Explore California and Nevada’s state parks this summer

By Annie Flanzraich

When summer comes to the Reno/Tahoe area, my favorite activities happen outside. Hiking, camping, swimming, exploring, adventuring and lounging are best experienced with sunshine, fresh air, friends and a hefty dose of SPF. State parks can be an epicenter for all of the above, and luckily more than 20 parks are a 45-minute drive or less from Reno. Here are my favorite seven to visit.

Lookout to Emerald Bay (Josiah Q Roe)
Lookout to Emerald Bay (Josiah Q Roe)

Emerald Bay State Park

With its iconic and highly photographed lookout point, Emerald Bay State Park is probably the first place that comes to mind when people hear the words “Lake Tahoe.” During the summer, expect to see crowds of people ready to hike and explore the park located on Lake Tahoe’s west shore.

While taking a selfie on the scenic overlook on Highway 89 is one way to experience Emerald Bay, try hiking a few miles down to Vikingsholm, a replica of a Scandinavian castle. Tours of the castle take place every 30 minutes and cost $10 for adults.

If you’ve already visited Vikingsholm, expand your exploration to The Underwater Park, located on the north shore of Emerald Bay. There, divers can see boats, launches, barges and a variety of artifacts from Emerald Bay Resort that are now submerged. sierrastateparks.org/emerald-bay-state-park

Vikingsholm Emerald Bay (California State Parks)
Vikingsholm Emerald Bay (California State Parks)

D.L. Bliss State Park

Just a few miles north of Emerald Bay is D.L. Bliss State Park, a 1,830-acre mountain wonderland. For an unparalleled view of Lake Tahoe, hike to the north end of the park to find Rubicon Point, where you can see more than 100 feet into the depths of the lake. For more dramatic views, take a day to explore the Rubicon Trail, which stretches from Lester Beach at D.L. Bliss State Park to Eagle Point Campground at Emerald Bay State Park. In the northwest section of the park, you can find a short, half-mile self-guided nature trail that will take you to the Balancing Rock. This 130-ton block of granite rests precariously on a narrow stone base and has been a favorite photography spot since the late 1800s. sierrastateparks.org/d-l-bliss-state-park

Ed Z’Berg Sugar Pine Point State Park

Also located on the West Shore, Ed Z’Berg Sugar Pine Point State Park is another local favorite — but just call it Sugar Pine for short. The park includes a historic estate, the tallest pine trees in the world and great hiking trails. The park’s nearly two miles of lakefront feature dense forests of pine, fir, aspen and juniper. During the summer, you can find a variety of interpretive activities including campfire programs, nature hikes and junior ranger programs. Don’t miss taking a tour of the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion, a beautiful summer home built in 1903, or visiting the Nature Center to view several exhibits about Lake Tahoe’s bird life biology, lake ecology, wildflowers and trees. sierrastateparks.org/sugar-pine-point-state-park-ehrman-mansion/

Sand Harbor

On Lake Tahoe’s north shore, about 20 minutes from Incline Village, sits Sand Harbor’s crystal-clear waters and unusual rock formations. At this state park, you’ll find smooth, sandy beaches, boat launches, picnic sites and the stage of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. It’s easy to find many ways to spend the day at Sand Harbor, whether you’re swimming, kayaking, scuba diving, boating, picnicking or beaching. parks.nv.gov/parks/lake-tahoe-nevada-state-park

Sand Harbor State Park, Lake Tahoe
Sand Harbor State Park, Lake Tahoe

Spooner Lake & Back Country

As you drive up to Lake Tahoe from Carson City on Highway 50, you’ll see Spooner Lake and part of the Spooner Backcountry, a more-than-12,000-acre area of forested, open space. This park features 50 miles of hiking, equestrian and mountain biking trails and primitive roads. Some of the most popular trails are the Marlette, Red House, Flume and Tahoe Rim Trails. Spooner Lake is also a great place to make camp and extend your exploration. Camping is allowed in three primitive, walk-in campgrounds: Marlette Peak, Hobart and North Canyon. There’s also hunting and fishing at Spooner Lake, Marlette Lake and Hobart Reservoir. parks.nv.gov/parks/lake-tahoe-nevada-state-park-1

Spooner Lake Back Country (California State Parks)
Spooner Lake Back Country (California State Parks)

Mormon Station

Take a step back in time and visit Mormon Station, located in the historic town of Genoa, about 25 minutes south of Carson City. This state park is the site of Nevada’s first permanent, non-native settlement. Today, the park is home to a reconstructed version of the original 1851 trading post that burned down in 1910 and a museum with original pioneer-era artifacts. It’s also the place to attend Genoa’s popular annual events, such as the Candy Dance and Cowboy Festival. parks.nv.gov/parks/mormon-station

Washoe Lake State Park

Feel the majesty of the scenic valley between Reno and Carson City at Washoe Lake State Park. There, you’ll find stunning views of the Nevada, Carson and Virginia mountain ranges, punctuated by soaring bald eagles. This is a favorite area for hiking, camping, picnicking, water sports and equestrian activities. You can also find a diverse range of birds and waterfowl, such as American white pelicans and Canadian geese. Those who like to fish can catch channel and bullhead catfish, wipers, white bass and Sacramento perch.

With a variety of settings and activities, the state parks in northern Nevada and California are some of the best places to experience summer. So, get out there and explore.