Spanning the state line between Nevada and California, 191-square-mile Lake Tahoe is surrounded by a mixed conifer forest and breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada. Bonsai Rock, located just off Tahoe’s eastern shore in Nevada, is approximately five and a half miles south of the town of Incline Village, which offers nearby camping facilities, food, lodging and recreational opportunities.
Finding Bonsai Rock can be a challenge, as the spot isn’t marked. Approximately one mile south of the Sand Harbor Overlook, there’s a gravel turnoff on the lake side of Highway 28 from which the rock is barely visible through the trees. From there, it’s a short but steep hike down one of the various sandy and rocky trails to the shoreline. If you can’t snag a coveted parking spot at the turnoff, accessing the location will require some hiking to get to, as there are minimal opportunities for parking on the winding, shoulder-less road along the lake.
Lake Tahoe has warm, dry summers and cold winters with regular snowfall. The drier east side of the lake gets most of its precipitation in the form of snow between the months of November and April. In any season, be prepared for windy conditions and watch the forecast for lake wind advisories. Check with the Nevada Department of Transportation for road conditions prior to visiting. Make sure to wear good shoes with ankle support and, even in summer, clothing layers for highly variable Sierra weather. Gloves and hand warmers thrown into your camera bag are really useful here to help keep you comfortable when photographing in the elements.
Photo Experience At Bonsai Rock
Bonsai Rock, with its miniature trees growing out of the granite, provides a unique focal point for photographing the largest alpine lake in North America. Depending on the lake level, smooth granite rocks can offer additional foreground elements in the vast lake. I find myself most often utilizing a 16mm to 24mm focal length to capture the tree-lined shoreline and dramatic skies. There are multiple vantage points from which to photograph this scene.
During a summer camping trip to photograph the nearby purple lupine that blooms along areas of the lake’s north shore, I used the PhotoPills app to determine when the Milky Way and its galactic core would be vertical and in a location that rises from the best angle of Bonsai Rock looking south. In the dark, pre-dawn hours, light pollution from nearby South Lake Tahoe and California’s Central Valley provide an ethereal orange glow at the horizon in long-exposure photographs.
Facing west overlooking the sapphire blue lake, Bonsai Rock is a beautiful location to photograph sunsets in any season as the sun dips below the Sierras. At sunrise, with the sun at your back, the distant California mountains across the lake can sometimes be lit a serene pink. During the late spring and summer months, there are ample opportunities for unique astrophotography of the Milky Way, and I’ve even photographed here in winter months when the turnoff was accessible to capture a light dusting of snow on the boulders under cloudy skies with a 10-stop neutral density filter.
Contact: Nevada State Parks, parks.nv.gov/parks/lake-tahoe-nevada-state-park.
See more of Beth Young’s photography at optimalfocusphotography.com.