The history of Lake Tahoe sits at the bottom of its crystal-clear water and it’s now home to an underwater trail where divers can see shipwrecks, barges and other historic relics.
During the heyday of the Emerald Bay Resort in the 1920s and 1930s, the bay was full of recreational boats, launches and barges. In a time when environmental practices weren’t considered, workers would sink the boats when they outlived their usefulness, creating a makeshift boat graveyard in the translucent water of Lake Tahoe. Now, experienced scuba divers can explore the ruins on a developed underwater trail.
The Underwater Trail of Lake Tahoe
In 2018, California State Parks unveiled the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail, which includes four dive sites in Emerald Bay to see the sunken ship graveyard of Tahoe’s historic barges. The dive sites include informational signs placed at GPS locations for divers to learn the history of the area underwater.
The collection of underwater boats is the largest, most diverse group of sunken small watercraft of their kind, in their original location, known to exist in the nation. The cold waters of Lake Tahoe have left the underwater artifacts in a beautifully preserved state. The collection of boats at the dive site is the largest, most diverse group of sunken small watercraft of their kind, in their original location, known to exist in the nation.
With the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail, “scuba hikers” are able to see the sunken treasures of the lake. California State Parks provides the GPS locations and waterproof interpretive cards for the trail, and on the lake bottom, each of the sites is placarded. There are multiple points which divers can access the underwater relics, including an underwater fishing boat on the north side of the bay, and sunken barges sitting approximately 12-feet underwater on the south side.
Here is a map of the underwater park:
Underneath the Waters of Lake Tahoe
Sitting at 6,225 feet elevation as the largest alpine lake in North America, there is plenty to be fascinated with at Lake Tahoe. Its crystal-clear water is naturally filtered by two marshes on either side of the lake, making visibility possible nearly 100-feet underwater. But with the water standing at 1,645 feet deep, the second deepest in North America, there are still many mysteries surrounding Big Blue.
It’s said that French Explorer Jacques Cousteau did a deepwater dive into Lake Tahoe in the 1970s, only to emerge with no documentation or photography. It is said that Cousteau emerged from the dive and claimed “the world isn’t ready for what was down there.”
On top of the legends of Tahoe Tessie, much like the Loch Ness Monster, Lake Tahoe holds a ton of human history dating at least 6,000 years back with the Washoe Tribe. Many people believe that preserved bodies sit at the bottom of the lake from mafia hits and dead Chinese railroad workers. No one has ever been able to confirm these suspicions, but the theory makes a lot of sense.
Luckily for anyone hoping to attempt the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail, California State Parks has developed the area to avoid any issues in the depths of Lake Tahoe. The underwater trail is a true marvel. Here is a look at what you might be able to see on the dive: