Emerald Bay State Park is tucked into southern Lake Tahoe, where northern California meets Nevada. And like the rest of the Lake Tahoe region, the Emerald Bay scenery is breathtaking.
The State Park was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1969. And it’s no wonder why. It’s a striking, alpine scene with pine trees abasing craggy mountain visages surrounding the lake. Most importantly, the beautiful water has a bright blue-green hue, hence the bay’s name.
The park is a glacial park, which means the lake and mountains were formed from ancient glacial activity. Significantly, this geology creates the stark landscape for which this area of the country is known.
Activities and Attractions at Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay State Park covers roughly 1,500 acres and borders D.L. Bliss State Park to the south. If the landscape wasn’t enough to draw you in, the park is also a wonderful vacation destination.
Away from some of the hustle and bustle of Lake Tahoe proper, Emerald Bay offers no shortage of activities for everyone to enjoy.
Whether you’re seeking an active holiday with the family or a serene, escape to the outdoors, there’s something for everyone at Emerald Bay. To help you plan your trip to this stunning outdoor venue, we’ve created a selection of a few of Emerald Bay State Park’s best attractions.
1. Emerald Bay’s Underwater Park
In 1994, Emerald Bay State Park was named an underwater state park. Divers can experience another world through Emerald Bay’s underwater trails. Under the lake’s waters lie sunken boats and hidden treasures, which is especially inviting.
The underwater park is a special treat for divers and historians alike. Two sunken barges rest underwater by the barge dive site at Emerald Bay’s southern shore. It’s believed this same area was once a dump site for the former Emerald Bay Resort from 1884 to 1953.
You can imagine the array of sunken goods to discover at this dive location. For convenience, a mooring buoy installed in 1994 marks the spot for divers to explore.
And your underwater experience doesn’t have to end there.
Beyond diving the southern waters of Emerald Bay, you can also explore sunken treasures at the north part of the bay. It is here where the old Emerald Bay Resort stood and intriguing underwater artifacts in this area abound.
Check out the Emerald Bay Dive Guide to see all that the underwater park has to offer. If you enjoy diving, don’t miss the chance to explore the lost treasures of Emerald Bay with the park’s unique underwater trail.
2. Tour Vikingsholm Castle
Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian inspired castle, is an unusual sight in northern California. But the castle fits right in against the backdrop of Lake Tahoe’s beautiful landscape.
The castle is arguably the best example of Scandinavian architecture in North America.
The impressive castle was built by Lora Knight in 1929 as a summer home. Knight had already been enjoying summers in Lake Tahoe for many years. She sold her original home and purchased the land for Vikingsholm along with Fannette Island, as well.
Knight hired Lennart Palme as the architect for her project. The two traveled together to Europe for inspiration for the home’s structure and interior decor.
You’ll find the castle’s interior just as magical as the facade, with immaculate craftsmanship and hand-forged metal work.
The castle has a total of 38 rooms, all intricately assembled. It took 200 workers to complete the construction. And most of the materials used for constructing Vikingsholm were local to Lake Tahoe.
However, craftsman and carpenters were brought over from abroad to bring authenticity to the home’s design. When visiting Vikingsholm, you’ll feel like you’ve truly been taken back to another time and place.
The castle is open for tours only during the summer. It is only a mile hike from the parking area to visit Vikingsholm. In winter, visitors may still hike to the castle but are encouraged to be cautious in winter conditions.
3. Fannette Island
Fannette Island is a small island in the center of Emerald Bay. The island is the only one in Lake Tahoe.
Fannette Island has had many names over the years. But, it's often called Tea House Island because of the little stone tea house built by Lora Knight. Knight had the tea house built at the same time as Vikingsholm as a spot for her afternoon tea. And some of the structure still stands today.
One of the best parts about Fannette Island is the stunning panoramic views of the bay.
With this in mind, don’t miss a chance to take in the scenery from this unique perspective. In summer months, Fannette Island is easily accessible by kayaking or paddle boarding out. Find out more about visiting the island.
4. Life on the Water
Emerald Bay State Park is a water lover’s haven. And you and your family will find it perfect for all types of summer activities on the water. Enjoy a swim in the bay’s pristine water or set out for an adventure on a boat.
The bay is perfect for water sports if that’s your speed. You can rent a boat or bring your own to the boat launch and take the family wakeboarding, waterskiing, or tubing. Alternatively, if you prefer a more tranquil activity, take a picnic lunch and cool drinks on your boat for a leisurely afternoon on the water with friends.
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Also, don’t forget the many options for taking to the water with a paddle. Bring along a buddy to try standup paddle boarding. Or take a peaceful moment for yourself during a solo canoe journey on the bay.
Take a group in kayaks for the short trip to visit Fannette Island and to soak in the views of Vikingsholm from on the water.
And if boat traffic is too much, you can take your smaller vessel to explore the bay’s nooks and crannies.
But if you’re simply looking for ultimate relaxation by the water, you can simply enjoy the well-kept yet rugged mountain lake shoreline. Unwind with a book or a picnic on the beach, while taking in the view of the lake from the shore.
5. Camping at Emerald Bay
Emerald Bay is also an idyllic destination to spend your nights camping. You can fully immerse yourself in the great outdoors, inhaling the crisp mountain air and sleeping under the stunning night skies.
At Emerald Bay State Park, you can make a reservation at one of two camping sites. Either you can arrive by boat to the Emerald Bay Boat Camp or drive to the Eagle Point Campground.
Best of all, you'll find the camping areas well-equipped for all your camping needs. You’ll find tables, food lockers, barbecues, restrooms, and even hot showers for your camping convenience.
With all these amenities, the park is an ideal location for camping with the whole family. Additionally, it's a great camping spot for those who still like to enjoy a few creature comforts. Spend your days on the lake, then cozy up to a campfire in the evening.
However, rangers encourage all guests using the campgrounds at Emerald Bay to keep foodstuffs, even trash, in the bear-proof food lockers. Black bears are quite prominent in the area, so it’s important to keep food contained, for everyone’s safety.
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The park also enforces quiet hours for the consideration of all campers.
You may also bring your dog camping at Emerald Bay. Unfortunately, your canine friends will have to remain at the campgrounds. Dogs are not allowed on the park’s beach or the trails.
6. Emerald Bay Cruises
If you’re looking for something different, experience Emerald Bay State Park by cruise. You can take an afternoon sightseeing cruise or a charming sunset cruise aboard the M.S. Dixie II.
The afternoon cruise provides a two-hour narrated tour of Emerald Bay’s history and ecology. Take the whole family and learn more about the history of the Vikingsholm and Fannette Island while enjoying the views. Lunch and refreshments are available for purchase on the lunch cruise.
If you’re a couple looking for something more romantic, you can also take the M.S. Dixie II for a lovely sunset dinner cruise. You’ll find the three-and-a-half-hour cruise around Emerald Bay quite entertaining. In fact, you and your partner will enjoy a sit-down dinner and drinks with live music. All while watching the sunset over the Sierra Nevada mountains. After dinner, you can dance through the evening on the ship’s deck.
7. Emerald Bay’s Hiking Trails
Lastly, Emerald Bay isn’t just for fun on the water. The park offers a wonderful trail system too, for those who enjoy hiking. The park has limited road access, so you'll find yourself using the hiking trails to reach some of the sites. From the parking area, you’ll walk to the beach and hike down to Vikingsholm.
The state keeps the moderate level trail system well maintained and easy to follow through the park. The Rubicon Trail is the main trail, which runs through Emerald Bay State Park through into D.L Bliss State Park. Within Emerald Bay, the Rubicon trail hits all the main attractions. There are trailheads at the campsites, the beach, and the parking area, where the Rubicon trail meets the trail to Vikingsholm.
Don’t miss exploring the park on foot through the hiking trails. It’s a chance to see parts of the park that can’t be experienced from the water. Check out the park’s trail map, pack a lunch, and set out for an adventure through the park’s landscape.
Time to Plan Your Trip
As you can see, Emerald Bay State Park has something for everyone. Whatever your tastes, whatever your budget, whether you’re traveling solo or with the whole family, you’ll be sure to love Emerald Bay. Soak in the glorious landscape, play on the water, and learn about the history of Emerald Bay.