How to Take a Lake Tahoe Tour on a Boat

Twilight Boat Tour on Lake Tahoe

Sarah Kelleman Garber / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Lake Tahoe is a vast body of water. 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 excellent ways to see Lake Tahoe, but nothing is quite like being on a boat in the middle of all that gorgeous, clear, cobalt blue water, looking around at the mountains. In fact, 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 them.

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.

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, 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 usual. And because of the reflection, this is one place where even the widest-brimmed hat won't help much.

North 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 and some special event tours that include Fourth of July fireworks.
  • Wild Goose II is a new boat inspired by the classics of the gilded age. It's available for charter, but they also do cocktail cruises from Tahoe Vista on the north shore a couple of evenings a week from mid-June through mid-September.
  • Action Watersports in Incline Village operates the Sierra Cloud, a catamaran that operates from the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe.

South Lake Tahoe Boat Tour Companies

  • M.S. Dixie II is a Mississippi River-style paddle wheeler and the largest boat operating on the lake. It departs from the Zephyr Cove Resort on the southeast side of the lake.
  • 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 tour in the Safari Rose, 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. 
  • Camp Richardson Marina is home to the Rum Runner which will take you for a short cruise from Camp Richardson to Emerald Bay (summer only).
  • Action Watersports at Timber Cove Marina in South Lake Tahoe also operates the Tahoe Thunder high-speed boat ride and the Windsong Sailing Yacht.
  • Tahoe Lake Tours offers private tours in a 26-foot yacht that departs from Tahoe Keys Marina. You pay by the hour, from two to four hours per tour and the boat can carry six passengers.
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