Emerald Bay is a beautiful South Lake Tahoe state park and is considered a National Natural Landmark. Emerald Bay is situated on one of the most spectacular stretches of Highway 89, the road that takes you all the way around Lake Tahoe. Incredible lake and mountain vistas around every scenic hairpin turn (coming from both the south and north) make this destination worth it just for the drive.
Eagle Falls can be viewed right from the road, so even if you don't have time to hike and explore, we recommend finding a parking spot and checking out the falls from the road for a few minutes - the views are fantastic!
There are several activities to enjoy at Emerald Bay:
- Upper Eagle Falls is just a .25 mile hike from the Eagle Falls Picnic Area. This hike is stepp in parts, but a short, moderate hike. Along the trail, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of Lake Tahoe, towering pins, and rock outcroppings. Then you'll come to the upper section of Eagle Falls, with a dramatic view of the falls as they launch off the rocks, as well as a tranquil pool and stream that you can cross over via a man-made bridge. Continue up to Eagle Lake, approximately 1.5 miles further, or turn back around to the Eagle Falls Picnic Area.
- Lower Eagle Falls is a trail that offers a different viewpoint of the massive falls. A wide dirt road (approximately 1 mile) will take you down to Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe, and then a short hike up just behind the Vikinsholm Castle will take you to a beautiful viewpoint where Eagle Falls is cascading down towards you. When it's at full force, the waterfall will mist you from where you stand, which feels incredible on a hot summer day!
- Rent paddleboards, kayaks - After you walk the 1 mile down to Emerald Bay, you've got plenty of options for enjoying Lake Tahoe. There is a lakeside paddle board and kayak stand, where you can rent these water toys by the hour. Paddle out to the island in the middle of the bay, or simply enjoy checking out the beautiful coastline.
- Swim, or just enjoy the beach and the surroundings! There is a dedicated swimming area because this section of Lake Tahoe is quite popular for boaters to come and anchor and enjoy the views - swimming is not allowed outside of this area. If you're not up for swimming, grab a picnic table or throw a towel down on the beach and relax. It is quiet and quite lovely sitting the Emerald Bay beach. There are plenty of areas for kids to explore and run around down there.
- Take a tour of Vikingsholm Castle. Vikingsholm is a 38-room mansion that is considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States! Learn more about Vikingsholm.
Parking is in high demand at Emerald Bay. You can park in the Eagle Falls Picnic Area (free), although spots here are quite limited.
The larger Emerald Bay State Park lot is much larger, although it still fills up on weekends very early. This is a self-pay lot - $10 cash, no change even when the booth is attended by a ranger. We recommended arriving very early on summer weekends, as lots may fill up by 9am.
What To Know
- Bring plenty of water - there is no potable water on these trails, and it can get quite hot in summer months. Bring plenty of water for your whole group
- Even though these trails are short and moderate, appropriate hiking footwear is still recommended and trails can get wet or slippery.
- Eagle Falls can be enjoyed all year long, although the falls are best viewed in the spring when snow run-off is at peak.
- Be extremely careful when hiking around the falls. There are steep drop offs and the falls are quite strong. People have died by going over the falls.