It’s as if you are floating in space. You glide slowly through the calm, crystal clear water with each paddle stroke. To the starboard, emerald green water rests above a sandy bottom; on the port, a deep dark blue that appears to go on into infinity. It’s 8 a.m., the quiet is surreal, and you have the lake to yourself.
This is kayaking Lake Tahoe. “It gives me goose bumps to talk about the clarity of the lake,” says Don Sullivan, author of Kayaking Tahoe: The Unofficial Guide. “It’s just amazing.”
Whether you are paddling along the west shore toward Emerald Bay or moving past the sparkling white beaches of Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe is a splendid place to spend a day in a kayak. As peaceful as a day of kayaking on the lake can be, it pales in comparison to the six-day, 72-mile circumnavigation that is the Lake Tahoe Water Trail. Kayaking the rim of Lake Tahoe is a challenging undertaking, even for those well acquainted with the sport. Following is a snapshot of the journey, which starts (and ends) at Sand Harbor.
Day one consists of a paddle west past Incline Village and the boulders at Bucks Beach before reaching Tahoe Vista, where there are a variety of lodging options right on the beach and Spindleshanks restaurant across the highway. On day two you can camp right next to the lake at Tahoe City, then stroll past dozens of shops and restaurants. If your arms are up for it, paddle another two miles to William Kent Campground and dine next door on the spacious deck at Sunnyside Lodge.
Day three takes you along the west shore, past palatial lakefront estates, to beachside camping at Meeks Bay or D.L. Bliss State Park, named for Duane Leroy Bliss. Both parks have inviting sandy swimming beaches. Meeks Bay has a snack bar and a store just above the waterside. On day four, wave at hikers on the popular Rubicon trail as you paddle to the Emerald Bay Boat Campground or nearby Camp Richardson. At Camp Richardson you can enjoy live music and great food at The Beacon Bar and Grill. Day five takes you past busy South Lake Tahoe, back into Nevada, and to Zephyr Cove, where you can dine at Sunset Bar and Grille and find camping.
The last day will be the longest, but many would argue the prettiest, taking you on a 15-mile run from Zephyr Cove—past sacred Cave Rock, and secluded east shore beaches such as Skunk Harbor, Secret Harbor, and Chimney Beach—to Sand Harbor.
If 70-plus miles of kayaking is more than you are prepared for, a day or two on the lake is still a memorable experience. Try either of these exceptional routes that take you past miles of public land and afford stunning views of the lake and mountains:
D.L. Bliss State Park to Emerald Bay: Depart from the sandy beach at D.L. Bliss State Park and keep an eye out for nesting ospreys and dramatic rock formations. Paddle in and out of little coves before reaching the kaleidoscopic waters of Emerald Bay. On your return, plan to spend a few hours at the spectacular beaches of D.L. Bliss State Park or take a hike along the Rubicon Trail back to Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm. It’s nine miles out and back to the castle, and six miles to the entrance of the bay and back. This kayak trip also can be part of a multi day west shore excursion. Campgrounds on the beach include Tahoe City, Sunnyside (William Kent), Meeks Bay, Bliss, and Emerald Bay.
Sand Harbor to Thunderbird Lodge and beyond: Another favorite launching spot for a day trip is Sand Harbor. Here you can paddle past giant granite boulders to Chimney Beach and nearby dozens of tiny, private coves. When your arms have had enough, return to Sand Harbor and rest those tired bones on a beach chair while enjoying the Bard’s best at the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, July 10 to August 17.
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