If there is ever a place one can call an all-season photographer’s paradise, it would Lake Tahoe. Winter, spring, summer, or fall the seasons produce amazing photographic opportunities for every photographer at any level. Whether you’re scrambling up boulders on the Northern Shore or high up on some vista overlook; you’re always within a shutter click away from a postcard-perfect frame.
Before you head out and go shooting around Lake Tahoe, check out my reviews of Photography Gear (bookmark for later): The Best Travel Cameras | The Best DSLR Cameras | The Best Mirrorless Cameras | The Best Sony Lenses | The Best Tripods Under $100 | The Best Canon Lenses
I have been fortunate enough to have visited Lake Tahoe through different seasons in over a decade. I’ve spent an entire winter season in the North-Eastern Tahoe City, skiing its surrounding slopes and then scrambling my way towards various locations to catch a sunset during Apres hour. I’ve scouted and photographed a lot of places in Lake Tahoe discovering hidden little gems that today is teeming with photographers that you have to compete with.
Best Photo Locations in Lake Tahoe
I have discovered many Lake Tahoe photo locations from random explorations and from research. Some famed spots like the Bonsai Rock are relatively difficult to find if you didn’t have any help from GPS coordinates. I found the Bonsai Rock from somebody posting it coordinates on Google Maps – now the location is reasonably famous amongst photographers, and you’ll see a swarm on weekends that it’s tough to miss.
I also use an app called Trover to collect a list of photographs and locations that I will talk about later. It’s a very useful app for discovering new locations as well as making a list of places that you eventually want to visit. There’s a budding community there of travelers who post photos that will give you a serious case of wanderlust.
At the end of this post is a compilation list of all the exact spots that I’ve mentioned here via a Trover embed. There are a thousand spots you can take great photos of Lake Tahoe – it is the largest Alpine Lake in North America, and as such, you’re never far away from a sunset reflection or an Alpenglow over its surrounding peaks. This list not meant to be a complete list of all photo locations but rather a guide of tried and true places that generate the best photos of Lake Tahoe.
Best Time to Photograph Lake Tahoe?
For me, winter is the definitive answer. The photo locations are less crowded, and I often find myself alone in solitude to ponder in the white landscape and enjoy the silence along the lake’s shore. That’s not to say, other seasons are bland. On the contrary, summer is also a great time to enjoy the lake and great for scouting other locations with long days at your disposal.
Spring brings about the lupine bloom that blanket the shores in some sections of the lake. Climate change has brought about some changes in Lake Tahoe’s shores, and these fields of lupine have popped in locations where beaches grew mainly due to lower lake levels. Fall is also a great time to shoot in Lake Tahoe when aspen trees create an interesting contrast to the Lake’s blue waters.
Sunset, sunrises, midday, or midnight, Lake Tahoe, can be a photographer’s paradise! Ideally, you want to bring your whole arsenal and the kitchen sink. Superwide through telephoto you will find a place to utilize every focal point. Since you’re mostly shooting skies and water, you would want to bring along your favorite polarizer; it’s great for slowing the water’s motion as well as exposing the rocky bottom of the lake.
You can bring a graduated neutral density filter with you, but if you know how to blend exposures via layers in Photoshop, then that’s the better option. That you need to stabilize when shooting during the golden hour. A good tripod is a must in these situations to hold your camera in place.
The Nevada side is great for sunsets and has lots and lots of exciting foreground – like the multitude of granite boulders that litter the shores. There is room for abstract and creativity here if the weather doesn’t permit for grand and wide landscapes. Use telephotos and isolate the boulders if you can.
California vs. Nevada
Lake Tahoe straddles two states, California and Nevada. As such I’ve divided this guide to reflect the subtle differences and the best times to shoot which locations.
From experience, the California side is better at giving you the best sunrise photos since your shooting in the western shores. I’ve had many excellent sunset photos of Lake Tahoe on the eastern Nevada side.
That’s not to say you can’t get great sunset photos in California or vice versa, like photography compositions, some rules are meant to be broken. If you have the time, experiment and you might just land an excellent frame where you least expect it.
So, without further ado. Let get to the best photography locations in Lake Tahoe!
California (Western Side)
Eagle Falls is tucked away in some man-made stares across the Eagle Falls Trailhead parking lot.
An ideal sunrise location, set up camp long before dawn so you can get your spot set up because you’re likely going to be competing with other early bird photographers.
Late spring is one of the best times to shoot this place due to the more significant flow of water and the position of the sun directly on the falls during this time.
During the summer the falls would have dried up and you’ll only get a trickle of water that may or may not be that interesting in composition.
Emerald Bay Overlook (Just before Eagle Falls)
If you search for images on Google, you’ll most likely see a bunch of pictures of an island in an aquamarine bay.
The island is called Fannette Island, and the bay is Emerald Bay.
The Fannette Island has a European style stone castle that’s called the Tea House; It was built by the owner of Vikingsholm. What’s cool about this view, is that you can frame all of them on a classic postcard-perfect view.
This viewpoint is found right on a pull out stop off Highway 89.
If you can’t park your car on this shoulder, very likely since it’s a popular place, park across the street in the Eagle Falls Parking lot and walk across. This view is very close to the falls, and you can probably catch both once you capture a few frames of one.
Emerald Bay State Park
This is likely where you will end up parking during the busy season in Emerald Bay. You can get some good photos here once you have exhausted your options at Eagle Falls and the Emerald Bay Overlook. There’s a trail here that meanders all the way down to Vikingsholm, and from there you can catch an eye’s level view of Fannette Island. Because of its location, it’s ideally shot during sunrise or dawn. It’s also ideally located near South Lake Tahoe where you can find various accommodations for your trip.
Rubicon Bay is home to a popular marina and hosts a few beaches on the East Shore. This part is never short on man-made structures has boat houses and wood boat docks and moorage. If you explore this place at dawn, be prepared for some the craziest sunrises you’ll ever see!
If you’re an early bird, this spot along with Eagle Falls will give the best bang for your buck in getting that postcard-perfect photo. Beware, not all docks are public so make sure you read the warning signs before you walk long one.
Just like Mount Tallac, Maggies Peak is quite a hike. It’s a relatively moderate trail, not quite as difficult as Tallac but will break out a sweat or two. You can see Lake Tahoe with Cascade Lake juxtaposed above the tree line and beyond.
Lake Forrest Beach
During late spring, a walk through Lake Forest Beach gives you opportunities to photograph a field of lupine. These purple colored wildflowers provide an excellent foreground to Lake Tahoe’s expansive background. These plants grow up to three feet tall with its bright purple flowers popping up against a golden hour backdrop is a thing to behold. However, if you’re not there in the spring, the beach also offers opportunities, like the one pictured above, for sunset landscapes.
South Lake Tahoe
This area is by far the most densely populated part of Lake Tahoe. It’s sharing a border with Nevada, and several casino hotels make its mark along with the massive gondola of Heavenly Ski Resort.
However, there are patches of forest lands and parks where you can easily escape and discover some unique photo opportunities.
The drive along Emerald Bay Blvd will undoubtedly turn up a few photography spots. There are also several groves of aspens in the area, making also ideal for fall photography.
There’s a turnout towards the Mount Tallac Trail and the road leading to the trailhead is surrounded by forests. This spot has various wildflowers blooming during spring.
Lake Tahoe’s western shore is punctuated by boats, boat launches, and a multitude of man-made objects.
That is in contrast to the more natural boulder lined shore of the Eastern Nevada side.
If you want man-made subjects to provide contrasts in your composition this side is your best bet.
The only issue with this part of Lake Tahoe is the many privately owned shoreline. It can be difficult to find places to access the lake.
Still, it’s worth it if you can find a spot where you can roam freely. Just be sure to wake up early because this side has epic sunrises.
Mount Tallac is the tallest mountain of the west shore of Lake Tahoe. It’s a moderate trail with up to 10 miles round trip and up to 3500ft in elevation gain depending on which route to take. It offers some of the best vistas of the Lake. It’s an oft-trodden trail that offers fantastic views of Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe itself.
There’s a backcountry campsite just below the peak and it’s a great place to get familiar with multi-day hiking.
Tahoe City Marina Lake Front
This place isn’t beautiful in the summer but come winter when the water freeze solid and snow blankets the shores, this place can match any other place in Lake Tahoe regarding beauty.
Nevada (Eastern Side)
Mount Rose Scenic Overlook
This overlook can be reached via highway 431 off Incline Village on the Nevada side. The road leads to Mount Rose Ski Resort, and you can see this overlook off the bottom of the road with a vast view of the lake. This is one of the best vistas in Lake Tahoe that is very easy to get to. No hiking required.
Hidden only by name. Hidden Beach is one of the best spots to take sunset photos of the North Shore. It’s just a few yards from Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park information center. It’s not easy to get to, but if you park at the information center. Take the trail south and scramble over a few boulders to get to this location.
Sand Harbor is just teaming with boaters and beachgoers in the summer. If you don’t like people in your shots, you should avoid this place. However, in the winter it’s often devoid of visitors and presents various photographic opportunities. It has a sandy beach and several man-made structures if you would like man-made elements in your picture.
Creek Beach is found just south of Secret Cove. It is part of the trail that connects Chimney Beach and Secret Cove.
So really, you will have your hands full and perhaps all day exploring this area.
Hike up and down the trail to and from Chimney Beach. There is unlimited compositions you can come up with depending on the time of day, the weather, and the season.
There is a lot of exposed granite slabs that make the area great for superwide angle shots. If there’s a storm or overcast, come here anyway.
You can get some really dramatic and surreal shots like this photo on the left.
Arguably the most photographed boulder in all of Lake Tahoe. Its moniker comes from the little trees that have sprung up from the pine cones trapped in the boulder’s cracks.
It used to be difficult to find, but now it’s often crowded with people.
Your best bet here is to shoot it during winter or weekdays, there are fewer photographers during those times.
Getting to this location, you can quickly figure out why it’s famous. It’s the Bonsai Rock is, to be cliche about it, a very photogenic rock.
It just so happens to frame perfectly an ideal sunset. You really can’t go wrong here, and lots of other photographers have the same idea too.
But if it’s your first time in Lake Tahoe, you have to check this place out!
Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park
This place is the defacto information center of the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park which also encompasses Secret Cove, Chimney Beach, Sand Harbor, and the Bonsai Rock.
A small parking lot with restrooms make this an ideal stop for families driving through the park. It also has a few spots where you can get unique photos.
So while everyone is out crowding the Bonsai Rock, come to this place instead – you might just like it.
Carnelian Bay is teeming with activities in the summer. If you’re lucky enough to find beach access, it’s one of the least photographed places in Lake Tahoe.
Secret Cove infamous for being a nudist beach, so don’t be surprised if you come across beachgoers sans swimming trunks.
This cove offers some great photo opportunities just a little before the golden hour. The waters are clear and blue in most cases, and it truly showcases the coined term “Keep Tahoe Blue.”
Here you’ll find kayakers and stand up paddlers enjoying their sport during the summer and often make great subjects to juxtapose on Lake Tahoe’s spectacular landscape.
Just be mindful of the bathers in the nude.
Chimney Beach got its name after the left-over chimney from a house built during the Gold Rush. This beach is located next to Secret Cove and has some of the best areas to get creative compositions of Lake Tahoe.
During years of drought, you’ll see boulders exposed along the shores, and you can use them as foreground interests in your photos. If you see high clouds on the skies above. Make your way here quick and wait for the fantastic Alpenglow that surely to happen.
East Shore Boulders
The East Shore has the most concentration of rocks and boulders along Lake Tahoe’s shore. It creates a distinctive scene and one of the best places to photograph a sunset with rocks or boulders in the foreground.
The flume trail is both foot traffic and mountain bike trail. It has incredible views of Lake Tahoe once you get a little above the tree line. I’ve done this trail with a mountain bike a couple of times, and it’s quite a challenge (I’m not a biker). If mountain bikes aren’t your thing, just hike it up. It’s not a bad trail for hiking and offers unique views of the lake.
This is the first bay you’ll come across if you’re driving from the California side towards Nevada in the north.
The bay is enclosed in mostly privately owned beaches so there’s no easy way to get down.
There are a few road stops and if you have a telephoto lens, you should be able to catch some very interesting compositions of sailboats, catamarans, kayakers and so on.
There you go. What’s listed here is by no means an ultimate list. There are many places not listed here that are also great spots to photograph in Lake Tahoe.
I hope you’ve found some clues and perhaps even some inspiration to explore this natural wonder. And I hope, you also do your part to Keep Tahoe Blue!
Lake Tahoe Hotels and Places to Stay
From South Lake Tahoe:
From Tahoe City:
From Tahoe Vista:
Below is the Trover List for all the beautiful spots to photograph in Lake Tahoe.