Emerald Bay State Park, South Lake Tahoe, California

Photo not altered in any way. A simple cell phone pic.

We have been to many beautiful places within a small sample size of beautiful places. The mid-May trip to Lake Tahoe was an unreal, much needed experience. Aside from the beautiful sky and clean air, the deciding factor on traveling to Lake Tahoe was the trails. In South Lake Tahoe alone, there are 48 trails, ranging in difficulty from moderate to performance. We only did two during our trip; one in Nevada and this one, in California. 

Emerald Bay State Park is the most frequently-photographed destination in Lake Tahoe. A steep down-hill one mile stretch was a surprising discovery as we realized we had muscles in our calves that we never knew we had. The destinations and sights that followed led to our most tranquil experience in Lake Tahoe, and harvested the most impeccable pictures we have ever taken. 

First and foremost, the drive to this site was horrifying. Our untrained northeastern ignorance (for better or worse) made us naive to the fact that this destination wasn’t just up the street from the Hard Rock Casino. Uber and Lyft were tough to come by in the region, so we set up a costly cab ride, about 16 miles due west, directly into Emerald Bay, the centerscape of southwest Tahoe. Our cabbie took us through Bear Hazard road signs, uphill curves, and views that we can only believe because we were there to see it. Finally, along the final 5 miles , the turquoise colors flow into a very crowded parking lot, filled with people taking pictures and families enjoying a serene experience. Right past the row of port-of-potties and a small information desk led us to a solid rock formation, overlooking the mountain we were about to traverse, and the beach we were about to visit.

This is a place where people take selfies, propose marriage, paint pictures.

The walk is a one mile drop down the mountain to the beautiful beachfront at Emerald Bay, looking along Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. The Vikingsholm Mansion along the beach is a major tourist attraction for hikers and visitors alike. While we worked to our destination, the thin, elevated air began to catch up on us as we made our way downhill. The sore calves haunted us for the rest of the trip, but it was worth it. On the way down, we got to appreciate the tall Jeffrey pine trees, a delicacy much like everything else at this destination for us. The sap created a moisture in the air on the way down, as did the slight drop in elevation – Emerald Bay is 6830 feet above sea level.

Eventually, the rugged mountain trail turned into a light pavement as we reached ground level and worked our way to Vikingsholm mansion and the beach at Emerald Bay. Although it was closed for the season, Vikingsholm mansion was still a sight to behold. The property was acquired and sold to various landowners throughout the 19th Century. After nearly forty years of established land, Mrs. Lora Knight purchased the property in 1928, and decided to construct a home that reflected some of her Scandinavian travels throughout her life, as Emerald Bay’s landscape reminded Mrs. Knight of fjords that she has seen. With the assistance of Lennart Palmle, an architect from Sweden and Knight’s nephew, Vikingsholm was constructed. Following Mrs. Knight’s death in 1945, the property was sold yet again, and the new owner negotiated a deal with the state of California, which led to the house and property being acquired by the state, which still stands to this day, as a frequently visited destination, and one of the oldest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States.

Vikingsholm mansion, as impressive as it looks, was merely the opening act for the beach at Emerald Bay. The sand was thick and grainy; the water clean and cold. The views were exquisite. Looking ahead at Fannette Island was ideal for the beach. We were not alone; many families showed up and posted up on benches, to enjoy a picnic in a setting of paradise. We joined for a few moments to take in the experience before heading back up.

Fannette Island – The only island in Lake Tahoe.

The walk up was rough. We were climbing up a mountain after a challenging walk down the mountain. We took multiple breaks coming back up to catch our breath and rest our quads. No matter how much step training we did in New Jersey, it still wasn’t enough for us to be prepared for the beautiful challenge of Emerald Bay State Park. Despite the challenging walk, this was a perfect, wonderfully captured moment for us in our travels. It’s a place that you see pictures of online and you research about – and maybe even visit on GoogleMaps (I did all three extensively), but you don’t actually believe that it is real until you actually go there. There’s really no other way to communicate the beauty of Emerald Bay State Park than to share our reflections and upload our pictures — and to that end, we hope we did it justice. But there is no comparison to seeing it in person.