Fannette Island, Lake Tahoe’s only natural island is a small dot of rocks and trees peeking out of the bright blue waters of the lake. It’s famous for having an old tea house constructed by the owner of neighboring Vikingsholm for fancy afternoon gatherings. Nowadays, only the four walls remain of the tea house, but the picturesque location makes it well worth visiting on your trip to Emerald Bay State Park. Kayaking to Fannette Island is one of the best things to do in Emerald Bay State Park – here’s all the info you need to plan your visit!
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How to get to Fannette Island
Since it is – as its name would indicate – an island, the only way to get to Fannette Island is by boat. If you have your own, you can cruise in and anchor nearby for a piece of cake visit. However, the most popular way to visit is via kayak. I rented a mine from the Kayak Tahoe Emerald Bay location at the beach right by Vikingsholm and paddled across. They offer single kayaks, tandem kayaks, and stand up paddle boards at the location there. Keep in mind that getting to this kayak rental location requires a mile-long hike down the Vikingsholm Trail, and you’ll have to hike back up it. You can read more about the trail in my Vikingsholm guide.
Note: Even though it looks tantalizingly close, you are not allowed to swim to Fannette Island.
- Current rates start at $25 for a one-hour single kayak rental. Check their website for up to date information before planning.
- Rentals are first-come-first-served, so plan on arriving early in the day in peak summer season.
- The last rentals have to be in the water by 4 pm, so you’ll need to arrive no later than 3:45 to be able to go.
- Visa and Mastercard are accepted, but cash is a good idea as a backup as their website says the remote internet connection isn’t always reliable.
- Kids can use the kayaks and stand up paddle boards to explore along the shore, but they have to be 15 or older to cross over to Fannette Island by themselves so plan on renting a double kayak if you have younger kids with you.
- Kayak Tahoe provides lifejackets, and you’re required to wear them at all times on the water. I did pop mine off for photos at the tea house though.
Before getting in the water, several of us who were heading out at the same time got a quick safety briefing from one of the staff members. She pointed out the best spot to land on Fannette Island and instructed us to make sure our kayaks were safely out of the water before leaving them – you know someone has had theirs float away before so don’t be that person. She also laid out the rules regarding boat traffic in the bay. Basically, within 200 feet of shore, you can take your time, stop for photos, and play around as you please. Once you pass that mark, you’re in a channel with boat traffic and you have to keep paddling. And watch for oncoming traffic.
Since I only had a one-hour rental, I set off for Fannette Island at a pretty good clip. I made it across in 8 minutes according to the timer on my Fitbit. I’ve only kayaked a handful of times before and I’m not particularly strong, so I think your average person could paddle across in under 15 minutes.
The best area for landing was easy to spot thanks to the other brightly colored kayaks visitors had left. I quickly found a good spot to pull mine up, but by the time I returned to it, the area was full and other kayakers were waiting for a place to beach theirs. The area there is pretty rocky, but luckily Tahoe’s water is exceptionally clear so it’s possible to pick your way carefully through the rocks. Just beware that they might be slippery.
Note: You don’t have to have shoes to rent a kayak, but water shoes or at least flip flops are highly recommended if you plan to kayak to Fannette Island. The pathway up to the tea house would not be fun barefoot. You’ll be passing over tree roots and stones on your way up to the high point of the island.
The walk up to the tea house requires some stairs cut into the stone, but it’s pretty manageable. It’s not the most well-marked trail, but since the island is so small, it’s pretty much impossible to get lost. Some of the areas where stairs have been cut into the rock are pretty steep, so be careful as you hike – especially if it’s wet. There were also a ton of bees around – Emerald Bay State Park even had a note warning about them as there were an unusually high number the summer I visited – so beware if you’re allergic.
You can enter the tea house, but it is pretty small. On busy days, you may have to wait a couple minutes for other visitors before you can get inside. There is a door on one side and windows on the other three so you can enjoy the picturesque views. What a place for an afternoon tea.
After I’d soaked in the views, I headed back down toward my kayak. The way back down was actually a little trickier than the way up because I had to crouch down and hold onto the rocks in a couple spots to keep my balance, but it wasn’t too hard.
The Sunken Forest
When we were getting our safety talk, the staff member mentioned an area right at the end of the bay where you could see a barren area further up the mountain. There were lots of trees that had fallen into the water there and thanks to Tahoe’s crystal clear waters, you could see them below the surface.
Since I had a little extra time, I paddled over there to check it out. I only had my phone with me, so I didn’t get any good pictures, but it was cool to see the trees below. One was even partially floating and was bobbing a little in the gentle waves coming in and I paddled through a narrow area between it and another submerged log. I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to go between there on a stand up paddle board, but I felt comfortable in the kayak.
After a few minutes there, I started my paddle back to the return area. I stopped to take some pictures of Vikingsholm from the water and some shots of Fannette Island. I made it back in just under an hour so. My arms were definitely a little sore the next day from the paddling, but I thoroughly enjoyed my Emerald Bay kayak rental. If you don’t want to see the sunken forest area going back and forth to Fannnette Island should be very doable if you take it a little slower. You could also do a 2-hour rental if you want to have a little more time to explore. With the views you get to enjoy, it has to be the best kayaking on Lake Tahoe, so you really can’t go wrong.
Here are some items you’ll want to bring with you to kayak to Fannette Island (or anywhere in Lake Tahoe):
- Waterproof dry bag – I only had my trusty water resistant backpack, and while it did an admirable job keeping the splashes off of my stuff, I would’ve been a lot less worried if I’d had my dry bag with me. When sealed properly, these will keep your stuff dry and float if they get dumped and there are plenty of fun colors to choose from..
- Water shoes – I recommend these for anywhere in a natural body of water, and they’re especially handy if you want to kayak to Fannette Island due to the rocks in the landing area and the semi-rough terrain you’ll need to climb over to get to the tea house.
- Sunscreen – Always good for outdoor activities
- Bathing suit – I wore gym shorts because I was in a hurry and didn’t want to take the extra 10 minutes to walk to the outhouse and change into my bathing suit and I regretted it. I got wetter in the kayak I rented here than any other one I’ve been in, especially on the way back when the angle I was traveling caused the small (tiny) waves to splash up through the drainage holes in the back like little geysers. It’s a long walk back up the trail with soggy underwear, so come prepared.
- GoPro – (Or other underwater camera – my mom uses this budget-friendly version) I did Emerald Bay kayaking on a whim during a travel day on a business trip so I wasn’t as prepared as usual for it. I so wish I’d had my GoPro with me so I could’ve taken some underwater shots along the way. It would also be great if you go for a swim on the beach in front of Vikingsholm thanks to the famously clear water.
- Travel towel – You’ll be getting wet along the way so you’ll want something to dry off with. I love these compact travel towels that are surprisingly effective considering how thin they are.
Check out my other guides to Lake Tahoe here!
- Ten Best South Lake Tahoe Restaurants
- Hiking Your Way to a Spectacular View of Lake Tahoe
- Take a Tour of Vikingsholm: Lake Tahoe’s Castle
- Squaw Valley for Beginners
- How I Skied for Free at Lake Tahoe
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