes.
While the view of Emerald Bay from Highway 89 is stunning, the view from the lake looking toward the mountains are equally as breathtaking and the best way to experience them is by paddling around the bay. Paddleboard and kayak rentals are available on the beach from Kayak Tahoe. About a quarter-mile from shore is Fannette Island, the only island on Lake Tahoe.
The stone structure at the top of the island is the Tea House. It was built during the same time as Vikingsholm and as the name suggests, it was used as a place to enjoy afternoon tea with guests. After exploring the island, be sure to paddle around the shoreline and take in the sights. The eastern side of the bay is an Eagle nesting ground, so keep and eye out for these birds of prey as they fly in and out of the trees. After making a tour of the shoreline, return to the beach to relax in the sand for a while before making the trek back up the trail.
Although it’s closed for repairs this summer, the Eagle Point Campground holds 114 campsites in the heart of Emerald Bay State Park and provides access to Desolation Wilderness beyond Eagle Lake via the Eagle Creek Trail. It will reopen next summer.
The Boat-In Campground is accessible only by water or foot. Buoys are available and guests may enjoy lakefront campsites. The campground has running water, showers and restrooms. Camping at Emerald Bay is a great way to enjoy all the same activities as a day trip with a few extra bonuses. The campground is first-come, first-served.
A lesser-known fact about Emerald Bay is that it was used as a dump side from 1884 to 1953 for boats and local resorts. Today, it is designated as an Underwater State Park and SCUBA divers may explore two historic barges and five dories that lay 35 feet below the surface. Other artifacts include old sinks and toilets from historic resorts. One diver even reported seeing a Model A Ford.
Hike the Rubicon
The Rubicon Trail is an 8-mile round-trip or 4-mile shuttle from Emerald Bay State Park to D.L. Bliss State Park. The trail begins at Vikingsholm Castle and follows the shoreline before climbing toward the ridge after the Boat Camp. It ends at a beautiful beach in D.L. Bliss State Park.
Whether you’re stopping on the way around the lake or planning a weekend of adventures, Emerald Bay State Park is always worth the stop.
For more information or to purchase tickets to special events, call (530) 583-9911 or visit sierrastateparks.org.