Bliss State Park’s balancing act |

Bliss State Park’s balancing act

At 130 tons, Balancing Rock at Lake Tahoe’s Bliss State Park is a natural wonder.
Photo by Rich Moreno |

It’s hard not to be impressed by Balancing Rock at the D.L. Bliss State Park, located on the California side of Lake Tahoe.

Balancing Rock is exactly what its name indicates—a pair of giant boulders, with one appearing to be precariously balanced on top of the other.

The big one on top, however, also resembles a huge human nose with an open nostril, but Big Nose Rock doesn’t quite have the commercial appeal as a name.

A giant nose-shaped rock, however, isn’t all that Bliss State Park has to offer. Located 17 miles south of Tahoe City on State Route 89, Bliss encompasses some 1,200 acres of pristine, forested land overlooking Lake Tahoe.

The park is named for Duane LeRoy Bliss, one of the 19th century lumber barons that nearly chopped down every tree at Lake Tahoe. Fortunately, they grew back.

At one time, Bliss owned nearly 75 percent of Tahoe’s shoreline as well as the local steamboat line, the train system, and a variety of other businesses. In the 1930s, his family donated about 800 acres of lakefront property to the state of California for a park (the state later acquired additional land).

The result is a fine park that boasts several miles of pristine lakeside property including two white-sand beaches. At the north end of the park is Rubicon Point, which is adjacent to one of the deepest parts of Lake Tahoe.

The park is only open seasonally, from late May to mid-to-late September.

One of the park’s landmarks is the Rubicon Point Lighthouse, erected in about 1918. This is not one of those big, round lighthouses like you see in the movies but rather was a small, square wooden structure that sat about 200 feet above the lake and helped serve as a navigational beacon.

The lighthouse, which kind of looks like an old pump house, was abandoned in the 1920s. For the next 80 years, it was largely ignored and left to decay. In 1997, however, the state stabilized the building, which ensured it wouldn’t disintegrate into the surrounding forest.

A short (3/4 of a mile) but very steep hiking trail leads to the lighthouse. Along the way, hikers can enjoy some of the best views of Lake Tahoe and Sierra Nevada.

During a previous visit, we paid the day use fee and drove down to one of the beaches. The water was surprisingly warm so we managed to get in some splashing around time.

Part of the reason we wanted to visit Bliss was that we had heard about Balancing Rock. We asked the park ranger where it was located and she gave us directions to the Balancing Rock Nature Trail.

A brochure at the trailhead noted that the walk was a little under a half-mile. Markers that corresponded to numbers in the brochure indicated the flora, fauna and geology of the area.

Reading the brochure, we discovered that we were walking in shallow, granitic soil and that the vegetation along the way includes Huckleberry oak shrubs as well as white, red and yellow fir trees.

We meandered on the dirt trail for less than a quarter mile before finally seeing Balancing Rock. It was impressive. A massive football-shaped rock weighing some 130 tons was perched or balanced above a second boulder. A thin membrane of stone connected the two giant rocks.

We circled the delicately balanced granite sculpture, admiring how nature had created just the right set of circumstances to result in this monolith. The brochure pointed out that, “the precarious remnant will certainly fall when enough material has eroded away to break the equilibrium between the two pedestals.”

We hoped it wouldn’t be while we were walking around it.

For more information about D.L. Bliss State Park go to

Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.