Winter cruising on Lake Tahoe

“Spirit of Tahoe” cruise. | Shelly McCarty

Many people come to the Tahoe Sierra to get out on Big Blue, but as the seasons change from sunny skies to snowy ones, it can be a bit harder to do so. While the lake never freezes because it’s so deep (except along some shorelines in an anomaly winter like this), the sub-40-degree F water temperatures will keep you from jumping in, even on the warmest days.

Fortunately, there are a few companies that provide unique travel experiences via the water to Emerald Bay — that don’t require one to get wet. They are open to the public and available year-round, if the weather is nice and there’s enough of an interest. Here is how to get out on the water in the chillier months.

“Lake Tahoe Bleu Wave”
Based in Tahoe Keys Marina, “Lake Tahoe Bleu Wave” offers central heating and a fireplace to keep passengers warm while taking in the views of the surrounding snow-covered mountains. It holds up to 47 people between its indoor seating and outdoor decks. Passengers are treated to a smooth ride over to Rubicon and Emerald Bay as one of its longtime captains and crew share fun facts and information about this corner of Lake Tahoe.

Check off #54 on our Ultimate Tahoe Winter Bucket List.

Along with the outside giant party bow, the elegant 70-foot-long yacht has an inside lounge, a stateroom and fully stocked bar. If you need a break from sightseeing, you may even be able to catch a football game in the winter thanks to its new flatscreen TV.

Bald eagles, osprey and other wildlife may be spotted along the shoreline more often in the winter months. Daytime scenic cruises, sunset cruises and happy-hour cruises are available daily year-round so it’s likely you may not see another boat out there if you cruise midweek. |

“M.S. Dixie II”
This unique paddle wheeler has been cruising out of Zephyr Cove over to Emerald Bay and back since 1994, providing sightseeing and dinner cruises for up to 500 guests all winter. In its Mississippi-steamboat-like vessel, passengers glide across the water for 2½ hours, learning fun history and facts about the Lake of the Sky.

This is the largest cruising boat on Lake Tahoe with the bonus that it’s climate-controlled and a family-favorite activity. During the winter, dinner cruises are on Saturdays at 5 p.m. and feature live music.

Daytime sightseeing cruises are at noon Fridays through Mondays and passengers can get an up-close view of Vikingsholm while listening to a narrated history. There will also be a Valentine’s Day dinner cruise on Feb. 14. |

“Safari Rose” & “Spirit of Tahoe”
Tied up next to the dock at Ski Run Marina, Tahoe Cruises’ newest boat, “Spirit of Tahoe,” can carry up to 133 passengers to Emerald Bay. “Spirit of Tahoe” originally came from Fort Myers, Fla., before making its way through the Gulf to Texas where it was retrofitted to meet Lake Tahoe’s needs. The 75-foot-long yacht has two fully stocked bars, an upper deck with small concessions and a state-of-the-art sonar system that can see down to the bottom of the lake, even at its deepest point.

Tahoe Cruises is mainly known for “Safari Rose,” an 80-foot luxury yacht that’s been around since 1959. It still has its original staterooms, bar and three restrooms. It is being renovated this winter and will likely then only continue to be used for private events and charters.

Two-hour public cruises go out daily if there’s a minimum of 15 online bookings. The Emerald Bay Sightseeing Cruise departs at noon. However, I suggest going on the Sunset Champagne Cruise that departs at 3:30 p.m. It includes complimentary champagne and nonalcoholic beverages. |