The Best Photography Locations At Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe has always held a special place in my life. If you’ve read my articles 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 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 photographs. Or not! Trust me, you don’t need a camera to have a blast at any of these Lake Tahoe destinations.
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 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, 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 Tahoe, Hyatt Regency is hands down my favorite hotel. It’s on the water, which is actually surprisingly rare at Lake Tahoe. Moreover, it’s in my favorite area of the lake - Incline. Even if you don’t end up staying at the Hyatt it’s worth eating dinner or grabbing a drink at the Lone Eagle Grille (the waterfront restaurant at the Hyatt Regency). The views from the Lone Eagle Grille are photo worthy in and of themselves. It’s supper yummy, and the views are pretty much second to none. For a more budget friendly option 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
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.
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’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 peoples privacy if you are taking photographs.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Photography Gear For Lake Tahoe
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!
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 F/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.
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.
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.
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.
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