The hike to Eagle Point is an out-and-back route approximately 8 miles long and features between 1,200-1,400 feet of total elevation gain. The views are incredible the entire hike as you will pass Vikingsholm and then contour the southern side of Emerald Bay. During this traverse along the bay you will be treated to multiple angles of Fannette Island, Emerald Point, and Lake Tahoe. In addition, you will most likely spot a number of osprey and/or eagles as they utilize this location for nesting. Although Emerald Bay can be extremely busy, foot traffic dramatically decreases once you pass Vikingsholm and cross the bridge that spans the run-out from Eagle Falls. Hike this trail, or anywhere in and around Emerald Bay, on weekdays and before 10 a.m. for the best possible experience.
Trail Data (approximations):
- Location: South Tahoe – Emerald Bay
- Category of Hike: Day Hike
- Total Mileage: 8 miles (out-and-back)
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,200-1,400 feet (depending on whether or not you hike up to the base of Eagle Falls)
- Highest Point: 6,600 feet (Vikingsholm parking lot)
- Trail Condition: Packed dirt and some asphalt (since the trail travels through the Emerald Bay State Park)
- Emerald Bay becomes excessively crowded, especially on the weekends during the summer so plan to visit on weekdays and/or arrive before 10 a.m.
- Because Emerald Bay is so highly trafficked (i.e. being loved to death), be diligent about packing out your trash, creating as little impact as possible, using the park’s toilets, not removing naturally occurring objects (i.e. pine cones, sticks, stones…), and not disturbing the wildlife
- Bring at least $10 cash to pay for parking
- This hike travels to the overlook above Eagle Point and not down and around the shoreline of Eagle Point
- Adhere to all Leave No Trace principles
- There are few trail signs and markers on public lands in the Tahoe region, so unless there are tracks to follow, the correct route may be difficult to identify–when in doubt, turn back
- Be prepared for inclement weather and carry plenty of warm clothes, food, and water
- Leave an itinerary of your plans with someone who’ll call emergency services if you don’t return by your prescribed time
- Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails or roads in Emerald Bay
- Drones are not allowed in Emerald Bay or any other State Parks in the Sierra District
As I’ve mentioned before, we Tahoe locals refer to Emerald Bay as being the perfect place to visit … with about 1,000 of your closest friends. The basis of this joke is that Emerald Bay, on the weekends during the summer, turns into an absolute zoo.
To paint you a picture of this madness … on May 12, 2018 (a Saturday two weeks before summer officially kicked off in Tahoe), I hiked with a friend to Eagle Point. We arrived early, at around 8:30 a.m., and were one of only six vehicles spread out across the three available parking areas. We saw less than six other people on our hike out to Eagle Point and just over a dozen on the return trip to Vikingsholm. Once we reached Vikingsholm, however, it felt like the Giants game just let out and everyone was making their way back to their vehicles. We returned to our vehicle at 1:30 p.m., which was an hour later than we were hoping to leave, and found gridlock in all three parking areas, vehicles illegally parked up and down SR 89 and being ticketed by law enforcement, and a person being escorted away in handcuffs by multiple police officers.
Do yourself a favor and arrive at Emerald Bay early (before 10 a.m.) and you’ll have the best possible experience. If you find yourself leaving the house or hotel closer to noon, cut your losses by choosing another activity for the day.
Believe it or not, however, there are tons of legal places to park for visiting Emerald Bay (as long as you’re not visiting mid-day on a summer weekend) compared to most other trailheads in Tahoe. The three main options for parking at Emerald Bay to access the trail to Eagle Point are the Eagle Falls Trailhead parking lot, the Vikingsholm parking lot, and the limited spots (approximately 18) along SR 89 between both official parking lots.
The first option is to park on the mountain side of SR 89 in the lot that’s used to access the Eagle Lake Trail. This is a pay lot that takes cash or check, but only costs $5. The most convenient parking option is to use the Vikingsholm parking lot, which is the large lot on the lake side of SR 89 that overlooks Emerald Bay. This is a self-pay parking lot that costs $10, but you can pay with cash or credit card. The trail to Eagle Point starts at the back of this lot. The third option, and my preferred choice, is the parking spots directly off of SR 89 between the Eagle Lake parking lot and Vikingsholm lot. There are about a dozen and a half spots that run perpendicular to SR 89, and they’re free. The trick is to get to Emerald Bay early enough to get one of those free spots. Obviously, they become occupied first.
Other than those three options parking anywhere else in or around Emerald Bay is at your own risk, both financially and physically. Don’t park up and down SR 89 (especially on the mountain side) in the obviously marked “no parking” areas no matter how bad you want to or because you see other people doing it. You will be ticketed, your vehicle will be crushed by a falling rock, or you’ll simply be run over by someone paying less attention to you and more attention to the views of Emerald Bay.
The trailhead is near the self-pay station at the back of the Vikingsholm parking lot.
Here’s a map to assist you in finding parking for accessing the trail to Emerald Point. The marker for “Emerald Bay State Park” on this map is essentially the Vikingsholm parking lot.
The trail to the scenic overlook at Eagle Point travels along the southern edge of Emerald Bay and is a bit more challenging than the trail to Emerald Point (northern edge of Emerald Bay) due to its longer distance, increased elevation gain, and steeper drop-offs combined with tripping hazards (rocks and roots). For these reasons, I don’t recommend this hike for families with young children or elderly adults. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, but there are a handful of aspects of it that skirt relatively steep terrain. Trips and falls could result in serious injury or death, so watch your footing at all times. I realize this cautionary advice goes without saying, but because there are so many osprey and eagles in the area you may find yourself walking while staring up at the tree tops or into the sky more often than you’d think. This is experience talking, so heed my warning.
Like the other hikes at Emerald Bay (Emerald Point, Rubicon Trail, and down to Vikingsholm and the base of Eagle Falls) you’ll begin at the Vikingsholm parking lot near the pay station. The first mile is downhill and drops approximately 500 feet in elevation. Once you reach Vikingsholm, you’ll need to decide whether to hike to the base of Eagle Falls on the way out or during the return trip. The distance and elevation is negligible, so it’s worth seeing no matter what (especially early in the hiking season when the falls are cranking). After passing Vikingsholm and the small offshoot trail that leads to the base of Eagle Falls, you’ll cross a bridge over the Eagle Falls run-out. For the next mile and a half the trail will gradually ascend until you reach a small outdoor amphitheater which signals that you are in the Eagle Point Campground. Follow the road downhill and further into the campground until you reach campsite #88. Just beyond that campsite, at the end of the paved road, is a small sign indicating the scenic overlook. Take that small trail up the hill and you will be rewarded for your efforts with incredible views of Emerald Bay, Emerald Point, Desolation Wilderness, and panoramic scenes of Lake Tahoe. There is a picnic table at this scenic overlook, so plan to eat your snacks there while enjoying the views.
Keep in mind that this overlook becomes busy once the campground opens for the season, so if you have the opportunity to hike this trail in the off-season (or at least before the campground opens), do it.
I hope I’ve made it clear but if there is any question, please note that this trail goes to the scenic overlook above Eagle Point not the actual shoreline around Eagle Point. Although it can be done and I will write about it later, there are no established trails that actually skirt the shore of Lake Tahoe around Eagle Point.
Since this is an out-and-back trail, return via the same route you hiked. Pay attention as you near the top of the paved road in Eagle Point Campground (where you had previously exited the dirt trail near the outdoor amphitheater), because it’s easy to walk right past the trailhead.
Dogs and drones are not allowed in Emerald Bay or on any of the trails or roads leading into Emerald Bay. For more information and history about Emerald Bay visit the Emerald Bay State Park website.