Nature in Balance at D.L. Bliss State Park

Along the trail to Balancing Rock. | Katherine E. Hill

Along the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, the tall pine trees and rugged mountain terrain lie in stark contrast to the emerald and cobalt water of Lake Tahoe. These elements are in balance despite their juxtaposition. At the heart of this amazing scene is D.L. Bliss State Park. People come from around the world to climb, hike, camp, float, soak and decompress.

Balancing Rock Nature Trail | ½ mile roundtrip
Rubicon Point Lighthouse | 1½ miles roundtrip
Rubicon Trail | 6 miles roundtrip

D.L. Bliss State Park is named after Duane Leroy Bliss, a lumber and mining mogul from the late 1800s. His family owned large portions of land in the Lake Tahoe Basin and in 1929 they donated 744 acres in his honor to California State Parks. Since that time, the park has grown to 2,149 acres, preserving the land for public use and restoring a natural balance to a once heavily forested area.

The park has a historic campground, day-use beach access and some of the most notable hiking trails around Lake Tahoe. One of these great hikes is the Balancing Rock Nature Trail. This half-mile, easy hike features a fascinating geologic phenomenon: a 130-ton boulder precariously perched on a narrow rock base. People have been drawn to this feature since the late 1800s, decades before the park was established. They came then and they come now to take their picture with it.

Anikin Allen climbing on the many boulders along the trail. | Katherine E. Hill

Being a kid who loves rocks, I knew my 6-year-old son Anikin would love to see this fragile rock landmark.

We traveled 17 miles south of Tahoe City on State Route 89 to the park entrance. We followed the long, winding road to the gate where we paid the ranger for the day-use pass.

Explore the trail to the Rubicon Point Lighthouse or the Rubicon Trail to Emerald Bay. 

We continued to follow the road as it descended into the canyon. Along the road we noticed some other interesting rock formations, one even looked like a stack of pancakes. These unique geologic wonders are evidence of volcanic activity and glacial floes that once covered this land.

We passed the campground soon reaching the Balancing Rock Nature trailhead. The first thing we saw was a replica of a galis dungals, or traditional Washoe winter hut, made of large trees carefully bound together. We stepped inside and Anikin and I talked about how the Washoe would have lived in a galis dungals like this; we marveled at the craftmanship of the structure.

From there we walked up a small hill and followed the easy, flat trail. Along the way, Anikin climbed around on large boulders, asking if any of the rocks were the rock we came to see. In less than a quarter of a mile, we reached the famed Balancing Rock.

The rock seemed to defy gravity and appeared as if could fall over at any moment despite its massive weight. Erosion has worn down the rock and the rock it sits on; it’s only a matter of time before the rock tumbles into the valley below, but not anytime soon. We took our picture next to the amazing structure but Anikin was not persuaded when we tried to get him to climb on the rock. I reassured him that it is safe, but he wasn’t convinced. He was content to continue climbing on more stable rocks as we completed the short loop back to the trailhead.

A replica of a Washoe galis dungals at the start of the trail. | Katherine E. Hill

Rubicon Point Lighthouse Trail is another noteworthy trail. This 1.5-mile roundtrip, family friendly hike has views of what was once the highest lighthouse in the United States. Built in 1916, the Rubicon Point Lighthouse was used for only a short time and was deactivated in 1921. Anikin has not yet been on this hike but has seen the lighthouse many times from our boat. This one is on the to-do list.

If you have kids who are a little older than Anikin or are seasoned hikers with lots of energy, the Rubicon Trail is a great choice. It is known for its sweeping lakeviews and proximity to American Bald Eagle nesting grounds. This trail connects Emerald Bay State Park to D. L. Bliss State Park, about 6 miles roundtrip. There are moderate hills and is a little beyond Anikin’s current endurance level.

D.L. Bliss State Park’s campground has tent, group and small RV spaces that are nestled in the shade of the trees and Rubicon Peak. Access to the beaches is farther down the road at Lester Beach and Calawee Cove Beach. The park is popular in the summer and the parking lot usually is full by mid-morning. Arrive early morning or late afternoon for the best parking and there is a parking fee. | parks.ca.gov