You Will Fall For This Castle
Overview: Described as one of the Most Beautiful Drives in America, just getting to this trailhead is awe inspiring. Arriving at the Harvey West Unit of the Emerald Bay State Park, the first accomplishment will be scoring a parking space. They are hard to come by from Memorial Day to Labor Day. To the west lies the Desolation Wilderness. To the east lies Lake Tahoe and more specifically Emerald Bay. Standing on the granite precipice at the trailhead offers a panoramic view of this fairy tale cove with an island in the middle of the bay. Somewhere among the ancient gigantic Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pine below lies a castle.
History: Built for Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight in 1928-1929 Vikingsholm Castle was constructed with historically accurate Scandinavian scheme barring no expense. Over two hundred workers were fed and housed on site to complete this marvel of hand carved excellence. The mansion sports 38 rooms and a partial sod roof. This was a summer home and the 29 acres it sits on was acquired by Mrs Knight for $250,000 in 1928. The purchased land also included Fannette Island in the middle of Emerald Bay and Eagle Falls, the only waterfall flowing directly into Lake Tahoe. Mrs Knight only enjoyed her summer home for fifteen years and she died in 1945. The castle changed hands two more times, the last owner being Harvey West who in the public interest thought it should be a public park. He worked out an arrangement with the California State Parks to take over and maintain the property in 1953. Hike: The hike is straight forward proceeding down a gravel path hugging the granite cliffs. The trail takes a large sweeping switchback as it descends over three hundred feet to the shoreline. The hike out may have some exposure to full afternoon sun but once at the bottom there is canopy of shade offered by the thick pines. Signage will direct you to the castle and outbuildings. Tours are offered Memorial Day thru Labor Day for a separate charge. In search of Lower Eagle Falls continue along the trail to another marked intersection. Take the marked forest trail as you now ascend two hundred feet for the quarter mile leading to Lower Eagle Falls. Spring snow melt from the desolation wilderness makes for an especially spectacular cascading waterfall. Lower Eagle Falls at 140 feet is much more dramatic than its cousin Eagle Falls above which is a mere 58 feet. After enjoying the refreshing spray that accompanies the falls return the way you came, following Eagle Creek to the lakefront, with its sandy beach and pick-nick tables. There are also restrooms here. A pier here is often full of sailing vessels. Out in Emerald Bay you can clearly see Fannette Island complete with the remains of a tea room that was built for Mrs Knight. Access to the island is allowed but you are going to need a boat. Signs warn against any attempt to swim the frigid water of Lake Tahoe to the island. Taking a dip in Lake Tahoe is allowed but comfortable only near shore and generally for only July and August. Return the way you came.
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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