Kayaking to the Fannette Island Tea House in Emerald Bay

Ever since visiting Emerald Bay for the first time a little over a year ago, I have always wanted to come back and kayak to the small island right in the middle called Fannette Island. When I toured Vikingsholm the guide told me about the little tea house that sits at the top of the island. This tea house was built when the bay was privately owned, for the owner to bring her guests for high tea. Today it is only a four walls with no roof, but it is still a beautiful destination in a bay that is already one of my favorite places in all of California. Plus, how often do you get to kayak to an island then hike to an old tea house?

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  • Kayak rental is 25 dollars and usually opens at around 10 AM
  • Parking is incredibly difficult at Emerald Bay so arrive early
  • 1 mile walk down from Emerald Bay, a tenth of a mile walk on the island
  • Consider grabbing a cheap water proof case for your phone like this one
  • If you want to read about Emerald Bay State Park itself check out this post

If you want to kayak here, just arrive early for parking. I would recommend coming between 8 AM and 9:30 AM at the latest. After that, you will walk the one mile down to the bay. If you are there before the kayak rental company sets up, then just explore or find a spot on the beach to relax. We got down there at around 9:30AM and just hung out on the beach till the rentals opened at 10 AM.

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Renting a kayak is easy, you just need to bring cash and a photo ID to leave as collateral then sign a release. My wife opted to take a stand-up paddleboard, and I chose a single kayak. The rental people will tell you the best place to land on the island with you kayak so be sure to pay attention.

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After setting off it only takes about 10 minutes to get over to the island, which surprised me. I paddled over then pulled up on shore and dragged my kayak up so that it wouldn’t float away while I was on the island.

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We ended up landing next to this awesome downed tree that you could see well in the clear water.

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The Hike to the Tea House

From here it is about 5 to 10 minutes of walking up the rough rocks to get to the tea house. It is not too hard but the rocks can be slippery so take your time. 

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As you proceed up, you will start to see beautiful views of the bay and mountains behind you.

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After passing the last small hill, the tea house will come into view. When we were here, there were at least ten other people. Everyone from jet skiers to boaters makes the trek out to this island to climb to the tea house. 

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I walked around the base of it before proceeding up the rough stone stairs to the house itself.

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While the house is not how it once was, it is still four strong rock walls with three windows and a fireplace. The roof is no longer there, but that adds to the charm of this historic structure.

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The best views for photos is from the east window looking out over Lake Tahoe itself. I can’t imagine having this as a place to entertain guests; it would be amazing.

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After taking a few more pictures, I headed back to my kayak with about 35 minutes before my hour was up. Since I still had time to kill I decided to explore some more of the bay and proceeded to make a loop around the island.

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Here is a view of the island from the backside and you can see on the stones how high the water level has been. I hear the entire lake is down around 7 feet due to the drought (this was in 2015).

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From there I headed around the other side and over to the sunken forest.

The Sunken Forest

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The sunken forest is the name for the area of the bay where a lot of trees have fallen into the lake and gotten stuck there. You can see them jutting out above the water in this section, and so I decided to investigate with the kayak.

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When you get close, you will realize how big these trees really are. I tried to take a picture underwater, but it was hard to see how far they went down.

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This is a fun area to navigate with your kayak though, and I enjoyed testing out my newly learned skills.

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From here I headed back over to the starting point to turn in my kayak right at the one-hour mark. This was an enjoyable experience, one that I highly recommend. Do make sure you save up some energy for the one mile walk back up to the parking lot as well. Let me know if you have been in the comments.

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  • Cindy

    This sounds fantastic! My husband and I are looking for fun things to do while staying near Emerald Bay for a few days. I was a bit concerned about the idea of kayaking out there (we’re not young!) but it sounds like something we could handle. Beautiful photos, too!

    • Ya it is not too bad, you can always book the kayak for 2 hours so you can take more time as well! Be sure to check out my South Lake Tahoe guide for more tips!

  • Katie

    What do you think about taking a dog on this adventure?

    • I am pretty sure Emerald Bay State Park does not allow dogs, so this is probably not a very dog-friendly adventure unfortunately.

  • Marc

    Just got back from doing this. There were people with dogs on leashes hiking down from the parking lot, but not taking dogs on kayaks which if I had to guess the rental company would not allow. Also, kayaking if fairly easy – I’m in my 50s and not in great shape, and myself any my young daughter (both our first time kayaking – double kayak) were able to paddle to the island, hike to the tea house and back, then paddle around the island, and return our kayak in just under an hour – it actually took all of 6 minutes for us to paddle from the island back to shore (we thought it would take much longer).

    • Thanks for the comment and information! Glad you had fun exploring the island!

  • Donald Paine

    Where did you rent the kayak from? THere seems to be a few different places there and I’d like o try the same route you took to allow for the same timeline experience

    • When I went there was only one spot and I think there still is but I am not 100% sure. When you get down to the Vikingsholm area it is on the left about 50 – 100 feet if you are looking out from Vikingsholm towards the island.

  • Kathy Zorn

    Hey, Josh! I got to do the kayak adventure yesterday, a dream I’ve had since coming here a year and a half ago with a friend. What a blast! I’m 63, so it was a challenge, especially because the water was pretty choppy due to winds. I just had enough time to explore the teahouse, but it was totally worth it. When i got back, my friend told me that mine was the last kayak to go out because of the conditions. I’m so happy that i was able to do it. Thanks for your very detailed blog on this. Excellent!

    • Congrats on getting out there even in bad conditions. Such a fun adventure and I am glad you got a chance to do it!

  • Breanna Johnson

    Hey Josh! Is the kayak rental close enough where you can walk down to the water? Or do you need to have a big enough car to fit one/a way to put it on top of car?

    • Yea for Emerald Bay, you will have to park at the top where the parking lot is, then it is a one-mile walk down to the bay itself. The kayaking company is right there on the water so you pay them and pretty much get right into the water.


    Is the island with the Castle/Estate? I used to see it when I came skiing at Tahoe and once in the summer 20 years ago. From standing above I could see very little, but I knew something was there. I had no idea that island was that big or Viking castle was that big. Trying to figure out if the only way there is kayak? Found the website about

    • The island has a little tea hut on top of it, but the castle/estate is back on the land in Emerald Bay State Park. Both are a lot of fun to visit and you can visit the castle without a kayak but you need a kayak to get to the tea house.

      • NOLIKEO

        Thanks, I could never see anything but the stone building and it fascinated me. How is it you can get to the castle w/o a kayak? I was trying to figure that out reading all the visitor options. Thanks for your response. You have a very nice blog:)

        • You need to walk down to it from the parking lot and then there are tours you can pay for. Here is my post on it https://californiathroughmylens.com/vikingsholm-castle-lake-tahoe

          • NOLIKEO

            Thanks, I’m sorry I missed it. But I’m asking if it’s an island, do you take a boat to it. It is surrounded by water.

          • The island with the tea hut you must take a boat to, the inlet with the castle-like building you can walk to.

  • Jack W. Spears

    “For all intensive purposes”
    that’s both hilarious and retarded! You should fire your proofreader.

    • nataS

      you should drown yourself