The moment we launch our boat into the indigo-blue waters, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the staggering beauty. Surrounded by lapping waves, granite landscapes, snow-capped peaks and verdant forests, we set off one late spring morning to explore the 72-mile shoreline of Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake on the continent.
Since the late 1800s, people have flocked to this stunningly beautiful body of water for rest and recreation. Flowery prose from the pen of Mark Twain, describing Tahoe as “surely the fairest picture the whole earth affords”, cemented the lake in the country’s consciousness. It’s a region that that draws powderhounds and waterskiers alike, although generally not at the same time. Until now.
Thanks to a record-breaking winter of snow, this year you can indulge your winter-summer Tahoe fantasies on the same day, cruising fabulous ski runs in the morning and dipping a paddle in the crystal waters all afternoon. Both Mt. Rose ski area and the Squaw Valley side of Squaw-Alpine Ski Resort have vowed to stay open late — with a distinct possibility of midsummer skiing at Squaw.
Just as the lake offers many winter sports choices, there are a multitude of fun water options available. Boating has had a storied tradition on these waters. For years, beautiful mahogany-hulled craft have plied the lake and each summer, a wooden-boat Concours d’Elegance is held — the 45th annual event will be Aug. 11-12 at Obexer’s in Homewood. The lake was once a hotbed for fast boats, with Unlimited Hydroplanes racing with the likes of Miss Budweiser and the Tahoe Miss, churning the waters with their 1,200-horsepower engines. Since then, more eco-friendly, quieter pursuits have been encouraged.
On this particular day, we’ve put in from the Coon Street boat ramp in Kings Beach, waves kissing the hull and hawks and eagles soaring as we motor to the breathtaking granite-encircled Emerald Bay on the west shore to visit majestic Vikingsholm. The Scandinavian-style 38-room mansion was built by Lora J. Knight in 1929. She also built a native stone teahouse on nearby Fannette Island, guaranteed to impress her many high-society guests. You can visit the island too, after it opens for the season on June 15.
As we maneuver around and out of Emerald Bay, we are treated to vistas of Desolation Wilderness, snow-capped peaks and colorful parasails, floating above the lake. Parasailing affords a spectacular panoramic view of Lake Tahoe and an unforgettable rush. You’re strapped into a sturdy harness attached to a large parachute and towed upwards of a thousand feet above a powerboat.
Prefer a more mellow experience? These are prime kayak and stand-up paddleboard waters. You can bring your own craft (no Quagga mussels inspections required on those, but self-diligence is beseeched) and launch from most beaches, or rent from a variety of establishments. These rental companies are conveniently spaced so as to not make any paddle trip too long or taxing.
Explore Emerald Bay from Camp Richardson, the west shore from Tahoe City or the rocky points and beautiful lakeside mansions of the north and northeast shores from Tahoe Vista and Kings Beach. The pristine east shore is reachable from Sand Harbor, but you may stumble onto some clothing-optional beaches on this stretch.
The Tahoe Water Trail links 72 miles of shoreline and its website, laketahoewatertrail.org, offers maps and details to plan an extended Tahoe paddling trek with points of interest, food, lodging and beach options along the way. Don’t forget to bring snorkeling equipment along for incredible crystal-clear underwater views.
Don’t want to go it alone? Outfitters, such as Kevin Hickey at the North Shore’s Tahoe Adventure Company, offer watersports gear rentals and custom guided tours to all the notable lake destinations, as well as lessons and paddling-combos. Similar options are available at the south shore with Chad Trandberg at Tahoe Jacks.
And if you’d like to dive deeper, there’s always scuba — high-altitude lessons and dives at Sand Harbor, Meeks Bay and the Rubicon Wall at Bliss State Park are particularly popular — and wind-related sports, as well.
When the breeze kicks up, Tahoe Vista blossoms with colorful kites attached to boards piloted by daredevil kiteboarders, scooting about the whitecaps. Windsurfers lean into the prevailing southwestern zephyr at incredible speeds. Sleek sailboats share the abundant wind, heading out to midlake. When the wind is really blasting, waves breaking on shore attract unlikely visitors: surfers in wetsuits, searching for the perfect wave or just a few tasty little ones.
Anglers can toss hook, line and sinker into the lake or adjoining streams for rainbow and brown trout and Kokanee, or hire a boat with deep-rigging equipment to go after giant Mackinaw lake trout. And rafters and inner-tubers can float away their cares en route from Tahoe City down the fabled Truckee River to River Ranch, which promises to be an epic trip this banner water year.
Between the snow and the water sports, this season at Lake Tahoe will have you penning your own flowery response to Mark Twain.
Lake Tahoe is a cold, high elevation — 6,000 feet — lake, which got its name from the phrase “da ow a ga” or “edge of the lake” from the Washoe people who lived and fished along these shores. This is prime water sports country and sports rental outfits typically open their doors Memorial Day weekend. Of course, if you bring your own craft, you can get out on the water now.
Morning is usually best for paddling sports; the wind typically rises in the afternoon. Wear a life jacket and stay close to shore. The lake water remains cold throughout the summer, and hypothermia is a possibility if you are in the water for an extended length of time.
Ski resorts: Mt. Rose ski resort will remain open Thursday-Sunday through Memorial Day. Squaw’s ski lifts will run daily through June 4, then on weekends for the rest of June; daily July 1-4, then on Saturdays as long as conditions permit. Details: squawalpine.com, skirose.com
Splash down: If you are bringing your own boat or jet ski to Tahoe, be aware that all motorized craft must be inspected at various entry-point highway locations for invasive species, such as the Quagga mussel, before launching. Older 2-cycle carbureted engines are banned. Check tahoeboatinspections.com for details.
Boat rentals: Boat and jet ski rentals are available by the hour or day at multiple locations, including Ski Run Marina in Zephyr Cove, Full-Throttle Tahoe, North Shore boats and Action Sports in several Tahoe locations. Among the possibilities are SWA Water Sports (www.swawatersports.com/homewood) at the West Shore Cafe, Obexer’s (www.obexersboat.com) at Homewood, Tahoe Jet Boats (tahoejetboats.com) at various locations, and Tahoe City Kayak (tahoecitykayak.com).
Scuba Diving: Find more information about high-altitude diving, which poses challenges you don’t find at sea level, at www.sierradive.com and tahoedivecenter.com.
Parasailing: Several outfitters run parasailing jaunts, including action-watersports.com and www.parasailtahoe.com, both of which also rent watercraft.
Fishing: Tahoe Sport Fishing (www.tahoesportfishing.com) runs fishing trips from the South Shore’s Zephyr Cove and Ski Run marinas.
Rafting: Truckee River Rafting (www.truckeeriverrafting.com) runs rafting trips from Tahoe City.
More: Find details about adventure tours and rentals from Tahoe Adventure Company (www.tahoeadventurecompany.com) and Tahoe Jack’s (www.tahoejacks.com). Download the Tahoe Beach app from www.tahoepublicbeaches.com.