In this guide we are going to show you 10 stunning sunrise and sunset photography spots around Lake Tahoe. By the end you will know exactly where to go for the best Lake Tahoe sunrises and sunsets each day during your visit to the spectacular freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Is it worth waking up early for sunrise and staying out late for sunset in Lake Tahoe?!
Absolutely! Lake Tahoe is exceptionally photogenic by day and night, but soft light and colorful clouds reflecting in the lake around sunrise and sunset take photography to a new level. If you want to take home the best photos of Lake Tahoe, you need to set that early alarm and eat late dinners!
Here’s what we will show you:
- Lake Tahoe photography tips to get the best possible images
- 10 stunning sunrise and sunset locations around Lake Tahoe
- The perfect blend of popular spots and hidden gems
- Our own photos from each place in the list
- How to access each Lake Tahoe sunrise or sunset photo spot
Let’s create your Lake Tahoe sunrise and sunset wishlist!
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Our Lake Tahoe Photography Experience
We spent a memorable week hiking the top trails, exploring the small towns and photographing the best sunrise and sunset spots around Lake Tahoe in November of 2021. Lake Tahoe was one of the places we were most excited to visit on our road trip from Seattle to Sedona and it did not disappoint.
Hiking and photography are our two favorite things to do when we travel, so Lake Tahoe was always going to be a hit for us!
We tried to be at the most popular photo spots for either sunrise or sunset, but it wasn’t always possible because there are so many excellent location and Lake Tahoe is bigger than you might expect.
Bonsai Rock and Emerald Bay were the two Lake Tahoe photo spots we knew about before visiting. However, we always try to get off the beaten path and find the lesser known spots and we have some really great hidden gems for you to photograph when you visit the Lake Tahoe area.
Want more photo amazing locations? Read our popular guide to the best Sedona sunrise and sunset photo spots next!
Top Tips For Lake Tahoe Photography
So what did we learn about Lake Tahoe sunrise and sunset photography and what are our best bits of advice for your visit?
Let’s take a quick look at the most important things you need to know.
Lake Tahoe is wildly popular in the summer months and as a result it can be a challenge getting parked almost everywhere around the lake.
The shoulder seasons are less chaotic, so you should have a better chance getting parked up for the popular sunrise and sunset photo spots around Lake Tahoe. We never had any issues getting parked in November.
Sunrise is the perfect time of day to be out because you will beat the crowds and parking won’t be an issue. But you will need to be organized and arrive early if you want to make it in time to a specific sunset spot in peak season.
The worst one is Cave Rock for sunset where there are just 4 parking spaces.
You can reach a handful of the popular spots for Lake Tahoe sunrises and sunsets by car alone, but you will have to hike short trails to reach some of the lesser known or harder to access spots.
Hiking allows you to get higher up for far reaching views over Lake Tahoe and we do recommend you take on some of the smaller hikes leading to stunning viewpoints covered in this guide.
Technically speaking, the best sunrise and sunset locations around Lake Tahoe are from the highest elevations, but they require far more effort and the average visitor won’t be climbing to mountain summits.
Next time we visit Lake Tahoe, we do plan to hike to higher elevations in warmer months so we can find new off the beaten path photo spots.
Lake Tahoe sits at 6,224 ft elevation and some of the best viewpoints are at around 6,500 ft elevation. The weather can be volatile, changeable and extreme at these altitudes so it is important to keep an eye on weather reports, be prepared and pack appropriate gear.
We were fortunate not to experience any real issues with weather in Lake Tahoe in November, but at one of the popular sunset spots called Cave Rock it was so windy that our camera wouldn’t stay completely still on our tripod no matter what we tried.
Clouds are either going to be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to photography at sunrise and sunset spots in Lake Tahoe.
If the sky is completely covered in dense grey clouds you are in trouble. Those types of mornings and evenings are sunrise and sunset destroyers.
However, if there are wispy or cottonwool clouds in the sky you could be in for a magical sunrise or sunset bursting with color.
We experienced both kinds of clouds during our visit to Lake Tahoe. It is luck of the draw and you just have to roll with the punches.
You will be shooting sunrises and sunsets around Lake Tahoe in low light, so you will need a tripod at a minimum.
Consider using a graduated ND filter for exposures, a shutter release control or countdown timer for selfies and a wide angle lens to capture as much of the Lake Tahoe landscape as possible in one frame.
Along with wearing and packing layers according to the time of year you visit, we also recommend you pack a flashlight or headlamp to use along with your smartphone before sunrise and after sunset.
Finally, do not forget to clear your SD cards and bring a spare battery. You are going to need it!
Lake Tahoe Sunrise Photography
Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular places to visit in the USA and we think sunrise is the very best time of day to be out photographing soft pinks, purples and blues in the sky.
You will find very few tourists or hikers out around Lake Tahoe at sunrise. They all come out around mid morning to hit the trails and see the sights.
Once you have seen how overcrowded every hiking trail and photography spot becomes during the day, you will appreciate the isolation and tranquility of those early mornings even more.
Plus, you might have even the most popular Lake Tahoe sunrise photography locations entirely to yourself as vibrant colors reflect perfectly in the still waters ahead.
Getting An Early Start
What is the major benefit to prioritizing sunrise over sunset in Lake Tahoe?
Well, finding places to park is the biggest challenge everyone faces when visiting Lake Tahoe. But you will be able to park almost anywhere you want if you arrive before first light.
You will not have issues photographing any of the best sunrise spots in Lake Tahoe covered in this guide. Conversely, getting parked at sunset will be more challenging and you may even miss one or two locations because you can’t get a parking space.
Whether you are exclusively on a photography trip or you are combining hiking with photography in Lake Tahoe, we cannot stress enough how much easier you will make it on yourself if you set that early alarm.
Lake Tahoe Sunset Photography
Sunset is be another wonderful time of day in Lake Tahoe.
At its best you will see fiery yellow, orange and red colors explode in the clouds and bounce back off a perfectly still Lake Tahoe for mesmerizing sunset reflection photos.
But like sunset in most other tourist heavy destinations, the best spots are naturally going to be busy. So even if the weather is playing ball, you still need to get to the sunset spot in good time.
Outside of Cave Rock and Bonsai Rock, we think the best way to experience a Lake Tahoe sunset is to pull over in a random roadside parking spot on the Nevada side or simply hike down to a west facing beach.
Hiking to Monkey Rock or Castle Rock would also be fantastic sunset options, but you will then need to hike back to your car in twilight so you must remember sources of light.
Map Of The Best Sunrise And Sunset Photo Spots In Lake Tahoe
Let’s take a look at our interactive Google Map showing the exact locations of the best Lake Tahoe sunrise and sunset photo spots:
- Red icons – Best Lake Tahoe sunrise photo spots
- Blue icons – Best Lake Tahoe sunset photo spots
Click or touch to activate the map, zoom in and out, scroll around and familiarize yourself with the area. Having a better understanding of the Lake Tahoe region will help when you arrive.
Top 10 Places To Photograph Sunrise And Sunset In Lake Tahoe
Photographing sunrise and sunset is one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe and we hope you enjoy the stunning landscape as much as we do.
Locations are not listed in any particular order but they are all excellent options.
All photos in this guide were taken by us personally during our time in Lake Tahoe. We have included two images for each of the locations mentioned.
Important: Within each photo spot we will also include key information you need to know about parking, hiking and photography.
1. Emerald Bay – The Iconic Lake Tahoe Sunrise Photo Spot
Where better to start than the most well known and best Lake Tahoe sunrise spot, the exceptionally photogenic Emerald Bay State Park.
We photographed sunrise at Emerald Bay on two consecutive days during our visit to Lake Tahoe. One morning we had clouds and the other was quite a clear morning as you will see in the photo below.
There are multiple Emerald Bay sunrise photo spots offering different views and perspectives either directly from parking areas or from short hikes.
If you look at Google Maps you will see Emerald Bay State Park Lookout and Inspiration Point Emerald Bay.
Ignore both of those and instead set your GPS for the following superb Lake Tahoe sunrise photo spots with unobstructed views over Emerald Bay:
- 1. Secret roadside spot – This tiny and narrow roadside pullover is easy to miss. Make sure your car is tight to the wall so you are off the road. You can set your tripod up inches from your car at this hidden photo spot.
- 2. Eagle Falls trailhead – Park on the main road near Eagle Falls, walk a few minutes north on the highway, look for a spur trail heading east onto a rocky outcrop. There is a little bit of scrambling but the short trail leads to a spectacular viewpoint with two trees at the end.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about the Emerald Bay sunrise photo spot in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – Emerald Bay is among the busiest places around Lake Tahoe, but you will have no issues getting a parking space for sunrise. Stop first at the secret roadside spot we mentioned above, then park at Eagle Falls trailhead on the main road.
- Hiking – You could hike the bottom portion of Eagle Falls Trail to gain a different Emerald Bay sunrise photography perspective. Stop hiking once you reach the top of Eagle Falls waterfall and look back out at the stunning bay.
- Photography – Emerald Bay is a really easy Lake Tahoe sunrise spot to frame and the sun rises directly behind the bay from behind a mountain range. We think Emerald Bay has to be considered as one of the most beautiful sunrise photos anywhere in the US.
2. Bonsai Rock – Most Popular Lake Tahoe Sunset Photo Spot
Bonsai Rock is the quintessential Lake Tahoe sunset photo spot popular among professional photographers who want that classic postcard image.
Do you like shooting long exposures to create silky smooth water effects? You are going to love Bonsai Rock at sunset!
We really enjoyed taking photos of Bonsai Rock at sunset but we didn’t have the best conditions. Firstly, the sky was good but not great and secondly there was enough of a breeze to whip up the water so getting a flat surface was near impossible.
With that said, our advice is to focus on more than just Bonsai Rock. The rocky beach is also a great place to photograph those lovely smooth boulders synonymous with Lake Tahoe.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about the Bonsai Rock sunset photo spot in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – Bonsai Rock has no designated parking lot, so you have to park on the highway roadside at this exact location. The pullover is narrow but make sure you park completely off the main road.
- Hiking – You have to hike down a short but steep scramble to access the rocky beach area for Bonsai Rock photography. After parking, walk north on the main road until you see a spur trail leading down to Lake Tahoe.
- Photography – Set up your tripod anywhere on the boulders and play around with your frames. Include boulders in the foreground or simply put water in your foreground. The sun sets directly behind Bonsai Rock so you can try starbursts with the sun.
Want to photograph Bonsai Rock? Read our complete guide to Bonsai Rock Lake Tahoe which covers parking, the hike and photography in much greater detail.
3. Cave Rock – Most Popular Lake Tahoe Night Photo Spot
Cave Rock is one of the very best sunset spots in Lake Tahoe thanks to ease of access, variety of photo frames available and of course striking west facing views over the lake.
We had bad luck at Cave Rock when we hiked the short trail for sunset. The sky was dull and the wind was so strong that we actually felt unsafe at the small summit atop Cave Rock.
However, on a calm day with textured clouds in the sky Cave Rock is definitely up there with our top recommendations for a Lake Tahoe photo spot you should not miss.
Why have we have labelled Cave Rock as the most popular night photo spot in Lake Tahoe?
Many photographers choose to stay at the summit after sunset until it gets dark because the main Lake Tahoe highway goes through a tunnel underneath Cave Rock, so you can easily photograph car light trails with the lake behind.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about the Cave Rock sunset photo spot in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – There are only 4 parking spaces available at Cave Rock trailhead. This is the exact location you need for parking and you just have to hope there is a spot free. It is worth arriving well before sunset if you are visiting Lake Tahoe in peak season.
- Hiking – You must hike a short and easy trail to reach Cave Rock. Once you arrive at the beehive shaped dome of Cave Rock you have to climb an uneven scramble to reach the summit. Coming back down the scramble is steep so you need to take care, especially when it is dark after sunset.
- Photography – Arriving in good time allows you to scout the location and choose your favorite frame. We were forced to shelter behind Cave Rock but you can go right up to the summit for wide open west facing views over Lake Tahoe.
Want to photograph Cave Rock? Read our complete guide to Cave Rock Lake Tahoe which covers parking, the hike and photography in much greater detail.
4. South Lake Tahoe Pier – Easiest Lake Tahoe Sunrise Photo Spot To Access
You can stay in many wonderful small towns around the shores of Lake Tahoe, but the majority of visitors the the area stay in South Lake Tahoe.
One of our favorite Lake Tahoe sunrise spots was just 1.5 miles from our South Lake Tahoe hotel at Boathouse on the Pier which is located at the South Lake Tahoe public beach.
We love photographing piers on calm mornings. They offer so many potential framing options from both the exterior and underneath.
Boathouse on the Pier is also a great South Lake Tahoe sunset spot if you don’t want to drive up either side of the lake.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about the South Lake Tahoe sunrise photo spot:
- Parking – There is plenty of parking available at this exact location which provides instant access to the public beach.
- Hiking – You do not have to hike at all for this sunrise photo spot. The parking lot is next to the beach and you just have to walk down to the pier.
- Photography – This is a diverse photo spot because you have the beach, mountains, a pier and the lake all at your disposal.
5. North Lake Tahoe Beaches – Quieter Sunrise and Sunset Location
The northern shores of Lake Tahoe offer a far more relaxing experience when compared to the south side. You will find fewer tourists, hikers and photographers in the north.
We highly recommend you include at least one day for exploring the northern shores of Lake Tahoe if you are planning a photography based trip.
Why? Because there are so many beaches, piers and viewpoints waiting to be photographed and there are very few people out doing it!
We spent half a day cruising along the northern shores stopping in at beaches and enjoying the tranquility. There are plenty of great spots you could use to watch either a sunrise or sunset.
One photo spot we missed but highly recommend is Historic Stateline Fire Lookout. We didn’t have enough time to drive and hike up to the viewpoint but it looks amazing and would be even better at sunrise or sunset.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about North Lake Tahoe beach photo spots in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – Most beaches in North Lake Tahoe are accessible and have parking lots. Burnt cedar beach, speedboat beach, kings beach and moon dune beach are all great.
- Hiking – None of the beaches or piers on the north side of Lake Tahoe require hiking. You just need to walk out onto the beach from each parking lot.
- Photography – North Lake Tahoe beaches are all south facing which means photography is horrible during the day unless it is cloudy. But sunrises and sunsets are equally as beautiful as they are in the south.
6. Chimney Beach – Best Beach To Watch Sunset Over Lake Tahoe
Chimney Beach is a fantastic public beach on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe that doubles as a stunning sunset spot.
If chilling on a great beach is your top priority and photography is your second priority, head down to Chimney Beach in late afternoon, spend a few hours on the sand and then pull out your camera at dusk.
Nearby you can visit Sand Harbor but you have to pay a state park fee. Chimney Beach is free but you do have to hike a short trail down to the sand.
You will find a long crescent shaped beach with a completely random brick chimney at the far end. The chimney is all that remains from an old caretakers cabin.
We spent a good hour on Chimney Beach completely alone around one hour before sunset during our visit to Lake Tahoe in November.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about the Chimney Beach sunset photo spot in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – Chimney Beach has its own designated parking lot which you can find at this location. There are enough spaces for shoulder season visitors but this beach does get really busy in summer so plan accordingly.
- Hiking – The hike to Chimney Beach is a little over a mile roundtrip but it is relatively steep. Once you reach the sand, continue walking along the beach until you see the chimney.
- Photography – You could use the chimney as a subject in your Lake Tahoe sunset photo or you can use the shoreline boulders on either end of the beach. You have wide open views over the California horizon, mountains and sunset.
Want to photograph Chimney Beach? Read our complete guide to Chimney Beach Lake Tahoe which covers parking, the hike and photography in much greater detail.
7. Monkey Rock – Best North Lake Tahoe Sunset Photo Spot
Monkey Rock is one of the best places to watch sunset in North Lake Tahoe.
Not only do you get a stunning view over the lake, but you also get to see a huge boulder shaped exactly like the head of a monkey.
The Monkey Rock vista can only be accessed by a reasonably challenging hike, which means there will be fewer people around compared to the easy access spots.
We hiked up to Monkey Rock a little after sunrise and the view is awesome. Unfortunately, we had run out of free evenings so we couldn’t do this one at sunset but we know it would be sensational.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about the Monkey Rock sunset photo spot in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – You have to pay to park at Bullwheel parking lot in order to hike Monkey Rock trail. It doesn’t exist on Google Maps yet, so you should set your map for Tunnel Creek trailhead which is right at the parking area.
- Hiking – Head southwest up Tunnel Creek road and enter a paid wilderness hiking area. The trail climbs 500 feet until reaching a left spur which takes you to a viewpoint. Monkey Rock itself is down a little on the right side.
- Photography – You can photograph Monkey Rock, take excellent selfies with Lake Tahoe in the background or simply head up for a fantastic elevated sunset location.
Want to photograph Monkey Rock? Read our complete guide to Monkey Rock Lake Tahoe which covers parking, the hike and photography in much greater detail.
8. Eagle Rock – Best Hidden Gem Lake Tahoe Sunrise Photo Spot
Eagle Rock is our top hidden gem Lake Tahoe sunrise photo spot.
It is located on the west side of Lake Tahoe near Tahoe City which is really quiet and secluded. The Eagle Rock viewpoint is accessed via a short hike and the vista is sublime.
We were the only two people on the trail or at the Eagle Rock viewpoint when we hiked up just before sunset and we realized how amazing the view would be at sunrise.
If you are lucky you might see peregrine falcons or even bald eagles flying around the area at dawn.
This almost unheard of Lake Tahoe viewpoint is wide open, east facing and easy to access which makes it a perfect sunrise spot.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about the Eagle Rock sunrise photo spot in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – At sunrise you will have no issues getting parked at this location for access to Eagle Rock. The parking spaces are roadside and diagonal, just make sure you are completely off the main road.
- Hiking – The easy hike to Eagle Rock is less than a mile roundtrip but it does have a reasonably steep final ascent on uneven rocks so take care when climbing in the dark for sunrise.
- Photography – The summit area of Eagle Rock is quite large so you can walk around to find your favorite spot. We really liked the natural rocky frame you can see in our photos but there are more open areas with better views over the lake.
Want to photograph Eagle Rock? Read our complete guide to Eagle Rock Lake Tahoe which covers parking, the hike and photography in much greater detail.
9. Castle Rock – Best Hidden Gem Lake Tahoe Sunset Photo Spot
From hidden gem sunrise spot on the west side to hidden gem sunset spot on the east side of Lake Tahoe, we bring you Castle Rock.
When looking at off the beaten path hikes in Lake Tahoe we discovered a trail called Castle Rock that had barely any presence online despite being close to South Lake Tahoe, so we took a chance and hiked it one morning.
What we didn’t expect was such remarkable west facing views over Lake Tahoe from Castle Rock viewpoint. The hike is fun and interpretive, even at the end you can climb rocks and look for cool perspectives.
We instantly knew this would make a wonderful Lake Tahoe sunset spot. The town of South Lake Tahoe can easily be made out below and hardly anyone knows about the trail so you would likely have it to yourself.
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about the Castle Rock sunset photo spot in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – There is a tiny gravel parking area for hikers to use for accessing Castle Rock vista. It won’t fit many cars, but then again there won’t be many people up here around sunset anyway.
- Hiking – You can hike Castle Rock in a loop or as a shorter out-and-back. The out and back version is around 2.3 miles total so it would require some hiking in dark on the return leg.
- Photography – Use the rocks, trees and shoreline to frame your photos from Castle Rock. There are loads of ways you can create unique images at this viewpoint.
10. Piers and Random Spots – The Most Unique Photo Locations
Let’s finish with one of our favorite ways to take photos around Lake Tahoe, simply find a random roadside pullover or a quiet pier somewhere along the shores of the lake.
We found that some of our best Lake Tahoe photographs were the unexpected images we took at piers, quieter parts of the lake or at completely obscure roadside parking areas.
Getting off the beaten path is the key to taking home unique photos of Lake Tahoe. Sure, you should also visit every place we have mentioned above, but then you should also find your own photo spots!
What You Need To Know
Here are the key things you need to know about piers and random sunrise and sunset photo spots in Lake Tahoe:
- Parking – We recommend pulling off the main loop road whenever you think there could be a photo opportunity. That includes unassuming roadside parking areas, larger designated parking lots and everything in between.
- Hiking – The higher and further off the beaten path you hike, the more unique images you will take. Next time we are in Lake Tahoe we plan to hike so much more and find new photography locations.
- Photography – Use anything and everything you can to create unique images. We liked to use smooth boulders on the edges of Lake Tahoe, piers and viewpoints.
Want more sunset inspiration? Don’t miss our popular roundup featuring the most beautiful sunset quotes.
Best Time Of Year To Photograph Lake Tahoe
All things considered we think spring and fall are the best times of year for photography in Lake Tahoe because they are less crowded, the temperatures are comfortable and both sunrise and sunset are at reasonable hours.
But let’s take a quick look at the seasons and any impacts they might have on photography:
Winter is a unique time for photography in Lake Tahoe.
It is ski season so there are still quite a lot of tourists in the area but photo spots are much more difficult to access due to snow and ice.
If you are able to reach popular photo spots in winter you could take home a host of amazing and different images to the typical tourist.
Summer is very busy, hot and expensive in Lake Tahoe.
We would personally avoid a photography trip to Lake Tahoe in summer because sunrise is very early and sunset is very late, prices are too high and there are just too many people.
Spring and Fall
The spring and fall months of April, May, October and November are perfect for photography at Lake Tahoe.
Although sunrise photography could be on the colder side, you will benefit from ideal temperatures at sunset. Plus, you will have a much better chance of getting parked at photo spots.
The best part is that sunrises aren’t too early and sunsets aren’t too late, which makes life much easier when compared with summer months.
Lake Tahoe Sunrise And Sunset Photography FAQ’s
Let’s finish with some of the most asked questions about where to find the best sunrise and sunset spots in Lake Tahoe.
Emerald Bay is the quintessential Lake Tahoe sunrise photo spot and there are several stunning locations you can use within the area to create beautiful frames.
Bonsai Rock and Cave Rock are both very popular sunset photo spots in Lake Tahoe. Both are west facing with unobstructed views, the difference is that Bonsai Rock is a lakeside photo spot whereas Cave Rock is an elevated viewpoint.
Our Popular Lake Tahoe Guides
- Bonsai Rock – Sunset photography at Bonsai Rock
- Cave Rock – How to hike Cave Rock for sunset
- Chimney Beach – How to hike to Chimney Beach
- Eagle Falls – How to hike Eagle Falls Trail in Emerald Bay
- Eagle Rock – How to hike to Eagle Rock in Lake Tahoe
- Emerald Bay – 10 best things to do in Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe
- Monkey Rock – How to hike Money Rock Trail
- N Tahoe – 10 best hotels in North Lake Tahoe
- S Tahoe – 12 best hotels in South Lake Tahoe
- Tahoe City – 5 best hotels in Tahoe City, CA
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We hope this guide to the best sunrise and sunset photography spots in Lake Tahoe helps with planning your trip!
Please let us know if you have any questions about sunrise, sunset or photography locations during your trip to Lake Tahoe in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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