No matter how you choose to get to know the magnificent Lake Tahoe, every sandy beach and towering vista that surrounds the Jewel of the Sierra is sure to promise breathtaking views, top-tier recreation access, distinctive history, and stunningly clear Caribbean-esque waters. As the largest alpine lake in North America, people from around the globe travel to Lake Tahoe each year to experience one of the clearest and coldest bodies of water on earth. Though people come to Tahoe for incredible alpine and cross country skiing and hiking, there’s no better place to experience Tahoe’s sparkling majesty than Emerald Bay.
Sitting just over the state line in California, book your stay in South Lake Tahoe then head a quick 30 minutes over the border to our western neighbor for a day trip brimming with unforgettable sights. Here, you’ll find access to tons of hiking trails, including access to the Rubicon Trail, Eagle Falls, Inspiration Point and other Desolation Wilderness access, along with Emerald Bay State Park. Be sure to grab the first available parking spot you see at the Vikingsholm parking lot—this is one of Tahoe’s most popular and most crowded locations with peak visitation during the summer months. Once you’ve got a place to park, explore the Eagle Falls hiking trail, or take a steep, one-mile pedestrian trail that drops 400 feet in elevation to the storied Vikingsholm Castle.
Nope, not a typo. Sitting at the bottom of beautiful Emerald Bay is a real castle—Vikingsholm Castle. Built in 1929 by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight as a summer home, this 38-room mansion is considered to be a premier example of Scandanavian architecture in the U.S. Emerald Bay reminded her of fjords she had seen on numerous trips to Scandinavia, and when planning to build her castle, Knight and her architect made several trips to Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. This immaculate summer home employs distinctive features, like hand hewn timbers, intricate wood carvings, hand forged metal fixtures, granite boulders embedded in mortar and beyond.
Fannette Island is found in the middle of Emerald Bay, and is the only island on Lake Tahoe. Rising 150 feet above the water, Fannette Island was also owned by Mrs. Knight, who built a small stone structure on the island used as her Tea House. After being transported by boat, Knight would enjoy afternoon tea there. Today, only the stone structure remains with no preservation efforts.
Visitors to South Lake Tahoe can hike, or boat into Vikingsholm Castle for daily tours that run in the summer months from June to September.
Maritime Heritage Underwater Trail
Designated a National Natural Landmark by the Department of the Interior, Emerald Bay, Vikingsholm Castle, and everything beneath the surface is protected. It’s one of the first underwater parks of its kind, protecting shipwrecks, and other historic artifacts in the bottom of the bay. Today, anyone can experience the Maritime Heritage Underwater Trail, which showcases Lake Tahoe’s historic watercraft and barges that sank in Emerald Bay. For more info on planning your dive in Emerald Bay, click here.
Know Before You Go
Emerald Bay State Park is open from sunrise to sunset—be sure to call ahead for current visitor center hours and available tours. Parking at Vikingsholm Parking lot is $5 per vehicle for the day, or $2 per hour via self-pay machines. The hike to Vikingsholm Castle is a very steep decline into Emerald Bay, with a very steep hike out. Visitors with medical or mobility conditions should not attempt this hike—there are no rides out. Dogs are not allowed on any trails or roads into Emerald bay, and are not allowed on the beach.
A campground is located on the north side of Emerald Bay, at the site of the old Emerald Bay Resort. Camp Emerald Bay with friends and family during summer months at established campgrounds, or embark on an unforgettable adventure at the Emerald Bay Boat In Campground. The boat-in campground opens Memorial Day weekend on a first come, first served basis, with more reservation info here. Dogs are allowed in the campground area, and must be on a 6’ leash at all times.
Kayak rentals are available in Emerald Bay during the summer months, but if you’re up for a more leisurely scenic tour, be sure to secure your spot on the M.S. Dixie II paddleboat tour that embarks year round from Zephyr Cove Resort.
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