Skunk Harbor is a surreally scenic cove along Lake Tahoe's beautiful eastern shore, and as such, it can ordinarily see crowds jockeying for the limited parking spaces along the road near the trailhead. However, winter is a different story. When snow covers the 1.5-mile trail with a 600-foot drop in elevation from the trailhead to the beach, it is enough to keep the majority of the hordes away. You may even walk the path lined with manzanita, Jeffrey pine and lodgpole pine with only an occasional encounter with other explorers.
The path itself is clear because it leads down an access road that remains closed to vehicles. There is one fork with the road to Slaughterhouse Canyon about 0.5 miles into the trail; taking the straight-ahead path and continuing in the direction of the water will soon get you to the harbor.
Skunk Harbor is a small crescent-shaped harbor lined with with large granite boulders in the water and the remains of an old dock trestle punctuating the still lake cove. The small beach is surrounded by steep pine-graced slopes rising from the lakeside. Also onsite are the remains of the large stone Newhall Mansion.
The mansion was constructed as a summer retreat for millionaire, George Newhall and his wife, Caroline in the 1920s. Eventually the mansion ended up in the hands of the Forest Service, who continue to maintain the mansion - though it is closed to entry - and the grounds surrounding it.
The dock pilings in the harbor remain from when boats carried over the materials to construct the large stone home. Views from the cove stretch across to the mountains above the lake's north shore.
The only downside to this trek is that the climbing is saved for the way out. From the harbor, it is a much slower hike out to regain the 600-foot elevation difference back to the road!
Parking is free, but do not park in the turnout for the gate. Instead, park along the small shoulder area immediately north of the gate.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.