Idyllic views along Rubicon Trail

Trivia question: How many trails allow you to walk for 6 miles along the shore of Lake Tahoe? Answer: One, the Rubicon Trail, which begins at D.L. Bliss State Park and ends in Emerald Bay. On this popular trail, hikers are treated to views of emerald green and deep blue waters, as well as ospreys and eagles. When it comes to hiking trails at Tahoe, this one should not be missed.

“The trail winds above a series of bays, all with emerald green, sandy shorelines and dark blue waters.”

The Rubicon Trail begins at Calawee Cove in D.L. Bliss State Park and gets exciting right away. The first section travels just above a sheer rock face that falls steeply to the lake. Deep water starts from the water’s edge, allowing boats to get close to shore — and crazy Tarzans to jump into the lake from rope swings. In several places, the route is narrow, bordered by a fence to keep hikers on the trail. After about a half mile of this high traverse, the trail meanders through enormous granite boulders and away from the lake.

Emerald Bay with Maggies Peaks in the background

Ospreys, a member of the hawk family, are highly skilled at diving and plucking fish from the water. They create bulky nests of sticks at the top of dead trees close to the water’s edge and one of their favorite places to do so is on this trail. Although they are spotted less, keep your eyes peeled for an eagle sighting, as well.

The trail spends about a mile in the trees, and then after a long, gentle descent, spectacular views of the lake open up again. From here, the trail winds above a series of bays, all with emerald green, sandy shorelines and dark blue waters. A short climb brings the trail to a small creek crossing before reaching a rocky high point. A quick descent, and you arrive at a pile of granite rocks perfectly flattened and aligned for a beautiful lunch spot.

The trail will bring you soon enough to the lovely Bonnie Bay, with sandy beach and boulder-strewn, crystal-clear waters. Past the bay, the trail passes narrowly through two halves of a boulder before, at about 3 miles from the trailhead, it crosses from the main body of the lake to the shores of Emerald Bay.

READ MORE: Follow the same path on a kayak adventure

Now every little bay seems more idyllic than the last. At about 4 miles you enter the grounds of the Boat Campground. Here boaters tie up their boats offshore, so that onshore they reap the comforts of a campground, without the noise of the cars. It’s a great spot for hikers to borrow a picnic table, use the pit toilet, fill up their water supply, take a swim or ponder the view from the pier of Mount Tallac, Maggies Peaks, Vikingsholm and Eagle Falls.

Past the campground, the trail follows the lakeshore through a thick forest of incense cedar and Jeffrey pines before hitting the beach in front of Vikingsholm castle. Lora Knight built the home in 1929 with locally harvested rock and wood. It is considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States. Tour tickets of the interior are available at the gift shop about 100 yards south of the castle.

Past the shop, the Rubicon Trail begins again, following Eagle Creek for a short ascent to a bridge. From here, a right turn goes one-quarter mile uphill to the base of the lovely, and in springtime, tumultuous Eagle Falls — well worth the visit. A left turn takes you across the bridge on the 1.5-mile journey on the south side of the lake to the Emerald Point campground.

Now the trail is lightly used, with the crowds focused on the section between D.L. Bliss and Vikingsholm. It passes the remains of the famous landslide that crossed then State Route 8 in 1956. Then, in forest, the trail follows the lake shore, with several short use trails providing access to prime granite boulders along the shore, which seem to be just waiting for you to plant your posterior and ponder the beauty of it all.

Out & back

An out-and-back for the entire route is a hefty 12.5 miles if you take the side trip to the falls, which you should. From D.L. Bliss to Vikingsholm and back is 9.5 miles. Park a car in the Vikingsholm parking lot before your start the hike, so you don’t have to hike back.

Make it a day

Arrive early at D.L. Bliss in order to get a prime beachfront parking spot. Go out first while the waters are calm on a paddleboard or kayak and follow the shoreline to the entrance of Emerald Bay. Take a break there on the small sandy spit with to-die-for views. Paddle back to the beach, take a swim, eat some lunch, get your hiking shoes on and hike the Rubicon Trail. By the time you return, you will be ready for one more swim and a pleasant nap.

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