Lake Tahoe Nevada State Parks
A common question from first-time visitors is, “What state is Lake Tahoe in?” Simple. Lake Tahoe straddles the California/Nevada border. Arguably, the best outdoor recreation areas are found on the lake’s eastern half, which is located squarely in Nevada. If Lake Tahoe is on your Silver State adventure list (and it should be), these parks are essential to your planning.
As the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe is stunningly scenic, not only due to its sheer size, but also for its iconic clarity and deep blue hues. Stretching along the eastern shoreline from North Lake Tahoe all the way down to South Lake Tahoe, Lake Tahoe Nevada State Parks is made of four units, including Sand Harbor State Park, Spooner Lake & Marlette Backcountry, Cave Rock, and Van Sickle Bi-State Park, each offering up a different—and easily accessible—way to experience one of the largest, most beautiful lakes in the world.
While there are dozens of public-access beaches on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, Sand Harbor is easily a show-stopper, with gently sloping sandy beaches, crystal-clear water, and striking granite boulders that promise unforgettable swimming, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and even SCUBA diving experiences. This incredibly beautiful stretch of Lake Tahoe’s eastern shoreline was privately owned by the eccentric millionaire George Whittell, Jr.—helping prevent the rampant development seen on the California side. After his death all of it, including three of the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park properties, was donated to Nevada State Parks. The Sand Harbor Visitor Center and Gift shop offers self-guided tours, with informative displays that step through Tahoe’s logging industry, ecology, and other fascinating aspects of the region’s history.
In addition to posting up on the enormous sandy beach Sand Harbor is so well known for, visitors can reserve a group picnic area and ramada that can accommodate up to 200 people. The on-site boat launch includes two wave-protected double ramps, while a number of short hiking trails carry visitors to breathtaking vista points. If you’re into cycling, be sure to hop on the long-awaited section of nature trail that connects Incline Village to Sand Harbor. Dubbed “America’s Most Beautiful Bikeway,” the recently opened East Shore Trail provides non-motorized access to public beaches, coves, and trails along the picturesque Nevada shoreline. In the summer months, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is headquartered at Sand Harbor, offering numerous live theater performances with Lake Tahoe as its unbeatable backdrop. During the winter, Tahoe Sleigh Ride lets you literally go dashing through the snow on a multi-horse open sleigh.
When the crowds pack Sand Harbor in the months of July and August, find respite at nearby Memorial Point Scenic Overlook, where an easy .5-mile trail takes visitors to a beach so secluded it’s actually called Hidden Beach. This is a popular spot for daydreaming and watching fireworks displays over the Independence Day weekend. It’s located roughly one mile north of Sand Harbor and, while there are no parking lots here, it’s also free to enter and well worth the short walk.
Spooner Lake and Backcountry
If you’re looking to do some camping in Lake Tahoe, put Spooner Lake on your radar. Almost hidden in plain sight, this amazing backcountry area is a haven for recreation, with more than 12,000 acres of forested mountain terrain. High above the Lake Tahoe shoreline, views of Lake Tahoe abound on more than 50 miles of trails for hiking, legendary mountain biking, and even horseback riding. The world-famous, 4.4-mile, cliff-clinging Marlette Flume Trail can be accessed from the park, along with a section of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail.
Whether you’re hiking or mountain biking in, you can’t go wrong with the amazing camping and fishing opportunities at Spooner and Marlette Lakes. The park has three primitive campgrounds at Marlette Peak, Hobart, and North Canyon, as well as coveted backcountry cabin rentals. The Spooner Lake Cabin (available April 1 to November 15) is located just north of Spooner Lake and sleeps four comfortably. Meanwhile, the five-mile trail from Spooner to Marlette Lake via North Canyon Road leads to the Wildcat Cabin. Both cabins have basic amenities, like composting toilets, beds, cook stoves, and wood burning stoves.
The nearby Marlette-Hobart Backcountry has been a part of Nevada’s parks system for more than 50 years and, in 2021, work began on improvements to the area which will include a new visitors’ center, an outdoor science venue, more parking, ranger-guided hiking tours, and better access to more than 13,000 acres of wilderness areas. The area will remain an excellent place to strap on snowshoes or undertake a day of cross country skiing, thanks to the 3.1 miles of trails found around Spooner Lake.
Further south along the Lake Tahoe Nevada shoreline is Cave Rock—a place of spiritual importance to the Washoe Tribe of American Indian tribes in the region. Over the years, the actual “Cave Rock” has had several distinct but overlapping highway routes that went over, around, and through. Today, the road punches right through Cave Rock, dropping visitors down to three shoreline picnic areas—each equipped with tables and barbeque pits—and a boat launch. This tucked away cove is also a popular spot for fishing, hiking, and swimming.
Van Sickle Bi-State Park
One of Lake Tahoe’s newcomers on the park scene is the Van Sickle Bi-State Park (so called because it straddles the Nevada-California border in South Lake Tahoe). Named for long-time Tahoe land owners and stable operators, the Van Sickle family, this 542-acre park opened in 2011 and offers an array of fun activities, including picnicking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and photography.
Not only is Van Sickle a snap to get to, it also serves up some of the most awe-inspiring scenery the region has to offer. With dozens of miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, Van Sickle Bi-State Park is minutes away from the main strip in South Lake Tahoe, making it one of the lake’s most accessible parks for visitors of all ages and skill levels.
Sand Harbor is open 365 days a year between 7:00 AM and one hour after sunset. Call the park directly at (775) 831-0494 for details. Cave Rock is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year. Contact (775) 588-7975 for details. Spooner Lake is also open from sunrise to sunset each day. Contact (775) 831-0494 for information. Van Sickle Bi-State Park is open to pedestrians year-round, but only open to vehicles between May 1 and Oct. 31. Contact (775) 831-0494 for information.
Admission to Sand Harbor, Spooner Lake, and Cave Rock costs $10.00 for Nevadans and $15.00 for everyone else. Parking is included in the admission fee, but in most cases, parking is extremely limited and no walk-in traffic is permitted. Admission to Van Sickle Bi-State Park is free. Note: All Nevada State Parks will implement a reservation system starting in 2023.
CityNorth Lake Tahoe