emerald bay

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I was in the prime of my hiking career, having spent the last six months or so hiking all over California (or so I thought). Since we were up in Tahoe for Labor Day weekend, I was going to make the most of my time up there and get in as much hiking as we could. Perhaps then, Closet Granola’s need to be outdoors would be satiated and we could spend the next few weekends shopping.

What a great idea, I thought, to do two hikes in one day. After all, we were staying up in Truckee and a drive down to Emerald Bay took about an hour. Always one for efficiency and ambition, we decided to do the Eagle Lake Hike in Desolation Wilderness after the Emerald Bay hike. The entrance to the Eagle Lake trail is right across the street from the Vikingsholm entrance to the Emerald Bay hike. How incredibly efficient!

When we finished the Emerald Bay hike, Closet Granola was a bit skeptical of whether we could handle another hike. Sunset was in one hour and it was a new moon (which I learned was the opposite of a full moon), but I reasoned that it was only a 2.5 mile hike and there’s usually light long after the sun sets. He reluctantly consented, but said, “I’m stupid to go along with this, and you just don’t know any better.” I just waved off his conservative attitude and said, “We’ll be fine.” So off we went, with one headlamp, the remainder of our water from the Emerald Bay hike, two cameras, and two tripods.

Shortly after the beginning of the hike, we reached the Eagle Lake Trail Vista, where we stopped to take photos. We could see the sun setting over Emerald Bay and the colors were absolutely lovely over the lake and the trees. We also set up the tripod to take photos of the two of us…great picture spot but I won’t be sharing the personal photos!

After that, we tried to race to Eagle Lake as the sun set. There’s not much elevation gain, but the trail is very rocky. By the time we made it to Eagle Lake, there was just enough light left to make out the lake. Completely serene and desolate (there was one tent on the lake), we sat for five minutes to enjoy the peacefulness of the lake before heading back. We were on a mission to get out of there before we couldn’t see anymore, but we didn’t quite make it. After many near falls and broken ankles, I decided to use the headlamp. For some reason, Closet Granola could handle the darkness much better than I could. Even with the headlamp, it was still rather scary, creepy, and lonely out there (Desolation Wilderness is a very apt name). It was not an ideal trail or hike for a night hike, but that’s what happens when a City Girl convinces a Closet Granola to throw caution to the wind. Famous last words, “We’ll be fine.”

Overall Rating: Flip-flops during the day, Trailblazers at night

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: If you plan on doing two hikes in one day, be sure to start the first one before lunchtime.

Tip #2: Headlamps can be a girl’s best friend on a night hike. They’re inexpensive, light, small, and will help prevent you from breaking your leg and not being able to wear heels for a long, long time.

About two weeks before Labor Day weekend, we started the process of discussing where to go for the holiday. First on the list was Yosemite, but being just 2 weeks before Labor Day, all hotels were booked up, except for the $350+ nightly rate rooms. So I suggested camping as Craigslist had a few campsite for sale. Here’s how the conversation went:

City Girl: Maybe we should just camp. Otherwise, it’ll cost $1,000 to see dirt, trees, and dried up waterfalls.

Closet Granola (after a few seconds of speechlessness): Camping? I thought you said you would never go camping. I don’t know about this…

City Girl: Oh, it’ll be fine. I’d rather camp than pay that much money. Maybe it’ll be romantic.

Closet Granola: Ummmm, okay. Let me do some research.

City Girl: But I have a few questions first.

Closet Granola: Oh boy.

City Girl: Where do people take showers or baths? Do I have to share a bathroom?

Closet Granola: Maybe but people don’t usually take showers.

City Girl: What?! But you get all sweaty and dirty on the hikes, how can there be no showers?

Closet Granola: <<silence>>

City Girl: Well, how about food? How far are the restaurants? Within driving distance?

Closet Granola: There are no restaurants. You have to bring the food to the campsite and cook it there.

City Girl: What? No restaurants? What kind of food can you cook at a campsite? Can we bring a large cooler to plug into the car and keep food fresh? We can bring cheese and wine, some cold cuts, fruits, meat. We could bring some pots and pans and cooking utensils and a coffee maker or French press and a table stove…

Closet Granola: We’re not going camping.

And that’s how we ended up in Lake Tahoe, staying at a not-so-nice hotel but with running water and restaurants within walking distance. We ended up hiking all three days, despite the promise of easy days floating on a raft down Truckee River which was never realized.

Our first hike was in Emerald Bay on the southwest side of Lake Tahoe. It is, in my opinion, the best and prettiest of the hikes that we went on with postcard picture opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s not a well-kept secret and there are plenty of tourists at both the D.L. Bliss entrance and the Vikingsholm entrance. As you can imagine, the parking is a nightmare. After being turned away at D.L. Bliss due to a full parking lot, we drove further down to the Vikingsholm entrance. Due to some great parking karma, we found a spot immediately.

Although some guidebooks recommend doing the hike from Vikingsholm to D.L. Bliss, I think the views are prettier and the elevation gain easier coming the other way. So if you’re going to do this hike one-way and then take the free Emerald Bay shuttle back to your starting point, then I would highly recommend D.L. Bliss to Vikingsholm. Of course, taking a shuttle back is cheating in Closet Granola’s eyes and therefore we had to do the hike out-and-bike. Luckily for him, the hike was pretty enough that I didn’t mind. At almost 10 miles roundtrip and only 500 ft in elevation gain, it’s definitely doable if you have the time.

The hike alternates between being high above the lake and beach level so there are many different angles to take photos from. The water in the lake alternates between a sapphire blue and emerald green, which is just stunning…what girl doesn’t like sparkly sapphire and emeralds?

Vikingsholm is named for the house at the bottom of the trail originally owned by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight. It is apparently one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the West. I think it’s rather cute. Mrs. Knight also owned the only island in all of Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island. From the Rubicon Trail, we could see where she hosted her tea parties at “The Teahouse.” Oh, to be rich and eccentric…

Other than Vikingsholm and Fannette Island, the only “thing to see” on this hike is Emerald Bay itself. But despite the fact that you’re looking at the same thing for 10 miles, it’s still stunning with the mountains behind it, with dogs swimming or riding kayaks, with people lunching on the rocks or drinking cocktails on their boat.

I cannot recommend this hike enough for Lake Tahoe, although I don’t really want more people on this hike. The funniest part of the hike was when we saw a girl walking up from Vikingsholm with heels on! They were kitten heels, but heels nonetheless. Closet Granola and I just looked at each other, rolled our eyes and snickered. I wish I had gotten a picture of that! Perhaps I’m becoming a bit of a hiking snob.

Overall rating: Flip-flops (not even kitten heels)

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip: Staying in Truckee? Grab coffee and a lox bagel to go from Wild Cherries. We stopped by there every morning!

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