One of the more peaceful ways to enjoy Lake Tahoe is by gliding through the cool, crystal clear water, discovering sandy beaches and secluded coves on a paddle board. Lake Tahoe offers an endless array of adventures for individuals seeking superb stand up paddle boarding (SUP) opportunities, while inviting you to enjoy the tranquility of a pristine alpine lake. You will be treated to extraordinary views as you set out to explore all the SUP opportunities this gorgeous lake has to offer.
The air at Lake Tahoe is as clear and pure as the vivid blue water. The fresh mountain air and stunning scenery attracts the adventurous spirit and welcomes you to an unparalleled stand up paddle boarding experience.
SUP began decades ago in Waikiki as a way for tour guides to keep an eye on vacationers, but it didn’t catch on until a few years ago in the United States. SUP is considered to be Lake Tahoe’s fastest growing sport, and it is also now one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
For those of you who are not familiar with standup paddle boarding, the paddler stands in an upright position in the middle of a board shaped like a large surfboard, and uses a single blade paddle with a long shaft to glide through the water, while balancing with their legs. It is easy to balance on the board and get familiar with the technique. It is an enjoyable way to strengthen your muscles and improve your balance while increasing your overall fitness, and is suited for all ages.
There are two main kinds of standup paddle boards: surfing and point-to-point. A surf SUP board uses an extra-large longboard, similar to a surfboard, but thicker and wider, with a flat rocker. The point-to-point board is sleek and narrower with a more tapered tail. It is designed for speed and distance.
Lake Tahoe standup paddle boarder, Patty Robbins, best describes standup paddle boarding (SUP) as “a combination between surfing and outrigger canoeing.” An avid alpine skier, stand-up paddler, kayaker, mountain biker, hiker, and freelance graphic designer, Patty has lived and worked in the Lake Tahoe region for over 16 years. Patty believes, “The best place to learn how to SUP is at Lake Tahoe. The warm temperatures and relatively calm waters in the morning make exploring Lake Tahoe’s 72 mile shoreline an experience that other watercraft simply can't offer. When you paddle out into the crystal blue waters, you will get to see Tahoe beneath the surface. By standing rather than sitting, you can see 50-60+ feet below the surface of the water.”
Lake Tahoe is known for its unparalleled beauty — vibrant blue skies, sparkling cold waters, and massive granite boulders. It is also prone to hazardous wind conditions. Patty recommends, “When you learn how to SUP, take an intro lesson and practice paddling when there isn’t any wind. Check the weather conditions before heading out. Lake Tahoe usually is calm and relatively flat before 10:00 a.m. Also, be prepared to get wet, because falling in is part of the enjoyment.” With an understanding of your ability, and an eye out for gusty winds (and boat wakes), a beginner paddler will have an amazing experience out on the lake.
Are there any drawbacks to stand up paddling versus kayaking? “When you’re first learning, boards can be slower than kayaks, especially if the wind picks up and you’re traveling upwind. Balancing can sometimes be challenging as well.”
When is the best time to SUP paddle on Lake Tahoe? “The best time to paddle board on Lake Tahoe is after August, when the crowds are gone and the water is still warm and smooth. After Labor Day, there should be a couple of months when you can paddle before the first snowfall.”
Where is your favorite place to SUP on Lake Tahoe? “I have a few places I like to both SUP and kayak, including NV State Park Sand Harbor and the east shore, with its sandy beaches and rocky coves, Crystal Bay, Carnelian Bay/Waterman’s Landing, and CA State Parks D.L. Bliss and Emerald Bay.”
There are abundant scenic areas to SUP paddle throughout Lake Tahoe’s 72 miles of shoreline. You can paddle along the shoreline on your own or join a tour. SUP board rentals are offered by several companies. Paddlers who own SUP boards can launch at numerous locations around the lake. If you plan your getaway during the summer season, you need to launch early. Better yet, come on a weekday, though Tuesdays and Wednesdays can also get busy.
Standup paddleboards allow you to explore the Lake Tahoe coastline at your own pace. You can paddle along the North Shore from King's Beach to Tahoe City or to Crystal Bay in Incline Village, Nevada. Crystal Bay features natural hot springs and gigantic boulder mazes along the California and Nevada borders. This four mile round trip takes about two and a half hours.
Kings Beach State Recreation Area, located on Highway 28, provides enclosed barbeque pits, shaded picnic tables, restrooms and soft sands, which make King's Beach a great SUP spot. Since the water is shallow and has little circulation the majority of the time, the sun heats the water up. There are kayaks, paddleboards, and other water equipment for rent on the beach, offering plenty of fun with added convenience! Arrive early to get a good parking spot.
If you launch from D.L. Bliss State Park, you can paddle north towards Meeks Bay or south to Emerald Bay. The southern route offers a more scenic shoreline, with water so blue that it doesn’t seem real.
D.L. Bliss State Park is situated between the north and south shore. It easily qualifies as one of California’s most beautiful parks. You will be able to explore the rocks near the shore, and the views down into the waters are sure to provide ample photographic opportunities.
During peak summer months, the parking lot is often full at D.L. Bliss State Park and at Lester Beach. On a week day you’ll have better luck finding a parking spot. Vehicles cannot enter D.L. Bliss State Park when the gate is closed. The road ends at Lester Beach, with day parking and an easy walk to the shoreline to hand launch your SUP board.
By the sandy beaches at Meeks Bay, the crystal blue water lies in a sunny, sheltered area, making it some of the warmest water in the basin. There is a boat launch access, sandy beach, restrooms, and picnic facilities. Meeks Bay is located on Highway 89, 10 miles south of Tahoe City,
Timber Cove also offers a pleasant area to paddle, but is a little less than "pristine" due to its central location. It is one of the most popular locations to SUP paddle, especially for first-timers.
On Lake Tahoe's northeast shore, Sand Harbor provides picnic facilities, restrooms, a sandy beach, boat launch access, and the scenic coves of Secret Harbor (which is a nude beach). The northeast shore offers stunning views that take your breath away.
Along the South shore is the Cave Rock launch access which allows you to explore the shoreline both to the south and to the north. The area to the north is especially inviting, with minimally developed shoreline and few people.
At Lake Tahoe, you will experience the perfect balance of recreation and relaxation that SUP paddling can provide during a quiet morning paddle, with the only sounds being the waves and the swirl of your paddle.
Whether you choose to venture off on your own or with an experienced SUP guide who can provide everything you need for an exciting SUP adventure, Lake Tahoe can offer some of the finest SUP paddling opportunities you will ever encounter. Discover the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe’s secluded beaches and scenic shoreline where diverse wildlife and spectacular vistas await you! It's a perfect choice for your next SUP excursion!
The stunning photographs above are by Patty Robbins.
Patty Robbins an avid alpine skier and paddler has lived and worked in the Lake Tahoe region for over 16 years. Patti, owner of Robbins Design is a freelance graphic designer specializing in design for the Internet and print, as well as a ski instructor at Northstar and a hiking guide for the Tahoe Rim Trail.
Robbins Design strives for excellence with appropriate and innovative visual concepts, with a commitment to quality, consistency, and service while solving problems, completing projects on time and within budget.