Why does Highway 89 close at Emerald Bay?

Laney Griffo

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Emerald Bay is an iconic part of Lake Tahoe but at least once every winter, Highway 89 closes, cutting off the scenic drive.

Clearing Highway 89 is usually a full-day job.

On Monday, the section of highway reopened, after being closed from last week’s storm. However, due to the storm on the horizon, a Caltrans representative said this will likely be short-lived.

“We close it due to multiple slide areas around Emerald Bay that create unsafe driving conditions with 20 or so feet of snow and debris piling up on the highway, but we don’t close it for the entire winter. We haven’t done that for decades,” said Steve Nelson, Caltrans District 3 Public Information Officer, adding that the last time was in 1980s but they aren’t sure of the exact year.

A supervisor at Caltrans said in his nearly 40 years at the job, there hasn’t been a year when they haven’t have to close the road at least once.

To reopen the road, the Caltrans maintenance supervisor looks at the forecast and if there are a couple days of clear weather after a storm, they’ll use blowers, plows and graders to open it back up.

“It’s usually a full-day operation, as it was yesterday, to reopen,” Nelson said.

However, starting this evening, light snow is expected to come to the Basin, with heavier snow storms starting overnight. Agencies are warning against holiday travel this week and Caltrans is likely to close Emerald Bay again.

To look at road conditions, visit

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