Thunderbird Lodge

September 12, 2013 | Tim Hauserman

As you sit quietly on the Sunnyside deck enjoying a cocktail and gazing out across Lake Tahoe you may ask yourself: Why is there not a light to be seen along that whole big swatch of east shore between Incline and Cave Rock? One big reason is George Whittell. He was the eccentric who built the Thunderbird Lodge, a remote mini San Simeon along the lakeshore a few miles south of Sand Harbor.

George Whittell, owned 40,000 acres, and 20 miles of shoreline, along the east shore of Lake Tahoe.  In 1936 he began construction on his Thunderbird Lodge, which was built of local stone and materials and designed to live in harmony with its natural surroundings. While he originally planned on developing the enormous parcel, his desire for privacy, became more important then making money, and his piece of paradise just became more elaborate and he became more reclusive as the years went by. The Thunderbird Lodge includes a Card House with a secret entrance, a 600 foot long tunnel between house and boathouse which allowed him to move about the property without being seen, and an extensive network of spectacular granite pathways. Oh, and then there was the pet lion and elephant that resided on the property.

The good news for east shore lovers is that Whittell kept those 20 miles of Tahoe shoreline in one ownership for decades, eventually selling much of the land to the State of Nevada and The Forest Service, before his death in 1969.

To check out Thunderbird Lodge from the water, kayak a few lovely miles from Sand Harbor to the castle. Or even better, take a guided tour of the property, where you will see all the hidden hideaways, and hear the intriguing stories of this interesting recluse. The tour includes the boathouse, which holds the wooden Thunderbird, one of Tahoe’s most impressive boats. The lodge and surrounding land is now owned and maintained for public use by the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society. Tours run until Mid-October and begin at the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Visitors Center in Incline. For information and required reservations call 800-468-2463.

Quick Tip: Tahoe Sierra Century-Support the award winning North Tahoe Middle and High School Band programs and enjoy a spectacular road ride in the Tahoe region by participating in the Tahoe Sierra Century, September 14th, 2013. Contact for information.