How to Take a Lake Tahoe Tour on a Boat

Getting Up Close to Lake Tahoe

Twilight Boat Tour on Lake Tahoe
Twilight Boat Tour on Lake Tahoe. Sarah Kelleman Garber/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Lake Tahoe is a vast body of water. In fact, it's so big that it's hard to comprehend. You can look at it from the shore. You can peer down at it from the top of the gondola ride at Heavenly. You can drive all the way around it.

They're all nice ways to see Lake Tahoe, but nothing is quite like being on a boat in the middle of all that gorgeous, deep, cobalt blue water, looking around at the mountains. In fact, I think the best way to tour Lake Tahoe is to get out in the middle of it.

If you don't own a boat or don't want to rent one, the best way to do that is to take a Lake Tahoe cruise. Here's what you need to know about.

Reasons to Tour Lake Tahoe On a Boat Cruise

In case it isn't obvious, these are some of the reasons you will want to take a Lake Tahoe boat tour:

The view of the lake is not the same as it is when you drive around it or walk on the shore. The way you experience it is different, too. You can't get a sense of the lake's size or its surroundings until you're in the middle. 

If you stay on shore, you'll never see the lake water's color change from aquamarine to cobalt as it grows deeper beneath you.

A Lake Tahoe cruise is also an easy way to see Emerald Bay, where the Vikingsholm castle crowns a fjord-like scene. On the bay's tiny Fannette Island, Vikingsholm owner Lora Knight's abandoned tea house broods above 300-year-old, naturally-formed bonsai trees.

On a Lake Tahoe cruise, you can best see the bowl-shaped mountain terrain encircling the lake.

Lake Tahoe Cruise Practicalities

  • Reserve your Lake Tahoe cruise ahead of time if the area is busy, especially in summer and on holiday weekends.
  • From inside the boat's cabin, the views seem like scenes from a movie. To fully enjoy the experience, get outside and feel the wind and sun and spray.
  • Wear PLENTY of high-powered sunscreen; the thin air coupled with reflection from the water will make your skin much burn faster than normal. And because of the reflection, this is one place where even the widest-brimmed hat won't help much.

    Lake Tahoe Boat Tour Companies

    Tahoe Gal is a paddle-wheeler boat that departs from Tahoe City on the north side of the lake. It looks like one of those boats you might have seen on the Mississippi River in Huck Finn's time. They offer lunch and brunch cruises, along with tours at happy hour and sunset.

    Tahoe Bleu Wave is a luxury yacht that departs from Round Hill Pine Beach, a little south of Zephyr Cove on the southeast shore. They offer tours to Emerald Bay, lunch cruises and evening tours in the summer.

    Tahoe Cruises takes you on a tour in an elegant, classic 1950s motor yacht. Their tours include a barbecue lunch in Emerald Bay, along with happy hour and sunset trips. They depart from Round Hill Pines Resort on the southeast side of the lake. Their complimentary shuttle will pick you up at many locations around the lake. 

    Zephyr Cove Marina offers daytime and evening Lake Tahoe Tour cruises from their resort on the southeast side of the lake. Their fleet includes the elegant sternwheelers M.S. Dixie II and Tahoe Queen, which are both paddlewheelers like Tahoe Gal. You may have to pay a parking fee in addition to your tour ticket.

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary cruise on the Dixie II for the purpose of reviewing it. While it has not influenced this review, believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.