Standup Paddle Boarding in Lake Tahoe

In the northwestern corner of Nevada tucked into a pocket of northeastern California lies a gorgeous azure alpine lake tucked into pine trees and mountain peaks called Lake Tahoe. Sitting at an elevation of 6,223 feet, Lake Tahoe is a premier destination for people who enjoy the outdoors and want to relax, unwind, and rejuvenate.

Due to its high altitude, Lake Tahoe is also a great place to train and prepare for a multitude of sports including snowboarding, backpacking trips, 10k runs, triathlons, Tough Mudders, or standup paddle board races. 

Lake Tahoe is 24 miles long and 12 miles wide with a circumference of 72 miles. The California-Nevada state line directly intersects it, meeting in South Lake Tahoe and in Crystal Bay, Nevada (where you see all the casinos).

The deepest point of the lake is around 1600 feet deep, its expansiveness and cavernous blue abyss part of the reason why it never freezes. However, since Lake Tahoe is fed by snowmelt that collects at the mountain peaks around it, the water stays quite chilly- especially after a big winter.

The water temperature ranges from 44 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring to the high 60s by late autumn, then when the dark gray stormy days sneak in then standup paddle boarders either trade their lake vessels in for snow skis or head south to warmer weather.

All these are reasons of what makes Lake Tahoe a premier standup paddle boarding destination. There is plenty to see and do while out on the water, from gazing up at the osprey nests on West Shore (and maybe sneaking a peek at Mark Zuckerberg’s new house) to being enamored at seeing the sand and the granite rock some 30 feet down due to the water being so clear.

So, if you’re ready to spend a day, a weekend, or a week paddling around Lake Tahoe, here are some points of interest, must-sees, and where to stay while planning your paddle board trip around Big Blue.

But first, some safety and preparation tips:

How to Prepare for Standup Paddle Board on Lake Tahoe

The first thing to be aware of when planning your trip to Lake Tahoe is that the weather can change at any time. And like climbing Mt. Everest, if the conditions aren’t right then it can literally become a life or death situation. If NOAA issues a Lake Advisory Warning, do not go out. Cold water temps and winds creating 4-6 ft. waves can send you off your board. And not only you don’t want to be out there alone when hypothermia sets in, but it can also take a while to warm back up. Therefore, before any paddling trip, be sure to keep these three things in mind:

  • Check the Windfinder app
  • Make sure you have the right equipment
  • Be aware of boats

Now let’s focus on some of the best places to paddle in Tahoe!

A Snapshot of the Four Quadrants of Paddling Lake Tahoe

The Nevada-California state line goes right through the lake, making the two states friendly neighbors. Simply put, the West Shore is in California, the East Shore is in Nevada, and the north/south shores share the border where you see a smattering of casinos butted up against the state line. Starting in North Lake Tahoe and circumventing the lake clockwise, here are some noteworthy paddling spots:

North Lake Tahoe

white pelican in lake tahoe
White pelican in Lake Tahoe- photo by Kayla Anderson

Taking Highway 89 from Truckee into Tahoe, one lands in Tahoe City, located on the northwestern end of the lake. A good place to rent a SUP is at Tahoe City Kayak and then launch at Commons Beach. From there, you can either paddle east to Lake Forest and stay at the campground where there’s also where the Coast Guard is stationed and there’s a boat ramp. Keep paddling east to the little sandy beach of Skylandia or go all the way to Dollar Point if you want a longer paddle or feel like
endurance training. Just remember that however far you paddle, you’ll have to paddle back (or find an Uber with SUP racks).  

Smack down in the middle of North Shore is Carnelian Bay, where you can launch, get a coffee, or grab breakfast at the SUP-specific café called Waterman’s Landing. From here you can paddle west to Dollar Point (five miles total out and back) or head east to Tahoe Vista’s sandy shores and launch ramp. I actually spotted a white pelican near Dollar Point that I first thought was a lawn ornament until it moved.

A 5-minute drive past Tahoe Vista is the quaint and friendly town of Kings Beach, which is also at the base of Highway 267. Paddle shops, restaurants, and markets dot Kings Beach’s sandy shores offering plenty of access points into the lake. However, finding a place to park your car can be hard to find during summertime weekends and holidays. Adrift Tahoe is a good place to rent a board in Kings Beach.

East Shore

Heading due east past Kings Beach is the lake’s deepest point and where big granite boulders dot the steep shoreline. While the scenery is pretty around this part of the lake, there’s not really any good place to launch a SUP until you reach Sand Harbor State Park on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe, in Nevada. From here you can head west towards Incline Village where there are three private beaches and million-dollar estates. Or go the opposite direction, east towards Thunderbird Lodge and Cave Rock.
However, keep in mind that amenities and access points are scarce around this side of the lake.

More towards the southeastern side of the lake, one reaches a launch ramp at Cave Rock and can then paddle further south to Zephyr Cove where there is a restaurant, hotel, campground, and shoreside bar. It’s also where the M.S. Dixie II and the Tahoe Paradise cruise ships launch from.

South Shore

zephyr cove
Zephyr Cove in South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is known for its casinos, nightlife, and boating activity, but it also has miles of sand and shallow water giving this side of the lake more of an emerald-blue look. Launch or paddle to Nevada Beach or continue past the casinos and paddle back into California, stopping at Eldorado Beachand getting a snack at Revive Coffee & Wine. Towards the southwestern end of the lake, Pope Beachis a good place to launch and explore the wetlands and wildlife habitat where only non-motorized boats are allowed.

While paddling or even driving around Lake Tahoe, you can’t miss Emerald Bay, the cove that is one of the most photographed places in the world. There’s a little island in the center of the cove, where Vikingsholm estate owner Lora Knight built a little stone teahouse that you can paddle and then hike to. Rent paddle boards from SUP Tahoe or Kayak Tahoe.

West Shore

Swimming at DL Bliss
Swimming at DL Bliss

Paddling up the west shore heading north, try to find the osprey nests towards D.L. Bliss. Hikers and boaters also like to catapult themselves off of huge rocks into the chilly drink.

Stop at Sugar Pine State Parkto rest and stretch your legs and/or meander through the pines checking out the famed Hellman-Ehrman Mansion. Hop back on your board and paddle to Chambers Landing (Tahoe’s oldest bar on the lake) or continue to Kaspian Beachfurther north, a rocky public access beach with restrooms. Stop at Sunnyside Resort for lunch or a night’s rest or continue on up to Tahoe City.

Keep in Mind That Objects Are Farther Away Than They Appear

There is plenty to see and do in Lake Tahoe on a paddle board but be sure to keep realistic goals of where you want to paddle to and from. For instance, one of the first times I launched from Waterman’s Landing, I saw Dollar Point in the distance and thought it would be no problem to paddle there and back. Boy was I wrong…I was worn out when I completed the first mile and then a headwind kicked up when I turned around to get back. It took me about six months of training to feel confident enough (and have the time) to go to Dollar Point and back. Always do your research and due diligence before paddling in Lake Tahoe- and enjoy the views!