Three Days in Tahoe in Summertime – Part 3

Three Days in Tahoe in Summertime – Part 3

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This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Epic Yosemite, Mammoth and Tahoe Roadtrip in the Summer



Our three days in Tahoe area were part of a larger roadtrip that included visiting Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Mountain. Lake Tahoe was the last stop on our roadtrip.

Day 4 | Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay

Total drive time: 3 hours and 15 minutes*

Lake Tahoe is a large lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At a surface elevation of 6,225 ft, it straddles the border between California and Nevada. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Its depth is 1,645 ft, making it the second deepest in the United States. The lake was formed about 2 million years ago and is a part of the Lake Tahoe Basin with the modern lake being shaped during the ice ages. There are lots natural coves, beautiful view points and hikes around the lake.

As beautiful as Tahoe is, honestly it was the least favorite part of the trip for me. It’s just not designed to handle visitors in peak season. Anyone who knows me, knows that my biggest pet peeve is not being able to park. And parking was impossible around the lake. There were so many spots that we really wanted to see and couldn’t get to because of lack of parking or a two hour wait at the parking lot entrances. So, if you’re like me or a photographer who wants peace and quiet for your pictures, don’t go in peak season.

We got to Tahoe in mid-afternoon, so we decided to explore the west side of the lake.

Inspiration Point – located 600 feet above Lake Tahoe on the east side of the lake, it’s one of the best spots to stop and take in the amazing views of Emerald Bay. Surrounded by tall pines, Inspiration Point offers dramatic views of Lake Tahoe that will wow even the most experienced photographers. If you want to explore the area you can hike the Cascade Falls Hiking Trail or Bayview Hiking Trail.

View of the island from the Inspiration Point.

Emerald Bay State Park – The bay has a beautiful beach, Fannette Island with a Teahouse, wreck dives, waterfalls, views of Vikingsholm Castle, heritage sites and campgrounds with views over the crystal-clear Lake Tahoe waters. There are several viewing points along Highway 89 that offer beautiful views of this amazing bay.  You can also access the Emerald Bay via an easy 4-mile hike on Rubicon Trail that starts at the Bliss State Park. Also, you can hike from Emerald Bay to the icy cascades of Eagle Falls and a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe.

View of Emerald Bay. Normally, the lake views are clear for miles, but large fires in Big Sur brought in smoke to Tahoe area and made our skies in photos a little hazy.

Eagle Falls – when you’re driving around Emerald Bay, pull over and check out Eagle Falls.

Cool tree roots at Eagle Falls.
View of Eagle Falls from the hiking trail.

Vikingsholm Castle & Teahouse – the 38-room Scandinavian-style stone castle built on bay shores and the Teahouse built on the Fannette Island, were constructed by Lora Knight. She married into extreme wealth, then used her money to educate young people who couldn’t afford it. The castle is a replica of a 9th-century Scandinavian castle with tours offered several times daily during the season (late-May to Labor Day). You will have to hike down to the castle from the parking lot above.

View of the Vikingsholm Castle from the lake.

Sunset In South Lake Tahoe – we chose to stay close to our hotel and just walk down to the beach for a sunset.

Sunset over South Lake Tahoe Beach.

Day 5 | South Tahoe

On our second day in Tahoe we decided to stay in town and explore the ski lifts for spectacular views, as well as town shops for some window shopping and souvenirs.

Total drive time: 20 minutes plus if you do the sunrise you’ll have an hour long roundtrip

Sunrise over Emerald Bay – if you’re brave enough to get up an 5AM, you can drive out to Emerald Bay at Eagle Falls to watch the sun rising over the lake. We’ve heard the view is beautiful, but for us sleep was more important, especially when on vacation, so we missed this item on our itinerary.

Heavenly Lift & Views – the 2.4-mile ride up on the Heavenly Mountain Gondola offers panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. Make sure to stop on the Observation Deck, a 14,000-sf platform located at around 9,000 feet. Then continue up on the Tamarack Express Chairlift to the top of the mountain where you can hike, zip line, conquer obstacle courses, climb ropes and stand in two states at the same time. Make sure to check the seasonal operating schedule. Some people experience altitude sickness coming here, so be prepared – drink plenty of water, rest up and don’t do this ski lift right after arriving in Tahoe, give your body some time to adjust to Tahoe altitude first.

Going up on the Heavenly Lift.

South Lake Tahoe – the most populous city in El Dorado County, in the Sierra Nevada. The east end of the city lies on the California-Nevada state line and is mainly geared towards tourism, with souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels and Heavenly Mountain Resort. Nevada casinos are just across the state line in Stateline, Nevada. It’s a great spot to walk around, window shop and grab a bite to eat.

Sunset at Zephyr Cove Beach and Marina – the sandy beach is more than a mile long and getting to the water is easy. There are also large boulders along the shoreline making for interesting photography. If you like water sports, the facilities offer parasailing, jet skis, boats, etc.  The thing I loved the most about this beach is parking, it has large parking lots and we were able to park there several times with no problems.

Sunset at Zephyr Cove, with a goose that decided to get in my shot.
Boulders at Zephyr Cove (depending on lake water levels, this area could be under water.

Day 6 | Tahoe East

Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the U.S., with a maximum depth of 1,645 feet. The lake is over 2 million years old, it is considered an ancient lake and counted among the 20 oldest lakes in the world. The water is 99.994% pure, making it one of the purest large lakes in the world. For comparison, commercially distilled water is 99.998% pure.

Total drive time: 1 hour*

The Cave Rock – a volcanic rock where waves carved out caves during the ice age when the lake was 140 feet higher than today. Highway 50 goes through Cave Rock. Cave Rock is also a spiritual site of the regions earliest residents, the Washoe Indian Tribe. A small day-use area is tucked beneath the rugged volcanic face of Cave Rock. You can hike to the top for amazing views, it’s a short but steep walk, so be careful. You can also see The Cave Rock from the Logan Shoals Vista Point. There is a park entrance fee of $10 per vehicle, some of the passes cover multiple Nevada parks, so make sure to ask when you purchase yours.

Cave Rock beach area.
View of Cave Rock from Logan Shoals trail.

Logan Shoals Vista Point – a hidden gem of Nevada shoreline. The Vista provides full views across the lake with u-shaped valleys carved out of glaciers. This is a place where you want to go off the trail on the boulders for some spectacular views and surroundings. Just be careful and wear proper shoes. Also, take the time to climb down to the shoreline, there is a beautiful flat trail around the shoals with amazing lake views.

View from the Logan Shoals Vista.
View from the shoreline below Logan Shores Vista Point.

Lake Spooner Hike – if by now you’re looking for a break from crowds and traffic of Tahoe, take a few mile detour to Spooner Lake and hike the 2-mile loop around the lake. You will have to pay $10 entrance fee, but if you already bought the Cave Rock and Sand Harbor pass, you will be able to use it here. Note: this was such a serene and beautiful hike, I absolutely loved it.

Lake Spooner is very quiet and calming, it’s perfect for a morning hike.
Lake Spooner has an area of beautiful birch trees lush green growth that will make you admire Mother Nature even more than before.

Sunset Cruise – there are several different types of cruises you can take on the lake. We chose a smaller, more intimate boat with only about 15 people on-board. It was a little more expensive but we wanted to make sure we had the best view and didn’t have to fight crowds to get to the railing. With the exception of a couple of kids with their grandparents, we were the youngest people on the boat by at least 30 years. We had a chuckle about ending up on a Seniors Cruise instead of Sunset Cruise. But it was a great low key boat ride and the views were spectacular.

View of boats at Zypher cove from the sunset cruise.

We left Tahoe that evening and stayed in Reno, so that we were close to the airport for our morning flight. It was a great trip despite the crowds. Update: I went to Lake Tahoe in May recently and my experience was much better. No crowds, parking, snow capped mountains – you can’t go wrong.

Driving times are based on routes from our hotels, which were usually close to the attractions.


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