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The Best Photography Locations At Lake Tahoe

North America

In partnership with Visit Reno Tahoe

Photos in collaboration with Quin Schrock


Best photography locations at Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe has always held a special place in my life. If you’ve read my blog posts about 72 Perfect Hours At Lake Tahoe, or all the awesome adventure travel destinations around Reno, then you know I have a long history in in the area. I grew up spending summers with my grandparents in Reno, and part of that involved short stints to cool off in the azure waters of Lake Tahoe.

After my grandparents passed away, Reno and Lake Tahoe slowly faded out of my life – but the fond memories never did. When I went back for the first time in over a decade last year, all those memories came flooding back. It’s a place I will always associate with friends, family, and lots and lots of fun. I knew that this time around I wanted to photograph Lake Tahoe in a way that would capture the essence of those wild and carefree childhood days. Because Lake Tahoe was, and still is the ultimate outdoor playground – no matter what your age!

Below you will find my favorite spots around Lake Tahoe for taking photos. Or not! Trust me, you don’t need a camera to have a blast at any of these Lake Tahoe destinations.


Underwater views at Lake Tahoe.

Underwater views at Lake Tahoe.

Getting To Lake Tahoe & Where To Stay

With an international airport servicing Reno with non-stop flights from all over the United States, it couldn’t be easier to get to and from your next Lake Tahoe adventure. But before you head up to the lake, it’s worth exploring the city itself. Reno is a fun city to start your trip, or even use as a base. If you do plan on staying in the city, Renaissance Reno or Whitney Peak Hotel are great options. They are both non-gaming and have done a great job of incorporating the Reno Tahoe vibe into their hotels with décor and local vendors.

For places to stay at Lake Tahoe, Hyatt Regency is hands down my favorite hotel. It’s on the water, which is actually surprisingly rare at Lake Tahoe. Moreover, the hotel is in my favorite area of the lake – Incline. Even if you don’t end up staying at the Hyatt Regency, it’s worth eating dinner or grabbing a drink at the Lone Eagle Grille (the waterfront restaurant there). The food is supper yummy, and the views are pretty much second to none. I’d even argue that it’s a worthy photography destination in and of itself. For a more budget friendly option of where to stay at Lake Tahoe, look into Tahoe Biltmore.

For more information about accommodation options in the area Visit Reno Tahoe is a great resource. The first twelve properties are the most popular, in no particular order (they are not ranked)!

Best Photography Locations At Lake Tahoe

There are so many wonderful things to do at Lake Tahoe. But taking photos at the lake has to be one of my favorite! From all the activities on the lake, to the lake itself, and the surrounding mountains, there’s no shortage of subjects. The only question is, how much time do you have!

Lake Tahoe Photography Location 1: Sand Harbor


Paddleboarding around the rocks near Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe.

Paddleboarding around the rocks near Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe.

Sand Harbor is home to sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water, and awesome rock formations. Because there is official parking (surprisingly rare), and easy access to the water, it’s also the launching point for a lot of my favorite days at the lake. During the summer you can rent kayaks, sailing kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards from Sand Harbor Rentals. Guided tours are also available. During the summer parking at Sand Harbor fills up fast. Get there before 10am to ensure you get a spot. For photographs, we usually arrive as soon as the park opens at 8am. The water is generally calmer in the morning, and there are far less people.

Lake Tahoe Photography Location 2: Bonsai Rock


Taking the leap off Bonsai Rock at Lake Tahoe.

Taking the leap off Bonsai Rock at Lake Tahoe.


Bonsai Rock at Lake Tahoe.

Bonsai Rock is a great place to take photos photos or just hang out and swim.

Off the rocky coast just a couple miles south of Flume Trail Mountain Bikes, is a large boulder with four small trees growing out of a crevice at the top. This is Bonsai Rock. Parking is along the side of the road, and it’s a short but steep walk down to the water from there. Its minimalist beauty makes it a popular spot for sun worshipers and nature photographers alike.

Lake Tahoe Photography Location 3: Secret Cove 


Secret Cove at Lake Tahoe.

Secret Cove at Lake Tahoe is a great place to take photos. But be respectful of others at the beach – especially those who have chosen to sun baith without clothing.


Secret Cove at Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe’s coastline is sprinkled with beautiful coves and beaches, but Secret Cove with its picturesque boulder-laden beach, and pristine water is in a league of its own. While not the secret locals-only beach it used to be, Secret Cove still manages to remain relatively uncrowded compared to some of the nearby beaches. Outside of the summer season, you might even have it all to yourself.

The 2.6-mile mile hike to Secret Cove begins at the Chimney Beach Overlook parking lot. For about three-quarters of a mile you will follow a fire road that parallels the main road. Eventually you will reach the newly constructed bathrooms and a sign for Secret Cove, turn right and follow the path downhill until you reach the cove.

Note: Secret Cove is generally accepted as a nude beach, so don’t be surprised if there’s more nature on display than you bargained for! And obviously be respectful of people’s privacy if you are taking photographs.

Lake Tahoe Photography Location 4: Flume Trail


Flume Trail Mountain Biking, with views of Lake Tahoe below.

Flume Trail Mountain Biking, with views of Lake Tahoe below.

The Flume Trail is one of the world’s premier biking trails, and I’d recommend it to anyone headed to Lake Tahoe during the summer. From the top of the trail you can get a unique “double lake” view of Marlette lake with Lake Tahoe glistening below in the distance.

From there the views only get better as you cruse down hill to complete the moderate 14 mile ride. While the trail doesn’t involve shale or steep switchbacks, it does traverses across several steep sections, so you’ll want to be comfortable with bike riding and a little bit of exposure.

Take the shuttle van in the morning from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes to Spooner Lake State Park and ride the Flume Trail one way back to your car at their bike rental shop and café. The shuttle is first come first serve and leaves multiple times a day. It gets busy on summer weekends, so get there early. Individuals renting bikes from the shop (as opposed to bringing their own) get priority on the shuttle – fair is fair!

Lake Tahoe Photography Location 5: Emerald Bay


Sunrise on a calm day at Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe.

Sunrise on a calm day at Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe.

The view overlooking Emerald Bay is perhaps Lake Tahoe’s most iconic – and “one of the most photographed locations on earth.” While it’s awe-inspiring at any time, its location on the southwest corner of the lake makes it a great spot to experience sunrise. Despite its popularity we’ve only seen a couple other people there at sunrise. Most of the time, we have enjoyed the view to ourselves. There is an official lookout with a parking lot that you need to pay for, but there are also a number of pullouts leading up to the parking lot that offer equally stunning perspectives.

Lake Tahoe Photography Location 6: Eagle Lake


The Eagle Lake trail is a short hike up above Lake Tahoe.

The Eagle Lake trail is a short hike up above Lake Tahoe.


Reflections at Eagle Lake.

Reflections at Eagle Lake.

The short hike to Eagle Lake—starting at Eagle Falls trailhead—offers stunning views of iconic Emerald Bay, Eagle Falls, and Desolation Wilderness. The end result is a variety of unique perspectives on some of Lake Tahoe’s most famous views. On a calm day the mountain reflections in the lake will take your breath away. I’d recommend doing the hike early in the morning to take advantage of the best lighting.

Lake Tahoe Photography Location 7: D.L. Bliss State Park


Views from the Rubicon Trail at  D.L. Bliss State Park.

Views from the Rubicon Trail at D.L. Bliss State Park.

DL Bliss State Park is a beautiful location to camp for the weekend, relax on the beach, and of course photograph! It is also the starting point for the famous Rubicon Trail, which is one of the most popular trails in Northern California. The trail winds its way along the coast, sometimes along the shoreline of secluded coves, other times enjoying expansive cliffside views high above the lake. Go early or late to avoid crowds, and get the best conditions.

Note: During the off-season D.L. Bliss State Park closes to vehicular traffic for the season. When the park gate is closed, pedestrians may park at the Visitor’s Center near highway 89 and access the park from sunrise to sunset.  It is an approximately 1 mile hike from the Vistor’s Center to the closest Rubicon Trailhead, and a steep 2 mile hike to the beaches.

What Photography Gear To Bring To Lake Tahoe


Lake Tahoe Best Photography Spots

Camera Body

Other than the over-under, all of our photos from Lake Tahoe were taken with  the Sony Alpha a7RIII. The A7RIII’s ability to shoot continuous rapid fire without delay is great for capturing the perfect moment during an action sequence – which is common during outdoor adventure photography.  Another great option is the Sony a7III. This body is a great choice if you have your heart set on a full frame camera, but you don’t have the budget for the a7rIII, or simply don’t need 42.4 MP – which lets face it, most hobbyists don’t!

Lens

Lake Tahoe is a diverse location, and a wide angle and telephoto lens will likely come in handy. For the photographs in this blog we used the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 Lens  and the Sony FE 24-70mm Ff/2.8 GM Lens . The 16-35mm lens is a great all-around wide angle lens. It’s particularly useful if you are trying to get that quintessential little person in a big landscape photo. The  FE 24-70mm is great for everything from product shots to landscapes, and the 2.8 aperture allows for low light photographs, and a nice shallow depth of field.

Drone

Lake Tahoe is one of the few popular destinations I’ve traveled that has relatively relaxed drone regulations. That being said, there are areas where they are prohibited, so it’s important to do your research before flying. Having a drone at your disposal is a great way to find new perspectives on the lake and add diversity to your Lake Tahoe photography. We use DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro because it is relatively lightweight, and folds up into a manageable size that can easily fit into my camera bag along with the rest of my gear.


Clear Kayaks at Lake Tahoe shot with DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro drone.

Clear Kayaks at Lake Tahoe shot with DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro drone.

GoPro

An action camera is a great option for Lake Tahoe! Especially if you plan on spending time on the water, and you are interested in getting photographs in the action, or capturing POV perspectives. We used the GoPro Hero7 Black for our Lake Tahoe photographs.

Over-Under Dome

Whereas normally you can shoot only above or below the water’s surface with the same lens, the DomePro Over-Under Dome Port from GoPole enables you to shoot both over and under the water line. Half your shot will be of what’s above the water and half below. You can also purchase domes for your primary Camera Body but they are generally much more expensive.

Dry Bag Backpack

A dry bag backpack comes in handy for all sorts of adventures. There are so many times that we are wanting to shoot near, on, or in the water, and having a dry bag allows us to feel secure about our camera gear, while still keeping our hands free for activities. Our dry bag backpack came in clutch shooting canyons in the Philippines, packrafting Lake Powell, exploring fresh water springs in Florida, and so many other wet adventures!

Polarizer

A good polarizing filter is a must for photography at Lake Tahoe. The polarizer allows you to cut through the glair, and gives more detail to the rocks below the water’s surface. You can also use the polarizer to slow down the shutter speed a little, giving the water a smoother appearance.

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission on any purchase made – at no additional cost to you. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. Thanks for your support! – XO Jess

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  1. Brian G. says:

    Love your blog. I’ll be heading to Lake Tahoe in a few weeks and took note of the many locations you mentioned.

    • Awesome! Thank you Brian. I really hope you get the chance to check out a few of these places when you are at the lake. Have fun!

      • Brian G. says:

        I was curious when you rented the crystal clear kayaks, did you stick around the Kings Beach/Crystal Bay area? It looks like you took them over by Sand Harbor, which appears be quite the distance to paddle if they launch from Kings Beach.

        • You are correct! They actually brought the kayaks to the boat ramp at Sand Harbor for us, and then we took them out form there. Wild Society now runs their rentals out of their shop on the North Shore, but I’m sure there are tons of beautiful areas to explore there as well. 🙂

  2. Erin says:

    So many great spots, I would say if you got a chance to go on a boat cruise you would like that too, we’ve done some waterskiing on the lake and it’s fun to be in the middle.

    • Hi Erin! I think I would enjoy that as well! I’ve never really been more than probably 50 yards from the shore. Would be really cool to experience it from the middle!

  3. Jamie Fox says:

    Just saw this post, on my way back from the California Redwoods forest on Maui Island. So much beatuty everywhere~ wow, Those are the best shots of Tahoe (coming from someone who grew up there too!). I remember that exact sunset in Martinez. Amazing curation & look forward to reading more, very very nice.

  4. Kirtan P. says:

    Great read, Jess! Sunrise/sunset at the lake is definitely something to experience.

  5. Jim Courtney says:

    Going to a friend’s cabin for 2 weeks, thanks for all of the great tips

  6. Rachel Tran says:

    Hi Jess, we are going to Lake Tahoe in August and can’t wait to check out some of these places that you mentioned on your blog. You are an amazing writer. Keep up your great work my friend.

  7. Laura says:

    Hey Jess! Thanks for posting info on your gear! I’m always curious what gear people are working with! When you are out paddle boarding etc. Is there a particular dry camera bag you keep your gear in that can’t get wet?

    • Hi Laura. Glad you liked the gear list! When we are out on the water we keep our gear in a dry bag that has straps like a backpack. Outdoor Research makes a nice light weight one that I like called the Dry Isolation Backpack.

  8. Dom Chapman says:

    Hello,

    I am looking to purchase a polarizer. Did you use one on your GoPro?

  9. Brett says:

    Do you have a favorite photography spot at Emerald Bay for sunrise or just at the lookout spot by the parking lot? thanks!

  10. We found you on Pinterest and are so glad we stumbled upon this blog. Your content is inspiring and eye-opening to some spots we would’ve never thought of traveling to. These pictures are gorgeous!

  11. Chris says:

    Went to Secret Cove this last Thursday after seeing your picture! Absolutely gorgeous swimming area. The best part is we didn’t have to worry about sharks! (Our Key West visits we were worried about ) And we have a reservation at Eagle grille today!

    Thanks for all your info.

  12. Tanna says:

    Hello! I am traveling to North Lake Tahoe soon and paddling with my dogs in these spots are number 1 on my bucklist, theirs too, LOL. After a lot of research, I am still unsure where I can take off with the dogs (in the summer). Do you have any tips where to park and head out with the boards and dogs?
    Thank you for your inspiration!

    • Hi Tanna, there are a lot of places along the lake that you can access the water from. For your purposes, Sand Harbor would be a great option. Just make sure to get there early before the parking lot fills up!

  13. GARCIA says:

    HELLO JESS, THANKS FOR SHARING!

    ENDED UP GOING TO TAHOE ABOUT 2 WEEKS AGO, & DIDN’T THINK TO ASK BEFORE, BUT WHERE IN THE HECK IS THAT ROPE SWING MISS?

    • It’s down on the water off the Rubicon Trail. That photo is about 3 years old at this point though, so it’s entirely possible that it doesn’t exist anymore. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m at Tahoe and update the blog. 🙂

  14. Renee Lim says:

    Love this post! Thanks for the ideas. However, any recommendations for spots in the winter? We are doing a snowboarding trip at the end of February and would like to spend on our non-ski days exploring (and for me- photographing hehe).

    • Hi Renee! Almost all of these locations would be the same in the winter – just with a lot of snow! I don’t have any winter-specific photography spots. The lake never freezes over, so it’s always a beautiful subject for photography. There are some nice views from some of the ski resorts though. Have a wonderful trip and a happy New Year!

  15. Summer Roland says:

    Hi Jess, what would be the best time to shoot an outdoor wedding ceremony in late June, Emerald Bay? Thanks in advance!

    • Hey there! Late June is the summer solstice, so the days are at their very longest. The sun will rise in South Lake Tahoe around 5:30 am and set around 8:30 pm. Generally speaking, the best time for photography is the hour after sunrise and before sunset – but both those times are not ideal for a wedding given how early and late that would be in June. The good news is that we actually love to shoot Lake Tahoe when the sun is a little higher because it takes a bit of time for the sun to get over the mountains, and that is when the water is the brightest/bluest. Best of luck! It will be beautiful I’m sure. 🙂

  16. Rafaela says:

    Hi Jess, what time of the year did you go to lake Tahoe in this post?

    I’m planning my first visit and I would love to see the water so clear and blue like it is on the photos of this post.

    Thank you ! 🙂

  17. Jim Miller says:

    Great photos but the girl is way to sexy and distracting, had a hard time looking at the scenery! I’m teasing. I was wondering if there are any camera shops in South Lake Tahoe or Carson city that rent lenses. I know I can rent online but I generally only need one for a day and I try to rent local and support small businesses.

    • Lol I was seriously triggered there for a second. 😉 I’d say your best bet is probably Reno, but I don’t know of any shops off the top of my head. Sorry! A quick Google search might do the trick though.

  18. Raquel Cabrera says:

    Omg thanks for the post!! I now want to book a vacay there. Quick questions: is the water cold during summer?
    Does it snow out there?
    Kid friendly?
    Thanks for your time!

    • Jessica Dales says:

      Hi Raquel! So glad you enjoyed the post. The water is cold all year round, although it’s slightly warmer toward the end of summer. Tahoe is actually a big ski destination in the winter, so yes, it snows! And I’d say it’s a very casual and kid-friendly destiantion. I grew up going there every summer and loved it.

  19. Raquel Cabrera says:

    How is the water in the summer? Kid friendly?

    • Jessica Dales says:

      I guess I’d say that depends on your kid! I definitely spent a lot of time swimming in it when I was little. But it’s not warm. lol

  20. Ashley says:

    Love your Tahoe content! I was wondering if you use any editing or filters on the photos before uploading to your posts? I don’t have professional camera equipment (just my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra phone) but I keep seeing different types of "preset packs" advertised around and was wondering if you use any presets or anything like that on your photos? I’m heading to Tahoe for the first time this August and I’m super excited! 🙂 Thanks!

    • Jessica Dales says:

      Hi Ashley! So glad you like the photos. I edit most of my photos using Adobe lightroom. Both the desktop and mobile versions. I don’t use presets right now. But Tahoe is so pretty it really doesn’t need editing! Have a great trip.

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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