Where is Emerald Bay State Park
138 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
Emerald Bay State Park is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. Emerald Bay is on the western shoreline of Lake Tahoe, 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe. South Lake Tahoe is a large town only 20 minutes away. The closest major city is Reno, Nevada located 1.5 hours north east, or Carson City, Nevada 1 hour away.
How Big is Emerald Bay State Park
Lake Tahoe is a 21.75-mile-long high alpine lake sitting at 6,225 feet in elevation. Emerald Falls sits at the highest point in the park at 6,630 feet. The park is 1,533 acres. The bay is about 1.7 miles in length and 2/3-mile-wide with a small inlet from the larger main part of Lake Tahoe. The park includes the only island of Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island located in the middle of the bay with a historical teahouse on the top.
Emerald Bay State Park Weather
Lake Tahoe is a high alpine lake located in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. This makes the seasons very dramatic and extreme weather. During the summer, temperatures can reach into the 90’s while winter can reach down into the negatives where the bay freezes over. Summer nights can cool down to the low 40’s, even when the days reach 90 to 100 degrees. The extremes in weather come with the mountain location.
From October to March, Lake Tahoe receives a ton of snow making it a premier ski destination with ski resorts scattered on all sides of the lake. Snow and ice make accessing parts of this state park impossible during the winter.
In the spring from April to June, the runoff from the snow melting in the mountains can cause Eagle Falls to be a dangerous raging waterfall, risking drowning if unsafe. Emerald Bay water levels rise with ice cold snowmelt water, making it too cold to swim in.
The summer is the best time to fully enjoy this US State Park with warmer water temperatures reaching a surface temperature up to 70 degrees, hiking trails clear of snow and mud, and eagle falls a safer water flow level to view.
Fall in the mountains brings beautiful fall colors to Lake Tahoe. One can spot aspen trees turning bright yellow and orange in September and October before snowfall.
When did Emerald Bay become a State Park
Emerald bay has a rich history hosting some of the wealthiest people to this area to enjoy the pristine crystal-clear lake during the summer months. In the late 1860’s Ben Holiday, a wealthy transportation businessman built a home on the bay. In the 1880’s new owners attempted to build cabins to make a resort. In 1892 the land changed owners again and was used as a summer residence.
In 1928 the wealthy Scandinavian Mrs. Knight purchased the land and began building her summer mansion. They built a tea house located on Fannette Island and a 38 room Vikingsholm mansion. Mrs. Knight died in 1945 at which point the land was sold to several different owners before a philanthropist donated the land to the state. In 1953 Emerald Bay became a State Park and in 1969 was named a National Natural Landmark.
Things to do in Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay State Park has a lot to do for all ability levels and ages. The park has numerous hiking trails, an underwater maritime heritage trail, 2 campgrounds, 2 piers and swimming zones, an island with a historic teahouse to explore, and Eagle Falls Waterfall on Eagle Creek. Our National Park Visitors Guide suggest the following:
Scuba or Snorkel the Maritime Heritage Trail
There are 12 sunken historical boats in Emerald bay waiting to be explored with a Scuba tour or with a snorkel. There are 4 locations to dive to see boats, launches, and barges from the 1920’s and 30’s now resting below the bay. In the 1950’s the boats were sunken purposefully as they were no longer needed. In 2018, the Maritime Park opened to the public.
Hike the Vikingsholm Trail
To access the bay and the water you will need to hike down about 400 feet. The Vikingsholm trail leads to the infamous Vikingsholm Castle and is a good starting point for more adventures in this park. It is a 1.7 mile out and back trail so it will be a steep uphill on the way back up to the parking areas.
Hike the Rubicon Trail
The Rubicon Trail follows the shoreline of Emerald Bay and continues north into a D.L. Bliss State Park. The trail is 16 miles in whole with over 2,000 feet elevation gain. However, following this trail for 3 or 4 miles along Emerald Bay is enough to see all of the incredible sites Emerald Bay has to offer.
Kayak to Fannette Island to Mrs. Knight’s Teahouse
A teahouse located on the only island of Lake Tahoe in the middle of Emerald Bay hosts 360-degree views of the bay. Kayaks are available for rent at one of the two swim beaches in the park, Baldwin Beach or Emerald Bay Beach.
Take a tour of Vikingsholm Castle
This historic 1928, 38 room Scandinavian style mansion sits on the shore of Emerald Bay. Take a tour to see this historic summer home and it’s incredible Scandinavian architecture.
Go on a Scenic Boat Cruise on the Tahoe Queen
The Tahoe Queen is an authentic paddle wheeler boat with a glass bottom that tours the Bay.
Photograph Emerald Falls
Emerald Falls is easily accessible, a short stroll off the main road and offers incredible views of the falls flowing down into Emerald Bay. This is one of the most photographed and iconic spots in Lake Tahoe.
Camp at one of the campgrounds
That park offers one boat in campground, and Eagle Point Campground to stay the night in the park.
Swim in the Lake
On a hot late summer day, surface water temperatures can reach 70 degrees making this an amazing swim spot in the crystal clear blue water. Emerald bay has 2 beaches and swim zones to enjoy. Baldwin Beach and Emerald Bay Beach are accessible via the Rubicon Trail that follows the lake shoreline.
When to go to Emerald Bay State Park
Summer from June through September is the peak time to visit this State Park due to the warmer temperatures. Enjoying the water is the best part of this state park, so going during those hot summer days is the best. However, it is also extremely crowded and busy from June through August. September is less busy, but the weather can be unpredictable as fall approaches. May is a nice time, however the water is guaranteed to be ice cold and un- swimmable due to snowmelt.
Must-Have things to bring to Emerald Bay State Park
Weather can be unpredictable year-round in this high Sierra Nevada alpine lake. There are limited services and most of the lake must be accessed via a steep downhill hiking trail, remembering that you have to hike back up it to get back to the main road. List of Parks suggest the following items:
At high elevation humans need more water to stay hydrated. This high alpine lake is at 6,225 feet so you will definitely need to drink more water than you think!
There are no food venders and no restaurants around the state park so remember to pack a lunch and snacks. The heat of the summer sun can drain you quickly.
Swim gear and Towel
Swimming is popular at this park but the water will be cold. Bringing a wetsuit if you plan on snorkeling or staying in the water for more than a couple minutes. Having a towel to dry off will prevent you from getting hypothermia, even in the hot summer sun. Bring a mask, snorkel, or scuba gear to enjoy the underwater trail.
Proper Hiking Boots
The hiking trails down to the lake can be steep with loose rock and dirt. Having proper hiking boots will make this hike much easier and more pleasurable.
Jacket for Rain and cold weather Attire
Being at over 6,000 feet in elevation the weather is extremely unpredictable. Thunderstorms and hail storms can hit at anytime during the summer and during the winter frigid winter temperatures require lots of snow gear.
Black bears are at home around Lake Tahoe and when humans venture into their home, we have to be prepared. Interacting or feeding any wildlife is harmful to both humans and animals and can create an aggressive animal. Bear spray provides protection from any over friendly bears.
Mosquitos will be plentiful during the summer!
Where to stay in Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay State Park has two campgrounds to stay in. Eagle point campground is located on the southern point of Emerald Bay offering incredible views. Open from mid-May to mid-September, having a reservation will guarantee you have a spot at this very popular campground. Small RV’s up to 18 feet are welcome here. Campsites are $35/night.
The other campground is a hike in/ boat in campground located on the north side of Emerald bay. A short kayak to this campground offers more secluded camping next to the lake.
Other campgrounds nearby are in D.L. Bliss State Park, or Bayview Campground in the national forest just south of Emerald Bay. All recommend reservations as they can be very popular and sold out.
Around Lake Tahoe there are many other options for where to stay. The closest town, South Lake Tahoe, offers many hotels and Bed & Breakfast. The west shore of the lake heading north from Emerald Bay is a beautiful drive and takes you to some small quaint mountain towns that have small Bed & Breakfast and more seclusion and peace than South Lake Tahoe.
Food Nearby Emerald Bay State Park
There is no food in the State Park so packing in food is the best option. The resort city of South Lake Tahoe town has grocery stores, restaurants, and plenty of options for food. Enjoy some amazing Mexican food as this area hosts authentic Mexican food. Or enjoy a local lake caught trout from a fine dining restaurant.
Airports near Emerald Bay State Park
The closest airport to Emerald Bay is Lake Tahoe Airport located just south of the Lake, only a 20-minute drive away. This small airport will be the costliest to fly into and doesn’t offer many flights. The major airport near Emerald Bay is Reno-Tahoe International Airport, about 1.5 hours north east in Nevada. Renting a car is the best way to travel to and around Lake Tahoe.