Tahoe's Top Attractions

Emerald Bay State Park

This 593-acre state park on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe contains three major attractions: Emerald Bay, Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm Castle.

Emerald Bay: Tahoe's most photographed natural wonder, a glacier-carved blue and turquoise bay surrounded by granite peaks, is spectacular any time of the day or year. The blue-green bay is three miles long by one mile wide, with a narrow entrance from the east. Motorists can find several excellent high vantage points along Highway 89, or take one of a half-dozen tour boat excursions that circumnavigate the bay.

Within the bay is Fannette Island, the only island in the lake. Rising 150 feet above the water, this rocky island, believed to be a remnant of the glacial action that created the bay, is crowned by a crumbling stone structure called the"Tea House." The house was built in 1928 by the founder of the sprawling Vikingsholm estate at the head of Emerald Bay. Using a motorboat to reach the island, residents and guests once enjoyed afternoon refreshments at a large oak table in the center of a room 16 feet square.

Today, only the shell of the building remains, having been vandalized over the years. The island is available for day-use activities between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., but camping, picnicking and pets are prohibited. From February 1 through June 15, Fannette is closed to protect nesting Canadian geese, which number as many as 100 in some years. In 1969, Emerald Bay was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior. The park includes a campground with 100 sites and a boat camp with 20 sites.

Eagle Falls: This is a series of three successive waterfalls that pour into Emerald Bay. The lower falls are in the state park, while the upper falls are on U.S. Forest Service land across the road. You can hike (very carefully—the rocks are slippery!) to the foot of the lower falls, or begin at the Eagle Falls Trailhead on the west side of Highway 89. The best view of the other falls, the largest of which is over 75 feet high, can be seen from a footbridge that crosses Eagle Creek. A brisk uphill hike to Eagle Lake, a beautiful natural impoundment accessible from a marked trail, takes you a mile from the parking lot. Beyond the lake, the trail enters Desolation Wilderness. On weekends, the lot and most of the roadside spaces fill rapidly, so it's best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Vikingsholm Castle: Getting to this unique mansion requires a hike down a steep, one-mile paved trail that drops 500 feet in elevation. But it's worth the effort, because visitors will see one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the Western Hemisphere. Vikingsholm was built in 1928-29 by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight, who spared no expense to create a replica of an 11th-century Viking castle. The granite foundation and stonework, turrets and high-pitched roofs—some of them covered by sod—were constructed out of materials found at the lake.

An army of 200 workers completed the 38-room mansion in just one summer, using old-fashioned techniques of hand-hewing huge timbers and forging hinges and latches. Some sections of the home contain no nails, pegs or spikes. During the construction, Mrs. Knight prowled the cities of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark for 18th- and 19th-century antique furniture, and what she couldn't buy she had duplicated, as precisely as possible, from drawings of museum pieces. Tours, offered every half hour in summer, allow visitors to see two ornately carved dragon beams, paintings on ceilings and walls, and six fireplaces of Scandinavian design. Vikingsholm has a nominal admission fee. Open daily 10 AM through 4 PM, mid-June through Labor Day. Parking in the lot on Highway 89 is free. Eagle Point Campground, (530) 541-3030 (summer only); D.L. Bliss State Park, (530) 525-9529.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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