Wild-eyed wonder at Skunk Harbor

The hike ends on the shores of Lake Tahoe. | Katherine E. Hill

The warm summer days are still fresh in our minds even though the temperatures are getting cooler and the leaves are starting to change color. The weather this time of year can be unpredictable and the fall season can often bring warm, summer-like days to the Tahoe Sierra. When this is true, the East Shore of Lake Tahoe is a great place to enjoy them.

There are many incredible places to explore on the East Shore and one of my favorite destinations is Skunk Harbor. It’s a great spot for hiking, relaxing at the beach and enjoying amazing panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the western crest of the Sierra Nevada.

The eastern exposure at Skunk Harbor helps extend the duration of sunlight and the warm daytime temperatures. It’s a great spot for hiking, relaxing and enjoying views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada.

Over the years, I have hiked to Skunk Harbor many times. Sometimes I have done it by starting at the top and hiking down and sometimes I have started at the beach and hiked up when my husband Luke and I have come by boat. I’ve hiked it several times with my sister Kat Hill and my son Anikin, first as an infant, and again when he was 2 years old carrying him on my back in a pack. But he was already very aware and curious of the world around him — he asked lots of questions. Other times, he’s joined me in hiking up the trail when we’ve arrived by boat, making it a great hike for kids of all ages.

The Trail
2.6 miles roundtrip | Moderate

Elevation gain | 528 feet
Enjoy hiking and swimming. Dogs OK

One of my most fond times was when he was 2. He would point at pinecones on the ground, the pine trees looming above, the bushes, birds and just about everything we saw along the way, including Lake Tahoe. Each time his tiny finger landed on an object he wanted to know its name and to see it up close. He was especially intrigued by Lake Tahoe. Every time we stopped to admire views of the lake his eyes grew big with curiosity.

Skunk Harbor is a great hike for kids and dogs. | Katherine E. Hill

As we got closer to the beach, he was anxious to get out of the pack. He walked over to the water and started talking to it as if he were having a conversation with it. Kat and I were not sure what he was saying but it sure was adorable. We could only imagine what a 2-year-old might say to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Skunk Harbor trail is 2.6 miles roundtrip and kid friendly. The descent down to the beach is gradual and easy. On the way down, there is a fork in the road. The left fork goes down to Prey Meadows, a great spot for spring wildflowers and a peaceful picnic. The fork to the right leads to the beach at Skunk Harbor.

On either side of the beach, there are rock outcroppings that can be carefully navigated for a broader view of the surrounding landscape. There is an old house on the beach, once used in the 1920s by the Newhall family from San Francisco as a party home. This property is now federal land, maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.

The trailhead is on Highway 28 about 5 miles south of Sand Harbor State Park. Look for a green gate on the lakeside of the highway. There is a small parking area near the gate; do not block the gate. There is also a pullout for parking to the north of the gate on the same side of the road. Parking fills up fast; visit on weekdays and go early.