History, beauty melds at Sugar Pine Point State Park

The Hellman-Erhman mansion was built as a summer retreat for Isaiah Hellman.

While cruising down the scenic West Shore of Lake Tahoe, it might be easy to miss the unimposing signs for Sugar Pine Point State Park. Hidden just beyond the grove of trees is an area rich in history, beauty and recreation.
From the first permanent emigrant to settle at Lake Tahoe, to the Olympic Games held within the park, the Ehrman Mansion and the Ed Z’Berg nature preserve, the State Park provides a unique glimpse into life on the West Shore.

A quick side trip from the Dolder trail provides views of Lake Tahoe.

I recently spent a weekend camping at General Creek Campground, which is located a quarter-mile from the Sugar Pine Point State Park day use area. Although the campground was fully booked, we enjoyed the privacy of well-spaced campsites nestled among the trees.
From the campground, hikers may enjoy exploring the General Creek Trail, which is a 6-mile trail that wanders through the venues of the biathlon and cross-country events during the 1960 Winter Olympics. From here, hikers can choose to continue to the Lily Pond trail and beyond to Desolation Wilderness. We chose to return to camp for a barbecue dinner and songs around the campfire before calling it a night. The next morning, we awoke to the sounds of birds chirping as we crawled out of tents for breakfast before heading to the day-use area.

The Dolder trail takes hikers throught he Ed Z’Berg Nature Preserve.

Explore historic estate
Upon walking into the day use area at Sugar Pine Point State Park, visitors are immediately greeted by the Hellman-Ehrman estate. A summer home for well-known West Coast banker Isaias Hellman, the property includes several buildings. Most notable is the Pine Lodge, a three-story, shingle-style home with enclosed porches and over lapping wood shingles. Today, the outbuildings have been repurposed as a Nature Center, a few historical exhibits and housing for park employees.
My first stop was at the Olympic exhibit. From authentic uniforms to guides handed out to event judges, the exhibit houses an interesting piece of history from the 1960s events that took place within the park. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek at such a major event in the area.
From there, I explored the Nature Center. Taxidermy exhibits show an example of the region’s wildlife. Here, visitors may also purchase tickets to tour the Pine Lodge.


The house’s main source of heat was from the two large fireplaces that are a focal point of the living room. A spiral stairway leads to the second story where there are eight bedrooms and seven bathrooms. A third floor was accessed by another staircase and housed the kitchen and cleaning staff. My favorite part of the house was the large enclosed deck that overlooks the big, blue lake.
One of the first permanent settlers on the lake was Colonel William Phipps who built a modest cabin on the shores of Sugar Pine Point. Today the cabin still stands as a glimpse into the past.

Spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach.

A second highlight at the park is the Edwin L. Z’Berg Natural Preserve. To explore the preserve, look for the paved Rod Beaudry Trail east of the Nature Center. The trail is a half mile long with interpretive markers that explore the local flora and fauna and explain the history of Edwin Z’Berg, a state assemblyman who fought for environmental legislation while in office.
Approximately a quarter-mile into the Rod Beaudry Trail is a fork toward the Dolder Nature Trail. This 1½-mile loop circles the natural preserve allowing hikers beautiful views of the lake and a fantastic example of a sub-alpine meadow eco-system.
After exploring the trails, spend some time relaxing on the beach. Paddleboard and kayak rentals are available at the North Boathouse near Phipps cabin.

Corey Farwell and Andrew Guthier enjoy lounging around the fire pit. 

Living History Day
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Sugar Pine Point’s status as a California State Park. To celebrate, Sierra State Parks Foundation is hosting Living History Day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 25. Visitors will enjoy family friendly activities including an open house tour of the mansion, lawn games and children’s activities, a car and boat show, an auction and guided walks. The Fillmore Zone will be entertaining with live music from the 1960s and food vendors will be on site.

Enjoy discovering Sugar Pine Point State Park during Living History day on July 31.

As well, Living History Day will be the only day the General Phipps cabin will be open for tours. Trapper and fisherman William “General” Phipps is the first permanent settler of record on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore and he built a cabin at the mouth of General Creek within the park in 1860.
Pack a picnic and grab the family for a full day of history at Sugar Pine Point.

For more information on the park, visit parks.ca.gov or sierrastateparks.org.

Living History Day
July 25 | 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Free | $10 parking

Full Moon Kayak Tour
July 31 & Aug. 28 | 7 p.m.
$40 per person | Ages 12+ only

Tea Party at Children’s House
Aug. 5 | 3 p.m.
$25 for two | $10 additional tickets

Discover the Trees of Sugar Pine Point
Aug. 9 | 10 a.m.
Free | $10 parking

Evening of Wine & Wisdom
Aug. 12 | 5:30 p.m.
$50 advance

Star Gazing at the Pier
Aug. 14 | 8 p.m.
Free | $10 parking

Music in the Park
Aug. 18 | 6 p.m.
$20 | Free 12 & younger

Park Highlights
Year-round camping
Hiking & cross-country trails
Nature preserve
Historic estate tours
Beach time & picnics
SUP & kayak rentals