Beautiful Sunrise And Sunset Photo Spots In Lake Tahoe



Emerald Bay at dawn rocks trees lake and clouds one of the best sunrise and sunset photo spots in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe has many unique photo spots with beautiful sunrise and sunset views. Some of the most popular locations are easy to access by foot or by car, but we think the best vantage points are hidden away at the end of short hiking trails on all sides of the lake. We spent almost a week searching the Lake Tahoe area for must-visit photo spots, and we can’t wait to show you what we found.

In this guide we show you 10 unmissable Lake Tahoe sunrise and sunset photo spots, based entirely on our experiences.

Our Lake Tahoe Photography Experience

Couple hugging at a viewpoint overlooking a lake and mountains
Here we are at Monkey Rock viewpoint

We spent 5 nights in Lake Tahoe during our road trip from Seattle to Sedona in November 2021. As hikers and travel photographers, we couldn’t wait to get out and explore all areas of the lake from dawn to dusk with our cameras. And it turned out to be one of the most photogenic places we’ve visited in the United States.

We originally wanted to be at Lake Tahoe’s most popular photography locations like Emerald Bay and Bonsai Rock either for sunrise or for sunset. But we ended up finding a bunch of unexpected spots, so we have some real hidden gems for you to photograph when you arrive into Lake Tahoe. Read more about us.

Lake Tahoe Sunrises

Underneath a long wooden pier at dawn with still water
We love to photograph the underneath of piers like this one in South Lake Tahoe

For us, sunrise is the best time of day for photography at Lake Tahoe, mostly because the crowds of hikers and sightseers don’t emerge until mid-morning so you can enjoy the stunning landscape in peace. But also because dawn turns the sky deep blue, purple and pink above the lake. And if you’re lucky with clouds, you’ll be in for a real treat.

Finding parking spaces at popular hiking trails and photo spots in Lake Tahoe can be a real challenge, especially in peak season. But you won’t have any issues if you head out for sunrise photography because few are awake. If you’re a pro or hobbyist photographer, we can’t stress enough how much easier you’ll make it on yourself if you set that early alarm.

Our top sunrise recommendation is Emerald Bay. Yes, it’s popular and we try not to go with the consensus when we can avoid it, but the bay is an incredibly beautiful scene at dawn, which you’ll see for yourself below. And we think the best alternative is a hidden spot called Eagle Rock on the west side of the lake.

Lake Tahoe Sunsets

Huge rock out in the water silhouetted against a colorful sunset
Colorful sunset at Bonsai Rock

Sunset bursts into life with fiery reds, yellows and oranges lining the clouds above Lake Tahoe. But like in most touristy places, popular sunset photo spots are also much busier because more people are out. Our advice is to plan ahead and get parked at your preferred sunset hiking trailhead a long way in advance to avoid disappointment.

Our top sunset recommendations are Cave Rock and Bonsai Rock because both provide foreground subjects to use when framing your photos. Monkey Rock and Castle Rock are also fantastic sunset options, but you’ll then need to hike back to your car in twilight so you must remember headlamps. If all else fails, simply pull over in a random roadside parking area and enjoy the view. In truth, it’s more about the clouds anyway!

Okay, let’s get into our photo spots. We’ve listed in no particular order, but each location includes what you need to know about parking, hiking and photography.

1. Emerald Bay

Exceptionally colorful clouds at sunrise over Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe
Staggering sunrise colors lighting up the sky above Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay is the iconic Lake Tahoe sunrise photo spot and we have to say it’s a strikingly beautiful place to watch night turn into day. We photographed Emerald Bay at sunrise two days in a row, one morning we had clouds (photo above) and the other was a clear morning (photo below).

If you look at Google Maps you’ll see Emerald Bay State Park Lookout and Inspiration Point Emerald Bay. But we recommend ignoring both of those and instead setting your GPS for the following two places:

  • 1. Secret roadside spot – This tiny and narrow roadside pullover is easy to miss, and you need to make sure your car is tight to the wall so you’re off the road.
  • 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 and two trees.
Two trees on a rocky outcrop at dawn with a body of water in the background
Completely clear sunrise from the rocky outcrop at Emerald Bay


Emerald Bay is among the busiest places in Lake Tahoe, but you’ll 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 overflow on highway 89.


You don’t have to hike at all to get the best views over Emerald Bay. But you can hike the bottom portion of Eagle Falls Trail to gain a different and elevated perspective. Stop hiking once you reach the top of Eagle Falls waterfall.


Emerald Bay is so easy to photograph because the bay itself is your subject. The sun rises to the right side of your viewpoint, which isn’t as perfect as it would be if it were directly behind, but it’s still awesome!

READ: Best things to do in Emerald Bay State Park

2. Bonsai Rock

Boulders and rocks in water at dusk with colorful clouds in the sky
Sunset at Bonsai Rock on a windy evening

Bonsai Rock is the quintessential Lake Tahoe sunset photo spot. The scene consists of a large boulder with a handful of small bonsai trees on top, several much smaller nearby rocks and the sun settings over snow capped mountains on the far side of Lake Tahoe.

We were a bit unfortunate because the wind was howling the evening we photographed Bonsai Rock, which meant we couldn’t get a smooth water effect with 1-3 second exposures. If you don’t have the best conditions, we recommend focusing on more than just Bonsai Rock because the rocky beach is a great place to snap photos of those lovely smooth boulders synonymous with Lake Tahoe.

Drone photo of Bonsai Rock in Lake Tahoe showcasing turquoise colored waters
Photo we took of Bonsai Rock with our drone


Bonsai Rock has no designated parking lot, so you have to park on the roadside at this exact location. The pullover is narrow so make sure you park completely off the road.


You have to hike down a short but steep bank to reach Bonsai Rock. After parking, walk north on the road until you see a spur trail on the left side leading down to Lake Tahoe. It’s a bit of a scramble so take care.


Set your tripod up anywhere on the boulders and play around with your frames. Include boulders in the foreground or simply put the lake in your foreground. The sun sets directly behind Bonsai Rock so you can try starbursts with the sun.

READ: How to hike Bonsai Rock in Lake Tahoe

3. Cave Rock

View overlooking water a road and sky as the sun is setting
Very windy sunset at Cave Rock

Cave Rock is one of the best sunset spots in Lake Tahoe because it’s easy to access, you can create various frames and it has striking west facing views over the lake. Again, we had bad luck at Cave Rock. The sky was dull and the wind was so strong that we actually felt unsafe at the small summit, let alone that we couldn’t get any camera stability!

But on a calm evening and with textured clouds in the sky, Cave Rock is definitely up there with our top picks. We also recommend staying after sunset until it gets dark because the major highway goes through a tunnel underneath Cave Rock, so you can easily shoot long exposures with car light trails.

Photo of Lake Tahoe at night with car light trails both white and red passing underneath on the road
Stick around at Cave Rock for fun car light trails in the dark


There’s only 4 parking spaces available at Cave Rock trailhead. This is the exact location you need for the parking area and you just have to hope there’s a spot free. Arrive well before sunset if you’re visiting in peak season.


You can reach Cave Rock by hiking a short and easy trail. But once you arrive at the beehive shaped dome of Cave Rock, you have to climb an uneven and steep scramble to reach the summit. Take care when you’re coming back down, especially when it’s dark after sunset.


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.

READ: How to hike Cave Rock in Lake Tahoe

4. South Lake Tahoe Pier

Pier and boathouse lit up at dawn reflecting in shallow pool of water on a beach
Wooden pier on South Lake Tahoe public beach

The Boathouse Pier in South Lake Tahoe was one of our favorite sunrise photo spots because it was so easy to access from our South Lake Tahoe hotel just 1.5 miles away. If you’ll be staying in town, you might even want to consider this as a sunset spot as well because it requires no hiking.

We love taking photos of long wooden piers on calm mornings because they offer so many potential framing options both from the exterior and from underneath. By arriving way before sunrise, we had time to find our preferred spot and take some great photos of the pier lit up against a dark sky before it turned deep blue at twilight.

South Lake Tahoe pier and boathouse at night reflecting in shallow water
Boathouse on the pier lit up against the dark night sky


You’ll find plenty of parking available at this exact location and it provides instant access to the public beach in South Lake Tahoe.


You don’t have to hike at all to reach this photo spot. The parking lot is right next to the beach and you just have to walk down to the pier.


We really enjoyed this diverse photography location because it had the beach, mountains, a pier and the lake to use in frames. Don’t forget to go underneath the pier for a cool tunnel-like photo!

5. North Lake Tahoe Beaches

Shallow water with stones and rocks reflecting perfectly
Perfect reflections in still shallow waters in North Lake Tahoe

The northern shores of Lake Tahoe offer a far more relaxing photography experience when compared to the south side. You’ll find fewer tourists, hikers and photographers in the north, but you’ll still get lots of excellent views from beaches like Kings Beach, Moon Dune Beach and Carnelian West Beach (photo above).

We spent a day cruising along the beaches and piers of Lake Tahoe’s northern shores, and there’s plenty of peaceful places you can watch 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.

Tourists sat on deck chairs on a beach with shallow pools of water on the sand
Tourists we saw on a North Lake Tahoe beach getting settled in for sunset


Most beaches in North Lake Tahoe are accessible and have parking lots so you shouldn’t have any problems.


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.


North Lake Tahoe beaches are all south facing which means photography won’t work during the day unless it’s cloudy. But sunrises and sunsets are equally as beautiful in the north as they are in the south.

6. Chimney Beach

Picturesque boulders on the shoreline of Lake Tahoe one of the best sunset photo spots
The picturesque Chimney Beach is a must visit photo spot

Chimney Beach is the best beach you can visit to watch a Lake Tahoe sunset. We think it’s one of the best public beaches around the lake, and it’s just a bonus that it has unobstructed west facing views. If relaxing 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 pull out your camera at dusk.

Nearby you can visit Sand Harbor but you have to pay a state park fee. Whereas Chimney Beach is free, but you do have to hike a short trail down to the sand. We spent a good hour completely alone on Chimney Beach around one hour before sunset when we visited Lake Tahoe in November.

Chimney Beach sunset photo spot in Lake Tahoe soft light
Sunset at Chimney Beach in Lake Tahoe


Chimney Beach has its own designated parking lot at this location. There’s enough spaces during shoulder seasons but it gets really busy in summer so plan accordingly.


The hike to Chimney Beach is a little over 1-mile roundtrip and it’s relatively steep. Once you reach the sand, continue walking along the beach until you see the chimney.


You can use the chimney or the shoreline boulders on either end of the beach as subjects. You’ll also have wide open views over the California horizon, mountains and sunset.

READ: How to hike Chimney Beach in Lake Tahoe

7. Monkey Rock

Scenic viewpoint Monkey Rock with far reaching views over a body of water
View over North Lake Tahoe from Monkey Rock

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 when compared to other easy-access spots. We hiked up to Monkey Rock a little after sunrise and the views looking both ways are awesome. Unfortunately, we ran out of free evenings so we couldn’t do this one at sunset but we know it would be superb.

Telephoto image of the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe
Photo of the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe from Monkey Rock


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 same parking area.


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.


You can take photos of Monkey Rock, snap excellent selfies with Lake Tahoe in the background or even head up without your camera just to enjoy a fantastic sunset.

READ: How to hike Monkey Rock in Lake Tahoe

8. Eagle Rock

Lake framed by rocks and trees at dusk
Spectacular views over Lake Tahoe from Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock is our top hidden gem Lake Tahoe sunrise photo spot. It’s located on the much quieter western shores of Lake Tahoe near Tahoe City, and the viewpoint is accessed by hiking a short trail to a wide open rocky summit. If you’re lucky, you might see peregrine falcons or even bald eagles flying around the area at dawn.

We were the only two people on the trail and at Eagle Rock viewpoint when we hiked up just before sunset. And it was then we realized how amazing the view would be at sunrise as the sun bursts out from behind the distant mountains.

Hiker at a viewpoint in California overlooking a lake at dusk
A little bit too close of a portrait photo of Mark at Eagle Rock!


At sunrise you’ll have no issues getting parked at this location for access to Eagle Rock. The parking spaces are roadside and diagonal, just make sure you’re completely off the highway.


The easy hike to Eagle Rock is less than 1-mile roundtrip, but it does have a relatively steep final ascent on uneven rocks, so take care when climbing in the dark for sunrise.


The summit area of Eagle Rock is quite large, so you can walk around and 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.

READ: How to hike Eagle Rock in Lake Tahoe

9. Castle Rock

Rocky outcrop at the summit of a Castle Rock hike with views over South Lake Tahoe
View over South Lake Tahoe from Castle Rock viewpoint

From hidden gem sunrise spot on the west side to hidden gem sunset spot on the east side of Lake Tahoe, we give you Castle Rock. We were looking for off the beaten path hikes in Lake Tahoe and 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.

And wow! We didn’t expect such remarkable west facing views over Lake Tahoe from such a high vantage point. The hike itself is fun and at the end you can climb rocks to find cool perspectives. We instantly knew this would make a fantastic Lake Tahoe sunset spot, but you’d have to hike back to your car in the dark so don’t forget headlamps.

Couple hugging on a rock with elevated views over a body of water behind
Here we are at Castle Rock vista


There’s a tiny gravel parking area you can use for accessing Castle Rock. It won’t fit many cars, but then again you won’t find many people up there around sunset anyway.


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’s a fairly long walk back in the dark after sunset.


Use the rocks, trees and shoreline to frame your photos from Castle Rock. There’s lots of ways you can create unique images at this relatively unknown viewpoint.

10. Piers and Pullovers

Wooden pier jutting out into Lake Tahoe at sunset
Wooden pier jutting out into Lake Tahoe somewhere on the western shores

Rounding out the list is one of our favorite ways to take photos around Lake Tahoe; simply by finding a random roadside pullover or a quiet pier somewhere along the shores of the lake. We found that some of our best photos were from unassuming piers or obscure roadside parking areas.

Getting off the beaten path is the key to taking home unique photos of Lake Tahoe. Sure, you should visit every place in our guide, but then you should also find your own photo spots!

Incredibly colorful sky at sunset over Lake Tahoe with trees in the foreground silhouetted
We took one of our favorite Lake Tahoe sunset photos at a random roadside pullover


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.


The higher and further off the beaten path you hike, the more unique images you’ll take home. Next time we’re in Lake Tahoe, we plan to hike so much more to find new photography locations.


Use anything and everything you can to create unique images. Get creative! We liked to use smooth boulders, piers, beaches and hiking trail viewpoints.

Photo Spots Map

Click or touch the map to activate. Zoom in and out, move around the area and find the locations of all photography spots listed in this guide.

Map key:

  • Sunrise – Red icons
  • Sunset – Blue icons

Our Top Tips

Photographer crouching with tripod and camera on a boulder next to water
Mark setting up a photo of Bonsai Rock close to sunset

So what did we learn about Lake Tahoe sunrise and sunset photography? And what are our best bits of advice for your visit?

1. Parking

Parking can be a real challenge around the lake in summer. Shoulder seasons are less chaotic and we had no issues getting parked anywhere in November. Sunrise is a better time for photography because you’ll have no stress getting parked, whereas sunset will inevitably be much busier.

2. Hiking

You can reach some of the best photo spots by car alone, but we recommend you hike some of the short trails to reach lesser known viewpoints. The views from high up vantage points are completely different to those closer to the shores of Lake Tahoe. We recommend checking sunrise and sunset times in advance so you know what time to begin hiking.

3. Weather

Some of the best viewpoints are at 6,500+ ft elevation and the weather can be volatile at these altitudes so it’s 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 it was so windy at Cave Rock that our camera wouldn’t stay still on our tripod no matter what we tried.

4. Clouds

Clouds are either going to be your best friend or your worst enemy. You’re in trouble if the sky is completely covered in dense grey clouds because those types of mornings and evenings are sunrise and sunset destroyers! Check weather reports ahead of time and plan accordingly.

5. Gear

You’ll be shooting sunrises and sunsets in low light, so you’ll need a tripod at a bare minimum. Consider using a graduated ND filter for exposures, a shutter release control or countdown timer for selfies and a wide angle lens for landscapes. Pack for the weather, and don’t forget headlamps to go with your phone flashlights. Finally, clear you SD cards and take a spare battery, you’re going to need it!

READ: The best sunset quotes and captions

Best Time For Lake Tahoe Photography

Photographer sat in deck chair on a beach next to a lake waiting for sunrise with mountains and a wooden building in the background
Kristen sat on South Lake Tahoe public beach waiting for sunrise

We think spring and fall are the best times of year for photography in Lake Tahoe because they’re less crowded than summer and the temperatures are comfortable.

But let’s take a quick look at the seasons and any impacts they might have on photography:


Winter is unique because it’s ski season, so there’s lots of tourists in the area but photo spots are much more difficult to access due to snow and ice. If you’re able to access any of the locations in this guide in winter, you could take home some amazing photos.


Summer is very busy and expensive at Lake Tahoe so you have to deal with parking issues, crowds and inflated prices. Plus, we would personally avoid a photography trip to Lake Tahoe in early summer based solely on sunrise being too early and sunset being too late.

Spring and fall:

The spring and fall months of April, May, September and October are perfect for photography at Lake Tahoe. Although sunrises would be on the colder side, you’d benefit from ideal temperatures at sunset. Plus, you’ll have a much better chance of getting parked and that’s not something to underestimate!

The Morgan Conclusion

Photographer sat on a wall in Emerald Bay State Park California
Kristen at Emerald Bay after a stunning sunrise quickly turned into a dull grey sky

Wrapping things up, Lake Tahoe is one of the most photogenic places we’ve visited America and there’s plenty of places to watch a serene sunrise or sunset. We recommend hiking to reach elevated viewpoints overlooking the lake, but remember to pack safety gear like headlamps.

Emerald Bay is the undisputed standout sunrise photo spot, but sunset is open to interpretation. For us, Cave Rock and Bonsai Rock are both great options at dusk. But sometimes the very best places to watch a sunrise or sunset around Lake Tahoe can be found simply by getting off the beaten path.

More From Lake Tahoe

More Photo Spots

Want more California content? Head over to our California Travel Guides to explore national parks, popular road trips and things to do in major cities of the sunshine state.

We hope this guide to the best sunrise and sunset photo spots helps with planning your trip to Lake Tahoe!

Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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