Why Can't We Chase Waterfalls? They're Pretty Awesome, Especially After Big Snow Years
As the song goes, "Don't go chasing waterfalls.". Well, TLC(?) may not have been fortunate enough to experience some of the Sierra Nevada's majestic falls. Yosemite has always been known for their amazing falls. But, Tahoe rarely gets recognized for their abundance of waterfalls. There are 63 different tributaries that all find their way to Lake Tahoe as their final destination. These tributaries all make their way down into the Lake Tahoe Basin and none of them defy gravity by cresting over the rim. Although many of these waterfalls don't send water cascading thousands of feet, they are definitely worthy of a visit.
Eagle Falls is easily the most photographed and viewed waterfall around Lake Tahoe. Eagle Falls is seen by the vast number of visitors that make the side trip along highway 89 towards Emerald Bay. Eagle Falls starts high above Lake Tahoe. But, the best part of the falls is when it descends into Emerald Bay for it's final descent. It's quite the experience standing near the falls and watching the water flow down towards Fannette Island and all of Lake Tahoe. Eagle Falls is also one of the easier waterfalls to access multiple vantage points from above, below, or the side. If you want to capture the ultimate image of water rushing towards Lake Tahoe, then Eagle Falls needs to be on the top of your list.
Cascade Falls is just over the ridge from Emerald Bay. Cascade Falls descends from the edge of Desolation Wilderness down into Cascade Lake. Cascade Lake is one of two lakes around Lake Tahoe formed during the age of glaciation. Cascade Lake and Fallen Leaf Lake formed when the moraine fields pushed down by the glaciers until they finally blocked the rushing water from reaching it's final destination in Lake Tahoe. The challenging terrain that helps create these falls also makes it a bit difficult to find the trail. But, I think most people with a bit of common sense and athleticism can make the journey. Much of the property surrounding Cascade Lake is privately owned. So, please be respectful. In fact, the best access is from the Bayview Trailhead Parking area, above Emerald Bay, off highway 89. Do NOT try to pull off the side of the road as it twists and turns between Emerald Bay and Camp Richardson. If you don't feel good about navigating the trail, then it is possible to enjoy the view from a distance along highway 89. Although this may be better suited for a passenger, and not the driver.
Glen Alpine Falls
A few lucky backcountry visitors get to experience Glen Alpine Falls with a bit of solitude. These backcountry visitors are able to enjoy the peace and tranquility without the abundance of crowds that arrive once the Fallen Leaf Lake Road opens for the season. Situated below Angora Peak and Mt. Tallac, Glen Alpine Falls is one of the main tributaries from Desolation Wilderness into Fallen Leaf Lake, which will then eventually make it's way into Lake Tahoe. There are actually two sets of falls. But, most visitors will be content with the roadside overlooks of the first set of falls, just past the church. For those that are up for a mild hike, I suggest following the road to the parking area, then walking along the closed road up to the higher falls. It's not too far, but remember that you are bordering on 7000 feet.This area can be very wet as the snow melts. But, it really is a milder hike. I can almost guarantee that you'll even see some Grandma hiking the trail in her pumps.
Van Sickle Falls
If you're staying in the heart of South Lake Tahoe's casino corridor, then don't fret that you'll miss out on Lake Tahoe's waterfalls. There's an amazing experience waiting right behind the casinos on the trails through Van Sickle B-State Park. If you head up under the Heavenly Gondola towards the mountain, then you'll run in to Van Sickle Bi-Sate Park and their network of trails. It won't be long before you find a trailing with a picture of a waterfall. Follow that up towards Firebreak, and after a short hike, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful waterfall and panoramic vistas of Lake Tahoe as far as the eyes can see.These falls will probably never win a contest for size. But, they make up for their diminutive size with their location and views.
Upper Truckee Falls - Hawley Grade Falls
There are actually multiple falls out at the end of South Upper Truckee Road. But, the Upper Truckee Falls, along Hawley Grade, cross the old Pony Express route. These falls take on an entirely different persona when you witness someone coming downhill on their mountain bike (steel horse) and navigating it through the boulder strewn trail, as well as the falls. These waters are also the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River. This river flows all the way through Lake Valley to form the Truckee River Wetlands. Eventually, this river goes all the way across Lake Tahoe and begins again when it passes through the spillway in Tahoe City. Once the river passes Fanny Bridge, it'll flow all the way to it's terminus at Pyramid Lake. I think that's part of what makes these falls so powerful.
Beyond The Basin, But Definitely Tahoe
There are a few waterfalls that don't meet the criteria of being part of the Lake Tahoe watershed. But, that doesn't make these waterfalls any less worthy. Each of these waterfalls have their own powerful draw. And, I suggest that you add these to your list of beautiful, Tahoe, waterfalls.
There's an area outside of the Lake Tahoe Basin that's been called Little Yosemite. And, we all know that Yosemite has some pretty amazing waterfalls. So, it should come as no surprise that Little Yosemite has their own collection of waterfalls. Little Yosemite, which is better known as Strawberry, CA, lies along highway 50 to the west of Lake Tahoe. Here, you can gaze towards Pyramid Peak, Lover's Leap, the American River, and Horsetail Falls. Horsetail Falls easily makes this list, even if it is technically outside the Lake Tahoe Basin. Horsetail Falls can be an outright raging waterfall with some wet and treacherous footing. Recently, Horsetail Falls has also had their fair share of rattlesnake sightings, something not common within the Lake Tahoe Basin. So, keep a close eye on the trail and mind your footsteps. This trail is very popular with visitors from the valley making a day trip.And, this area can get extremely crowded with the parking area filling up on weekends.If you are brave enough to tackle the trail, then mind where you park and be cautious if crossing highway 50.
Kings Canyon Waterfalls
On the opposite side and east of Lake Tahoe is Kings Canyon. This area should not be confused with Kings Canyon National Park, further south. Kings Canyon Creek descends towards the Carson Valley, east of Marlette Lake shadowing Spooner Summit and highway 50. There's a fire road that will take you from Carson City up to the Lower Falls. But, the Upper Waterfall will require a little bit of a hike. This area is popular with equestrians, hikers, and even a few mountain bikers. Again, be cautious for snakes, especially since waterfall season usually coincides with snakes resurfacing after the long winter.
Hot Springs Creek Falls
The last waterfall is one that I had to think long and hard before sharing. We always enjoy our time at Grover Hot Springs State Park. The hot springs have been around for well over a hundred years. And, the area has had its share of prosperity with the native population, the early settlers, and now with the state park system. Sometimes, you can still soak with barely another soul in sight. Other times, you'll be forced to wait in line for the pools to be less crowded. Well, if you have to wait, then you might as well go for a hike. Not far down the trail is Hot Springs Creek Falls. This creek is part of what makes Grover such a relaxing place. And, these falls can be enjoyed in the early part of winter, as well as the spring. Plus, there is a small campground that makes this place a welcome retreat from the crowds of people visiting Lake Tahoe.