Before your visit to Lake Tahoe goes up in smoke, take a hike to Chimney Beach – where a standing-on-its-own fireplace and chimney serve as an unsual landmark for a lovely little cove. The brick chimney is all that’s left of an old cabin built in the sand between boulder-strewn points on the east shore of Lake Tahoe. If curiosity about the chimney draws you to Chimney Beach, the beautiful lake views and clear turquoise water will be what keeps you hanging around.
The quick-to-reach beach is 0.55 miles down Chimney Beach Trail, which starts from a Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest parking area along Route 28, toward the north end of the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. The trail length is easy, but the 215 feet of elevation change along this 1.1-mile round trip hike means that you should definitely leave the beach umbrella and cooler behind.
Start from the Secret Harbor Parking Lot, which is about a twenty-mile drive up the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe from South Lake Tahoe or a seven-mile drive down from Incline Village. The parking area is laid out in a loop with spaces for a couple dozen vehicles (and with luck, there will be an opening for yours).
Although the beach is actually north of the trailhead, the hike sets out southward. Walk to the side of the parking area by the bathrooms where a paved service road leaves the loop. The road is blocked by a green gate. Walk down a trail along the right side of the paved road, marked with a sign reading, “trail to beach.”
Fifty yards from the parking area, come to a trail sign for Chimney Beach Trail. The pavement on your left ends here, transitioning into Forest Route 1566. Don’t take that wide road. Instead, bear right down the single-track Chimney Beach Trail.
The trail angles southwest over a conifer-spotted slope above Lake Tahoe. Pass through a few small turns, weaving down through the chaparral and boulder outcroppings. Stone steps assist through the steeper terrain. Enjoy early lake views, admiring the mountains above the north side of the lake to your right.
Descend 150 feet over the first 0.2 miles to an unmarked split in the trail. The branch to the left ventures south toward Secret Cove. Bear right to proceed toward Chimney Beach.
The terrain tapers out as you angle toward the lakeshore. Approach the edge of the lake, a quarter mile from the start, and enjoy the panoramic beauty. Rocky landings jut into the lake, offering expanded perspectives. Paths splinter off from the main trail to explore the shoreline. Breezes sweep through the firs and manzanitas as waves wash up against the boulder-covered lakeshore. You’re only halfway to Chimney Beach, but the hike is already delivering Lake Tahoe excellence.
Walk north through thigh-high sage and manzanitas. The trail temporarily splits into two or three worn routes. Any will do the job, as long as you stay between the lakeshore and the steep slope to your right. Soon enough, the tan brick stack on Chimney Beach comes into view and your destination is clear. Just up the coast, beside a rocky point, spot the chimney rising from behind a pile of boulders between a pair of small sandy beaches.
A quarter mile from the previous junction, and a tenth of a mile before Chimney Beach, come to one more trail junction. To the right, another branch of Chimney Beach Trail ventures up a canyon alongside Marlette Creek toward a trailhead on Route 28. This trail is actually an easier way to Chimney Beach than the main trail down from Secret Harbor Parking Lot. To get to the beach, don’t go uphill. Bear left at the split, following the trail down to a crossing of Marlette Creek.
Take a footbridge over Marlette Creek as it babbles its way to the lake. On the other side of the bridge, a short flight of wooden steps leads up a short rise behind Chimney Beach. Atop the steps, the trail splits again. All paths lead to Chimney Beach.
Proceeding straight, you’ll come to a lovely beach just south of the chimney. Turn right and walk through one line of boulders to another idyllic patch of sand that contains the chimney and fireplace, bizarrely rising from the sand and detached from any walls. The rest of the lakefront cabin that benefited from the hearth is long gone, so have a seat on the sand in front of the chimney and get warmed by the sun instead.
Walk out toward the end of the rocky point to discover additional views up the east shore of Lake Tahoe toward the north end of the lake. All around Chimney Beach, the water is strikingly clear with a turquoise hue that may draw you in for a swim. Hopefully it’s not too cold…
Behind the chimney, find paths back to the bridge over Marlette Creek. Cross it and return the way you came, ascending just over two hundred feet up to the parking area.
In summer months, Chimney Beach is a popular place for swimmers, sunbathers, and kayakers. Finding open parking spaces at the trailhead may be challenging on warm summer days. Passes and permits are not needed to park at the Secret Harbor Parking Lot in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and hike to Chimney Beach. Dogs are allowed, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From the California border in South Lake Tahoe, take Nevada Route 50 north along the lake. Drive 12 miles up to an intersection with Route 28 (a couple miles after Route 50 strays away from the lake). Turn left on Nevada Route 28 and drive another 5 miles north. Pull into the Secret Harbor Parking Lot off the left side of the road.
Trailhead address: Secret Harbor Parking Lot, Nevada 28, Carson City, NV 89703
Trailhead coordinates: 39.16355, -119.93072 (39° 09′ 48.8″N 119° 55′ 50.6″W)
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