Star Struck: Best Places for Stargazing in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is full of scenic spots for stargazing.
Lake Tahoe is full of scenic spots for stargazing. Bob Duffy
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Every year, the annual Perseid meteor shower blazes above the Lake Tahoe night sky, dazzling ardent astronomers and casual observers alike. Fleeting though it may be, this phenomena always seems to spark a renewed interest in Lake Tahoe’s stargazing scene. When the sun dips below the Pacific Crest and the last light from dusk fades in the evening, the stars in Tahoe put on a free show unlike any other in the region.

With between 250 and 300 days of sunshine annually, Tahoe’s cloud-free night skies offer a crystal clear lens to astronomical wonders. Here, a quick guide to a few of the best places for stargazing in Lake Tahoe.

Emerald Bay

This iconic Tahoe destination sees few visitors at night, resulting in star-lit solitude perched above the glass-like waters of Emerald Bay that can sometimes reflect back the stars of the night sky. Though often impacted by light pollution from the nearby highway and south shore of Tahoe, this spot nevertheless offers solid stargazing and sunrise-watching opportunities.

Bring a toasty beverage and some blankets while you watch the Big Dipper fade into the new day’s stunning sunrise for an unforgettable Tahoe experience. To get there from South Lake Tahoe, drive north on Highway 89 toward Tahoe City for approximately nine miles. Park in one of the paved turnouts near the signs for Eagle Falls, then walk the distinct path toward rock outcroppings with big views of Emerald Bay.

Hope Valley

Aaron Hussmann
Aaron Hussmann

This desolate stretch of Highways 88 and 89 south of Lake Tahoe offers wide open skies with no ambient light pollution for miles in any direction and towering peaks on the horizon. The Hope Valley area offers dozens of road pullouts and forest service access roads to escape from the main highway and the headlights.

From the intersection of Highway 88 and 89, take a right toward Kirkwood and pull into the first turnout on the right, which also has a parking lot and pit toilets. From here, distinct trails lead to the Carson River, a chilly but serene place to watch the night skies. Be sure to bring extra blankets and a warm beverage to ward off the nighttime chill of Hope Valley.

Camp Richardson

Henner Zeller

For those looking for a peaceful stargazing experience with the sounds of Lake Tahoe’s water gently lapping the shoreline, look no further than the easy access of Camp Richardson resort. Located just three miles north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89, Camp Richardson’s beach behind the Beacon Bar and Grill offers wide sandy beaches. If it’s not too cold, kick off your shoes and dig your toes in the sand while watching the Milky Way twinkle to life above.

Spooner Lake

For those looking to gain a bit of elevation to escape the occasional ambient light pollution that even small towns like Tahoe can emit, Spooner Lake offers a 7,060-feet mountain retreat. Ambitious stargazers might pack extra supplies and a headlamp and take the Marlette Lake Trail for a secluded backcountry night (pro tip: there are also several overnight campgrounds on the way to Marlette Lake).

For stargazers who prefer a drive-up experience, the gates to Spooner Lake remain open, although no full-time overnight parking is allowed. Follow the well-marked path to the many benches that dot the shoreline of this shallow lake and enjoy the night show. From South Lake Tahoe, drive 17 miles on Highway 50, then take a left on Highway 28, and a final right into Spooner Lake.

Be Prepared

The best way to ensure a night of perfect stargazing is to make sure you’re well prepared for it. A sleeping pad to lay back on will add a comfy layer of insulation between you and the ground; cozy up with a sleeping bag or several blankets, too. And a pair of binoculars is strongly recommended—it’s a great way to enhance the stargazing experience without the big investment of a telescope. Finally, add some creature comforts with a portable camp stove and hot chocolate (be sure to obtain a free campfire permit from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit for your stove).

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