Driving Tour Lake Tahoe: South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City

Van Sickle State Park South Lake Tahoe 

If you are interested in this driving tour as an audio tour, the companion audio tour to this blog is available on VoiceMap and listed under Lake Tahoe.  To use VoiceMap, you will need to download the VoiceMap app from the Apple Store or Google Play. The app is free, this audio driving tour, which is one of three that takes you entirely around Lake Tahoe, is $11.99.  All three of the tours are available as a bundle here.  Happy Adventures and enjoy the tour! 


Hello and welcome to this driving tour of Lake Tahoe.  I have lived in California all of my life and have been exploring Northern, Central and Southern California for decades.  I love to discover new areas as a hometown tourist and bringing adventures to life on these tours.  You may find more of my walking and driving tours on my profile at VoiceMap

This tour, which is a companion tour to Tahoe City to Incline,  begins at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in South Lake Tahoe and ends in Tahoe City.  As you drive you will hear stories about the area, the Washoe who lived here for thousands of years and early American pioneers who came to this area in 1844. Along the this drive you will have the option of visiting museums, and state parks, do some hiking, have lunch by the lake or do some shopping. This driving tour covers 41 miles and can be completed without any stops in about two hours. 

History of Gaming in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe's casinos date back to 1902 when "Lucky" Baldwin built a waterfront casino at his Tallac Resort about 20 minutes from South Lake Tahoe.  Gaming wasn't legal, but Baldwin took advantage of the "grapevine" warning system where friends would send word ahead of time to the casino staff when the sheriff planned visit.   

Tallac Hotel and Casino

On the Nevada side gambling would be legalized in 1931.  But it began much earlier when the Cal-Neva opened in 1929 on the North Shore.  

Harvey Gross opened the first legal casino at Stateline South Shore in 1944, Harvey's Wagon Wheel, a one-room log cabin with a lunch counter, two blackjack tables and three slot machines.  

Harvey's Wagon Wheel c. 1950

Reno bingo parlor owner William Harrah came to South Lake Tahoe in 1955 and bought the property next to Harvey's Wagon Wheel for $500,000.  The following year he sold the property to Harvey for over $5 million. 

Harvey's next door to Harrah's c. 1955

With his fortune Harrah went across the street, bought two small clubs and rebranded them as Harrah's.  Harvey's and Harrah's are still across from each other on Highway 89.  

Today Stateline South Shore features four major casinos each with big name entertainment and 24 hour gambling.

Sahara Tahoe 1973 

The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino originally opened as the Sahara Tahoe in 1965. Elvis Presley performed there from 1971 to 1976. For a time it  was also known as Horizon Lake Tahoe. After a $60 million renovation it opened as the Hard Rock in 2015.

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino 2020

Next door to the Hard Rock is Harvey’s where in August 1980 a bomb planted by disgruntled gambler, John Birges exploded and caused $18 million in property damages.

Harvey's Bombing 1980

Directly across the street from the Hard Rock is the Montbleu.  It first opened as the Park Tahoe Casino in 1978.

Caesars 1980

After a $40 million Roman theme makeover it was rebranded as Caesars Tahoe, hosting some big name celebrities' like Dean Martin and Cher. Caesars sold in 2005 for $45 million and became the Montbleu.

Alright it is time to get on the road.  Exit this parking area by turning right onto Highway 50. On your left in front of Harrah’s is a statue of a Pony Express Rider, a reminder that for 18 months between April 1860 to October 1861 this area was part of the Pony Express Trail. 

Bill Harrah commissioned sculptor Avard Fairbanks to create this rider on his horse in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Pony Express.  The statue was placed here in 1963.  

Heavenly Village

After crossing Stateline to your left are the shops and restaurants of Heavenly Village.  This is also the location of the Heavenly Gondola, a 2.4 mile scenic ride up Heavenly Mountain.  If you take this gondola make sure to stop at the Observation Deck and Cafe Blue for an incredible photo opportunity.  Then get back on the gondola and ride to the end at the Tamarack Lodge.  Here you may ride the Ridge Coaster an exhilarating gravity-powered alpine ride through a pine forest and natural rock formations. 

If you are interested in exploring Heavenly Village or riding the Heavenly Gondola turn left onto Heavenly Village Way. 

That mountain ahead, is Heavenly Mountain, where you can ski in two states on the same day.  

Continue straight past the Heavenly Village shops, cinema and parking garage which will be on your left. Then make the next right  right into the outdoor parking area across from the Forest Suites Resort.

If you want to explore the Heavenly Village Shops or ride the Heavenly Gondola you may park in the lot at the end of this parking area closest to the Heavenly Mountain.  It is marked by a sign that reads All Day Parking $10 per day.  

Van Sickle Bi-State Park 

Van Sickle Park, is a memorial to Henry Van Sickle, who came here in 1852 and established three ranches all in close proximity to each other. Henry’s grandson Jack donated the land to the State of Nevada for a park in 1988. 

Henry van Sickle 

But Henry is probably best known for killing the worst desperado Virginia City, Nevada ever knew, Sam Brown. Sam carried a pistol with 11 notches, one for every man he’d killed. Fortunately Henry's quick duck behind the bar of his Genoa Ranch saved him from becoming the 12th notch. A gun fight ensued, and  Henry killed Sam. Henry was fully exonerated by the judge as the death was ruled "a just dispensation of an all-wise providence.” 

Entrance to Van Sickle Bi-State Park

If you are interested in the hiking Van Sickle Park, exit the parking Heavenly Mountain parking area and turn right back onto Heavenly Village Way, which comes to an end at the entrance to Van Sickle Park. You will see the park  name on a large boulder to the right of the entrance.  This park is open from May to November. 

View from Waterfall Trail 

Continue straight into the park and stay to the right.  You will pass an area with a white barn and come to a four way intersection where you will pass from California into Nevada.  Less than 1/4 mile from stateline will be the free parking area for Van Sickle park.   As you enter the parking lot you will notice a trailhead on your right.  This is the trailhead for the van Sickle Waterfall hike.  In this parking lot you will also find a public restroom and picnic tables.    

This 2 mile round trip hike to the Van Sickle Waterfall is a moderately difficult hike.  It is not the length, but rather the high elevations around Lake Tahoe, that make this hike more challenging. Especially if you are not acclimated to the altitude. The air is thinner here, meaning you will take in less oxygen with each breath, and you may find yourself out of breath after a short distance. So enjoy the area, take your time, and walk as much of the trail as you want or have the stamina for, then return to the parking lot via the same path.

The hike begins at the trailhead off of the parking area.  This trailhead intersects a few other trails, including the Tahoe Rim Trail, so study the map above and the map at the trailhead and follow the waterfall emblem as you ascend the hill on the designated dirt path.

This trail, is a gradual 1 mile uphill trek over lose rock and dirt through a lovely Jeffrey pine forest interspersed with the majestic sugar pine and magnificent views of Lake Tahoe and the Stateline casinos below. 

As you get closer to the end of this trail you will come to a number of climbs up stone steps, and then a bridge over a tranquil waterfall.  When you have finished exploring the area return by following the same path down hill. 

Exit Van Sickle park the same way you arrived.  As you head toward the entrance you will drive under the Heavenly Gondola.  

Make sure to watch for the California Nevada Stateline Marker.

It will be in the pavement just before you get to the four way intersection.  Then continue to the entrance to the park and straight on Heavenly Village Way, the same way you arrived. 

Tahoe Meadows 

Use the left lane to turn left at the traffic signal back onto Highway 50 also known here as Lake Tahoe Blvd.

Ahead, on your right, look for a black iron fence. This marks the exclusive community of Tahoe Meadows.  Founded in 1924 it was Tahoe’s earliest planned subdivision.  Filled with homes built in the 1920s and 30s, this community was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Unfortunately there is no public access unless you are a resident. However, in a few minutes we will drive through Al Tahoe another early Tahoe community.

Ski Run Marina 

Next on your right is the Ski Run Marina, a landmark in South Lake Tahoe since 1939.  

This is the location of the Lake Tahoe Vacation Resort a centrally located resort with plenty of amenities.   

We enjoyed our stay here and it was an easy walk to Ski Run Marina and two locals favorites the Riva Grill and Artemis Lakefront Café

The Ski Run Marina is also home to the Safari Rose which offers cruises seasonally to Emerald Bay. The Safari Rose is not only the largest yacht on Lake Tahoe, it is the most luxurious.  Built in 1949 for the 3M Corporation it has six bathrooms, a dining room a heated salon with leather and teak accents as well as a full bar, sun deck and fireplace.  

South Lake Tahoe Incorporates

On November 10, 1965, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported – “California’s newest city, the highest in the state was created yesterday when voters  cast their ballots in favor of incorporation.” On December 1, 1965 the Lake Tahoe News proclaims "South Tahoe becomes State's 398th City."

South Lake Tahoe, a combination of the unincorporated communities of Tahoe Meadows, Al Tahoe, Bijou, and others, held its first council meeting at Heidi’s Pancake House.

Heidi’s, the yellow A-Frame with a clock tower, is coming up on your right.  Today South Lake Tahoe is the most populous city in El Dorado County and Heidi’s is still serving breakfast!

This area was originally called Taylor's Landing, named after Almon Taylor who began a lumber operation here in 1864.  The name was changed to Bijou in 1888. A short 10 years later most of the timber had been cut,  logging was on the decline, and tourists began replacing lumberjacks. Today the area is filled with log cabins and chalets built between 1940 and 1970.

Washoe Native People 

At the stop signal ahead, turn right onto Lakeview Avenue.  We will be on Lakeview Avenue for several blocks. This quaint community Al Tahoe was named after Al Sprague who arrived here in 1907.

But Al Tahoe’s story goes back much further, back to the Washoe people whose lives were centered around this lake for at least 6,000 years before Al arrived. 

Louisa Keyser (Dat So La Lee), Washoe Basket Weaver

Each spring after the snow melted the Washoe traveled from the lowland valley of the Sierra, to the lake shore to fish and hunt. In the fall they gathered pine nuts and headed back to the valley for the winter.  They called the area “Da ow” meaning the lake. 

In 1844, John Fremont was the first to record a sighting of Lake Tahoe.  A few years later the Gold Rush brought thousands of immigrants to the area.  They carved wagon roads, logged the hillsides and built small communities in the Tahoe Basin, subsequently depleting the area of its natural resources and displacing the Washoe native people from their home.

1870s A-Frame

Al Tahoe 

Up ahead turn left onto Belleview Avenue, the middle road of three at this intersection. The green 1870s A-frame cabin on your left  is Al Tahoe's oldest residence. Follow Belleview, as it veers left.

The Lake House (1866)

In 1859, this was the location of Tahoe's first lake side hotel. Described as a “tolerably good shanty with little to drink except tarantula juice,” Lake House burned down in 1866. 

At the corner turn left on Alameda Avenue.  Ahead on your right behind an iron fence is an old cemetery.

Thomas Rowland purchased this acreage in 1868. Two years later he built a new hotel, and a small community sprung up around it. But  the hotel would not last, collapsing in the heavy snows of 1889.  It was Thomas' estate that donated the land for this cemetery. Thomas is buried there along with his wife.

After years of neglect, the cemetery has been entrusted to the Lake Tahoe Historical Society. In a few blocks turn right onto Sacramento Avenue. Then immediately left onto Tallac Avenue which we will be on for four blocks as we make our way back to Highway 50.

In 1907, Al Sprague purchased Thomas’ property and built hotel number 3, the Al Tahoe Hotel lakeside. The entire area took Al’s name in 1908.  

In 1924, Frank and Ester Globin purchased most of the Al Tahoe community,  and ran the Al Tahoe Hotel until it was demolished in 1965. 

Hotel Globin's Al Tahoe 

Frank built the Globin's Hotel, along Highway 50 in the early 1930s. Today this building is Rojo’s restaurant.  I will point it out shortly when we drive by. For now, at the traffic signal ahead, turn right onto Highway 50. Immediately merge into the left lane in preparation to turn left to visit the Tahoe History Museum. I will tell you when to turn.

 Tahoe History Museum 

Use the shared center lane to turn left off of Highway 50 into the Tahoe History Museum driveway. There is a blue and white mural on the side of the Museum. Continue straight through the parking area to the two log cabins and park near the log cabins.  

John Fremont Mural on the side of Tahoe History Museum

The log cabin to the right is the Osgood House, the oldest standing structure in Lake Tahoe.  Built as a  toll house in 1859 by Nehemiah Osgood at the foot of Meyers Grade along the Upper Truckee River by Echo Creek, this road was busy in both directions with pioneers, prospectors and Pony Express riders traveling to and from the Comstock Lode.  The usual toll was 5 cents per animal and 6 bits, or 75 cents, for men and their wagons.  The Lake Tahoe Historical Society moved the OsGood House to this location in 1973.

OsGood House undergoing renovation (2021)

To the left of the OsGood House is another log cabin, this one built in 1931.  In 1968 a small group of local historians gathered together a few artifacts and moved them into this log cabin.  This formed the original Tahoe History Museum.  Today the Tahoe History Museum lives in the larger building next to the 1931 log cabin and 
features exhibits about the Washoe Native people, the trappers, early pioneers, logging industry, railroads, the gaming industry, mail delivery Pony Express and more.  The museum has sporadic hours, but is usually open from May to October on Saturday. 

1931 Log Cabin 

After exploring the grounds of the museum, while staying in the parking lot and turn right after the museum and drive past the mural that depicts John Fremont when he first came upon Lake Tahoe in 1844.  Follow this to the end of the parking area and turn left back onto Highway 50. 

Before you make that turn, look directly across Highway 50 to view Frank Globin's Hotel, built in the early 1930's, it is now Rojo's Restaurant.

Rojo's Restaurant formerly Globin's Hotel  

How Lake Tahoe was Created 

Although it is commonly believed that Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California and Nevada state line, as formed by the collapse of a volcanic crater, the Tahoe Basin was actually formed over millions of years ago by a series of geological events called faulting.  

Vertical faulting lifted blocks in the earth's crust to form the Sierra Nevada Range in the west and the Carson Range in the east.  The block in between dropped creating the Tahoe Basin.

Lava from the now extinct Mount Pluto and debris left by glacier activity would also help form the Lake Tahoe Basin, specifically the area around Emerald Bay. Portions of informational plaques found around Lake Tahoe on the creation of the lake are shown above.  

Today Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, sits approximately 6,224 feet above sea level, is 1,645 feet deep, 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, and has some of the clearest, bluest water you'll ever see.

 How Lake Tahoe Got its Name 

Now I bet you didn't know that Lake Tahoe was actually officially called Lake Bigler until 1945.  Well its true! Here is the story.

Close up of the mural on the side of the Tahoe History Museum 

On February 14, 1844, John Fremont became the first American to record seeing Lake Tahoe. He wrote in his journal, “Ascended the highest peak, from which we had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet, so entirely surrounded by mountains that we could not discover an outlet.” 

John Fremont 

Fremont named the lake Bonpland after the French botanist Aime Bonpland. His cartographer, Charles Preuss, however labeled the lake Mountain Lake. In the early 1850s the California legislature officially named it Lake Bigler after John Bigler, California's governor at the time. Bigler turned out to be a Confederate sympathizer which did not sit well with early Tahoe pioneers, who suggested the name Tahoe an Anglicization of the word “da ow” used by the Washoe people.

An 1860s map of "Lake Bigler"

It took nearly 100 years for the California legislature to officially change the name from Lake Bigler to Lake Tahoe in 1945. Today, Lake Tahoe which is known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of the mountains that surround it on all sides is visited by over 20 million people a year.

In about a quarter of a mile use the right lane to turn from Highway 50 onto Highway 89 north toward Tahoe City.  Our next stop will be Camp Richardson.

Camp Richardson

The earliest records of ownership of the land around Camp Richardson are from 1875 when M. C. Gardner purchased several thousand acres of timber holdings from the U.S. Government and built a sawmill and railroad line there.  He paid 25 cents an acre for the land.

Tallac Hotel c. 1902

“Lucky” Baldwin bought out Gardner in the late 1800s and built a lakefront summer home for his family and the Tallac Hotel for visitors.

Over the years Lucky sold off units of his land to families who built homes on the adjoining properties.

One of those units was purchased in 1924 by Captain Alonzo Richardson. Richardson built cabins and a lakefront pavilion; he added a hotel in 1926, a dining room, and gas station.  In 1927 he built the long wharf which is now used as the Richardson Resort pier.

In the early 1950s after Richardson died, the resort was passed to his widow Cora and his daughter and son-in-law Florence and Ray Knisley. By 1967 the operation of the Resort was becoming more difficult and less profitable, and there was great pressure on the family to sell the land for commercial development.

Ray approached the United States Forest Service with the option of taking over the land. There were lots of behind the scenes back and forth negotiations before an agreement was reached. Today the Richardson Marina remains privately owned, and the Camp Richardson Resort is operated under a Special Use Permit from the United States Forest Service.

Cabins at Camp Richardson

For decades now multiple generations of families have stayed in the cabins and played on the beach at Camp Richardson, creating lasting memories.   

Up ahead on your left you will see an ice cream parlor and coffee house, across the street a General Store and the Captain Richardson Hotel.  

Turn right after the General Store and continue past the cabins to the Marina Parking by the lake where there is a fee to park.  

From the Marina parking area you may walk the grounds of Camp Richardson, visit the beach, check out the cabins for a possible future rental or dine lakeside at the Beacon Bar and Grill, which is famous for their Rum Runner cocktail.

Beacon Bar and Grill Camp Richardson 

At the north end of the Camp Richardson property you will find a fence that separates Camp Richardson from the Tallac Historic Site.  

If you peak behind that fence you will see 
the Pope Boathouse.

You may visit the Tallac site from here or get back in your car as we are heading there next on this driving tour.  

Exit Camp Richardson and turn right back onto Highway 89.  In less than 1/4 will be a sign for Heritage Way and the Tallac Historic Site.  Turn right onto Heritage Way, stay to the right and proceed to the parking area.  This park is open year round but access to buildings are closed October through April.

 Tallac Historic Site

The map below shows a number of trails that can be accessed by the Tallac Historic Site parking lot. If you only have time for one follow the purple line from the parking area to visit the Baldwin, Pope and Heller-Valhalla Mansions of the Tallac Historic Site.

The Tallac Historic Site, which is managed by the Forest Service, is comprised of three estates:  The Heller Estate, also referred to as Valhalla was built in 1922 by San Francisco investment broker Walter Heller. 

The Pope Estate, which is the oldest and largest of the three estates, was built in 1894. Along with the servant cabins and arboretum, it offers a look at how the wealthy spent their summers on Lake Tahoe in the beginning of the 20th century. 

The Baldwin Museum Estate which is the only monument to Lucky left on the property was built in 1921 by his granddaughter Dextra. 

Lucky’s original Tallac Hotel built in 1899, and considered at the time to be the “Grandest Resort in the World,” was closed by his daughter in 1919 and demolished the following year.  The photo below shows the inside of the resort during its heyday. 

The Rainbow Trail / Taylor Creek Visitor Center 

Another trail out of this parking lot is the Rainbow Trail. It is depicted by the red loop near the Taylor Creek Visitor Center.  It is especially interesting during the fall spawning season when a walk through the stream profile chamber offers view of kokanee salmon, and rainbow trout.

Visitor Center 

Stream Chamber 

If you take this trail, it is easy to add on the Lake of the Sky Trail which features a paved path along Taylor Creek and a meadow though a Jeffrey pine forest. Along the Lake of the Sky Trail are elevated viewing decks as well as interpretive signage describing Tahoe’s flora and fauna.

When you're done exploring this area head back to Highway 89 and turn right.  Our next stop will be Inspiration Point in about 4 1/2 miles.  Along the way I will tell you a bit more about this area. 

Desolation Wilderness sign Eagle Lake

Desolation Wilderness 

The large forest area to your left here is known as Desolation Wilderness.  Famous for backcountry hiking, these almost 64,000 acres were set aside by the Forest Service in 1969.  Here backpackers are rewarded with sparkling granite basins, azure-blue alpine lakes, sweeping vistas, towering forested peaks and lovely Lake Tahoe views. Day hikers are required to obtain a free day-use permit to hike the wilderness. We will have an opportunity to venture a short distance into Desolation Wilderness when we reach Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake Trailhead.

Quaking Aspen

Up ahead the pine forest will give way to quaking aspen.  Sometimes referred to as trembling, because the stem of their leaf, which is flat, causes the leaves to quake or tremble in the slightest of alpine breeze.

Aspen in the summer

In the spring their branches are covered with bright green leaves.

Aspen in the fall

The foliage turns a yellowish-gold at the peak of its fall season, and during winter months the white trunks and limbs stand bare.

Aspen in winter

The aspen represents about 2,500 acres or less than 2% of the trees in the Tahoe Basin, yet they are a tremendous value for wildlife and scenic beauty. 

The aspen is at risk in the Tahoe Basin, often losing out to the more prevalent pine and fir trees for light, nutrients and space.  The Aspen Community Restoration Project is restoring at-risk groves so that the aspen will remain part of the Tahoe forest for years to come. 

Lake Tahoe Wildfires 

As you continue along Highway 89 you will pass from the stunning quaking aspen to a hillside with barren sticks.  

Emerald Fire 2016

This was the site of the October 2016 Emerald Fire where 176 acres of forest burned in four days. Though evacuation of 500 residents was necessary, no structures were damaged and no fatalities occurred.

The cause of this fire was a tree snapping in high winds and falling through a power line. By May of the following year volunteers began reforestation efforts, planting native seedlings including Jeffrey Pines and Cedars. It will take more than 100 years for the area to return to what it was before the fire.

Wildfires are a constant threat to the Tahoe Basin. In 2002 a discarded cigarette butt caused the destructive Gondola Fire where over 600 acres burned near Heavenly. The most destructive fire here to date was the Angora Fire in 2007.  Caused by an illegal campfire, costing over $11 million dollars to fight this fire destroyed 254 homes in one day in South Lake Tahoe.

The Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign which began in 1944 has educated generations of Americans about their role in preventing wildfires. And over the years, Smokey and his message have accomplished  quite a bit in this effort. When you see him standing on the road next to the Fire Danger sign, keep in mind his words, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”  

Use Caution Over Next 2 Miles of Switchbacks 

For the next few miles take your time along the winding switchbacks and narrow road as you climb toward our next stop the Emerald Bay Overlook .

As you climb, to your left will be Cascade Lake. It is the second largest tributary lake feeding into Lake Tahoe. Emerald Bay will be to your right. 

Inspiration Viewpoint 

In 1/2 mile there will be a turn out on the right for Inspiration Viewpoint.   This point provides the perfect overlook for all of Emerald Bay and Fannette Island.  Interpretive signs assist in understanding the history of the area. 

Inspiration Viewpoint Parking

Parking can be difficult during busy summer months. Please park legally in the parking lot and not along Highway 89.

Emerald Bay

Fannette Island

Informative Panels 

When you are finished resume the tour, exit the parking area and turn right back onto Highway 89.  Our next stop will be on your left in less than 1/2 mile at the Eagle Lake Trailhead.  Watch for the turnout, it will be on your left ahead.  

Eagle Lake and Upper Eagle Falls Trailhead

If you are interested in a moderately challenging 2 mile round trip hike into Desolation Wilderness to Eagle Lake turn left into the parking area. There is a parking charge for this location. 

Here is a general note on this hike and the rest of the hikes on this driving tour. If there is any snow or ice on the ground hiking here can be quite hazardous.  Only those prepared with the appropriate footwear, clothing and supplies should consider this hike during the winter.

During other times of the year, what makes this 2 mile hike challenging is the altitude.  Take your time, go as far as you want, you can always turn around. 

If you choose to hike beyond the falls to Eagle Lake you will need to fill out a wilderness permit before you leave the parking area.  

From the parking lot head to the interpretive sign and study the trail map. Or take a look at the one I have provided above. Then follow the signs to Eagle Loop, the first 1/4 mile to the bridge is uphill on dirt, stone or wood steps. You can by-pass this and take the path to the left to Eagle Lake.  

These pictures are from the Eagle Loop.

Continue along the loop and it intersects back with the 
Eagle Lake trail and the bridge that crosses over 
Upper Eagle Falls.  We hiked this in October 2020
and the fall were dried up.  We can say that this 
is much more dramatic in the early summer.  

From the bridge to the Desolation Wilderness sign is about another 1/4 mile, again uphill on dirt or stone steps. 

The next 1/4 mile continues to climb along a granite outcropping to a fork in the trail.  Take the right fork 1/4 mile to Eagle Lake.  

Eagle Lake

Once you reach Eagle Lake, just reverse your hike back down to the parking lot.  Then continue your driving tour.  Our next stop is in less than 1/4 mile, the parking lot for Vikingsholm and Emerald Bay State Park. The parking for this very popular state park fills up by 10 am during the summer.  There is a parking fee to park in this lot.  Keep your parking receipt as it is good for same day parking at two other California State parks we are visiting on this driving tour.  

Emerald Bay State Park / Vikingsholm

In 1860, stagecoach entrepreneur Ben Holiday was the first to construct a home on this land.  The property had a few more owners over the years until 1928 when it was purchased by Lora  Knight for $250,000.

Ms. Knight hired her nephew Swedish architect Lennart Palme to design her summer home here at Emerald Bay.

Completed in 1929, the estate was built with local fir and pine wood, all hand hewn.  The stone was quarried nearby and all the metal fixtures were hand-forged on site.

It was equipped with all the modern conveniences of the time and Ms. Knight enjoyed her home and the surrounding Emerald Bay and Fannette Island every summer until she died in 1945.  
In 1953 this property became part of the California State Park system.

The parking for Vikingsholm and Emerald Bay will be off the highway to your right. There is a fee for this lot.  Keep your receipt as it is good for other California State parks visited on the same day. 

This 2 ½ mile hike, out and back from the parking lot is along a wide road (shown below).  This will take you to the Vikingsholm Mansion and Lower Eagle Falls Viewpoint.  The hike is designated by the black line on the map above.  

The road descends sharply 1 mile to Emerald Bay, the Visitors Center and Vikingsholm mansion.  Tours of the interior of Vikingsholm may be arraigned at the Visitors Center.   

The map below shows the area around the mansion. 

There is a short ¼ mile trail from the Visitors Center that leads to a viewing area of Lower Eagle Falls, which is quite dramatic in the spring and early summer but by fall it is nothing but a trickle.

Lower Eagle Falls from the base during October 2020

We find the hike down not to be too difficult, but the steep hike back up makes this walk moderately challenging.    Keep that in mind before taking this hike.

If you prefer not to hike down to the mansion take a walk just past the ranger booth and look to your right. 

Here you will find an overlook of Emerald Bay (pictured above)
 and Lower Eagle Falls (pictured below).  

Lower Eagle Falls March 2021

Views of the mansion itself are not that good from this location, but if you feel the hike would be too strenuous this is a good alternative.  

Once you have explored the area.  Turn right back onto Highway 89.  Our next stop is in 2 miles, D. L. Bliss State Park.  

 Trees of Tahoe

While you drive to D. L. Bliss I will tell you a bit about Tahoe's National Forest and Duane Leroy Bliss himself.  

The most common tree on the west shore is the Jeffrey Pine, it tops out around 160 feet, and its bark is reddish-brown and deeply furrowed.

Jeffrey Pine Bark 

The Jeffrey is often confused with the Ponderosa Pine which is far less common, has a much less furrowed bark and is quite a bit taller. In fact the Ponderosa Pine (shown below) is the second tallest tree in the Tahoe forest. 


The tallest being the Sugar Pine (shown below) which can grow upwards of 250 feet, and has a state park named after it, Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point.

The Jeffrey, Ponderosa and Sugar Pines are all conifers or cone-bearing seed plants.  It is their cone that most easily differentiates them from one another.

The Sugar pine cones are produced from mid-August to early October and are recognized at a distance by their foot long cone as it hangs down from  tree branches shown in the pictures above.

The Jeffrey and Ponderosa cones are more easily distinguished when found underneath the tree.  Though the Ponderosa has a bit smaller cone, both average about 6 inches in size.  There is another way to determine the difference,  the Ponderosa’s prickles stick up making the cone painful to hold.  The Jeffrey’s cones have prickles that point inward.  A good way to remember the difference is “prickly ponderosa” and “gentle Jeffrey.”

 Duane Leroy Bliss

D. L. Bliss State Park was named for Duane Leroy Bliss a 19th century American timber and railroad entrepreneur.

In 1873 Bliss founded one of the largest lumber operations in the Tahoe Area, the Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company and supplied the wood necessary to support the Comstock lode mines in Nevada.  He eventually grew his business to control every facet of moving the lumber with ships, barges, flumes and a railroad.

By 1881 more than two billion board-feet of timber had been removed from the Lake Tahoe area and the logging era was beginning to dry up.  So Bliss converted his ships, barges and railroad into passenger services and focused on bringing tourists from San Francisco to the area.

In 1929 the Bliss family donated some of their land to the State Park system for the D. L. Bliss State Park.

D. L. Bliss State Park

D. L. Bliss State Park is open from May until late October.  If the park is open, turn right off the highway onto Lester Beach Road.  Pass the Visitor's Center which will be on your right and you will come to a ranger booth.  
Stop and pay the parking fee or show a receipt from a state park you visited earlier in the day.  Also ask for a park map. 

From here, continue along down Lester Beach Road about 1 1/4 mile to the parking area for the Lighthouse and Rubicon Trail.  Use  caution as you will encounter two-way traffic on this narrow winding road. 

Rubicon and Lighthouse Trailhead

On your left is the parking for the trailhead for the Rubicon and Lighthouse Trail.  Park here if you are interested in taking this 2 mile hike.  The parking area is denoted by P1 on the map below. 

There are two trailheads out of the parking lot. They are 60 feet apart and located near the P1 marker on the map above. The pictures below are both taken at the Lighthouse Trailhead.  The one on the left point to the Rubicon Trailhead and the one on the right is the Lighthouse Trailhead.  

One for the Lighthouse Trial and one for the Rubicon Trail. We usually take the Rubicon Trail out, then return via the Lighthouse Trail or double back on the Rubicon which gives you views of the lake both ways.  Below is the Rubicon Trailhead. 

Much of this trail is gently graded, 

but there are some areas where you will be climbing granite or wooden steps.

One of the more spectacular areas on this hike is located between the lighthouse and Rubicon Point, here the trail goes along the cliff rock but it is edged by a chain guard rail.

When you reach the parking lot at Calawee Cove there is a public restroom.

 You may return the way you arrived or take the Lighthouse Trail back and make this a loop. 

Follow the Lighthouse Trail switchbacks up the hill.
Soon you will come to a set of stair
to the lighthouse.  Follow the stairs
down to the lighthouse to view this
more closely and then 
back up to the trail. 

Then continue following the trail back to the parking lot. After you are finished and back in the parking lot, if you want to visit Balancing Rock, a precariously balanced 130 ton piece of granite, continue driving straight on Lester Beach Road for about 1/2 mile until you get to a stop sign then turn left.  Continue along this road for about 1/4 mile to parking.  The parking will be on your left after you round a U in the road. 

 Balancing Rock

The trailhead for Balancing Rock is off the parking lot to the right of the Galis Dungals, or traditional winter home of the Washoe native people.  

Follow the path and in less than 1/8 of a mile the Balancing Rock will come into view.  It kind of looks like something out of Star Wars or a smiling fish.  

When you are done exploring this area follow the road back out to the entrance and turn right back onto Highway 89.  Our next stop is Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park.  On the way we will be driving through Lake Tahoe's Gold Coast and Meeks Bay.  

Lake Tahoe’s “Gold Coast”

Lake Tahoe's 
“Gold Coast,” is a coveted area for real estate on the Rubicon Bay. It is marked on its southern border by four discretely marked "Ring Roads".   Each of these private roads is marked by a tree ringed with old fire hoses. 

The first Ring Road has one fire hose and so on until you reach the fourth Ring Road which will have, you guessed it, four fire hoses.  

The homes that sit at the end of these private roads occupy level lakeside lots each with private docks.  No, you may not drive down the private roads, it is against the law. So you will just have to imagine the opulence of the homes that occupy this secluded private area.  I only make mention of this because I always wondered what the fire hoses were for so I did a little investigation.  

 Transportation Tahoe

As you drive along this well paved road on your way to Ed 
Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park, you might wonder what it was like to travel this area before the road was built.  Even if you don't want to know, I am going to tell you.  

When John Fremont first viewed the unspoiled beauty of Lake Tahoe in 1844, he was greeted by the relative silence, of a whispering cool alpine breeze through a towering pine forest, a natural tranquility that had been maintained by the Washoe for thousands of years.

Road around Cave Rock on the Eastern Shore

But within just a few years after Fremont's sighting, the Gold Rush of 1849 and Comstock Lode of 1859 would bring thousands of miners and loggers to the area. And once the Central Pacific Railroad reached Tahoe in 1868, the basin was open wide to a new rush, tourism.

Railroad Truckee Donner 

Before a paved road was established around the lake, steamers provided transportation from one side to the other, delivering people, supplies as well as mail.  There were many steamers, but the most famous was probably the S. S. Tahoe. At 170 feet long, it was the largest and most elegant ship on the lake.  Starting with it inaugural voyage in 1896, the S. S. Tahoe transported passengers for over 40 years.

SS Tahoe docked at Tahoe City c. 1906

As the automobile became more popular in the early 1900s, there was a big push to build a decent road around Lake Tahoe.  The first highway completed is the one you are on now, California State Highway 89, which linked South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City on the west shore in 1913. State Highway 28 was completed in 1915 from Tahoe City to the Nevada Stateline in North Shore.  Following the timber industry flume lane, Highway 28 was paved on the Nevada side from Stateline to Glenbrook in 1932.  And finally the road around Lake Tahoe was completed with the section of Highway 50 between Glenbrook and South Lake Tahoe in 1931.

 Meek’s  Bay Returned to the Washoe

Continue along the highway and to your right through the trees is Meek’s Bay. The first to enjoy the beauty of this area were the Washoe native people who used the bay as a summer fishing camp for thousands of years. 

The miners were next to populate the area, displacing the Washoe from the Tahoe Basin. Then brothers Stephen and Joseph Meek, pioneer mountain men, settled here for a short time in 1862 and became the namesake for the bay. In the 1920s the Kehlet family built the Meeks Bay Resort here and ran it for almost 50 years.

Today, Meeks Bay Resort, which is coming up on your right soon, is owned by the US Forest Service. They lease it to the original residents of Meeks Bay,  the Washoe Tribe, who run the resort from May to October under a Special Use Permit.  --  
Our next stop is Ed Z'berb Sugar Pine Point State Park.

  Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park

You might be wondering about the Ed Z’Berg portion of the park name. Well, California State Assemblyman Edwin Z’Berg authorized a bill that created the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in 1969, which was instrumental in protecting the environment of Lake Tahoe.  Thus Z’Berg’s name was added to Sugar Pine Point in 2004 in his honor.  

With 2,000 acres of Jeffrey, ponderosa and the park’s namesake sugar pine, Ed Z’BergSugar Pine Point is Lake Tahoe’s largest state park, and the only Tahoe-area park where snow camping is allowed.

Artists rendering of the Phipps Cabin 

Kentucky frontiersman, William Phipps, homesteaded on Sugar Pine Point in 1860.  You will have the opportunity to view his log cabin at the park, which is shown in the photos above and below.  

The park’s showpiece however is the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion, a rustic 11,000 square foot pine lodge built for Isaiah Hellman in 1903.

To visit Ed Z'Berg Sugar Pine State park and the Phipps cabin and the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion, turn right ahead off the highway onto California State Park Road to the Ranger Kiosk.  Show a parking receipt from an earlier state park you visited during the day or pay the parking fee.  Ask for a park map and continue straight to the parking area a few yards further. 

Take a look at the map above. There are a few hiking trails from this parking lot, but the most popular one is the Lakefront Trail. This 1/4 mile loop walk may be started from the north end of the parking lot, near the tennis courts and Visitor Center, or if you are parked in the southwest portion of the parking lot you may catch the trailhead there.

Sugar Pine Point State Park Visitor Center 

But if you start in the Visitor Center at the base of the tall water tank at the north end of the parking lot, ask a docent for the self-guided tour brochure. That way you are sure not to miss anything.

This is an easy walk along a well paved path with a number of interpretive plaques which give more history of the area.

As you walk along the Lakefront trail you will visit two boathouses, a pumphouse, caretaker, butlers and maids house, the Phipp's log cabin, marina pier, gazebo and the exceptional Hellman-Ehrman pine lodge which was designed for Isaias Hellman by Walter D. Bliss the son of D. L. Bliss. 

Hellman’s youngest daughter Florence Ehrman who managed the mansion after her father’s death inherited the house and her estate sold the property to the State of California in 1965 for a park.

When you are finished exit the park the same way you arrived and turn right onto Highway 89.  

Biking Tahoe / Tour de Tahoe

As you drive this area you will notice a designated biking and walking path to your left. There are a number of these on the west side of Lake Tahoe.  This one runs from Tahoe City out to Ed 'Zberg Sugar Pine Point Park and is a lovely ride.  

But if you are an avid cycler like my husband you need to ride the Tour de Tahoe at least once. This 72 mile bike course circumnavigates the highways around Lake Tahoe in a clockwise direction. It includes a challenging 800 foot climb to the overlook of Emerald Bay. Just think of doing what you drove today on your bike!  Another challenge is the 1,000 foot climb to Spooner Junction on the Nevada side.  But from what I hear, the ride is worth the effort.

Tour de Tahoe Emerald Bay Climb

On the next portion of our driving tour we will pass through Chambers, Tahoma, and Homewood, three tiny but unique westshore Tahoe communities.  

 Chambers Landing

Chambers Landing was founded as Hunter’s Retreat in 1863 by John McKinney.  The Chambers Landing Bar was built in 1875, and a main stop for the S S Tahoe steamer. In 1920 the property was purchased by David Chambers who renamed it Chambers Lodge. 

Watch carefully for the black iron gate on your right which is the entrance to Chambers Landing.  Years ago when my husband was a young boy this was where his family vacationed during the summer.  At the time (c 1960s) the pebble beach was dotted with rustic cabins.  Those cabins are gone, today the beach is lined with modernized condominiums.  

If the iron gate to Chamber Landing is open venture in.  Park and explore the beach area and historic Chambers Landing Bar. We enjoy dining lakeside.  If you are so inclined you might sample their  signature Chambers Punch, a frozen combination of 151 rum and tropical juices.   Of course you might also want to designate a driver.  

 Homewood Mountain Resort

Continuing past Chambers you will enter the sparkling west shore area of Tahoma and Homewood. Both communities boast shoreline homes which back onto mountainous escapes. 

January 2021

During the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Tahoma was selected as the site of the cross-country skiing and biathlon.  Its name Tahoma is a combination of Tahoe and home.

The district of Homewood was laid out in 1889.  Today it is home to the Homewood Mountain Ski Resort which we will pass shortly. 

April 2021

Up ahead on your left is the Homewood Mountain Ski Resort. The 1,650 foot elevation gain to the top of the mountain gives skiers a spectacular lake view. It is also the closest ski resort to the shore of Lake Tahoe.  With only 280 steps from the ski lift to the the water, this is literally the spot  where the  mountains meet the lake. 


Fleur du Luc / Godfather II

As you continue along the westshore, in the distance, just past the line of boat docks, part of the Fleur de Lac dock and mansion are visible jutting out on the lake.  

In less than a mile a metal fence with red brick pillars will mark the beginning of this property. Eventually you will pass the entrance gate, with the estate name on the stone fence. 

Gate Fleur du Luc 

Henry Kaiser Sr., American industrialist and founder of Kaiser Aluminum and Steel, purchased this 15 acre lake-front parcel in 1935. Craftsmen worked around the clock to complete the main house, staff quarters and boathouse in just 29 days. The family named the estate Fleur du lac and enjoyed the property until 1962.

In 1973 Francis Ford Coppola filmed a number of scenes from Godfather II at the estate.  The most memorable scenes shot at Fleur du Luc are the wedding...

...as well as when Fredo Corleone walks across the dock and gets in the rowboat to meet his ultimate death, and when Michael Corleone is nearly assassinated in a
  bedroom at the estate.

In 1979, Fred Sahadi purchased the property and created a luxury development here of 22 homes. 

Eagle Rock as seen coming from Tahoe City 

Our next stop is in less than 1/4 mile, the very popular Eagle Rock Trailhead.  This 3/4 mile round trip hike to the top of a large dormant volcano rock outcropping offers epic panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, lake and highway below.  The view of Eagle Rock shown above is from the highway traveling south on 89 from Tahoe City.  This dramatic view of the rock is not seen when driving north on 89 from Sunnyside.  

Eagle Rock Trailhead

If you are interested in hiking Eagle Rock, slow down to prepare to park on the left after the low stone bridge ahead.  There is limited parking for this trailhead on your left.  

The map below shows the area and hike. 

From the parking area head uphill on the dirt path. 

 In less than 1/4 mile the trail curves right and becomes
difficult to discern when you come to the base of the rock wall.  

View from top of Eagle Rock looking south

Follow the well worn path up the rock wall as far as you feel comfortable.  There are no rails on the edge of the rock so be smart and stay back from the side.  

View from top of Eagle Rock looking north

This is a very popular hike with incredible views over the lake and highway below.   Once back on the highway we are just a few miles from the end of our driving tour and Tahoe City. 

 Hurricane Bay Beach / Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge 

Continue driving straight on Highway 89.  As you come around the bend ahead on your right you will have a stunning view of Lake Tahoe framed by the snow capped mountains in the distance.

Hurricane Beach 

This is also the location of Hurricane Bay Beach, a public half mile of pebble shore lined with homeowner’s docks. Continue straight, our next optional stop is Sunnyside Restaurant and Lodge in 3 miles.
Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge 

Coming up on your right in about ½ a mile is the rustic Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge, a Tahoe landmark since the 1950s.

Sunnyside Dock 

We have stayed at Sunnyside a number of times over the last few decades and always enjoyed our stay immensely.

Early morning alpenglow from our room at Sunnyside January 2021

With its location right on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, its outdoor lakeside dining is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.  It is definitely a place to consider for a meal at some time during your stay in Tahoe.

 Corpus Christi Catholic Church  / Granlibakken

Ahead on your left is the wooden A-frame Corpus Christi Catholic Church.  Built in 1911, it is the second Catholic Church established in Tahoe and the daughter parish to Assumption of the Blessed VIrgin Mary Parish in Truckee established in 1870.   

In about one mile we will pass Granlibakken Road.  It will be on your left. At the end of this road is Treetop Adventure Park where visitors traverse the forest of pine on zip lines during the summer and ski and sled during the winter as well as the charming Granlibakken Lodge. 

The area, originally called Ski Canyon by locals in the early 1920s, became so popular that by 1926 the Southern Pacific Railroad “Snowball Special” was bringing visitors here from Sacramento every winter.
Rusty Rustad leased Ski Canyon in 1947 and renamed it Granlibakken, meaning “hill sheltered by fir trees.”

Tahoe City 

Enter the roundabout ahead and stay to the right.  Exit onto West Lake Blvd. for Tahoe City.  Up ahead just after the driveway to Bank of the West turn right into the parking area for Gatekeeper's Museum. 


Tahoe City offers a true Tahoe experience, both summer and winter.  Along with the stunning lake views you will find museums, parks, specialty shops, coffee houses, and eateries scattered along the cobblestone sidewalk. 

If you have time to explore this area, you may use the map above to visit the Gatekeeper's Museum, Fanny Bridge, Tahoe Dam and North Lake Tahoe Visitors Center. The Gatekeeper's Museum which was originally the home of the dam gatekeeper is now a museum run by the North Tahoe Historical Society.  There is a charge to visit the museum which is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.

From the museum it is a short walk along the path to the historic Fanny Bridge, Tahoe Dam and the North Lake Tahoe Visitors Center.  Along the path you will find a number of informational placards that explain the rich history of the area. 

If you are hungry, you will find two great places to grab a bite across the street, the Bridgetender and the Dam Cafe. 

This however is where I am leaving you.  I hope that you have enjoyed your driving tour from South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City and all of the stops in-between. There is so much more to explore here around Lake Tahoe and this is just one of three driving tours I have created that take you around the lake.  If you would like to pick up where you left off, the next tour is Tahoe City to Incline Village.  It is filled with history, hiking, and yes more Tahoe awesomeness.  You may find these tours on my VoiceMap author's page 

Until next time, Happy Adventures!

Lake Tahoe Driving Tour: Tahoe City to Incline Village 
Lake Tahoe Driving Tour:  Incline Village to South Lake Tahoe 


All pictures by L.A. Momboisse unless listed below:

Black and white photo Tallac Hotel and Casino (Western Nevada History Photo Collection)
Color photo postcard of Harvey's Wagon Wheel c. 1950 (Western Nevada History Photo Collection)
Color photo Harvey's and Harrah's c. 1955 (WNHPC)
Black and white photo Sahara Tahoe 1973 (Harvey's Wagon Wheel Facebook
Color Harvey's Bombing 1980 (Wikipedia)
Caesars 1980 (Harvey's Wagon Wheel Facebook
Henry van Sickle (Carson Valley Nevada - The Demise of Bad Man Sam Brown)
Louisa Keyser (Dat So La Lee), Washoe Basket Weaver (Wikipedia)
Washoe Native People c 1866 - Library of Congress 
Lake Tahoe News and Picture of first South Lake Tahoe City Council - Tahoe Journal 
Black and white photo Lake House 1866 (Library of Congress)
Black and white photo Hotel Globin's Al Tahoe (WNHTC) 
John Fremont Portrait (Wikipedia)
An 1860s map of "Lake Bigler" (Wikipedia)
Black and white picture of Tallac Hotel (WNHPC)
Black and white picture of the inside of the Tallac Hotel (WNHPC)
Ponderosa Pine (Wikipedia
Pine Cone 101 - Sunnyside Gardens 
Road around Cave Rock on the Eastern Shore (Nevada State Park)
Tahoe Railroad (Truckee-Donner Historic Society)
SS Tahoe docked at Tahoe City (Wikipedia)  
Meeks Bay (Pinterest)
Tour de Tahoe (Facebook)
Godfather II Wedding Party Scene