Sand Harbor State Park and Sand Harbor Beach are Lake Tahoe treasures that are extremely special to all of us in North Tahoe. Part of Lake Tahoe – Nevada State Parks, it is full of fun things to do for visitors of all ages, including couples, families, friends, and even solo visitors.
However, if this is your first time in and around the main beach, the crowd may initially seem intimidating. With so much happening all around you, you may wonder how to get started – so here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy Sand Harbor beach’s crystal-clear waters and stunning rock formations.
Biking to Sand Harbor Beach
Once the snow and ice have melted, visitors and locals can bike the East Shore Trail from Incline Village along the lake to Sand Harbor state park. You can either bring your bike or rent one at Vista Trail Bikes if you’ve left yours at home. It’s located next to Starbuck in Incline Village and offers a 9-13 mile round trip to Sand Harbor. You’ll ride to and along the spectacular East Shore Trail while you make your way over.
The East Shore Trail is often called “America’s Most Beautiful Bikeway” and promises stunning views and direct access to several beaches, coves, and trails aside from Sand Harbor. You can load up your car and make your way to Vista Trail Bikes, where you can rent a bike and carry everything you think you’ll need to Sand Harbor. If you do run out of supplies, you can always make use of the state park’s gift shop and/or restaurant.
Length of the trail: The East Shore Trail is a wide paved path that is a total of 3 miles.
Cost of bike admission: $2 per bike
Cost of admission: $2 per person
Cost for parking at the beach (if you don’t bike): $8 per car. Parking lots fill up quickly, typically around 11AM.
Walk-in Information: Walk-ins are currently not available. The beach must be accessed by car or bike.
Where to lock your bike: If you want to lock your bike up, there are bike racks along the East Shore Trail and near Sand Harbor that you can use. Vista Trail Bikes includes bike locks along with helmets. You can also bring your bike into the park, though you’ll have to pay an additional fee to do so.
Where to grab food to bring to the beach: You can bring food with you in a picnic basket that you can easily carry to the park on your bike or grab something from one of the many nearby restaurants. Additionally, you can also buy food and drinks within the park itself, so don’t worry if you forgot to pack a picnic or just prefer to keep the things you have with you on your bike to a minimum.
Alcohol at the beach: Feel free to bring your alcohol, but make sure to continue to abide by all state laws. We don’t advise drinking if you road your bike to the beach.
Renting a Kayak to See Sand Harbor Beach from the Water
If you already know how to kayak and/or paddleboard, you should consider enjoying the views of Sand Harbor from the water instead of the beach. You can rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) from Clearly Tahoe at Sand Harbor.
We recommend getting there early before the shoreline gets too crowded. The waters around Sand Harbor are incredibly clear, and you should be able to see right to the bottom. You can either spend time in the waters closer to the beach or make your way to Secret Harbor Beach. There’s also a natural rocky obstacle course that more experienced kayakers can try attempting. However, make sure to be careful and avoid trying anything too complex unless you have the utmost confidence in your skills.
Stand Up Paddleboard vs Kayak
If you’re wondering whether a kayak or SUP is the right option for this adventure, the first thing to ask yourself is which you’re more comfortable with. If you’re equally skilled with both, you’ll also need to consider if you have the upper-body stamina needed to kayak around. SUPs require less upper body strength but need better balance and core strength.
If you’re planning to try out paddling with your family, it’s best to start with a kayak – they’re easier to paddle, which is an important consideration if you’ve got kids with you. However, if they’ve already tried kayaking before, go for the SUP since the paddleboard is only limited by the weight threshold and may be able to hold the entire family.
For couples, both kayaks and SUPs are great. You can opt for one-seater kayaks and compete against each other, work together in a two-seater kayak, or just enjoy the day on a SUP.
Where to Launch Your Kayak
You can launch your kayak near the boat ramp. There’s a sandy beach that serves as a great spot for getting your kayak into the water, and there’s a special kayak parking area nearby that you can use if needed. You can also load and unload your kayak at the put-in area at the boat ramp to make things easier on yourself.
Although boaters require more examinations and documentation, you do not need a permit to kayak in Tahoe. Locals or visitors can bring their kayak or paddleboard, but these are subject to inspection. Tahoe Boat Inspections have provided information on how to prevent the transportation of invasive species.
Learn How to Kayak or Stand Up Paddleboard
Additionally, some companies also offer kayak and SUP tours of the area. These allow you to take in Sand Harbor’s beauty from the area while simultaneously affording you the peace of mind that comes with having a more experienced guide by your side.
Additionally, kayaking and SUPing are relatively easy to learn, and most people can pick them up within the day. So, if you’re planning to spend a couple of days at Sand Harbor (or one of the many other beaches in Tahoe), you can take a day to learn the basics and then enjoy a kayak or SUP rental for the day during your subsequent visits.
The Clearly Tahoe offers both tours and clinics. You need at least two people in order to book your tour, so this is not the best option for solo travelers. The tours run from 9AM-1PM and include the equipment, a skilled guide, and information about Tahoe’s history. Clinics are an hour long and also require two people to book.
Experience More by Camping Near Sand Harbor
If you’ve fallen in love with Sand Harbor and aren’t keen on wrapping up your time once night falls, you can also consider camping by the park once you’re done with the beach for the day. Keep in mind that there are no campgrounds located within Sand Harbor State Park itself, so you will be camping near the park and not in it.
Camping allows you to get a unique nighttime view of Sand Harbor’s beauty, as well as the beauty of the Tahoe scenery around it. It’s the perfect way for nature lovers to wrap up their time in the area.
Where Are The Nearby Campgrounds?
As mentioned above, there are no campgrounds within the park itself. However, there are several options near the park for you to consider, including Camp Richardson, Nevada Beach Campground, and the City of Lake Tahoe Campground.
Most campgrounds are located on the south side of Lake Tahoe. Nevada Beach Campground is perhaps the closest option of the campgrounds listed above and is located approximately a half hour’s drive from the park.
Take a Dip and Swim in Sand Harbor’s Crystal Waters
Getting to Sand Harbor from Incline Village can take the wind out of you, especially during summer, and definitely if you’ve biked your way to Sand Harbor. The perfect solution to refresh yourself is jumping into the crystal-clear waters at Sand Harbor.
The water at the park is completely safe, and you don’t need to worry about encountering sharks or other dangerous marine wildlife. Once you’re in the water, you can enjoy the stunning views and the beautiful sandy beach, allowing you to get a second wind for your return journey to Incline Village.
Have a Picnic or Dine on the Beach
If you’re looking forward to a lazy day at the beach, we recommend bringing along a picnic basket and your favorite foods. Biking your way down the East Shore Trail to Sand Harbor will help you work up an appetite, and once you’re in the park, you can lay back, relax, and share a meal with your friends, family, or your other half.
Wondering what to bring along? Remember that you’ll likely be biking to Sand Harbor, so everything you bring should be easily packed into a backpack. Bring a blanket or set up on one of the state park’s picnic tables. BBQs are available near the picnic tables if you want to grill up something other than a sandwich.
For easy snacking, carry some smaller foods like cheeses and olives that are easy to pack and other small snacks like tarts that don’t require much space. You can finish by personalizing your picnic with some of your favorite foods and adding a sweet dessert to end the day.
There are a few places to buy food on the beach as well. Pick up some additional snacks and drinks at the beach’s snack bar, or sit down at the Sand Harbor Bar & Grill.
Planning your visit to Sand Harbor
Sand Harbor is one of the most popular places in Lake Tahoe to visit, and for good reason. Be sure to be a responsible visitor and review additional information on Sand Harbor regulations and recommended conduct.
This guide features some of the many fun things you can do in and around the park, and Sand Harbor State Park is definitely a must-include item on your Lake Tahoe itinerary. That said, given the popularity of this spot, we always recommend getting to the beach via your own bike or a rental bike. This will allow you to avoid the parking lot, which is crowded most times of the day – especially during peak tourist season.