Eagle Lake: A quick, classic Tahoe hike
Ryan Summerlin July 7, 2014
For those looking to get a substantial slice of the Lake Tahoe Basin’s stunning scenery without all the strenuous work, we have the perfect hike for you. The two-mile round trip to Eagle Lake is replete with all of the staples of Tahoe’s outdoor portfolio — towering pines, cedars and firs, vast swaths of gray granite, jagged peaks asserting their prominence over the horizon, pristine mountain lakes and cascading clear water carving its way through the canyons.
The hike to Eagle Lake is moderate, with a modest 400-foot elevation gain, making it accessible to hikers of all ages and ability levels.
Those constrained by time or inclination can still make the quarter-mile trek up to take in Eagle Falls.
The trail begins at the Eagle Falls Picnic Area, approximately eight miles north from South Lake Tahoe on State Route 89. Be aware that there is a $5 parking fee at the trailhead.
Also, hikers committed to hiking past the falls to catch a glimpse of Eagle Lake will enter Desolation Wilderness and must fill out a permit at the trailhead.
The federally protected Desolation Wilderness is one of the most popular backpacking destinations in California and the American West, as the stark granitic terrain dotted with gin clear lakes attracts hikers looking for the tranquility of the remote Sierra backcountry.
Hikers to Eagle Lake will earn a sneak preview of the extensive swaths of barren rock.
The trail from the parking lot features a slight climb to a stone staircase that ascends to the Eagle Falls area.
The Eagle Falls area features an expansive view of Emerald Bay, Fannette Island and an azure sliver of Lake Tahoe that gives way to the Carson Range on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe.
For those who continue, the grade of the trail gets a little steeper, although still moderate, steadily climbing through forests of sugar pine, ponderosas and incense cedars before truncating at Eagle Lake.
Despite the large volume of hikers that make their way to the quintessential Sierra lake, the trail offers the ability to spread out, meaning the area around the lake is seldom overcrowded.
Westward across the lake the cliffs of Eagle Point loom toward the horizon and the jagged tops of Maggie’s Peaks can also be seen from the lake’s shore.
The lake’s avian moniker is apt as bald eagles can be seen patrolling the area from time to time.
The very things that render the hike such a popular and dazzling introduction to Lake Tahoe Basin’s topography can also be a detriment, as the trail is typically a very busy affair, particularly during weekends in the summer.
The trail is also a jumping off point for more serious hikers interested in tackling long overnight treks through the backcountry or ambitious day-hikers with an eye toward reaching the three Velma, Dicks or Fontanillis lakes, all of which are about five miles (one way) from the trail head and feature considerably steeper terrain.
Therefore, the trail is likely to be busy, but the view from Eagle Lake makes it worthwhile.
Also keep in mind that the trailhead is located near Emerald Bay, one of the most spectacular and proportionately congested areas in all of Lake Tahoe. It may be quite a battle to land a parking spot on certain days of the summer, but the ease of hiking combined with the peerless scenery make the destination the perfect introduction to Lake Tahoe’s unparalleled trail system.