The iconic Lake Tahoe nestles in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains between California and Nevada. And while this freshwater lake is perennially renowned for its idyllic topside scenery, watersports and camping, the scuba diving in Lake Tahoe rarely gets the attention it deserves.
At 1,645 feet (501 m), Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the U.S., trailing only Crater Lake in Oregon. The depth, combined with the size of the high-altitude lake, offers mouthwatering possibilities for avid divers who’d like to explore wrecks, landscapes and freshwater species in a lake with crystal clarity. Here are a few of our favorite sites.
Emerald Bay Dive Trail
While there are multiple dive sites around Lake Tahoe, including ones that feature giant, sunken fir trees and plentiful shipwrecks, the newest revelation is the dive park at Emerald Bay. The Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail officially opened at the end of 2018, showcasing the Historic Barge dive site, as well as three additional sites. Divers can expect to see two large barges, as well as 12 recreational boats including a 27-foot (8.2 m) launch. The boats largely date from the 1920s and 30s, and most of the wrecks lie in 10 to 60 feet (3 to 18 m) of water. Visibility is often excellent — at times over 100 feet (30 m) — allowing divers to see from one wreck to another. Divers can explore the entire trial on one dive but note that altitude diving requires prior training and knowledge.
Sand Harbor State Park
Stock images of Lake Tahoe almost always show the sandy beaches and large boulders of Sand Harbor. An idyllic location for beginners, the shallow waters (20 feet/6 m) and sandy bottoms allow paramount safety in the hands of capable instructors and dive masters. While the area is quite busy during summer months and weekends, more adventuresome divers can swim 300 feet (91 m) from shore, where a slope begins at 40 feet (12 m) and descends to hundreds of feet. Here you’ll find sunken trees, vertical cliffs and numerous large boulders. Look for crawfish, minnows and mudsuckers on, and above the sand.
A famed site at Tahoe, Rubicon Wall is on the southwest side of the lake inside DL Bliss State Park. Note that there are fees for entrances and parking in the state parks. The surface swim can take up to 20 minutes before divers reach the wall but when you do arrive, there is nothing quite like the sensation of diving over the edge to 100 feet (30 m) in the blue, high-altitude lake. Sheer cliffs that descend to 1,000 feet (300 m), as well as beautiful topography and ledges are highlight for recreational and tech divers. The light is often similar at these depths as at the surface, so watch your computer closely. On the way back, be sure to swim a routes through the large rock boulders that dot the shoreline like a maze.
Before you go
There are several well-known dive shops in the Tahoe area, which you can reach by driving from international airports in Las Vegas and San Francisco. Water temperatures range from the 30s (4 C) in the winter to the mid-70s (25 C) in late summer and fall. While summer is pleasant due to warmer temperatures, large crowds and heavy boat traffic can be an issue. And depending on your tolerance for cold water, it’s best to dive Tahoe in a drysuit year-round.