Emerald Bay is our favorite place at Lake Tahoe. This is a gorgeous state park area on the California side of the lake. We spent a day exploring, and we found some fun things to do at Emerald Bay. Because the parking lot is small at Emerald Bay State Park, we recommend getting there as early as possible.
The drive to Emerald Bay through the thick forest is beautiful, and there are supposed to be bears, though we didn’t get to see one. If you approach Emerald Bay State Park from the South Lake Tahoe, you will want to stop at Inspiration Point. There is a small pull out where you can get a beautiful look at the bay and Fannette Island in the middle of Emerald Bay. Then continue around the end of the bay to the parking area.
The first thing to do after you arrive at the Vikingsholm parking area is climb the large pile of rocks next to the parking lot. It looks like a granite dome. By looking down and to your right, you can see Upper Eagle Falls, which is really beautiful. Some hikers like to walk down to it, but we much preferred Lower Eagle Falls, which we’ll describe below.
From the parking lot, there is a one mile hike down to the bay. Don’t worry, though, the trail is wide and well traveled. We enjoyed the walk down the hill remembering we would have to climb up when we were done. Luckily, the trail is well shaded. At the bottom of the hill, there are a few different things to do.
The first thing to do when you reach the bottom is get tickets to Vikingsholm Castle. This costs a little extra, but it is well worth it ($10/adults and $8/children ages 7-17). Get your tickets as soon as you can get down because the tours will sell out. Tours are only available from 10:30-4:00 from the end of May through September.
The castle was built around a hundred years ago by a Scandinavian immigrant widow. She was very wealthy and spared no expense, importing much of the furniture, and decorating the castle with all kinds of carvings and décor from her homeland. There are quarters for servants, and a small courtyard as well. This woman owned the entire bay, and she had a teahouse built on the only island in Lake Tahoe. You can still see it from the shore. She also insisted that the builders of the castle not use any local lumber, so the trees surrounding the castle are ancient and beautiful. We really liked the tour of Vikingsholm Castle.
There is also a small beach, though we didn’t swim in it because we didn’t want to haul all our stuff for a mile. We did enjoy walking along the edge, and visiting with the geese. Our boys loved looking in the water because it looked like there was gold along the shore. You could definitely wear swimming gear and enjoy the beach and pier at Emerald Bay.
We actually spent some beach time later this day at D.L. Bliss State Park. Once you purchase admission to Emerald Bay, it also covers DL Bliss State Park, so you can spend time in both parks for the day.
Lower Eagle Falls
The last thing to do at Emerald Bay is take a short hike to a beautiful waterfall called Lower Eagle Falls. It is only about a quarter of a mile to the waterfall from the cabin where you purchase tickets, and though it is uphill, the climb doesn’t seem very steep. The waterfall is really gorgeous. There is a nice cascade, much prettier than Upper Eagle Falls. We loved feeling the spray on our face!
Emerald Bay is our number one recommendation when visiting Lake Tahoe! We had a lot of fun spending the day at Emerald Bay State Park.
Things to Know
On the south east side of the bay, there is a campground. We didn’t camp, but if you are looking for a place, this would be a beautiful spot.
There is a $10 entrance fee to Emerald Bay State Park. This fee covers Emerald Bay and DL Bliss State Park.
Dogs are not allowed at the state park other than in the campground area. They are not allowed at the beach or on any hikes.