Rubicon Trail to Vikingsholm – September 1996
THE RUBICON TRAIL – D.L. Bliss State Park to Vikingsholm
Difficulty level: Easy
Length: 8 1/2-10 miles round trip
Map: USFS Tahoe National Forest
September is my favorite month to visit Tahoe. The tourist hordes turn off like a faucet after Labor Day, the lake water is (finally!) swimming temperature, and Indian summer days are warm. This hike is one of my favorites in the entire area for its gaa-gaa views, picturesque beaches, osprey nests and an historic Scandinavian-style castle.
Take Highway 89 south to “Fanny Bridge,” so-called because of all the folks leaning over the railing to gawk at the big trout below the Tahoe dam. D.L. Bliss State Park is about 10 miles past Tahoe City. Pay your $5 entry fee for day-use and wind down to the Callawee Cove parking area above a scenic beach with turquoise-colored water.
The trail starts out through overhanging boulders and passes by indigo-blue Rubicon Point, the deepest place in Tahoe. After about a mile you’ll see a sign for a ruined lighthouse on the right. Look directly down towards the water to spot a huge osprey nest in a snag. Like balds, osprey return to and add on to their stick nests every year. I’ve seen fledglings in this nest in early summer being fed by both parents (the males participate equally in rearing of the young), who danced around the edge as they changed shifts.
Ospreys, once called “fish hawks,” are our third-largest raptor, after golden and bald eagles. They are distinguishable from balds by their speckled breasts and a pronounced “elbow” bend to and conspicuous white patches on the undersides of their wings.
I’m always amused that ospreys and balds, for all their impressive size and fierce looks, chirp like tiny caged canaries. Listen for a continuous, high-pitched “kyew, kyew, kyew”; you can get them to respond and circle in curiosity if you imitate it, like my friend, Roger, and I did recently for three ospreys near their nest at Spaulding.
The trail gently ascends and descends along the water (look for more nests), switchbacks down to a rocky point with gorgeous views of Nevadan mountains then flattens out in a dense forest. There’s a little beach with azure-colored water for a quick dip then you enter the trees again to emerge on sandy Emerald Point.
I like to go out to the point for lunch; beware of insistent Canada geese who know exactly what the sound of rustling plastic bags means. Look for the Tahoe Queen and Dixie Queen paddleboats entering the bay and gaze up towards the Eagle Falls trailhead into Desolation Wilderness. Listen and watch for osprey.
At this point you can either turn back or take the trail for 1 1/2 miles past a state parks boats-only camp to Vikingsholm. The 48-room mansion was built in 1928 by Lora J. Knight, an eccentric rich woman who had fallen in love with rustic castles she had seen in Europe and decided to duplicate a circa-800 A.D. Norwegian fortress.
Knight imported European masons and woodcarvers to create what is considered the finest example of Scandinavian architecture in the Western Hemisphere out of native stone and timber. I love the Celtic-looking carvings, leaded glass and sod roof, on which columbines bloom earlier in the summer. Tours of Vikingsholm go through Labor Day, but after that you can still peak into the courtyard and peer into the windows at period furniture. Knight also built the rock structure on the bay’s Fannette Island to which she would ferry her guests for high tea. The state acquired the parcel in 1953.
The beach at Vikingsholm is a pleasant place to relax and picnic. The castle is only accessible by foot – a major part of its charm, for me – either from our trail or a mile of switchbacks from Highway 89. Take a quick look at Eagle Falls, which cascades prettily down behind the castle, before you retrace your steps. Don’t resist joining the other “fannies” at Tahoe City, and have a beer at the dam.
This article was originally published on 10/13/1999.
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