Arguably the gem—pun intended—in Lake Tahoe’s crown of must-visit locales, Emerald Bay State Park is a favorite for good reason. Besides the epic views, Emerald Bay features two lakeside campgrounds, Lake Tahoe’s only island, miles of hiking trails and the historic Vikingsholm Castle; all framed by towering granite peaks.
It goes without saying then, that there are a million ways to enjoy Emerald Bay.
You could drive in along the winding Highway 89 for a bird’s eye view of Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake and Fannette Island. You could hike up to Eagle Falls for that iconic waterfall over the bay view. You could stay overnight at the boat in campground, or watch the sunset from Inspiration Point at the edge of Eagle Point Campground.
Or, you could do it the best way. The local’s way. The only way? On a boat.
Better By Boat: Emerald Bay State Park
When it comes to Lake Tahoe, we’ll encourage pretty much anyone to get out on a boat. It’s just the best way to spend your time. And if Emerald Bay State Park is on your must-visit list—then it’s all but settled. You need a boat.
Don’t get us wrong, we love the view of Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay from the top of Eagle Falls or a hike along the ever lovely Rubicon Trail. But none of it compares to anchoring down in a sunny cove, swimming out to Fannette Island or sipping a cold beer with breathtaking views of Maggie’s Peak.
It may sound like a lot of work to make it out there on a boat, but honestly—between the crowded parking lot, summer traffic and the steep trail to Vikingsholm Castle, planning a boat day is a happy alternative.
So, how to do it?
Rent a boat with your own personal captain for a private boat tour of Emerald Bay State Park.
Not really sure what “red right returning” means? Then having a professional boat captain tour you around Lake Tahoe is the way to go. That way, you won’t have to think twice about navigating the channel, watching the wind forecast, dropping an anchor or exactly how many beers was that?
Instead, you’ll be up on the bow—or towing behind the boat—with that high Sierra sun shining down and a cool spray of pure, Lake Tahoe water misting your face. Sit back and let your captain tour you around.
When you first enter the state park, you’ll slip into a cruising speed. Here, you’ll score some of the best views of Emerald Bay, so have the camera ready. Get an up close look at Fannette Island, wave to the sweaty hikers along the Rubicon Trail, then swim in to a sandy beach or anchor in front of the gorgeous Vikingsholm Castle.
Most Lake Tahoe boat rentals with captains fit somewhere between 6-12 people comfortably.
The best ones—like the Deluxe Power Boat with our friends at Lake Tahoe Boat Rides—fit up to 10 people and come complete with extras like paddleboards, floating mats, refrigerators and yes, a bathroom.
Even outside of an Emerald Bay visit, we consider this one of the best ways to experience Lake Tahoe.
This Deluxe Powerboat charter from Lake Tahoe Boat Rides is the perfect vessel for exploring the lake! Complete with a local captain & crew, bathrooms and water toys.
Stay the night at the Emerald Bay Boat-In Campground.
As the adage goes, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” And you’re going to need to work really hard to get lucky with a site at Emerald Bay’s boat-in campground area. One of the most coveted campgrounds in all of Lake Tahoe, access is by boat only (although hiking trails pass through it).
The campground has its own pier, you’ll be assigned your own personal buoy and several of the campsites are lakefront, complete with a mini, private beach. Although Bayview Campground—with car & RV camping—is on the other side of the inlet, you’ll feel like you have the whole of Emerald Bay to yourself when all the daytime visitors head home.
Come morning, you can sip coffee to an Emerald Bay sunrise, be the first to hit the trails to Eagle Falls or DL Bliss State Park, or cruise over for a sans-crowds visit to Vikingsholm Castle. Come afternoon, zip around Lake Tahoe on your boat, rent kayaks for a paddle out to Fannette Island or simply relax on the beach. It’s the best.
Hop on a sunset or happy hour boat cruise through Emerald Bay State Park.
No time for a full day boat excursion or overnight trip? No worries. There are dozens of scenic boat cruises that run to Emerald Bay on the daily. (Even in winter! M.S. Dixie II, you sweet, authentic paddle wheeler, we’re looking at you.)
In the summer months, however, your options are endless. Opt for a sunset happy hour sail— where premium drinks are included—like the one offered by Sail Tahoe Blue. Go full send with a wine tasting tour on the Safari Rose. Keep it simple with an out-and-back trip on Lake Tahoe legends like the Tahoe Gal, Bleu Wave or Rum Runner cruise. Or, double down with an Emerald Bay cruise and Vikingsholm Castle tour with Cruise Tahoe.
Like we said, the options are pretty much endless!
Rent kayaks and paddle out to the Fannette Island tea house.
If hiking is simply your thing, and you’d prefer to explore Emerald Bay State Park by foot—you can still squeeze a little boating adventure in. Start the day on the area’s hiking trails, visiting Eagle Lake, Eagle Falls, perhaps even Cascade Lake, before winding down the one mile trail towards the lake.
At the bottom of the trail, you’ll find Vikingsholm Castle, a spacious beach, gorgeous views of Emerald Bay and the Rubicon Trail, which you can follow north towards DL Bliss State Park or south towards Bayview Campground and Inspiration Point.
Then, when you’ve explored to your heart’s content, head over to Kayak Tahoe at the base of the Vikingsholm Castle to start the real Emerald Bay adventure.
Here, you can rent kayaks and paddle out to Fannette Island (don’t worry! It’s a quick ride.), or paddle around the bay in search of your own private beach. If you choose to stop in on Lake Tahoe’s only island, you can climb to the top of the tea house for an epic photo with all of Emerald Bay in the background.
Alternatively, if you’re an advanced kayaker or general thrill seeker, you could grab a rental from Kayak Tahoe’s Baldwin Beach location, and paddle the four-mile roundtrip route from the beach to Emerald Bay. Traverse along the shoreline, view stunning, lakeside homes and enjoy a day on Lake Tahoe unlike any other.
Our case is made. It’s just a non-negotiable. If you’re coming to Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay State Park needs to be on your to-do list. And if you’re going, you might as well do it right—and that’s with a boat. On the water.
You don’t have to go whole hog with a full day, captained boat charter. A simple one hour kayak rental will do. But it’s gotta be done!