Emerald Bay Boat-In Campground

Boat-in camping!  It is as fun as it sounds!  Especially when the campground is located in Tahoe’s beautiful Emerald Bay.


Red Tape:  The Emerald Bay Boat Camp is only open in the summer and reservations are necessary for most of the season.  Campsites can be reserved through reserveamerica.com.  In spring and fall, it’s possible to get a site on a first come first served basis.  Check the Emerald Bay State Park website for additional information.

Logistics:  It’s possible to launch your kayak or boat from anywhere on Lake Tahoe!  Two popular locations are: Lester Beach in DL Bliss SP and Baldwin Beach to the south of Emerald Bay.

With a reservation for the boat-in campground, you can park in the overflow lot at DL Bliss SP for $10. Unload your kayak at Lester Beach, then drive back up the hill to park your car.  The kiosk will provide a parking permit.  From Lester Beach, paddle south along the shore for 4 or 5 miles to Emerald Bay.  This route runs parallel to the Rubicon Trail – one of Tahoe’s most beautiful hikes.

Alternatively, if you launch at Baldwin Beach you can park on the opposite side of Highway 89: on the shoulder of Mt. Tallac Road or at Taylor Creek SNO-PARK.

No matter where you park, do not leave food or valuables in your car!  The bears might take them.

Campground location.  Image courtesy of Google Maps.
Campground location. (Image courtesy of Google Maps.)

Trip Description:  About a year ago, Rob and I impulsively purchased a tandem inflatable kayak.  Probably one of our bigger ‘impulse buys’ ever – we’re usually a bit more frugal – but this boat has been put to good use!  For a while now I have wanted to try out camping with it.  Last weekend I finally got the chance to do so with a few good friends.

I made a reservation for the Emerald Bay boat-in campground several months ago.  I read somewhere that this is one of Tahoe’s best kept secrets but judging by the very full campground, it’s not such a secret.  We left town Saturday morning and made it to DL Bliss SP by about 10:00 am.   We shuffled gear and inflated the kayak (takes about 10 minutes).   I wasn’t sure if all our stuff would fit but with some dry bags tied to the top, we were able to make it work.

Ready to launch.
Ready to launch.

When we finally got in the water, it was breezy and there were a lot of boats out on the lake.  Our trip to Emerald Bay was a little choppy, but we reached our destinations after about two hours of paddling at a leisurely pace.  The campground is marked with white buoys and a dock on the north side of the bay.


Upon arrival, we quickly found our site and set up camp.  We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the beach, watching the party boats cruise by while taking in some much needed vitamin D.

View from our campsite.
View from our campsite.
Prepping some veggie tacos for dinner!
Prepping some veggie tacos for dinner.
Sunset down by the dock.
Sunset down by the dock.


The following morning we awoke to a quiet, glassy smooth lake.  Rob suggested we paddle out to Fannette Island before breakfast.  Everyone agreed and we made the quick trip over to the island.

Lots of pollen on the bay.  Heading towards Fannette Island.
Lots of pollen on the bay. Heading towards Fannette Island.
The tea house on Fannette Island.
The tea house on Fannette Island.

We climbed to the top and spent some time at the tea house.  It’s nice how quiet the lake is before the masses of weekend boat people arrive.


Back at camp we made hot tea and scrambled egg + avocado tacos.  (Camping food can get fancy when you don’t have to carry everything in a backpack.)  After breakfast, we packed up and got back on the water.


Our return trip to DL Bliss was smoother than it had been the day before.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  We spent some time on Lester Beach before loading up the cars then slowly making our way home.  Some weekends are just way too short.

4 thoughts on “Emerald Bay Boat-In Campground”

  1. Great photos and good description. Thinking of doing this with my kids next summer (they will be 12) and we would much prefer using covered hammocks for sleeping to a tent. Any thoughts on whether there are sufficient trees at the campsites to handle 3 hammocks? Thanks!

    1. Thanks Annette. One hammock would be no problem. Two or three might require a little creativity, but most of the camp sites have a number of trees around them.

Any thoughts?