While most visitors to Lake Tahoe stay above water, there are a few hardy swimmers who love the cold and venture beneath its blue waters. Tahoe is as blue as the Caribbean, but does not contain much to look at underwater. There are a few fish and “crawdads” (crayfish), rocks shaped like whales, sunken treasures like boats and large tree trunks, but other than that, it’s just blue, blue water. What is nice about snorkeling or diving the lake, other than the ocean, is that the water is so fresh and clean, you can practically drink it.
If you are diving, Tahoe waters are over 5,000 feet in elevation, so be sure to check your dive tables for high altitude dive regulations. Also, remember to use a “diver down” flag and to bring a buddy. If you are ready to slip on a wetsuit and strap on fins and a mask, you will find the the underwater world of Tahoe to be beautiful and empty of other tourists.
1. Sunken Barges in Emerald Bay
Even snorkelers on the surface of the lake can see these two sunken barges from the 1900s that were used in carrying general cargo on the lake. They were towed by steamers that made a regular circuit between California and Nevada anchorages. The barges, made of massive Ponderosa pine timbers, begin at about 10 feet deep and plunge into the green depths to about 30 feet deep. They are located on the East side of Emerald Bay and are marked by a white buoy. Visibility is excellent at Emerald Bay and can range from 60 to 70 feet on a good day. Bottom composition ranges from sand to soft silt, so buoyancy control is important.
2. Sand Harbor
Most SCUBA diving open water courses take place in Diver’s Cove, located in Sand Harbor. The bottom depth averages 30 feet, but about 300 feet from the swimming markers are a few vertical cliffs that plunge down hundreds of feet. This slope offers vertical cliffs, large sunken trees, and numerous rocks. Boats frequent the area beyond the marker buoys, often traveling at high speeds. Use caution when surfacing in this area. Novice divers and snorkelers will enjoy the many large rocks on the left and right side of Diver’s Cove. Approximately 100 feet from shore, at a compass heading of 275 degrees true yields pieces of an old barge. On the right side of Diver’s Cove, large granite rocks form a cave. Bottom composition is sandy, with many large rocks to swim around. Visibility can range from 50 to 60 feet.
3. Rubicon Point
Just off the shore of D.L. Bliss State Park is one of the deepest diving areas of Tahoe. This site is recommended for all levels of divers as there diverse areas of shallow to deep water. A wall dive is located at Rubicon Point which is accessible by boat. This is considered by many as the most breathtaking dive site in the entire Sierra. Since this is a challenging dive, it is recommended only for advanced divers. Vertical drops on the wall extend to well over 800 feet and proper buoyancy control is imperative. Visibility is excellent at Rubicon Point and can range from 70 to 100 feet. There are interesting granite formations consisting of large boulders near the wall. Often, there are large schools of fingerling trout in the 30 to 35-foot range. Snorkelers may not see much from the surface, but the deep blue water is beautiful to swim through. Strictly Scuba Dive and Snorkel Center offers SCUBA classes and dives to the Rubicon Point area.
4. Thunderbird Lodge
This peninsula on the East side of Tahoe is home to the Thunderbird Lodge, a mansion from 1936. This area is popular with hikers and boaters and might be one of the best places for snorkelers. Water depths are around 10-25 feet and feature large boulders, sunken tree trunks and various shades of blue water.
5. Secret Harbor
Known more for its nude beach, this beautiful area is a great place to snorkel or SCUBA dive. You will have to walk about a mile from the parking area to the beach, so be conservative with your gear. The lake bottom is mostly sand with scatterings of rocks and large boulders. There are a few rock “caves” that both divers and snorkelers can swim through…with or without clothes on.