Backpacker Magazine Lake Tahoe, CA: Rubicon Trail to Rubicon Point 

This 10.6-mile out-and-back links thick lodgepole pines, stunning overlooks, and jade-colored waters reflecting the high Sierra.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 6 Jun 2008 9:06:42 PM
Activity: Hiking
State: California (CA)
Distance: 10.6 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 3186 ft
Total Loss: 3188 ft
Net Change: -2 ft
Difficulty: 6 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Emerald Bay
Tags: California, Lake Tahoe, Tahoma
Rating:   1 rating(s) Rate it

Begin with a gradual descent to Emerald Bay and historic Vikingsholm Mansion. Just before the lake, veer northeast on the Rubicon Trail, and wander through thick coniferous forests, sprinkled with house-size granite boulders. Peak-a-boo views of South Lake Tahoe provide stunning photo opportunities while spring-fed creeks cascade violently to the lake below. Grab a snack at Rubicon Point, one of the best views of Lake Tahoe, before making a U-turn and returning on the Lighthouse and Rubicon Trail. Note: If hiking off-season, use this variation.

-Mapped by Kari Bodnarchuk

TO TRAILHEAD: From South Lake Tahoe, take CA 89 towards Emerald Point. Park in Vikingsholm pull-off on right.

Position Format: Datum:

Rubicon Trail

Distance: 10.60 mi Points: 969
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 38.954285, -120.110466
From the north end of Vikingsholm pull-off, hike northeast down the Vikingsholm Trail. Descend a wide, dirt path as it zigzags through a tall coniferous forest filled with lodgepole, ponderosa and jeffery pine. Occasional views of Emerald Bay emerge through the trees to the east.


Location: 38.954632, -120.107048
Turn right at 3-way junction and follow the dirt path to Vikingsholm mansion.


Location: 38.952118, -120.106720
Vikingsholm Mansion: Built during the summer of 1929, this rustic, Scandinavian-style mansion, with its sod and shingled roof sits prominently at the edge of Emerald Bay and overlooks the clear, jade-colored water. Spend some time checking out the expert craftsmanship and then continue hiking along the path towards Rubicon Point. The path, a strip of sandy singletrack, follows the shoreline and crosses over bubbling spring-fed brooks while flanked with shiny, rust-covered manzainta bushes.


Location: 38.958767, -120.098534
Pass through Boat Campground (accessible only by boat) and continue to parallel the bay. Views of Fannett Island and the famous Tea House sitting on top are visible from the shoreline. Cut through an open forest where azalea bushes flank the trail and continue as the trail turns away from the water and back into coniferous forests.


Location: 38.968399, -120.089867
Walk through jagged split rock -- broken glacial erratic -- to a small beach tucked away in a cove. The trail follows shoreline before climbing about 30 feet above water, offering sweeping lake views on right with a steep hillside on left.


Location: 38.970917, -120.092468
After climbing 150 feet above the water, stop for a breather at Emerald Point -- a rocky point where granite boulders are covered in patches of pink and green lichen -- which offers fabulous views of the lake and mountains to the north and east.


Location: 38.971134, -120.093819
After climbing, cross a stream that steeply drops-off to the right. The trail follows a narrow ledge, with open forest dotted with bushes and large rock slabs. Continue on dirt path covered in pine needles occasionally taking the time to look back for views of headlands and coves to the south. On a clear day, it is also possible to see the slopes at Heavenly Resort on the right. Thick brush overhangs into the trail as you ascend up several switchbacks away from the lake.


Location: 38.978668, -120.095398
Pass a fenced-off viewing area next to large rock and steep drop-off. Soak in views of the lake and pass beautiful tall lodgepole pines standing alone in a bushy field.


Location: 38.985550, -120.097847
Pass through a large clear-cut area and emerge back into forest spotted with boulders. Peek-a-boo views of lake through pine trees emerge and the trail levels out.


Location: 38.988499, -120.097786
Continue straight at 3-way junction. The trail immediately opens up, providing spectacular views down into small coves nestled among the shoreline, where rock pinnacles beckon climbers to challenge their virgin routes. As you hike, the trail becomes sandy, and narrow with sharp drop-offs to the right.


Location: 38.997299, -120.095520
Just after views of the lighthouse emerge to your left, the trail narrows considerably, dropping off to the right. Continue traversing the cliff, passing a small cave formed by precariously leaning boulders and then under an archway of boulders. The trail begins to descend to Rubicon Point and stunning views of South Lake Tahoe.


Location: 38.998699, -120.097282
Rubicon Point: One of the best views of South Lake Tahoe, take a moment and soak in sweeping views of the Sierra Nevada and crystal-clear, jade-colored water. Restrooms and water are available near the parking lot, and several large flat granite boulders provide a perfect place to sit. To continue, bear left at 3-way junction onto Lighthouse trail, and begin a series of switchbacks through thick forested pine leaving the views behind. Optional: Bring your swimsuit and head down the Calawee Trail to Calawee Cove, where a sandy, quiet beach is the perfect place for a refreshing dip in Lake Tahoe's frigid waters.


Location: 38.996101, -120.095398
Rubicon Point Lighthouse: Turn L at 3-way junction and walk down 40 steps cut into the granite ledge leading to the wooden lighthouse, once the highest elevation lighthouse in the world. After checking out the digs, return to the trail and turn right. Turn right again at T-junction and continue ascending several switchbacks. The path, a dirt-packed, pine needle covered walkway, cuts through open areas interspersed with lodgepole pines. The trail steadily ascends back up to D.L. Bliss State Park.


Location: 38.989433, -120.098785
Turn left at 3-way junction and then turn left again back onto the Rubicon Trail. Retrace your steps back to Waypoint 2 and turn right on the Vikingsholm trail, heading back up to your car.

South Lake Tahoe

Location: 38.998882, -120.097664

Vikingsholm Mansion

Location: 38.952065, -120.106979


Location: 38.959793, -120.097031

Rubicon Trail

Location: 38.989887, -120.098740

Rubicon Trail

Location: 38.968220, -120.089432


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