Many visitors to Lake Tahoe may not realize that there are several castles on the lake. Vikingsholm Castle in Emerald Bay may be the most visited, but the Thunderbird Lodge (former home of George Whittell, Jr.) is probably the most beautiful. The castle, its various outbuildings and the gorgeous grounds right on the shore of the lake are open for tours from June to October. Private group tours are available all year long.
The "Card House" of the Thunderbird Lodge — Photo courtesy of Thunderbird Lodge
The Thunderbird Lodge was built in 1936 by Whittell, who owned nearly 40,000 acres of the Nevada shoreline and had plans to turn the area into a casino haven for the rich. However, the surrounding mountains, water and nature enchanted him and he decided to preserve the land and the home for future use. The property now belongs to the Forest Service and Nevada State Parks. The lodge is available for tours, weddings, special events and the organization who protects the lodge also holds winemaker dinners and special holiday events during the year.
The view of Lake Tahoe from the Thunderbird Lodge — Photo courtesy of Thunderbird Lodge
During the tours, visitors will get a glimpse of what life might have been like living on the lake in 1936. The tours cover the main mansion, the Lighthouse Room, the Old Lodge, the servant's quarters, and the Card House (where historic poker games were held). The castle has its quirks too: to view the Card House and ground's gardens, fountains, lagoons and waterfalls, you have to cross over the Dragon's Tail bridge and if you want access to the Boathouse, you walk through a 600 foot underground tunnel. The Boathouse holds the mansion's legendary 1939 speedboat, Thunderbird, which is powered by twin engines from a vintage WWII fighter aircraft.
The gazebo — Photo courtesy of Thunderbird Lodge
Tour ticket prices are $39 for adults and $19 for children ages 6-12. All funds go to preserve the Thunderbird Lodge and the speedboat. Reservations are required for all tours.