The history behind one of Lake Tahoe’s most popular — and easy — hikes |

The history behind one of Lake Tahoe’s most popular — and easy — hikes

The Stateline Fire Lookout provides stellar views of Lake Tahoe, and the cost of admission is only a short hike.
Mark McLaughlin | Lake Tahoe Action

CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. — On some days, there is precious little time to invest in a major outing in the Lake Tahoe Basin, but if you’re near the state line on the North Shore, take a walk up to the old fire lookout above Crystal Bay for some jaw-dropping views of Big Blue.

It’s a short quarter-mile walk up a moderate grade to the overlook along a paved maintenance road that offers expansive views down the length of Lake Tahoe.

It’s a great jaunt for families with kids because it’s not far or difficult, and there are modern bathrooms at the top. There are also loop trails with informative plaques loaded with facts about the Tahoe forest.

They describe the destructive logging practices of the second half of the 19th century, when lumberjacks clear cut the basin. The timber was used to sustain Comstock mining operations in both tunnel support and cordwood to fire boilers.

Today most of those statuesque tree giants are now rotting underground beneath the touristy boardwalk of Virginia City, Nev. One interpretive sign on the walk informs viewers that it will take another 300 years for the second-growth trees to reach the “size and greatness of the old growth forest from a century ago.”

Access to the lookout trail is gained by turning up Reservoir Drive (to the north off State Route 28) along the eastern margin of the Tahoe Biltmore’s main parking lot.

Drive two blocks up to a water tower and make a right hand turn onto Lakeview Road. It’s about one mile to a locked fire gate where you will start your journey. Park your car on the shoulder of Lakeview Road so you don’t block the gate.

Originally built in 1936 at elevation 7,017 feet, the Stateline Fire Lookout tower was dismantled in 2002 after technological advances in fire detection made human spotters too expensive and obsolete.

Today the U.S. Forest Service relies on average citizens who spot small fires to report them on cellphones, in addition to aircraft and satellite surveillance. The tower itself may be gone, but the nearly 360-degree view is incredible nonetheless.

There are benches and tables for picnic lunches and quiet relaxation or reflection, so it’s a perfect spot for taking a breather from the often hectic pace of summer activities at Tahoe.

Immediately below the overlook you can see all of Kings Beach as well as Brockway Point, where the famous Cal Neva Resort & Casino, owned by Frank Sinatra in the early 1960s, is going through major renovations.

A major seismic fault runs under the lake through this area, which created the Brockway Hot Springs, a popular resort first established in the 1860s. Next time you have an hour or two, check out the Stateline Fire Lookout. You’ll be glad you did.

Lake Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or at You can reach him at Check out his blog at

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