Nobody wants to stay indoors while on vacation, especially when the sun is shining and the temperatures are hovering in the mid 70s. And now that it is officially summer in South Lake Tahoe, there is no better time to go out and explore! We are spoiled here in Tahoe, that you can live here for 20 years and still have more new trails and hikes to explore. For those visiting however, it is sometimes hard to choose a hike that the whole family will enjoy. That is where we can help you!
One of our favorite shorter hikes is the Eagle Falls to Eagle Lake day hike. This is a great trek that offers views of waterfalls, the Sierra high country, Emerald Bay and ends at a small alpine lake. The hike, an out-and-back totaling two miles, is perfect for beginners and we have seen groups of all ages trekking up the trails.
- Trail Difficulty – Beginner
- Length – ¼ to Upper Falls, 1 mile to Eagle Lake, 2 miles total round trip
- Best Season – March through November
- Start/End – Emerald Bay at the Eagle Falls trail head
The trail starts at gorgeous Emerald Bay. To get there from take Highway 89 north from South Lake Tahoe about 8 miles to the Eagle Falls Picnic area (will be on your left). If you park in the picnic area, you will have to pay a small parking fee. However, if you are early enough you might find a parking spot on the side of the road. These road-side spots do fill up quickly, especially on a weekend or anytime during the summer.
Usually when I take visitors, I stop and look at the lower falls before heading up the trail. The lower falls are on the lake-side of the highway, and you just have to climb down a few feet and you are right next to them. Here you also have a great view of Emerald Bay and Fannette Island.
Once you have had enough of a teaser, cross the street to the picnic area and head to the trail head. There are public restrooms here if you need them, and are the only ones you will encounter on your route.
The trail starts out as a dirt path, and the quickly changes as you start ascending a stone staircase. ¼ mile from the trail head you will reach the upper falls. There are multiple viewing spots, and some benches for those wanting to relax while taking in the sights. A bridge crosses over the falls, where you can view the falls from above. On nice days, you will most likely see people climbing around on the rocks, and playing in the little pool near the bridge.
For those willing and able, continue over the bridge and up the ¾ mile trail that will take you to Eagle Lake. Usually the crowds will disperse a little from the falls and you might have the trail mostly to yourself. The terrain does vary, and at one point you walk over a large granite slab. Just look for the smaller rocks that outline the trail for you! This is a great picture spot, as you will have a gorgeous view of Emerald Bay. Don’t forget to look up around you, as the jagged granitic and metamorphic rocks are equally as spectacular.
The trail then follows the creek up to Eagle Lake. Once there, find a spot to relax and enjoy the serene environment of the High Sierras. There are trails that go around the lake, just be prepared to do a bit of bushwhacking. But if you are up to this, it can be worth it to find some quiet. Most groups will stay at the mouth of the creek.
Eagle Lake was carved out by glaciers thousands and thousands of years ago (during the Pleistocene Epoch). In fact, the same glacial event that carved Eagle Lake, continued forward to carve out Emerald Bay and stopped where the mouth of Emerald Bay is today. The glacier scraped off all of the sediment to expose the jagged cliffs of granitic and metamorphic rocks, and barren terrain typical in Desolation Wilderness.
Once you have taken in the beauty of Eagle Lake, you can head back down towards Emerald Bay or continue hiking up into Desolation Wilderness. The trail will increase in difficulty if you choose to continue on, so be sure to think about everyone’s ability levels before embarking. No matter what route you choose, don’t forget to respect the environment and other hikers you may encounter on the trail! And of course, have fun!
Items to Pack:
- Water – Don’t forget that you are above 6,000 feet in elevation. Even for folks that are in great shape, you will feel the elevation when you start ascending. Drink a lot of water!
- Sunscreen – Again, the elevation will make you burn faster. So be sure to lather on the sunscreen and have hats and sunglasses so as not to get burned.
- Camera – Make your friends jealous and bring home memories for you and your family.
- Trail Snacks – Once you get to Eagle Lake, why not stop and have a picnic. There is ample shade if you have had too much sun, or you can find a nice granite boulder and bask in the sun.
- Bathing-suit -For those daring enough, Eagle Lake can be a very refreshing swim. Don’t forget that this is an alpine lake, and it will be cold! But if the weather is nice enough outside, jump in!