Emerald Bay and its namesake state park are without question some of the gems of Lake Tahoe. Tucked into the southwest corner of the lake, the long bay opens up inside the narrow mouth at Emerald and Eagle Points, and its shimmering emerald green to azure blue waters beckon boaters, swimmers and hikers to explore its shoreline. Adding to the natural beauty, Emerald Bay is surrounded by glacially carved granite peaks that rise steeply from the water's edge. Emerald Bay State Park is well known as the home of Vikingsholm, an impressive historic Scandinavian mansion turned museum, and the bay contains the only real island found in Lake Tahoe's waters.
While Emerald Bay is accessible from May through September, you'll have to work just a bit to access park amenities. Most visitors walk a mile-long trail down to the main beach area at Vikingsholm or boat-in from elsewhere on the lake. The state park can also be reached via the Rubicon Trail from D.L. Bliss State Park, a contiguous park located to the north of Emerald Bay. Emerald Bay State Park remains open during winter months, but only a restroom at Vikingsholm remains open, and trails can be snow covered and slippery.
One of the park's main attraction is the ornate, 38-room mansion known as Vikingsholm. Now a museum with daily tours offered during the summer, Vikingsholm is modeled after an 11th century Scandanavian castle. The home was built in 1929 by Mrs. Lora Josehpine Knight as a summer retreat. Mrs. Knight also built the “tea house” that sits on the summit of Fannette Island.
A popular destination for Tahoe boaters, Emerald Bay entices boaters into its calm waters both for the swimming and for the boat-in campground located on the northwest shore of the bay (mooring bouys provided with reservations). Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available for rent during summer months. Note that Fannette Island is closed to boat-access visitors from February 1 to June 15 while Canada geese are nesting there. Following the geese-nesting season, a swimming platform is regularly hauled out near the island for boat-in swimmers to use.
In addition to boating, Emerald Bay is known for some of Lake Tahoe’s best scuba diving, with dive sites encompassing the underwater remains of the old Emerald Bay Resort located near the boat-in camp and old artifacts used in the construction of Vikingsholm. The bay was designated an underwater state park in 1994 to protect the unique underwater features.
In addition to boat-in camping, the park operates a standard drive-in campground at Eagle Point that hosts 100 sites, swimming and access to some dive sites.
The park offers a couple of fantastic hiking options that include the Rubicon Trail, which runs 6.5 miles one-way from Rubicon Trailhead in D.L. Bliss State Park To Eagle Point Campground. Rubicon Trail is arguably the most picturesque lakeside trail in Tahoe. Other hiking options include a short trail up to see Eagle Falls and the Vikingsholm Trail.
Dogs are technically allowed in the park, but they must remain on a 6-foot maximum leash. Only service dogs are permitted on park trails and beaches.