Lake Tahoe sees about 20 million tourist visits a year, according to the Tahoe Fund. While some come for the mountains, many make the trek to view the big, blue beauty we know and love. In recent years, the popularity of paddling, both kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, has increased substantially. According to Statistica, in 2015 the SUP board market in the United States made $4.6 billion, and it’s projected to make $9.9 billion in 2020.
As if predicting the growing popularity of the sport, the California Tahoe Conservancy in 2003 created the Lake Tahoe Water Trail, which follows a route along the 72-mile shoreline. The water trail connects public launch and landing sites around the lake and has pre-planned trips that can range from one day to however many your arms can keep paddling. The routes are based all around the lake, including a 15.9-mile Sand Harbor day trip, a 9.8-mile North Shore Day Trip, and a 10.4-mile trip on the West Shore. There are 20 marked trailheads around the lake, indicating a launch and landing site for your kayak or standup paddleboard.
I opted to try an 8-mile roundtrip from Rubicon Point to Emerald Bay. Having just bought a paddle board, a dry bag, and a sunglass tether, I thought I was a pro and could be nothing but fully prepared for the excursion. Thinking it would be a mere two-ish hour adventure, I drove over to D.L. Bliss Rock Beach to get there at 8 a.m. before the crowd. I was wrong: Four hours, 1,000-plus calories burned, and an empty water bottle later, I completed the loop.
Some tips for future day-paddlers: snacks, snacks, and more snacks. The wind changes unforgivingly fast, so be prepared for your excursion to take longer than you plan. Buying a dry bag and dry fanny pack may be one of your favorite summer purchases. Fill your dry bag with sunscreen and wear sun-protective gear. Use a waterproof phone case or pouch if you want to document the incredible cliffs of the Rubicon Trail, Fannette Island in Emerald Bay, and the sheer vastness of Lake Tahoe. Leave early for your trip to avoid the ever-growing wake of boaters. Legally, you have to carry a life vest with you. Wear a sunhat, the bigger the brim the better to shade your shoulders. Stay close to shore so you don’t drift off and become Wilson from Cast Away.
Whether you’re a seasoned paddler or just getting started, check out the Lake Tahoe Water Trail online to learn more about day trips, safety, maps, sustainability, and more.