All of Lake Tahoe’s panoramic views of towering Sierra Nevada peaks set against a brilliant blue sky intensify while seated in a kayak. Just inches from the clear water, you can better appreciate the splendors of nature: a bald eagle soaring on wind currents, an osprey feeding her young from a nest tucked into a pine tree’s high branches, or perhaps a black bear foraging for berries in a thicket of aspens and evergreens.
Whether you are a beginner or possess superior skills, gliding across the lake’s mirrored surface is an action souvenir to treasure. Several companies on the South, North and Eastern Shores of California or Nevada rent kayaks for solo or group paddles, so push off and enjoy.
Along the South Shore
From Nevada Beach near the California/Nevada border west to Emerald Bay, Kayak Tahoe offers a variety of experiences from any of their five locations.
If you are a novice, their half-day lesson teaches the basics, while the skill level of intermediates and experts improve with advanced instructions on kayaking techniques like accomplishing an Eskimo roll. The company provides wetsuits to prevent hypothermia in the cool water.
You can combine sightseeing on land with a jaunt atop the waters by renting one of their kayaks at Pope or Baldwin Beaches. Both are on the shores of former summer estates of 19th- and early 20th-century millionaire families, and are open to the public for tours.
The teal waters of the appropriately named Emerald Bay, with its tiny Fannette Island, deliver inspirational views from twisting roads high in the mountains. Kayak Tahoe is the only authorized company allowed to rent kayaks, and offer guided tours from its shoreline by the Scandinavian-inspired Vikingsholm estate. Children, starting at 8 years old, can join the half-day paddle. Be prepared, though: paid parking at Emerald Bay is located one-mile up on an overlook. Walking down is fine; however, the return trek can be tiring.
Camp Richardson, or “Camp Rich” as locals call it, offers kayak rentals from its marina just three miles from the split of Highway 50 and Route 89 in South Lake Tahoe. You can stick close to the shore, paddle around moored boats, some of them legendary wooden crafts, or up to the Tallac Historic Site’s nearby beach for an impromptu picnic or a daytime concert and other family activities.
Paddling the North and Eastern Shores
Head to Tahoe Vista where Tahoe Adventure Company’s kayaking tours highlight incredible scenery, history, and enjoyable scientific facts during the day and night.
An included deli lunch fuels your appetite for the adventure on the four-hour North Shore paddle as you pass King’s Beach and serpentine through boulder-strewn Crystal Bay. Join TAC’s other guided tours along Lake Tahoe’s undeveloped eastern side around Sand Harbor. A highlight is seeing the stately 1930s Thunderbird Lodge, either from the water or by mooring to take a guided tour inside.
On Fridays, as the sun’s rays kiss the lake’s waters good night, paddle out to watch the twilight’s colors transform into star-strewn skies. Back on the beach, entertaining astronomy lessons and snacks await you. Or, illuminate your Lake Tahoe vacation with one of TAC’s full-moon kayak tours.
If you prefer touring without the crowds, consider their Lodge-to-Lodge two to four-day kayaking adventures every September and October.
Set off early in the morning, in a rented one-seat or two-seat kayak, and often a family of mallard ducks will paddle, like a feathered honor guard, alongside for a few yards at Zephyr Cove. Located along Nevada’s Eastern Shore, its beach is very popular with locals and tourists. Book early to avoid disappointment.
—By LJ Bottjer
LJ Bottjer is a cultural chameleon whose work has appeared with CBS News, the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group, and Travel & Leisure.