The hike to Emerald Point is an absolute dream. The trail contours the north side of picturesque Emerald Bay, it’s relatively short at 5-6 miles (out-and-back), there’s only about 500 feet of total elevation gain to negotiate, and access to the trailhead is simple. The drawbacks to hiking the trail to Emerald Point are that you’re treated to stellar views the entire time, the trail is not that long and it’s mostly flat, and the trailhead is easy to find. If you think it sounds as if the pros and cons are exactly the same, you’d be correct. Emerald Bay, especially on the weekends during summer, is a total zoo. 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: Family Fun Hike, Day Hike
- Total Mileage: 5.5 miles (out-and-back)
- Total Elevation Gain: 500 feet
- Highest Point: 6,600 feet (Vikingsholm parking lot)
- Trail Condition: Packed dirt and some asphalt (since the trail travels through 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 in cash to pay for parking
- Exercise extreme caution when walking along or across State Route 89 at Emerald Bay
- Dogs are not allowed on any of the roads or trails that go down into Emerald Bay
- Drones are not allowed in Emerald Bay or any other State Parks in the Sierra District
- 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
Unlike most trailheads in the Lake Tahoe Basin, there’s an abundance of parking options for accessing the trail to Emerald Point. This comes with a caveat, however. In spite of the large number of places to park at Emerald Bay, there are far more people who visit Emerald Bay than there are legal parking spots. We Tahoe locals often joke about Emerald Bay as being a beautiful place to visit … with about 1,000 of your closest friends. This place turns into a zoo between Memorial Day and Labor Day – yes, all summer. Therefore I recommend, if at all possible, to visit Emerald Bay before or after summer. If that’s not an option and you’re going to be in Lake Tahoe during the summer and want to hike around Emerald Bay, try to avoid visiting it during major holidays, on the weekends, and/or before 10 a.m.
There are three main options for parking at Emerald Bay to access the trail to Emerald Point. The first and easiest 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 second 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 also a pay lot and costs $5, but it only accepts cash and checks. 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 secure one of those free spots.
The trailhead is near the self-pay station at the back of the Vikingsholm parking lot.
Other than those three options mentioned above, parking anywhere else in or around Emerald Bay is at your own risk both physically and financially. For example, don’t park up at the area near Bayview Campground or on the north side of the bay above Vikingsholm and think you’re going to walk down the road to Emerald Bay. Both of those ideas are terrible because at its peak, between tourists wandering along SR 89 and locals blazing their way down the road to get to or from work (throw in some road construction for good measure), Emerald Bay is a nexus of chaos. I’m not trying to discourage you from visiting, you just need to understand that there are far better times in which to visit Emerald Bay, and I can tell you that it’s not on a Saturday or Sunday during the summer in the middle of the afternoon.
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 Emerald Point is stunning. It’s well-maintained, easy to follow, and there are non-stop views of Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, Lake Tahoe, and the surrounding mountains. The trail is part of Emerald Bay State Park, and there are a lot of other cool places to visit within Emerald Bay. However, this article is specifically about hiking to Emerald Point so…
You’ll start your trek in the Vikingsholm parking lot (at the back near the pay station). Within the first mile you’ll descend about 500 feet and from then on it’s all flat. Pace yourself if you’re hiking with young children or elderly adults because you’ll have to walk back up and out of Emerald Bay on the return trip. As I said, this is an out-and-back trip.
After finishing your descent into Emerald Bay, instead of hiking in the direction of the Vikingsholm castle (which you’ll want to visit another day), follow the signs directing you to the Rubicon Trail. Travel about 1.5-2 miles along the Rubicon Trail to arrive at the area in which you’ll need to hike off-trail to access Emerald Point. You’ll know you’ve gone too far if the Rubicon Trail rounds the bend and begins to definitively head north. I hazard to offer as a landmark the large double-trunk dead tree as an indicator of where to hike off-trail for access to Emerald Point because who knows how long it will remain. However, between this dead tree and just over a tenth of a mile up the Rubicon Trail is where you want to hike off-trail. Just start walking through the open forest in the direction of the mouth of Emerald Bay (roughly southeast from the “corner” or bend in the Rubicon Trail) and you’ll eventually find Emerald Point. Essentially, if you walk into the water you’ve gone too far.
Obviously be careful walking through the forest as there are many tripping hazards (since there are no developed trails leading to the actual point) and face-level branches that can scratch and poke you. It’s really not that dangerous of a route, you just need to be aware of your surroundings like any other time you would hike off-trail.
Please note that 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.
For those of you who are interested, here is a poster available for purchase that I designed featuring an image taken from Eagle Point of Emerald Point on September 15, 2014. As you can see, the level of Lake Tahoe was quite low that year. Although, I appreciate how the visible rocks frame Emerald Point in this image. Click on the image of the poster to go see all of the types of prints available at my RedBubble. Thanks for your support!