People always use the word ‘beautiful’ to describe Lake Tahoe, but I had always assumed that beauty was reflected in mountains shrouded in a blanket of white. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we visited in the fall, but the beauty was just as apparent with nary a snowflake on the ground. Tahoe, as I was told is beautiful year round. And just so we are clear: this not an average run-of-the-mill beauty, but a ‘stop the car and stare in stunned silence’ that such a place even exists kind of beauty.
To enjoy such beauty, we knew we wanted to take a hike with the kids, but after three days in Yosemite, they were all hiked out. To compromise, I started looking for an easy hike that would give us some great views of the lake. Vikingsholm Trail was suggested to us as a good hike that would fit our family. A two-mile round trip hike, it ended with a surprise scene that looked like it was last page of a pop-up storybook. Sounds perfect.
Hiking the Vikingsholm
The Vikingsholm Trail starts at Emerald Bay State Park in South Lake Tahoe, where ancient glaciers carved an inlet that is now filled with water that shimmers in a myriad of blues. There is a relatively small parking lot at the top of the trail, and I am told that this parking lot fills and visitors must park down the road and extend their hike during the busy season. The park has a small entrance fee that is collected on the honor system.
At the top of the trail is the best view of Fanette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. The glistening emerald jewel perched in the center of the waters and surrounded by snow-capped mountains and dense forests is not to be missed from this lookout. After soaking up all the ahhhh-mazing from the top of the trail, we started the descent towards the lake. The trail is one mile each direction, but with a 500 foot elevation change it is a steep decline down, and an even steeper incline on the return. The path, though, is wide and paved with many vistas and waterfalls through the rocks to entertain each direction.
Just as the trail starts to level, a structure with a beauty that rivals that surrounding nature comes into view. A 38 room mansion known as one of the finest specimens of Scandinavian architecture in the US, seamlessly blends into the forest with roof made of sod and natural materials. Drawing inspiration from wooden churches and stone castles in southern Sweden, but with an elegant eye on the natural wonder, the castle looks as if it was planted and grown right in the spot. The home is known as Vikingsholm, and it certainly lives up to its stately name.
Tours of Vikingsholm Castle are available seven days a week from Memorial Day weekend until the end of September. The first tour of the day starts at 10:30 A.M. and the last tour at 4:00 P.M. All tours are guided tours and take approximately 30 minutes. The tour fee is $10.00 for adults and $8.00 for children (7-17). Children under 7 are free.
As it was October, tours were not available during our visit, but that gave us all the more time to enjoy the scene down by the lake. The kids tested the water-alpine cold, of course, and instead they ran up and down the lake watching the few kayakers who were brave enough to set out in the chilly weather. Some of the kayakers shared with us that kayaks can be rented from town during the summer for exploring the lake and even putting out to the island to peek into the abandoned teahouse that sits on that site.
The Vikingsholm Verdict?
Vikingsholm Trail is a perfect hike for young families that is challenging enough, but not so strenuous that it caused complaints. Not only is scenery spectacular, but the mansion by the lake is the stuff of fairytales. It is impossible to see it standing in the woods and not imagine yourself to be Goldilocks or Snow White, or some other storybook character. If I were to ever return, I would love to take a tour of the home and take a kayak out to the island. Although, if I am continuing the fairytale theme, I would love to make Vikingsholm my own personal summer home-it is truly a little piece of heaven.