Snowshoe to Skunk Harbor on Tahoe’s East Shore

The beauty of Skunk Harbor is worth the trek down to Lake Tahoe. | Kathryn Reed

While I normally try to avoid going downhill at the start, some snowshoe destinations are worth it. Such is the case with Skunk Harbor.

This is often an overlooked excursion with snow on the ground. While plenty of people go there, seldom are there many people at the same time. This is perfect as you try to stay isolated even in the outdoors during this pandemic.

It’s a gradual 1½-mile descent from Highway 28 to the beach. The uphill ascent doesn’t feel so gradual, though. The elevation change is 560 feet. Sometimes there is no clear starting point because of all the snow. Some years it’s a pretty steep first 15 feet before it flattens out. Fortunately, a snowmobiler had laid a track for us, as had other snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

While I stay on dirt trails for erosion reasons, the virgin white snow can be so inviting that breaking trail can be fun. Sometimes it was fluffy; other times it was crunchy. No matter where one looked, it was a winter wonderland. It didn’t take long for Lake Tahoe to come into view. The openness of the trail in many ways made me feel like I was much farther removed from civilization than I was.

Tracks led to a knoll that we scampered up to get what was a stunning view of much of the lake. Depending on the snowfall and temperatures, ice may be clinging to the shoreline rocks and a stretch of sand could be exposed.

What is always visible are the remnants of Skunk Harbor’s past. While the U.S. Forest Service owns this swath of land on the East Shore, that wasn’t always the case. Stone buildings near the waterfront once belonged to George and Caroline Newhall. They used it as a second home for their San Francisco friends in the 1920s.

George Whittell Jr. then became the landowner. He once owned most of the East Shore down to Zephyr Cove. Pilings for what once was a pier protrude from the water. Despite these manmade intrusions, it is an otherwise undisturbed plot of forest. The trail is popular year-round and is dog friendly.  

Getting there
Parking is located along Highway 28 on the East Shore, 2.4 miles before the junction of Highway 50. There is no sign. Nevada Department of Transportation clears the area; do not block the access gate to the start of the trail.