On some days there’s precious little time to invest in a major outing in the Tahoe Basin, but if you’re near the state line on the North Shore, take a stroll up to the old fire lookout above Crystal Bay, Nev., for some jaw-dropping views of Big Blue.
It’s a short half-mile walk up a moderate grade to the overlook along a maintenance road that offers expansive views down the length of Lake Tahoe. It’s a great jaunt for families because it’s not far or difficult and at the top there are modern bathrooms. There are also loop trails with informative plaques loaded with facts about the Tahoe forest. They describe the destructive logging practices of the second half of the 19th Century when lumberjacks cut down most of the trees. One interpretive sign informs that it will take another 300 years for the second-growth trees to reach the “size and greatness of the old growth forest from a century ago.”
Timber was milled into lumber at sites around Lake Tahoe before being flumed down to Nevada. The vast supply of Sierra wood was used in construction and to sustain Comstock mining operations. Today, many of those statuesque pine giants are rotting beneath the touristy town of Virginia City, Nev. Testament to how much timber was cut, if you gathered the 7 billion board feet of lumber and 10 million cords of fuel wood harvested from the Tahoe Sierra and laid it end to end, it would encircle Earth at the equator 53 times.
Access to the trail is gained by turning up Reservoir Drive, to the north off State Route 28, along the eastern margin of the Tahoe Biltmore’s main parking lot. Drive two blocks up to a water tower and make a right-hand turn onto Lakeview Road. It’s about 1 mile to a locked metal gate where you will start your journey. Park your car on the shoulder of Lakeview Road so you don’t block the gate. The trail is dedicated to Lin Cotton, an architect/environmentalist who died in 1991.
Originally built in 1936 at an elevation of 7,017 feet, the Stateline Fire Lookout tower was dismantled in 2002 after technological advances in wildfire detection made expensive human spotters obsolete. The tower itself may be gone, but the nearly 360-degree view is incredible, nonetheless. There are benches and tables for picnic lunches and quiet relaxation or reflection, so it’s a perfect spot for taking a breather from the often-hectic pace of summer activities at Tahoe.
Immediately below the overlook, west, you can see the North Shore community of Kings Beach, named after Joe King, a card shark, possible bootlegger and real-estate developer. In 1958, King built a small storefront for the Knudson family from Grass Valley so they could open the first Jimboy’s restaurant, a popular California taco franchise today.
Looking out toward Brockway Point is the legendary Cal-Neva Resort & Casino, owned by Frank Sinatra in the early 1960s and currently being renovated. A major seismic fault runs under the lake through this area, which created the hot springs near the point. Campbell’s Hot Springs was one of the first resorts at North Lake Tahoe and by 1873 one of the most popular tourist stops at Big Blue. It’s now a condo development called Brockway Springs.
Have you ever wondered why the California-Nevada border runs through Lake Tahoe? After the United States’ victory in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the U.S. acquired a huge chunk of Mexico’s sovereign territory. When the question of California’s eastern border was raised at the state’s first Constitutional Convention in 1849, delegates could not agree on where it should be. Finally, one delegate suggested that the state line should be based on the longitude and latitude grid, not geography. It was approved and submitted to Congress.
The border starts at the northeast point of the state at the intersection of the 42nd degree latitude and 120th degree longitude, the southeast corner of Oregon, and runs south until it intersects the 39th degree latitude, a junction that occurs near the middle of Lake Tahoe. From there the state line angles and follows a straight line to the Colorado River.
Read more of Mark’s history hikes at TheTahoeWeekly.com. Click on Hiking under the Out & About menu.