Field Notes: Kayak Camping Lake Tahoe

Adventure |

Words and photos by Laura Lawson Visconti.

Twice a year, my husband Nick and I like to plan one adventure to rule all other adventures (yes, a subtle Lord of the Rings reference). This summer’s conquest? Kayaking and camping around Lake Tahoe. We prepped and trained, and then early one Friday morning, we launched our boats from Homewood on the West Shore. By Sunday evening we landed on Speedboat Beach, which made for three solid days of kayaking around Big Blue. My muscles are still mad at me. Here’s how we did it.

Photo of Teva Rope sandals strapped onto kayak


Photo of a man entering a kayak on Lake Tahoe

Photo of feet next to a kayak.


Photo of woman standing next to kayaks on Lake Tahoe.

Training and Preparation

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. I live in Truckee, a half hour north of Tahoe, and for the past few months I spent as many hours as I could kayaking around Donner Lake, which is a half mile from my house. Both Nick and I own Perception touring kayaks, and we found that strapping our camping gear onto the kayaks didn’t change our speed too much, but it’s still a good idea to paddle with your gear ahead of your trip to get a feel for the weight difference. We packed uber-light: one tent, two sleeping bags, two pads, coffee making supplies, and a few other essentials. We ate out at restaurants for most of our meals. Paddling requires just as much core strength as upper body strength, so solid training is vital before an undertaking like this. I also recommend utilizing yoga twice a week into your fitness routine for balance and stretching.



Photo of women sitting in kayak

Photo of woman swimming by boulder in Lake Tahoe

Photo of man setting up a tent at Lake Tahoe

Photo of man sitting in tent next to shoes.


Route Planning

We planned our route based on where we wanted to camp. We kayaked approximately 18 miles per day, waking up super early each morning while the water was still to cover as many miles as possible before the wind picked up later in the day. We secured a campsite close to the shore in Emerald Bay State Park for the first night — launching from the West Shore that morning, this was a solid first push. By midday on day two, we made it to South Shore for much-needed brews at Beacon Bar & Grill. From there, we continued paddling our way up and made camp just outside the lake in the National Forest. On day three, we kayaked our way to gorgeous East Shore, ending at Speedboat Beach just in time for sunset. Day four could have entailed kayaking from there back down to Homewood, but at approximately 55 miles we felt our mission was accomplished, so we decided to head home to rest our weary bones. The next day, we spent the night at Reno’s Atlantis Casino + Resort courtesy of Reno Tahoe for some much-needed massages and steak dinners — wish every adventure ended like that.

Photo of woman kayaking Lake Tahoe

Photo of couple holding beer.

Photo of tent set up in forest.

What I Learned

The best part of our journey around Tahoe was discovering little beaches and coves only accessible by kayak. The Sierras saw record snowfall this past winter, and Tahoe’s famous blue waters are pretty much at capacity, submerging many of the iconic boulders and sandy beaches. When we encountered a cliff jumping spot or swimming hole, we had to take advantage because what’s an adventure without a little play? Paddling was, admittedly, extremely difficult for so many hours, especially after the first day. I changed my grip every half hour, which kept blisters to a minimum, and made sure to keep my core engaged to take the brunt of the push. At times we listened to music, but most of the time, we simply enjoyed the view, and the blue. So much blue.

Photo of women's feet in a tent.


Photo of a kayaker on Lake Tahoe

Bring two pairs of shoes. All I needed for this journey were my Arrowood boots for camping and hauling boats around, and the Original Universal Puff sandals. Comfort is essential for a journey like this.


Plan your food map. Other than energy bars, trail mix, and water, I didn’t bring any nourishment because there are many cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants hugging the lake. Do your research ahead of time so you can plan meals accordingly.


Keep your Maps app open. I lost signal for at least a third of the trip, but by keeping my Maps app open on my phone, I was still able to locate where we were on the lake without service, which is helpful for checking progress throughout the day.


Distribute your weight. Since I was kayaking with my husband, who is stronger than I am and has a more high-performance kayak, he took our heavier items. That kept our pace in sync.


Break it up. I ended up shooting more than 600 photos — taking a break to shoot was a welcome respite from the long miles. Do what you gotta do to get through!


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