Lake Tahoe Day Hikes
California & Nevada
The Caribbean isn't the only place that has clear blue and turquoise colored water. In fact, you don't even need to be in salt water at all to enjoy such beauty - just head to Lake Tahoe. Before we get into the details of what to see and how to see it, here's a few fun facts about the lake:
Lake Tahoe is over two million years old and is counted among the 20 oldest lakes in the world.
It's the second deepest lake in the United States and the tenth deepest in the world with a maximum depth of 1,645 feet.
The lake holds enough water to to cover the entire state of California to a depth of 14.5 inches.
It's one of the purest large lakes in the world and is the highest lake of its size in the United States.
The average water surface temperature is 53 degrees.
The lake offers a variety of activities during various seasons of the year: skiing, water-skiing, boating, mountain biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, and hiking. This guide will strictly cover some of the best spots to hike and kayak. I'd recommend going during the warmer months of the year - July and August. It gets so hot that the ice cold water will be perfect to jump into after a long day of hiking or kayaking. Since you can circle the lake in a few hours and the locations below are somewhat spread out, find lodging/camping that's somewhere along the roads that circle the lake. Here's what you should see:
National Forest Beaches of the East Side (hiking): Along route 28 there's a tiny parking area that you can find in google maps by typing in "Secret Harbor Parking Lot." If there’s parking available, park here and take the dirt fire road all the way down to the lake. Otherwise, head South on Route 28 from this parking area about 0.5 miles and find a safe spot to pull over and park on your right. On the right side of the road, you'll see a spider web of hiking trails that will eventually connect to the dirt fire road. Continue south on this fire road to the end where you'll see a small hiking trail that follows the coastline, heading both North and South. Explore the entire coastline - there are tons of spectacular beaches and coves! Be aware that several of the beaches are clothing optional.
Skunk Harbor (hiking): Exactly 5 miles South of Sand Harbor on Route 28 you’ll find space to park along the right side of the road. Take the fire road down to the beach. It’s about a 3 mile roundtrip hike. There you’ll find a few small beautiful beaches and an old abandoned house that was built back in the 1920s. There’s not many well developed hiking trails beyond the area around the house, so what you see is what you get - but it’s still worth it!
Bonsai Rock & Alternate Turquoise Coves of the East Side (kayaking): If you're more of kayaker, want an arm workout, or are just that motivated to see more of these beautiful coves, then this one is for you. Head out early the morning to Sand Harbor along route 28. If you don't head out early, this place fills up super quick and you will be disappointed because they close the gates once the lot is full. You can rent a kayak here all day for about $80. Bring a waterproof backpack with some food, a good amount of water, sunscreen, and of course, your camera. Kayak out of Sand Harbor and then head south. There's no need to hug the coastline until after you pass the beaches of Sand Harbor. Once you pass the beaches, start to kayak along the coastline and as you head south, you'll reach Bonsai Rock. It's a cool rock with some small trees growing on it, but even better is the larger rock island right next to it. This place is a true nature lovers playground. Park your kayak and have a blast. If that's not enough for you, jump back in your kayak and continue heading south. Eventually you'll pass the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation - it's the only built structure you'll see along the way. Once you pass the preservation, hug the coastline again and you'll find gorgeous coves and might even be able to score one all for yourself. I would use Chimney Beach (there's a real chimney on the beach) as your turnaround point and head back to Sand Harbor from there. That will have been several hours worth of kayaking.
Emerald Bay & Lower Eagle Falls: Head out early to Emerald Bay State Park along route 89. This is another one that can fill up quickly if you wait until the afternoon to go. From the parking area, walk to the viewpoint where you'll see a great view of Emerald Bay and if you look to your right, you'll see a huge waterfall flowing down the mountainside - this is the one you'll be hiking to. You can either hike down to the lake from here and find your way up to the waterfall from the lake, or you can scramble down rocks alongside the waterfall. Scrambling down the rocks is obviously more dangerous and if you make a mistake, it could be your last...so be careful. The hike from the State Park parking lot is about two miles roundtrip while the hike/scramble next the waterfall is less than a mile.
To get to the hike next to the waterfall, drive further north up the road and park near the trailhead for (upper) Eagle Falls. Directly across the street from the parking lot for Eagle Falls is where you'll be heading. After crossing the street, I was able to find some rocks to scramble down to the left of the waterfall (to the left of the waterfall if Emerald Bay is in your front view), but it looks like there could be paths on the right as well. Whichever way you choose, know that the rocks can be very very slippery and only take this route if you have some experience scrambling down larger rocks. After you reach the first part of the waterfall, continue heading down to the second part by following a dirt path you'll see to the right (to the right of the waterfall if Emerald Bay is in your front view). Both parts of the waterfall are equally beautiful and it's definitely worth it to see both.
If you're looking to kill more time here, you might also want to hike the trail that starts at the Eagle Falls parking area. This will bring you to a less spectacular waterfall than you've just seen, but there is a little natural pool of water to dip in and if you go a bit further, you can even get to Eagle Lake. The round trip distance to Eagle Lake is approximately two miles.