Breaking down Lake Tahoe’s best kayak trip along West Shore |

Breaking down Lake Tahoe’s best kayak trip along West Shore

Find seclusion and sensational sights during a West Shore kayak trip.
Courtesy Tim Hauserman |

MEEKS BAY, Calif. — Paddling a kayak on Lake Tahoe is an amazing experience.

Whether you are gazing down through clear, cool water at rocks that look close enough to touch — but actually lie 20 feet below — or marveling at the startling contrast of the lake’s deep blue against the bright green of the mountain sides, kayaking is a peaceful and beautiful way to see the lake.

While you can launch your kayak at dozens of places around the lake, a few special spots stand out for their perfection. One of the best is the six-mile round trip from Bliss State Park to the entrance of Emerald Bay.


Your journey begins in the early morning on the enormous sandy beach of D.L. Bliss State Park.

What could be a finer start then soft sand and a glorious mix of green and blue water begging you to swim? But kayak first while the lake is glass, and save the swim for a delicious reward upon your return.

This is one of the most popular beaches on the lake, so arrive early or you will not get a parking spot.

The park entrance fee is $10, and park officials will want to determine that your kayak is not harboring any pesky invasive species before letting you in.

It’s a short haul with your kayak down to the water’s edge from the lakeside parking lot. Paddle south past the large boats that are invariably parked off shore and packed with revelers.

You quickly pass the large boulders and cliffs that define the start of the Rubicon hiking trail, which follows the shoreline to Emerald Bay. Gaze high above to see the hiking trail tucked into the cliff edge.


As you paddle, stay close to shore in the midst of the multi-colored water and fascinating granite boulder formations.

Keep your eyes peeled for osprey nests: Large stacks of sticks on the top of dead trees. They make a high-pitched tweeting noise, and are amazingly adept fishers.

I’ve seen osprey dive into lakes in the Desolation Wilderness and repeatedly come up with fish held tight in their talons. They make quite a splash going in, and then you are surprised that they can fly away carrying fish that look heavier then they are.

While not as common, you also might see a bald eagle, which I have seen on several occasions along this stretch of shoreline.

A highlight of one trip was two ospreys chasing an eagle away from their nest. For three miles you wind along the shoreline, marveling at the interesting rock formations and teeny bays.

Just like the Bliss beach at the beginning, it is the stark contrast between the emerald green waters close in, and the starkly blue water farther out that adds to the beauty.


Just before reaching Emerald Bay, you pass lovely Bonnie Bay, where the mixture of multi-colored water and granite boulders reaches what would seem to be a crescendo of beauty, but it is about to get better when you see the bay itself.

Mt. Tallac and the two Maggie’s Peaks dominate the skyline, with the entire expanse of Emerald Bay in the foreground.

It is truly an amazing view. And a kayak is the best way in the world to enjoy it, especially when the water is low and you can paddle to many places you could not get to by motorboat.

Stay close to shore to avoid the heavy motorboat traffic. Once you enter the bay, you will have a decision to make: How tired are you? You have to paddle back all the distance you have already paddled, perhaps with some wind and boat waves thrown in to add to the challenge.

If you are feeling refreshed, go check out more of Emerald Bay, perhaps paddling all the way to the island and Vikingsholm — if not, turn around at the bay’s entrance.

When you arrive back at Bliss, your shoulders will be exhausted, but rest of you will be ready to jump into those clear, almost warm waters off the beach.

Then afterward, sit a spell and enjoy the incredible view — you’ve earned it.

Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at

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