• Gabriella Viola

A Guide to the Most Stunning Photo Locations in Lake Tahoe

Updated: Apr 17

The best photo locations in Lake Tahoe

Want to know where some of the most beautiful spots in Lake Tahoe are? You’ve come to the right place! I’ve put together a list of some of the best photo locations in Lake Tahoe and how to find them. Let's get started….


Turquoise water at Secret Cove Beach in Lake Tahoe
Glassy turquoise water at Secret Cove in December
Turquoise water at Secret Cove in Lake Tahoe Nevada

I'm not even going to save the best for last. Secret Cove is hands down one of the most, if not the most photogenic spot in all of Tahoe. When the sun hits the cove just right it creates a brilliant turquoise color that you have to see to believe.

Located off Highway 28 on Tahoe’s East Shore, it's easily accessible via a short hike from the main road or from Secret Harbor Parking Lot. Secret Cove is a clothing-optional beach, and you will more than likely see a few of the local naturalists sunbathing on the granite rocks along the beach.

➳ Tip: Secret Cove is beautiful year-round but it can get crowded during the summer months, especially on weekends. I find the best time to go is off-season, during the week, and in the late morning when the sun hits the cove just right to get that turquoise color. The water is also calmer during this time from lack of activity giving it a glass-like effect.


Whale Beach on Lake Tahoe's East Shore
Whale Beach along Tahoe's east shore
Views from Whale Beach in Lake Tahoe

Head south a little ways on the same trail that took you to Secret Cove, and you will find yourself at another spectacular beach spot in Lake Tahoe called Whale Beach. With its hues of turquoise, Whale beach is reminiscent of the Caribbean. Like Secret Cove, Whale beach is a clothing-optional beach that is mostly used by locals. It's a little more remote than Secret Cove as a bit more hiking is involved to get here.

➳ Tip: There is some hiking and a few boulders to cross to get to this beach. Sneakers or hiking shoes are recommended.


remote coves along Lake Tahoes east shore
Coves along Tahoe's rugged east shoreline

Along the east shoreline of Lake Tahoe between Chimney Beach and Secret Cove, you will find plenty of tranquil and picturesque little coves. The best part: You will most likely have the coves all to yourself. While most of the tourists are cramming into an over-crowded Sand Harbor during the summer months, you can have a serene and secluded little slice of Tahoe heaven all to yourself. Not only are these coves a great spot to take beautiful and unique photos, they are also great for swimming.

➳ Tip: Wear hiking boots or sneakers. There are large sharp granite boulders to climb down and around to get to these coves and flip-flops may not cut it.


View of Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe California
Views of Emerald Bay from the Bayview Trail
Views of Emerald Bay from Bayview Trail

The Bayview Hiking Trail is a 5-mile trail through Tahoe's Desolation Wilderness. However, you don't need to hike that far; spectacular views of Emerald Bay can be reached within the first half-mile of the trail.

The entrance to the trail is located in Bayview Campground which is right across the street from Inspiration Point on Highway 89. At the trailhead, you have the option to go left towards Cascade Falls or right towards Desolation Wilderness/Granite Lake. Head towards the right. After about half a mile on the trail, you will come to a ridge overlooking Emerald Bay. Once you've finished taking in the beautiful views you can call it a day or continue on the trail towards Granite Lake and Maggie's Peak for more photo opportunities.

➳ Tip: Early morning and/or late afternoon are great times to shoot this spot. Avoid mid-day which can cast harsh shadows over the ridge.


Winter Sunrise at Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe
Sunset at Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe California
Summer sunset views at Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay is probably one of the most well known and photographed spots in Lake Tahoe. It's located in the southwestern corner of the lake right off Highway 89. Although the view is similar, this spot is different from the one listed above as there is no hiking involved. Just pull right off the side of the road at one of the turnouts.

➳ Tip: Most people stop at Inspiration Point to photograph the bay, but the best view is actually a little past Inspiration Point. Inspiration point is pretty, but there are too many trees blocking the view of the bay. Drive a little past Inspiration Point and pull off the side of the road for an unobstructed view of Emerald Bay.


Views at Monkey Rock in Lake Tahoe
Monkey Rock along the Flume Trail in Lake Tahoe
Views from Monkey Rock in Lake Tahoe

Winter views from Monkey Rock along the Flume Trail in Lake Tahoe
Winter views at Monkey Rock facing south

The hike to Monkey Rock is a relatively short but steep hike along the Flume Trail that offers some of the best views of Lake Tahoe. The trailhead is located behind the Tunnel Creek Cafe on Highway 28 in Incline Village. You’ll notice the views almost immediately and they get better as you continue up the trail.

The trail itself is pretty self-explanatory. It starts as a paved road, then turns into a well-maintained dirt trail. The trail eventually splits, one route is steeper and faster and the other is slightly less steep, but both end up at the same point. Once you reach this point head left and you will arrive at Monkey Rock.

Once at Monkey Rock you may encounter some fellow hikers waiting their turn to get a photo with the Monkey. You can choose to take a photo with the monkey or find a nearby boulder to relax on, eat a snack, and enjoy the spectacular views.

➳ Tip: Monkey Rock viewpoint has 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe, so don't forget to explore the south-facing views after photographing Monkey Rock.


Sunset at Cave Rock in Lake Tahoe
Cave Rock is a prime sunset location in Lake Tahoe
Cave Rock hike in Lake Tahoe Nevada
Views from Cave Rock Hiking Trail

Who doesn’t love a super short hike with a great view? Cave Rock hike is a short easy 0.8-mile hike that will take you under 15 minutes to get to the viewpoint. This hike is right over the rock tunnel on Highway 50. ( I've actually driven through the tunnel many times completely unaware of the hiking trail right above it! ).

The trailhead is located on Cave Rock Drive right off Highway 50. Drive to the top of the road and the trailhead will be on your left, you can’t miss it. From here walk about 10-15 minutes and you will arrive at the base of Cave Rock. Take in the views from the base or make an easy climb to the top of the rock for amazing 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe.

➳ Tip: Cave Rock is a great spot to catch the sunset in Lake Tahoe. Hiking boots are also a good idea if you want to climb to the top of the rock.


Bonsai Rock in Lake Tahoe Nevada
Use a neutral density filter to achieve a smooth glassy effect when photographing Lake Tahoe
Sunset at Bonsai Rock in Lake Tahoe
Bonsai Rock is a great location to catch the sunset in Lake Tahoe

Bonsai Rock is a well-known spot in Lake Tahoe that attracts photographers and tourists alike. If you come during sunset you are likely to see a few photographers and their tripods lined up along the rocks. I'm not sure what makes Bonsai Rock itself so popular; perhaps its the little tree growing out of it. Bonsai Rock is located off Highway 28 on Tahoe’s East Shore. There are several short semi-steep trails that lead directly to the rock right from the highway.

➳ Tip: Although the trails down to Bonsai Rock are very short, they are steep with lots of loose dirt so be sure to wear sneakers or hiking shoes to avoid slipping.


Yellow aspens along North Canyon Road at Spooner Lake in Lake Tahoe
Yellow aspens along North Canyon Road at Spooner Lake
Yellow aspens along North Canyon Road at Spooner Lake

There is something special about Lake Tahoe in autumn The summer crowds are gone, the lake is calm, and bursts of fall color are everywhere. But if you want to see TONS of fall color all in one place, look no further than Spooner Lake. The trails around Spooner Lake are known for their spectacular displays of fall color, and the best trail of them all is North Canyon Road. North Canyon Road is a picturesque trail that is lined on both sides with brilliant yellow and orange aspen trees. You don't have to walk very far, the fall colors hit you right at the start of the trail.

Tahoe seems to be aware that this is a special place during the fall as they charge a $10 entrance fee into Spooner Lake; which is well worth it when the leaves are peaking. Spooner Lake is located off Highway 28 on Tahoe’s east shore.

➳ Tip: Fall color peaks early to mid-October

There you have it! My list of some of the best photo locations in Lake Tahoe. I hope this guide was helpful. What are some of your favorite places in Lake Tahoe? Leave a comment!

Check out the video version of the Best Photo Spots in Lake Tahoe here:

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Living in Lake Tahoe: Pros and Cons

For more photos of Lake Tahoe check out the gallery.

Please enjoy Lake Tahoe responsibly.

Always practice the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace.

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Gabriella Viola is a photographer and outdoor enthusiast currently living in Lake Tahoe, California. 

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