Lake Tahoe waterfalls spring into action
Ryan Summerlin May 11, 2014
Lake Tahoe isn’t known for having much of a spring. Many years, it’s just snowstorms one day, sunshine and warm weather the next.
One indicator we’ve reached the tipping point toward summer is the area’s waterfalls. Right about now Lake Tahoe’s falls get a little more aggressive and make for an even better destination for a hike.
On Tuesday, Glen Alpine Falls rushed with all the power afforded by this year’s snowpack, blotting out surrounding noise and providing an inspiring backdrop as it tumbled down a series of rock bands toward Fallen Leaf Lake.
And Glen Alpine isn’t the only waterfall worth a visit this spring. Here’s a look at some of the waterfalls around the Lake Tahoe and Truckee area:
These falls can usually be seen as drivers make their way up the twisting road to Emerald Bay. The Cascade Falls trailhead can be reached from Bayview, the highest point on the road as it wraps around Emerald Bay.
The hike to the falls is about one mile and relatively flat. The 200-foot falls run directly into Cascade Lake and make for a dramatic hiking backdrop. Take time to enjoy the view along the way because the trail offers some of the best vantage points of the falls. Once at the falls, there is some good exploring to be had around the top. Just take care not to go into the stream because the current is strong.
Back at the Cascade Falls trailhead, there is an uphill trail that splits to the right called Bayview for hikers who are looking for a tougher trail. The Bayview trail climbs a series of switchbacks and spits hikers onto some spectacular views of Emerald Bay about a mile up. Another two miles up is Maggie’s Peaks, which are the gateway into the heart of Desolation Wilderness.
Eagle Falls are perhaps the most accessible and well known of the major South Shore falls. They are located in Emerald Bay near Vikingsholm. Weekend parking at Eagle Falls can be tricky with all the Emerald Bay traffic, but once a spot is secured it’s a quick walk to see the upper and lower falls ripping along on the way into Lake Tahoe.
Upper Eagle Falls drops 40 feet, and lower 170 feet. Highway 89 separates the upper and lower falls, and there may be a nominal parking fee, so be prepared.
The hike from the parking lot, past upper Eagle Falls, takes hikers one mile uphill to Eagle Lake. From there, hikers can continue uphill and eventually meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s a nice hike, albeit mostly a wicked uphill climb. The best waterfall viewing is back near the trailhead, but the hike offers some stunning views that rival those falls and a less-crowded atmosphere. Fontanillis, a 150-foot waterfall near Upper Velma Lakes, is also back there for those who make it five miles into Desolation Wilderness.
Glen Alpine Falls
The one-way road into Glen Alpine Falls, just past the Fallen Leaf Lake Marina at the South Shore, takes some patience, but these lower falls are worth navigating the tight passage. Allow about 30 minutes to get to the falls from the Fallen Leaf entrance on Highway 89 and drive with caution. This can be a crowded and tough drive on the weekend, so go in with realistic expectations.
The Glen Alpine lower falls, tumbling 75 feet down jagged rocks, will come into view on the way to Lilly Lake and are worth stopping for. The upper falls are near the Glen Alpine trailhead and Lilly Lake. This is also a good jump off point for a moderate-difficult Desolation Wilderness day hike.
Also a bit of a drive, Horsetail Falls takes commitment. These falls are about a 30-minute drive out of South Lake Tahoe and over Echo Summit, but the waterfall plummeting nearly 800 feet is spectacular. So are the wildflowers that can be found around here at the right time of the year.
The falls are easy enough to spot on highway 50 coming from South Lake Tahoe. There is also a small parking area at the base, but again be prepared for a small fee.
It’s a moderately difficult trek for those venturing up the trail for a closer look. Careful near the top because it gets steep and rocky and is a common place for search and rescue.
This half-day hike is approximately four miles and passes by waterfalls and spectacular granite boulders.
Hikers begin on either the Shirley Lake trail or the Solitude trail at Squaw Valley. Once the trails meet and you reach Shirley Lake hikers can either hike back up to High Camp and ride the Aerial Tram down for free or hike down the canyon. Squaw’s Aerial Tram is set to open May 24.
This trail may sometimes be hard to follow. The general rule is to keep the creek on your left side and follow it down to the base of the mountain. There are also some steep sections to negotiate through the granite so hiking boots are strongly recommended.
Webber Falls is located in Sierra County, between Truckee and Sierraville off of Highway 89.
The falls drop 76 feet in several cascades into a deep gorge.
“From approximately March to June, the falls can be quite spectacular, plunging into the canyon with exceptional force,” according to the Forest Service. “By mid to late summer, the water can trickle down to just a fine spray.”
The agency recommends using extreme caution as the cliffs may not provide stable footing and can be slippery. The falls are not recommended for children.
To get to Webber Falls take Highway 89 north of Truckee to Little Truckee Summit. Turn left toward Jackson Meadows on Road 07. At about 6.5 miles watch for signage to Lake of the Woods. A few hundred feet after is a pullout on your left blocked with boulders, according to the Forest Service. Park and walk down the road to a second former parking area. The falls lie about 500 feet from the second parking area.
Sources: Becky Regan, Tahoe Magazine; U.S. Forest Service; Squaw Valley