There’s something amazing about snorkeling in the cold waters of Lake Tahoe in the middle of summer. Not only is the water Caribbean blue, but it’s fresh and clear enough to drink. There are several great places to go snorkeling in Lake Tahoe and these include family friendly beaches, rocky and boulder areas, private swimming holes and other alpine lakes. Isn’t our community wonderful!
Remember to snorkel at your own risk. The water in Lake Tahoe can be very cold up until mid-July and some areas are very deep. Check the depth first before jumping in from a pier or a rock and keep an eye out for boat traffic and jetskis.
1. Sand Harbor
Sand Harbor is still one of the best beaches for snorkeling in the Tahoe area. It’s large, has amenities like a beautiful visitor’s center, a parking lot, concessions, the Shakespeare festival during the summer and some excellent swimming areas. There are various places to snorkel in Sand Harbor including a large sandy bay on the south side, the large granite boulders that create their own swimming hols, and a dedicated bay for SCUBA divers and snorkeling enthusiasts.
Hot Tip: Walk along the boardwalk and look down toward the water; you can sometimes find “secret” beaches during low water years.
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe drive north into Nevada on Highway 50. Turn onto Highway 28 and after about 8 miles look for the signs for Sand Harbor on the left hand side of the road.
2. Nevada Beach
Another great beach for Tahoe snorkeling is Nevada Beach. This wide expanse of sand on the southeast side of the lake doesn’t have the interesting rock formations like Sand Harbor, but is great for lounging around in the sun, swimming laps or just playing around on some inflatable tubes. The beach can get crowded during summer weekend and there’s not much shade, so bring an umbrella or shade structure to mark out your space. If you want, you can also camp at the Nevada Beach campground to get access to early morning or evening swimming.
Hot Tip: Nevada Beach is one of the best East Shore places to watch the Fourth of July fireworks in South Shore.
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe drive north into Nevada on Highway 50. Turn onto Highway 28 and after the Edgewood Golf Course turn off, look for the Nevada Beach sign on the left hand side of the road.
3. Skylandia Beach & Park
Just a few miles east of Tahoe City is the fairly unkown Skylandia Park. This 24-acre California State Park has bike trails, hiking areas and dediated swimming areas for families and die-hard lake swimmers. The park also has a pier, a beach and some great views of the mountains. The swimming here starts out a little rocky, but gets nice and deep quickly. While snorkeling, you will see crawfish, schools of minnows and sometimes large trout.
Hot Tip: Most visitors don’t come to this beach, but Tahoe City locals know about it.
Directions: From Tahoe City, take Highway 28 north to Lake Forest Road. Turn right on Lake Forest and then right on Aspen Street. The parking lot is at the end of the street.
4. Lester Beach
Another excellent beach is Lester Beach on the West Shore in D.L. Bliss State Park. This large and popular beach is adjacent to the D.L. Bliss campground and far away from traffic. It’s a great place to go snorkeling with calm, turquoise water, white sand and some interesting rock formations. Swim away from the beach toward the south and get access to some very high jumping and cliff diving rocks. Some of the deepest spots on the lake are around this area.
Hot Tip: The areas around the rocks are good for snorkeling where you will see schools of fish, crawfish and items lost by various boaters.
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe, drive Highway 89 past Emerald Bay to the entrance to D.L. Bliss State Park on the right hand side of the road. Go through the visitor gate (park fee required) and down the hill. Follow the signs for Lester Beach and the parking area.
5. Donner Lake
While Donner Lake is located north of Lake Tahoe near the town of Truckee, it’s still a great place to go swimming—without the crowds. There’s a dedicated roped swimming area on the west side of the lake, but the best place to go snorkeling is off the public piers on the north shore of the lake. These piers are popular with fisherman in the morning and evening, but during the hot times of the day, they are great for sunbathing and swimming in the cool, green water of this deep lake.
Hot Tip: Parking for the piers are on the side of the road in small dirt lots.
Directions: From Kings Beach on the North Shore, take Highway 267 north to Truckee. Turn left onto Glenshire Drive and right onto Donner Pass Road heading west. Follow Donner Pass Road until you come to Donner Lake. The piers are on the northeast side of the lake.
6. Secret Cove
The “unofficial” nude swimming area of the lake, this beautiful beach and cove is probably one of the best cared for areas at the lake and has some great areas for snorkeling. It’s about a mile hike down to the beach from the parking area, but once you’re there the swimming is amazing. Clear water, lots of rocks for sunbathing and great snorkeling can be had at this beach. The nudity is laid back and the local authorities turn the other way.
Hot Tip: Bring everything you will need for the day. There is not a lot of shade here and the parking situation is tight. Get here very early and camp out for the day.
Directions: From Sand Harbor, drive south on Highway 28 for about 3 miles. You will see a small parking lot on the right hand side. Access the beach trail by the locked gate near the restrooms.
7. Emerald Bay
There are some pros and cons with snorkeling in Emerald Bay. The views here are incredible and the water is cool and green, but difficult to access. You also have to watch out for lots of boat traffic on summer weekends. However, once you make it down into the water, Emerald Bay this is a great place to both swim and snorkel. The best places to view things underwater are on the west side of the bay near the Emerald Bay boat-in campground. Here are some tiny beaches, lots of rocks and many things to see underwater including fish. If you want to do some interesting snorkeling, walk along the Rubicon Trail near Vikingsholm and over to the east side of the bay. Look for the white buoy where several old barges have been sunk for SCUBA and snorkel exploration.
Hot Tip: As tempting as it is to swim out to Fannette Island and the tea house, it’s now allowed by the parks department.
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe, drive Highway 89 west to the Emerald Bay parking lot at the top of the bay. Hike down to the bay and take the Rubicon Trail to either end of the bay.
8. Kiva Beach
If you want to go swimming and snorkeling with your dog, head to Kiva Beach on the South Shore. This pretty little beach with free parking doesn’t have the interesting rocks that some other beaches do, but it’s great for cooling off, playing with the pooch or doing some leisure lap swimming. The views from the this beach of Mount Tallac and the south shore range are pretty spectacular.
Hot Tip: The parking lot here is small, but you can ride your bike to this beach from the Tahoe Keys or Camp Richardson.
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe, drive Highway 89 west and turn right onto Tallac Road. The beach is at the end of the parking lot.
9. Echo Lakes
Another set of alpine lakes that are close to Lake Tahoe are Echo Lakes. These two pristine lakes have everything including parking, a lodge, picnic areas, hiking trails and great views of Desolation Wilderness. You can swim and snorkel in Lower Echo Lake near the lodge or anywhere off the hiking trails that lead into Desolation. One great thing to do is enjoy the hiking around the lake and cool off with a dip on the far side of Upper Echo Lake with the views all around you.
Hot Tip: In the summer, keep an eye out for the small ferry that takes passengers across lower Echo Lake.
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe take Highway 89 south. Look for the brown Berkeley Camp / Echo Lake sign. Turn left. Continue about 1/2 mile to Echo Lakes Road, turn left again and continue to the end of the road. If you come to a turn-around at the California Alpine Club (red building), you missed Echo Lakes Road by about 1/4 mile.
10. Thunderbird Lodge
On the east side of Lake Tahoe is home to the Thunderbird Lodge, a mansion from 1936. This area is popular with hikers and boaters and might be one of the best places for snorkelers. Water depths are around 10-25 feet and feature large boulders, sunken tree trunks and various shades of blue water. One of the best ways to access the waters around the lodge is to kayak from Sand Harbor to the lodge and do some “off the boat” swimming.
Hot Tip: The Thunderbird Lodge offers building and property tours, special events and dinners.
Directions: From Sand Harbor, take your kayak along the edge of the lake until you see the Thunderbird Lodge above the rocks.