Emerald Bay State Park is one of the most amazing areas to visit around South Lake Tahoe in California. There are so many incredible activities to see and do around Emerald Bay including scenic viewpoints, forest trails, historical buildings, turquoise beaches and more.
As a California local, I can’t believe it took me years to finally make it out to visit Lake Tahoe and it did not disappoint.
Emerald Bay is an especially great location to experience if you’ve never been to Lake Tahoe before because most of the highlights in this area are located close to each other and many attractions are easily accessible including drive-up viewpoints and short day hikes.
And if you’re looking for a place to stay, check out our post that covers 10 of the coolest VRBO rentals in South Lake Tahoe!
If you are planning a trip to Lake Tahoe, here are 10 amazing things to see & do around Emerald Bay State Park:
- Emerald Bay Beach
- Vikingsholm Castle
- Rubicon Trail
- Fannette Island
- Lower Eagle Falls
- Upper Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail
- Inspiration Point
- Cascade Falls Trail
- Baldwin Beach
- Tallac Point
Emerald Bay Beach
Emerald Bay is one of the most visited and photographed places in Lake Tahoe. Some of Emerald Bay State Park highlights include a lakefront beach, Vikingsholm castle, hiking trails, and waterfalls.
Emerald Bay State Park is easily accessible and has a designated visitor parking lot off Highway 89. It costs $10 to park there for the day and parking is very limited so come early before it fills up.
As soon as we arrived at Emerald Bay it took our breath away. The views even from the parking lot were just incredible all around and overlooked Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, and Fannette Island.
After visiting the viewpoints we recommend taking a short trail down to the beachfront.
The hike down is only 1 mile long (each way). The way down is easy since it goes directly down a hill but the way back up will make you work a sweat.
The shoreline at Emerald Bay is very beautiful and consists of a pristine coastline filled with glacier-shaped rocks. Emerald Bay looks especially stunning on sunny days when the sun reflects off the water giving it that beautiful turquoise color.
Much like most of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay is very clean and well taken care of, has public restrooms along the bay, picnic tables, and plenty of walking trails that span in both directions.
Vikingsholm Castle is located at the bottom of Emerald Bay, right next to the beach. This is one of the main highlights in the area for visitors and a “must” on our list.
Vikingsholm Castle is essentially a large mansion that was built in 1929 by Lora Knight who at the time owned Emerald Bay and the surrounding area.
Lora Knight had just purchased Emerald Bay a year earlier for $250,000 and wanted to build a summer house that reminded her of Scandinavian castles and churches. Elements of the Vikingsholm Castle are influenced by Ms. Knight’s research trips in Denmark, Noway, Sweden, and Finland.
Vikingsholm Castle is partially hidden in a forest between trees and has a view directly facing the Emerald Bay beach.
Vikingsholm Castle was built of large stones and wooden beams. It is considered to be one of the most significant Scandinavian style architectural buildings in America.
In the summer months, Vikingsholm Castle is open for tours. You can find more information about Vikingsholm Castle tours on the Sierra State Parks website here.
If you’re looking to do a longer day hike, Rubicon Trailhead is located next to Vikingsholm Castle and goes along the Emerald Bay shoreline.
Altogether, Rubicon Trail is around 22 miles long but you can also day hike portions of it. Many people hike a section of the Rubicon Trail from Emerald Bay to D.L. Bliss State Park that’s around 4 miles long (each way).
Note that unlike other hikes in this area, Rubicon Trail is part of Emerald Bay State Park which does not allow dogs. If you’re looking for a dog-friendly hike we suggest checking out our posts on hiking Eagle Lake Trail and Cascade Falls Trail just up the road.
The scenery along the Rubicon Trail is simply gorgeous. After visiting Vikinshold Castle we hiked a short portion of the Rubicon Trail going north.
During our hike, Lake Tahoe’s water looked very clear and blue, especially around the rocky bay.
We had planned to make it to D.L. Bliss State Park but it started hailing halfway there. We decided to turn around at the Mooring Buoys Pier/Boat Camp and head back.
Fannette Island is a small island made of granite rocks at the center of Emerald Bay. At the top of the Fannette Island is a rustic “Tea House” that was built by Ms. Knight the same year as her main residence Vikingsholm Castle in 1929.
Fannette Island Tea House was originally furnished with a table and chairs so Ms. Knight could entertain her guests. Now only the rocky façade remains from the Tea House after it was vandalized and destroyed.
Fannette Island is surrounded by water and the only way to access it is by boat, kayak, or paddleboard. In the summer paddleboards and kayaks can be rented in Emerald Bay starting at $25 per hour. For more information about kayak and standup paddleboard rentals see Kayak Tahoe website here.
Lower Eagle Falls
Lower Eagle Falls is one of the most picturesque and easily accessible places to visit at Emerald Bay State Park.
Lower Eagle Falls viewpoint is located right off Highway 89. Visitors can either park at the Eagle Falls Trailhead parking lot or the Emerald Bay State Park parking lot and walk to Lower Eagle Falls within a few minutes.
Lower Eagle Falls is a waterfall that flows from Eagle Lake stream and plunges down a cliff in multiple tiers. This scenic viewpoint overlooks Emerald Bay and looks especially great at sunset.
We walked up to this waterfall for a closer look but the ground was rocky and slippery. Due to steep drop-offs make sure to use extra caution especially in spring when the waterfall is extra powerful from the fresh snowmelt.
Upper Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail
Upper Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail is one of the best day hikes to do around Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe.
This trail is part of Desolation Wilderness and features panoramic views of Emerald Bay, scenic bridges, waterfalls, and an alpine lake.
The trailhead for Upper Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake is located across Highway 89 from Emerald Bay State Park and has a designated parking lot for day hikers.
Visitors that hike Eagle Lake Trail are required to pay $10 for a Desolation Wilderness hiking pass and fill out required permit paperwork at the trailhead.
The trail to Eagle Lake is only 2 miles long round trip. The first section of this trail goes in a loop to Upper Eagle Falls and sweeping viewpoints of Emerald Bay.
After reaching Upper Eagle Falls hikers have the choice to head back or continue into Desolation Wilderness and hike to the beautiful Eagle Lake.
After reaching Eagle Lake we recommend going past the lake to some jaw-dropping viewpoints that overlook Eagle Lake and the beautiful Desolation Wilderness landscape.
Eagle Lake Trail is dog friendly and very popular so make sure to come early to secure a parking spot if you plan to hike it.
Read more – Hiking Upper Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail
Inspiration Point is a scenic viewpoint that’s located right off Highway 89. Inspiration Point has a lot of information plaques covering Lake Tahoe history and geology.
Here are a few fun things that we learned at Inspiration Point:
- Lake Tahoe is the third deepest lake in North America
- Lake Tahoe contains 39 trillion gallons of water
- Due to its size and dept water at Lake Tahoe never gets very warm
- 63 different streams flow into Lake Tahoe
- Objects can be seen up to 67 feet below water because it’s so clean and clear
Note that Inspiration Point does not offer a clear view of Emerald Bay and many trees grow right in front of it. If you want to get a better photo with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe check out Emerald Bay Main View Point that’s located slightly north on Highway 89.
Cascade Falls Trail
Cascade Falls Trail is another wonderful day hike to do around Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe that leads to a scenic viewpoint of Cascade Waterfall and Cascade Lake.
Cascade Falls hike is only 1.5 miles long so it’s very short and can be done within 2 hours. It does climb up steadily across rocky surfaces and giant granite boulders so make sure to wear sturdy shoes and watch your step.
Cascade Falls Trail starts at the Bayview Trailhead which is located within Bayview Campground off Highway 89. There is a small parking lot for day hikers but it was closed during our visit so we just parked along Highway 89 and hiked it in.
From the Bayview Trailhead, Cascade Falls Trail goes directly to the waterfall. Towards the end, however, the path can be a bit difficult to spot due to rocky surfaces. We used Maps.Me hiking app to guide us and locate the waterfall.
The panoramic views along the Cascade Falls Trail are just spectacular overlooking Lake Tahoe, Cascade Falls and the adjoining Cascade Lake.
Cascade Falls Trail is also dog friendly but make sure to keep an eye on your pet due to steep drop-offs especially around the waterfall.
Read more – Hiking Cascade Falls Trail
After visiting Emerald Bay State Park there are a few noteworthy locations to the east of it that we recommend checking out like Baldwin Beach.
Baldwin Beach is pretty secluded and has a small access road that leads there.
Unlike Emerald Bay that’s made of mostly granite rocks, Baldwin Beach consists of coarse yellow sand, marshlands, trees, and grass.
With snowcapped mountains as the backdrop, Baldwin Beach is a wonderful place to come visit for a couple of hours and relax in its remarkable scenery.
Tallac Point is another wonderful lake access point that’s located right next to Baldwin Beach. Tallac Point consists of a sandbar that reaches towards Baldwin Beach but is separated from it by a stream.
Tallac Point is dog friendly so this is a popular place for locals to bring their dogs especially on the weekends.
After visiting Tallac Point beach you can also head over to the Tallac Historic site that consists of a set of historical summer estates.
Location: Tallac Road, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150