Emerald Bay Image

California State Parks and the Sierra State Parks Foundation Debut California’s First Maritime Heritage Underwater Trail at Emerald Bay

Starting October 1, 2018, the public is officially able to experience California’s first maritime heritage underwater trail devoted to showcasing Lake Tahoe’s historic recreational watercraft and barges, that now rest below the surface of Emerald Bay.

Scuba and snorkel diving visitors will be able to explore an underwater “trail” of historic features at several sites along the shoreline of Emerald Bay State Park, Lake Tahoe. Currently, divers have access to the Historic Barge Dive Site established by California State Parks in 1998. The department has never publicly released the location and information about three additional sites highlighted in this underwater trail until now.

Underwater interpretative panels have been placed at four dive sites in Emerald Bay. Waterproof interpretive cards created for divers will be available at the park’s visitor centers, local dive shops, online here and on the Sierra State Parks Foundation’s website. These panels and interpretive cards were made possible by the generous support of the Sierra State Parks Foundation.

Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail Grand Opening

Video Courtesy: California State Parks and PowerVision

#DiveIntoEmeraldBay Video

Video Courtesy: California State Parks and Maurice Roper

About Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail

Emerald Bay, situated on the western side of Lake Tahoe, is and has been an American tourist destination for well over 150 years. Translucent blue-green water surrounded by vertical cliffs, green conifers, and granite boulders creates

Emerald Bay Camp, 1922 image
Figure 1. Emerald Bay Camp, 1922. Image courtesy of
El Dorado Historical Museum.

the quintessential Tahoe experience and one that has drawn people to the bay specifically for recreation since the 1860s.

The Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage (underwater) Trail celebrates the history of Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe’s culture of recreation by way of shipwrecks. The bay is the final resting place of several recreational boats, launches and barges used on the lake during the early 20th century. This was the heyday of the Emerald Bay Resort (1920s and 1930s) and the construction of the Scandinavian “castle,” Vikingsholm (1929).

Wooden fishing boatFigure 2. Wooden fishing boat with live bait well situated between the two thwart seats.
Photograph by Sheli O. Smith, Ph.D.,PAST Foundation.

These boats were likely purposely scuttled (sunk) when they outlived their usefulness, but now serve as reminders of the golden age of recreation in Tahoe. This collection is the largest, most diverse group of sunken small watercraft of its kind, in their original location, known to exist in the nation.

Steamer ferrying Model A imageFigure 3. Steamer (left) ferrying Model A on barge (right).
Photo courtesy of University of Nevada Special Collections.

The Barge Dive Site, located off the southeastern shore of the bay, was initially established in 1998. The site consists of two barges, built of massive Ponderosa pine timbers, sitting at a depth between 10 to 40 feet deep. The barges were owned and operated by the lumber companies, who used them to haul cordwood part of the year and then employed them as car ferries during the summer months. Since the barges had no means of propulsion, they were either towed or pushed by steamers. The southernmost barge, lying parallel to shore, represents the more complete of the two and measures over 100 feet long. This site is accessible to both snorkel and scuba diving park visitors.

Divers photo documenting imageFigure 4. Divers photodocumenting one of the wooden barges.
Photo by Mylana Haydu, Indiana State University, Center for Underwater Science.

The remaining dive sites (Passenger Launch – Florence M, Wooden Fishing Boat and Hard Chine Skiff) on the trail are associated with the Emerald Bay Resort. The resort was one of the longest continuously operating resorts of this type in the area. The land was acquired by the State in the 1950s and the buildings were removed to make way for the campground.

 Emerald Bay Resort Post Card image
Figure 5. Emerald Bay Resort Post Card (ca. 1940).

The resort once existed on what is now Boat Camp, the lake’s only boat-in campground,located on the north shore of the bay. Compared with Tahoe’s luxury hotels, the Emerald Bay Resort was a simple family resort with a hotel, cottages, tent pads, dance pavilion, and all necessary infrastructure including several piers where steamers could dock to unload passengers and supplies. The resort offered several forms of recreation, but the small recreational boats were undoubtedly a popular element to the experience.

 Recording the passenger launch image
Figure 6. Recording the passenger launch, Florence M.
Photograph by Ken Kramer, Parks Dive Safety Officer.

Just offshore of Boat Camp is a collection of small vessels that were likely sunk at their moorings, 30 to 60 feet below the surface. The cold Tahoe water helps to preserve these boats, some of which are over 100 years old. The collection includes a metal kayak, day sailor, and launch along with wooden fishing boats, rowboats, and motorboats. Along with the two large barges, the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail includes two fishing boats and a 27-foot long launch. The launch likely represents the oldest boat in the collection. She was built in 1915 at the Stephens Brothers boatyard in Stockton. Proprietor of the Emerald Bay Resort purchased the boat, Florence M, and brought it to the lake in 1926 to provide day excursions for resort guests.

To learn more about the dive sites, click here to view the new interpretive panels.

Diving Safety Precautions

The four dive sites of the Emerald Bay State Park Maritime Heritage Trail at Lake Tahoe range in depth from 10 to 60 feet. Park visitor divers are invited to explore and enjoy the trail and are reminded to use caution and adhere to safe diving practices at all times. Because of the remote location, access by boat is advised. Lake altitude is over 6,000 feet in elevation. Divers should be prepared for extreme cold water temperatures year round.

Please help prevent diving accidents by observing the following safety precautions:

  • Be properly trained and equipped for conditions.
  • Always dive with a buddy.
  • Ensure altitude diving safety practices are followed.
  • Check weather and diving conditions ahead of time.
  • Be prepared to render assistance in case of emergency.
  • Follow boating safety guidelines and regulations.

Photo: Scuba diver at Emerald bay State Underwater Park.

The waters offshore of Emerald Bay State Park were identified as a special underwater area in 1994. As a scuba diver in Emerald Bay, you will enjoy an experience unavailable to most visitors to the lake. You have the opportunity to view and touch the artifacts of an age long past.

The area is the resting place for many boats, launches and barges used in the lake before the turn of the century, during the heyday of Emerald Bay Resort and used in the construction of Vikingsholm.

Please be aware as you view and enjoy these artifacts that we all have the responsibility of protecting them for others to see and enjoy. All artifacts you find while diving in the State Parks are protected by state law and may not be taken or disturbed regardless of size or value.

In 1994 the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in cooperation with the California Department of Parks and Recreation installed a mooring buoy at the barge dive site located on the southern shore of Emerald Bay. Two historic barges lay in 35' of water at this site. This is also the location of a dump site possibly used by Emerald Bay Resort and others from 1884 until 1953. Small artifacts from the dump may be found at the Northwest corner of the western most barge. Please leave in place all artifacts you may find.

Emerald Bay Resort was situated on the North shore of Emerald Bay where Boat Camp is currently located. If you dive in this area you will find a variety of artifacts from the resort including telephone batteries, old tires, sinks, toilets, an old pier, a diving platform, at least five dories and two launches. One diver even reported seeing a model A Ford!