Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Lake Tahoe is a freshwater, alpine lake that straddles California and Nevada in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The lake is best known for its clear, cobalt blue waters that welcome adventurers, outdoor enthusiasts, and laid-back tourists to its shores year-round. Lake Tahoe also lays claim to majestic snow-covered peaks and top alpine resorts that offer premium recreational snow activities. The natural scenic beauty of its wilderness-covered shores is a paradise for anyone looking to escape, relax, and unwind. No matter what season you visit, there are activities that are sure to titillate your senses along this alluring scenic backdrop.
West Lake Tahoe (North to South via CA-89):
Ed Z’Berg Sugar Pine Point State Park – Sugar Pine Point State Park is on the western shores of Lake Tahoe and occupies two miles of lakefront beauty. It is laced with miles of biking and hiking trails that navigate along the crystal waters and through the densely packed forests of pine, juniper, fir, and aspen trees. Besides recreational activities, the park has the Hellman-Ehrman Estate, also known as Pine Lodge, which is a historical house museum that offers a glimpse into the lifestyles of Lake Tahoe elite. Whether it’s trekking along one of the nature trails or leisurely enjoying the scenic beauty lakeside, Sugar Pine Point State Park provides ample opportunities for outdoor entertainment and photography.
Emerald Bay State Park – Emerald Bay State Park is the most popular and highly visited jewel of Lake Tahoe. The bay’s rugged shoreline is tucked away in the southwestern part of the lake and offers unparalleled views of the glistening sapphire-emerald waters amongst the Sierra Mountains. The park offers a variety of recreational activities that include hiking, boating, swimming, and even scuba diving. In addition to being a state park, Emerald Bay is also a National Natural Landmark for its geological history and beauty. The classification of National Natural Landmark included the surrounding bay and its various wrecks as part of the park, which made it one of the first underwater parks in California. The most prominent land features of Emerald Bay State Park are Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm, which attract visitors from all over the world to witness their splendor. The picturesque landscape, fresh mountain breeze, and tranquility of the water, all create a cathartic experience that makes time stand still:
Eagle Falls/Lake Trailhead – Eagle Falls are a series of waterfalls that fall in two large sections: upper and lower. Their names derive from the Eagle Lake, which is the body of water that feeds the falls and gained its name from the various eagle species that inhabited the area. Eagle Lake and Upper Eagle Falls can be reached by a 2-mile round-trip trail that goes from the Emerald Bay State Park parking lot to the lake, but Lower Eagle Falls is accessible via the Vikingsholm Trail. Most visitors turn around at the falls, but those who press on will be rewarded with brilliant views of the Tahoe backcountry and its reflection in the Eagle Lake. The falls are best viewed during their peak flow during the spring, but natural landscape provides an unforgettable outdoor experience during any season.
Vikingsholm Trailhead – Vikingsholm is a Scandinavian castle that sits on the shores of Emerald Bay with spectacular views of Fannette Island and Lake Tahoe. Vikingsholm is a 38-room mansion that is also aptly identified as the Vikingsholm Castle for its prominence and stature. All tours of the castle are guided, with tours lasting 30-minutes and are given between 10am-4pm from June-September. The trail to the Vikingsholm Castle is a moderate 2-mile, round-trip hike that encompasses over 400 feet of elevation gain. At the end of the Vikingsholm Trail, and directly across from the castle, there is a short trail that leads to a viewpoint of Lower Eagle Falls. The trail is open year-round, but caution is advised when visiting during the winter months due to the icy conditions of the trail.
Inspiration Point Vista – Inspiration Point Vista is an overwhelmingly spectacular vantage point that gives the best elevated view of Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, and Vikingsholm Castle. The lookout looms over 600 feet above the forested landscape and is ideal for photographers to capture a splendid panorama of Lake Tahoe. The vista point is well-designed with handicap accessible paths, which offer fantastic views as they navigate visitors towards the main viewing area. Once at the main viewing platform, sightseers will have the opportunity to read many of the informative signs that help detail the history of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area. The view from the Inspiration Point Vista leaves visitors staring in adoration at the mountainous terrain that surrounds the serene blue-green waters below.
Tallac Historical Site – The Tallac Historical Site is a historic treasure that is nestled within a secluded forest on South Shore’s prime waterfront. The site showcases the restored luxurious estates that were once the summer homes of three socially elite families from San Francisco: Heller, Baldwin, and Pope. The Tallac Historical Site now serves as Lake Tahoe’s only cultural arts site and provides an opportunity for visitors to experience the prestige and culture that once pervaded the estates. As visitors meander through the botanical gardens and past the landmark estates, it is hard not to be fully immersed in the amorous atmosphere that has long since been associated with the lakefront property; however, no romantic tour of the grounds can be complete without a walk down the Valhalla Pier. From the beach, the Valhalla Pier offers a unique panoramic perspective of the wooden dock as it extends into the clear, teal waters of Lake Tahoe.
East Lake Tahoe (South to North via US-50 to NV-28):
Cave Rock – Cave Rock is a massive rock formation with a dual bore highway tunnel passing through it. The rock is the neck of an old volcanic vent that existed over three million years ago and is considered a sacred location by the Washoe tribe. Cave Rock’s name derives from the various caves that run along the side of the rock, which formed from erosion when the lake’s water levels were hundreds of feet higher than it is today. To hike the .8-mile round-trip route to the top of Cave Rock, trekkers can access the trail head at the end of Cave Rock Drive. The hike takes approximately 10-20 minutes and culminates with some of the most incredible views of the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe.
Logan Shoals Vista Point – Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, the Logan Shoals Vista Point provides dramatic views of the alpine covered shoreline. The overlook is a small nook that is easily accessed from the parking lot via the paved pathways. This scenic stop resides several hundred feet up and provides an elevated perspective of the mountainous terrain that overlooks the cobalt blue waters. Due to its easterly location, the Logan Shoals Vista is best photographed during the late afternoon as the golden sunlight highlights the alpine trees and coastal rocks.
Secret Cove – Secret Cove is a remote inlet that sits on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe, near Incline Village, and is accessible via the hiking trail from the Secret Harbor Parking Lot. This aptly named scenic overlook is easily missed if you are not searching for it, as there are no signs or parking areas in the immediate vicinity. Popularity of this hidden gem makes parking a nightmare, especially during winter, when certain parking areas along Highway 28 are closed due to snow. Despite the parking difficulties, winter is a wonderful time to visit to witness the snow-capped boulders contrasting perfectly with the varying shades of Lake Tahoe’s emerald and cobalt water. A walk from end to end of this quaint cove will provide magnificent views from a variety of perspectives and makes leaving a difficult task.
Bonsai Rock – Just south of Sand Harbor lays Bonsai Rock, a peaceful area that features four trees growing out of a large boulder in the crystalline water. Set amidst the humbling splendor of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this rocky alcove exudes a feeling of serenity that has made it a popular Lake Tahoe landmark. It has also become a whimsical icon for visitors and photographers vying to capture a breathtaking sunset that compliments the Zen-like characteristics of the landscape. Despite the absence of marked trails or a designated parking lot, there are multiple dirt paths that lead from the side of the road and terminate at the beach. Due to the steep mountainside, and the possibility of loose rocks, it is advised that visitors exercise caution when hiking down to the beach and towards Bonsai Rock.
Sand Harbor – Sand Harbor is one of the most popular state parks in Lake Tahoe for its white sandy beaches, beautiful rocky coves, and alpine forested areas. Many of its visitors engage in family-friendly recreational activities that include watercraft rentals, hiking, picnicking, swimming, and scuba diving. The park coves 55 acres and has a sizeable parking lot that varies in price depending on the season ($12 mid-April to mid-October and $7 mid-October to mid-April). Although it does not rank high on my personal photography locations, Sand Harbor is a wonderful place to break for lunch while appreciating the outdoor ambiance of Lake Tahoe.
Recommended Local Restaurants:
Driftwood Cafe – A home-style, family-friendly café that serves great breakfast and lunch options. They are best known for their outrageous omelets and wacky waffles on their breakfast menu and their giant ½ pound burgers on their lunch menu. I typically stop here for breakfast and order my two favorite menu items: Breakfast of Champions and the Ugly Fries. The Breakfast of Champions are old-fashioned oats that come served with cinnamon, raisins, milk, and brown sugar, and a homemade blueberry bran muffins on the side. There is an option to add bananas, blueberries, strawberries or roasted almonds for .75 cents per item, which I highly recommend all of them to make the dish dance in your mouth! I follow that up with a full order of Ugly Fries, which are a mixture of grilled potatoes, green onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms, that are topped with melted cheddar cheese.
Sprouts Natural Foods Cafe - Serving healthy, organic food that is prepared daily. They offer a variety of vegetarian options and use the freshest and most wholesome options available. I recommend the A.T.O.M. Bagel which is a sandwich that is stacked high with avocado, tomato, red onion, and Monterrey Jack cheese. For $2 extra I make it an ‘egg melt’ by adding steamed, free range eggs. I would also recommend their Ugly, Gooey, Excellent Nachos, which consists of organic tortilla chips topped with organic beans, melted Monterrey Jack cheese, salsa, guacamole, organic sour cream, and green onions. Sprouts Natural Foods Café also makes smoothies and my favorite is the Mean Green Machine smoothie, which are strawberries, orange juice, vegetable protein powder, and organic spirulina mixed together to make a delectable treat.
Keys Cafe – Keys Café serves free-range, organic eggs that make delicious breakfast sandwiches or burritos. Along with their food, the Keys Café is most well-known for their real fruit smoothies that come in 16oz or 24oz sizes. If you don’t mind a ‘crunch’ to your smoothie, then I recommend the Strawberry Blond. It consists of strawberries, bananas, honey, granola, and your choice of milk, and makes a great breakfast drink on the go.
Sugar Pine Bakery – The Sugar Pine Bakery has a café menu, but are best known for their fresh baked goods and cakes. For their pastries my all-time favorite are their cinnamon rolls, but I can never turn down one of their bear claws or apple turnovers. Before I head out I will order a slice of their homemade carrot cake for the road, my favorite!
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