Each spring, as the sun inches higher in the sky and each day gets a little bit longer, billions of gallons of pristine snowmelt tumble toward Lake Tahoe by way of 63 rivers, streams, and creeks. Typically starting in March, this influx of water from Tahoe’s deep snowpack is enough to raise the lake level by about 20 inches on average, or the equivalent of approximately 69 billion gallons joining the elite ranks of pure Tahoe water.
When you combine this sheer volume of water cascading toward the lake with the steep topography lining Tahoe’s shoreline, the end result yields abundant spring waterfalls that are roaring back to life after a dormant winter.
Upper and Lower Eagle Falls
Spilling from the depths of Desolation Wilderness, Upper and Lower Eagle Falls plunge down to iconic Emerald Bay. These breathtaking falls are easily accessible for almost all ages and ability levels with less than a quarter mile of hiking to reach either the upper or lower falls. After parking at the Eagle Falls Trailhead, the path to Upper Eagle Falls is well defined and gains slight elevation through a set of brilliantly constructed stone steps. A wooden bridge crosses Upper Eagle Falls, allowing you to dangle your feet and marvel at the sheer volume of water descending beneath you.
To access Lower Eagle Falls it is recommended that you follow signs for the parking lot of Vikingsholm to avoid walking across the busy highway. Follow the well-marked sidewalk along the highway to reach the top of Lower Eagle Falls, or follow the half-mile path to Vikingsholm to reach the bottom of the falls.
Horsetail Falls are the perfect attraction for visitors from the Bay Area and Sacramento looking to spend a quick day hike on the way to or from Lake Tahoe. Located approximately 20 miles outside of South Lake Tahoe, this torrential chute of water gets its namesake from its resemblance to the long, skirting hairs of a horse’s tail. Parking is available for a small fee, with a short and steep hike that hugs the edge of the falls. Sticking to the defined trail is recommended, especially in the early summer when misted rocks close to the falls become dangerously slippery.
Cascade Falls tumbles through the glacially sculpted valley adjacent to Emerald Bay and Eagle Falls. Following a one-mile trail from the Bayview Trailhead, hikers reach the top of these scenic falls where Cascade Creek flows over smooth granite interspersed with lush shaded swimming holes that are perfect when the flow of the falls slows in late summer (rushing water should always be avoided). The hike to Cascade Falls offers a step up from Eagle Falls, but is still a hike well suited for those still acclimating to Tahoe’s high altitude.
Glen Alpine Falls
Glen Alpine Falls are the falls that keep on giving: Every step down the trail yields a new, impressive vantage point of this nearly mile-long stretch of turbulent water. Beginning at the south end of Fallen Leaf Lake, the lower Glen Alpine Falls are accessible from the side of the single lane road to the Glen Alpine Trailhead. Abundant photo opportunities are within a 50-foot walk along this portion of the falls. Higher up, the trail into Desolation Wilderness climbs past multiple cascades of Glen Alpine Creek within the first mile of hiking. Glen Alpine Falls offers an enviable diversity of vistas within a relatively short distance and without the crowds of Eagle or Cascade Falls.
Galena Falls are an oasis along the hot sun-exposed trail to the summit of Mt. Rose, and offer a great resting place before making a final push to the summit. After a relatively flat 2.5-mile hike from the Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead, Galena Falls gushes into lush meadows surrounded by looming 10,000-foot peaks. Hikers can enjoy a rest at the base of the misting falls, or opt for a short hike along a trail to the top of the falls that also offers numerous vistas along the way. While Galena Falls aren’t the most voluminous falls in the Tahoe area, the high alpine meadow setting and abundant wildflowers make for a picture-perfect day hike.