Transparent kayaks reveal the depths of Tahoe

A stargazing tour with Clearly Tahoe. | Courtesy Clearly Tahoe

It’s 10 p.m. on a clear, calm Tahoe night and a motley crew of Tahoe locals is standing on a dock in the Tahoe Keys on the South Shore watching Clearly Tahoe’s kayak crew line up a fleet of transparent floating vessels. The only way to see them is via the LED lights that line the bottom of the craft and the orange buoys attached to their ends.

These new, late-night stargazing tours are different from the daytime or dusk tours; in this tour one can see fish, rocks and the invasive milfoil light up at night. Above, paddlers can see the Big Dipper and the sky’s other star celebrities.

Equipped with a clear boat that keeps a cup holder, sponge, a wireless Bluetooth speaker, extra LED lights (for the life jackets), a blanket and a cooler stocked with boxed water and Tahoe Trail Bars, our group sets out in the calm waters of Tahoe Keys. We paddle out into a glassy cove where various-sized fish swim and sleep below.

For four years, Clearly Tahoe has been offering standard tour experiences of various durations, and most recently late-night stargazing tours. Its fleet of transparent, human-powered vessels are French-style canoe/kayak hybrids designed for fishing in shallow water — slow and steady.

Enjoy the crystalline waters of Lake Tahoe on the transparent kayaks of Clearly Tahoe. | Courtesy Clearly Tahoe

Clearly Tahoe co-owner Kelsey Weist grew up in Pennsylvania whitewater rafting, biking, hiking, rock climbing; she moved to South Lake Tahoe in 2013 to start the business with friend Geoff Miller. They had been travelling around together for the past seven years and Weist got the idea to launch a clear kayak tour company in Puerto Rico, where she had connections, until Miller introduced her to Tahoe.

“We were into scuba diving and Geoff wanted to go to Tahoe. I got new diving equipment designed for Puerto Rico waters, but then when we dived Tahoe, I saw this pyrite — fool’s gold— sparkling off the bottom of the lake. It glistened in the sand; it was just one of the best experiences,” she says.

Weist saw things in the lake that people can’t see from the shore and she wanted to share that experience with others. But there was one problem: the water was too cold. So, they purchased translucent kayaks so that non-divers could comfortably see what was going on beneath the lake’s surface.

“The experience is my way of sharing the scuba-dive experience with non-divers,” she says. Clearly Tahoe also works with League to Save Lake Tahoe to document what’s they see during tours, from keeping logs about underwater plants and fish species to removing things that don’t belong such as lost sun umbrellas or even sunken boats.

“One day I was out on a tour and saw this big white thing under the water. Later we went back out to see what it was and it was a sunken $85,000 Mastercraft wakeboard boat,” she says. Clearly Tahoe immediately called the Coast Guard and told them the VIN numbers and they were surprised that they could make out the numbers so well from their clear kayaks.

“Everything changes and every day is something different,” she says.

Weist reiterates that safety is their No. 1 concern and all guides are lifeguard-certified and prepared to handle an emergency scenario — although they haven’t had one. Weist points to the bright orange floaties on either end of the boats, noting that not only do they help identify a craft, but they also can act as pillows to allow paddlers to kick back, relax and soak in their surroundings.

Enjoy the crystalline waters of Lake Tahoe on the transparent kayaks of Clearly Tahoe. | Courtesy Clearly Tahoe

In our 1.5-hour nighttime experience, the group explored coves in the Tahoe Keys and paddled out into the lake, enjoying the serene environment and small ripples in the shimmering water under the light of a half moon. On the way back, Miller said that the new LED nighttime tours appeal more to the person who is looking for something a little different on vacation.

“This is a good alternative for those that aren’t into the bar scene and want a unique Tahoe experience after the sun goes down,” he says.

“There are not a lot of nighttime activities at the lake. Kids ages 5 and up can go on our dusk/glow tour and people ages 12 and older can go on the stargazing tour; these are suitable for elderly guests, too. Our guides do a good job of keeping it mellow and safe,” Weist adds.

As we ended our LED tour, a fellow paddler described being on the water at night as a Zenlike experience. I don’t know about the rest of the group, but I went home and fell right to sleep. | clearlytahoe.com