Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park: The Complete Guide

Sand Harbor Beach

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and a major water attraction in both California and Nevada. Around 15 million people a year journey to one of the oldest lakes in the world, and visitors keep themselves occupied by enjoying the lake by boat, fishing for their dinner, or just appreciating the nature around the area. On the Eastern shore of this impressive lake sits Sand Harbor, one of the many beautiful beaches on the lake. Sand Harbor is an excellent area for swimming and scuba diving because of its clear waters, and an excellent area for boating and fishing, as it boasts two boat ramps. There are also picnic and group use areas for those who aren't interested in getting into the water and just want to enjoy the nature around the area. If you're visiting in the summer, drop by the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and see live performances of some of Shakespeare's best works. Regardless of when or why you visit Sand Harbor, there'll always be something to do and see for everyone.

Sand Harbor and Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park

Even though Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park is administered as a single unit of the park system, it encompasses three recreational areas that are quite different from each other—Sand Harbor, the Spooner Backcountry, and Cave Rock. Taken together, they make Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, one of the most unique and diverse among Nevada's 23 state parks.

Sand Harbor has a fascinating history, dating back to when Native Americans made use of the rich resources in the area. After colonizers came, Sand Harbor was put to various uses and passed through the hands of several owners. The State of Nevada finally acquired some 5,000 acres and Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park opened in 1971.

Kayaking on Lake Tahoe
Squaw Valley Lodge / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

What to See and Do at Sand Harbor

Sand Harbor offers a number of family-friendly recreational activities, including the swimming beach, a boat launch, picnicking, group use areas, hiking, watercraft rentals and tours, and restrooms. The Sand Harbor visitor center has a gift shop, area information, and displays about Lake Tahoe. During the summer months, there is a food concession, snack bar, and shaded seating area.

The Visitor Center: The Sand Harbor visitor center features a gift shop, informative displays, and information about the area. There is a snack bar and grill with food and drinks, and a shady deck for dining and relaxing.

Swimming Beaches: Sand Harbor's beaches are among the nicest on the entire Lake Tahoe shoreline. The main beach area is a long, southwest-facing crescent of sand with plenty of family space. The water is shallow and clear, making it a great place to let the kids play and safely enjoy a day at the beach. There are other, more secluded beaches around Memorial Point, though these are more of a walk from the parking area. There is a beach patrol on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Hiking Trails: There are two developed trails at Sand Harbor. The Sand Harbor to Memorial Point Trail takes hikers out to Memorial Point and accesses other beaches and coves. Sand Point Nature Trail has interpretive signs, takes you to outstanding views of Lake Tahoe, and is handicap accessible.

Group Area: The group area can accommodate up to 100 people. It offers a covered gathering area with electricity, tables, running water, and a big barbecue. The group area is available by reservation only. You can call (775) 831-0494 for more information and to make reservations. Download the group area reservation form and fill it out ahead of time so you're ready when calling or making a reservation in person.

Boat Launch: The boat launch facility has two ramps, docks, and a parking area. All boats must be inspected before launching to ensure that they are not infested with invasive species such as Zebra and Quagga mussels. Be sure to read about boat inspection and launch regulations so you know what to expect. The Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park website advises that boat launch parking fills early on summer weekends. Make sure you check the Sand Harbor website for the most up-to-date hours of operation. Operations are dependent on the weather and hours may change or the facility could temporarily close due to adverse conditions.

Sand Harbor Rentals: Sand Harbor Rentals is a private concessionaire that sets up shop under a white tent by the boat launch area. Available rentals include single and tandem kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and personal sailboats. They also offer guided kayak tours and paddleboard lessons. Because Sand Harbor is so busy during the summer, reservations are highly recommended for Sand Harbor Rentals services. Same-day phone reservations are not accepted, but you may get lucky by just showing up. To do so, get out your credit card and call (530) 581-4336.

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

Sand Harbor is the site of the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival during July and August. This has got to be one of the most beautiful venues in the world for such performances. Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival plays and other activities mostly take place in the evening so as not to create a conflict with the day-use crowds at Sand Harbor.

How to Get There

From Reno, take either U.S. 395 or S. Virginia Street to the Mt. Rose Highway (Nevada 431) and follow the signs to Lake Tahoe and Incline Village. When you reach Nevada 28, turn left toward Incline Village. Sand Harbor is located three miles south of Incline Village on the right (Lake Tahoe side).

Since 2012, walk-in access to Sand Harbor is no longer allowed. The primary reason cited for this change in policy is safety. Due to Sand Harbor's popularity, the park's parking lot frequently fills early during the summer months (see the section below about parking). People had then been parking along Highway 28 and walking along the narrow roadway to enter the park. There are no sidewalks and summer traffic is heavy, making the trek hazardous for both pedestrians and motorists. Drop-offs and parking are illegal along the highway at Sand Harbor. The no-parking zone runs 3/4 of a mile in both directions from the Sand Harbor's main entrance. Those who ignore this zone will be cited.

When the parking lot is full, visitors must take the East Shore Express shuttle from Incline Village to enter the park. The shuttle was canceled for the 2021 season, and there has been no word yet about the 2022 season. Traditionally, hours of operation were every 20 minutes from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The cost was around $3.00 per person and $1.50 for children 12 and under, seniors, and for those who are disabled. The fare also includes admission to Sand Harbor.

Should you get a parking place at Sand Harbor, the fee is $10 per vehicle for Nevada residents and $15 for out-of-state visitors. Fees are subject to change, so check the Nevada State Parks Fee Schedule for the latest information. Those that bike in are only required to pay $2.

The Incline Village pickup location is at the old elementary school on the corner of Tahoe and Southwood Boulevards. Free parking is available. At Sand Harbor, the bus drops passengers at the Visitor's Center near the main beach. The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) will run a weekend route from Reno/Sparks (Outlets at Sparks) to Sand Harbor.

Crowd view of the Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at sunset
Reno Tahoe Territory / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Tips for Visiting Sand Harbor

  • Sand Harbor's popularity creates the biggest hassle—parking. According to the park's website, parking lots are frequently full from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on summer weekends and during weekdays in July and August.
  • There is little shade at this beach destination, and Lake Tahoe sits at 6,200 feet, making the sun fierce. You will roast quickly without lots of sunscreen or clothing to cover bare skin.
  • Be sure to watch kids closely while they play by the water. There are no sudden dropoffs, but Lake Tahoe is always cold and can lead to hypothermia if people stay in too long.
  • There is no camping at Sand Harbor or any other beaches within the park.
  • Pets are not allowed in this 55 acre unit of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.
  • Glass containers are prohibited on the beaches.

More Nevada State Parks

Lake Tahoe Nevada is only one of Nevada's great state parks. Even if you plan to spend the majority of your time in Las Vegas, there are several wonderful parks around the area to explore. Check out the Map of State Parks page to see where more parks are throughout the Silver State.