Finding gold (sands) at the end of the trail. A day hike to Lake Tahoe’s Chimney Beach.
A funny thing happens when you put Sand Harbor in your rear view mirror and drive south on Nevada State Route 28: the lake goes a lot quieter. Not that Tahoe’s ripples suddenly disappear, but traffic seems to thin and a string of white beaches — Secret Cove, Chimney Beach and Boaters Beach — lays hidden from the hoards. This is where you pack up the picnic, lace up the boots, strap on the daypacks and point yourself downhill — toward beaches that are among Lake Tahoe’s most private and precious.
Welcome to the path least taken.
From Martis Camp, it’s a scenic 30-minute drive to reach one of two parking lots where you can access Chimney Beach. The trailhead and parking is about 2.6 miles south of Sand Harbor. Part of what makes this area secluded is the limited amount of parking to be had. With that in mind, plan on getting there early to grab a spot. The hike begins on the lake side of the highway (just beyond the restrooms) and is a casual 20 minutes down. Double that time for your return. In all, you’ll rack up 2.2 miles of trail.
Under a canopy of tall pines, you’ll catch glimpses of Tahoe’s famed waters and a rock-studded shoreline that was privately owned in the heydays of mining and timber. As you approach the lake, you’ll peer down on a strip of white that’s pleasantly bookended by boulders. This is where camera fingers get itchy and dogs (leashed, of course) get antsy as “fetch fever” kicks in. Another few minutes and everyone’s happily planted on a beach that’s the stuff of dreams. A little advance notice, however: though you’ll almost always find people dressed in their swim togs, Secret Cove south of Chimney Beach is designated as a “clothing optional” destination.
As you might imagine, summertime is prime time for visiting Chimney Beach. The combination of warm, sunny days, blended with the lure of a dip in Tahoe’s clear, cool waters is too alluring to resist. But if it happens to be November or December and the snows are either thin or have yet to arrive, consider packing up the family and making the journey to Chimney Beach. The chimney for which the beach is named is a great photo op for the family holiday card, especially when you adorn the hearth with some pinecones and boughs and maybe a few festive ornaments. In addition, you’ll likely have the place to yourself.
After a mild uphill slog to the car, it’s back to The Camp as you pass some of the other beaches that lie hidden by the lake. Another day, another beach. For now, it’s visions of ice cream sundaes at the Family Barn and the distinct possibility of a post-beach massage at The Camp Lodge.
Story by Scott Mortimore
All photos courtesy of and copyright by Paul Hamill Photography
Follow Paul on Instagram – @paulhamillphotos