Boating images define the classic Tahoe summer lifestyle: The bow of an antique wooden hulled Chris-Craft plying the lake's pristine emerald waters, the stately whitewalled ferry Tahoe Queen sternwheeling along an unspoiled shore, small sailboats catching the strong mountain breezes that aerate the lake each afternoon. For kayakers, especially, this vast mountain lake is a boater's dream-come-true.
Easy to navigate and extremely stable, kayaks are the ultimately aquatic escape vehicle, especially in Tahoe's crowded midsummer months. Paddle away in a kayak in water so clear you'll feel like you are floating on air. Glide along Tahoe's granite boulder-studded shoreline to views that few tourists ever see. Enjoy Sierra-style serenity in the middle of northern California's most popular playground.
After renting kayaks at one of Tahoe's most well-established kayak tour firms, Kayak Tahoe, we launched at Baldwin Beach, the closest public boat launch heading into Emerald Bay, just two miles to the north.
Sliding our boats into the lake, we hugged a shoreline that was thickly wooded with fir and sugar pine. In about an hour, we arrived at Emerald Bay State Park's boat-in campground, where we had reserved a spot amid the giant yellow pine and cedar trees for an overnight stay along the lakeshore.
Emerald Bay is a gorgeous inlet, a remnant of the last Ice Age and one of Tahoe's most photographed settings. Tiny Fannette island, the only island in Lake Tahoe, sits dewdrop-like in the middle of pristine bay and we felt very lucky to be able to spend the night amidst this alpine splendor.
If you don't want to overnight on Emerald Bay but want to visit by boat, Kayak Tahoe rents kayaks by the day and runs two guided tours, both about 3.75 miles paddling distance. The standard tour runs from 9-1 ($65) and an extended tour from 9-2:30 ($85). Tours land on Fannette Island and the extended version tours Vikingsholm ($8 admission fee not included), a historic 38-room Scandinavian-style mansion located on the bay. No previous kayaking experience is necessary and the minimum age is 8.
Kayak Tahoe's main base is in the Timber Cove Marina on the lake's southern shore near Stateline (they also have rental and lesson locations at Nevada Beach, Pope Beach, Baldwin Beach and, new in 2012, right on the sandy shore of Emerald Bay at Vikingsholm.) Kayak reservations are strongly suggested for Emerald Bay excursions and they recommend you start in the morning, when there's less wind and boat traffic. Be sure to bring plenty of food and water, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, rope, raingear, whistle and money.