Click on any picture to see a larger version.
An accident of history put two-thirds of Lake Tahoe in California, and the rest in Nevada. Perhaps to compensate for its minority share, Nevada’s rocky east side has some of Lake Tahoe’s finest scenery. Much of the Nevada shore is undeveloped national forest land, or “units” of Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park.
A drive into Nevada from South Lake Tahoe, California— the largest town on the lake— via U.S. Highway 50 (Lake Tahoe Boulevard) doesn’t start out very promising. South Lake Tahoe’s sprawl of strip malls, motels, and clotted traffic continues up to the state line. Then it turns into the unimaginatively-named Stateline, Nevada, and gets right down to business with a block of high-rise casino hotels.
This “casino center” wants to be a miniature lakeside Las Vegas. But the nondescript hotels have none of the theme-park gaudiness that gives the (in)famous Las Vegas Strip its distinctive character, and makes it worth exploring and photographing. Unless you’re specifically looking for “gaming” (the official term for casino gambling), keep driving.
Continuing on Highway 50, Lake Tahoe Boulevard becomes the Eastshore Drive National Scenic Byway as it leaves the sprawl behind. You’ll soon reach Cave Rock, the first “unit” of Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park. Although Cave Rock is a pocket-sized park, it’s very popular because it has a drive-up ramp for launching boats. Even if you don’t have a boat, the view is well worth a stop.
If you only have time to visit one place on the Nevada shore, Sand Harbor would probably be your best choice. In addition to some of Lake Tahoe’s best shoreline scenery, Sand Harbor has a beach full of fine smooth sand and shifting dunes.
I’ve seen travel writers compare Sand Harbor to the Caribbean, complete with clear water in myriad shades of blue and green. While I was taking these pictures, a couple strolled by on the trail. One of them paused and said to me, “This is better than Hawaii!” I suppose it might be, if you happen to like a cool alpine climate better than the balmy tropics.
To spare visitors the inconvenience of trudging through sand dunes or over large rocks, most of the nature trail that meanders through the park is a wooden boardwalk. The boardwalk’s railings also keep visitors away from the large sandy pit in the middle of the park that serves as an amphitheater for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival on summer nights in July and August.
The boardwalk leads to two unimaginatively-named shallow coves north of the main beach. Boater’s Cove features a boat launching ramp and picnic tables. And as you might expect, Swimmer’s Cove is the place for swimming and scuba diving. The shallow water here gets a bit warmer in the summer than the rest of the lake, but it’s still cold enough to require a wetsuit for diving.
Between the beach and the coves, the nature trail passes through some
enormous rounded boulders piled along the shore. You can turn off the
main trail and explore them up close. The faulting that created Lake
Tahoe broke up the granite of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The action of
glaciers, flooding, fluctuating lake levels, and weather split and ground the
boulders into their rounded shapes.
A one-kilometer trail leads north from Sand Harbor to Memorial Point. From there, a self-guiding nature trail that has views of Sand Harbor. If you don’t want to walk, you can drive to the Memorial Point parking area on the highway. Unlike the scenic locations in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, parking is free; but numerous signs warn that it’s limited to 20 minutes.
Memorial Point is 8 kilometers south of Incline Village, a tony enclave where locked gates keep intruders off the private lakefront property. From there the highway soon crosses the state line into California and the lake’s north shore. The California portion of Lake Tahoe includes the iconic and much-photographed Emerald Bay. A side trip from South Lake Tahoe on the Carson Pass National Scenic Byway offers views of mountain lakes and fall color.