Eagle Falls Trail: over the waterfall and through the woods to a mountain lake

Eagle Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails on the Western Shore of Lake Tahoe. It's popularity can be attributed to several factors like the short distance, the waterfall, the mountain lake and being a doorway to further Desolation Wilderness adventures.

(Last Updated On: March 7, 2015)

The trail itself is easy enough for parents to bring their children and make it a nice family outing. Yet, the scenery and the options of traveling further make this trail appealing to avid hikers and backpackers.

Directions

Take Highway 89 north about 9 miles to the Eagle Falls Trailhead. It’s located across the highway just north of Inspiration Point. If you are coming up Highway 50 from Sacramento, you will stay straight at the stoplight (the “Y”) instead of making a right that takes you toward Stateline.

Trailhead

The trailhead costs $5 for parking. It also offers the following amenities:

  • Bathrooms
  • Permits to enter Desolation Wilderness
  • Trail Map Display

If you are unwilling to pay the $5, then you can park in the limited number of parking spots outside the trailhead along Highway 89.

Eagle Falls Trailhead

Eagle Falls Trailhead

Tips

  • Depending on the season, bring extra layer of clothing
  • Bring camera
  • Bring water
  • Bring sunscreen
  • Bring bug spray during warmer weather
  • Fill out Desolation Wilderness permit
  • Bring a trail map if you plan on heading further into Desolation Wilderness
  • If you can’t go on a weekday, try to go early in the morning to avoid crowds

My Experience

I’ve hiked this trail a few times. It packs plenty of natural beauty into just one mile. Although it’s a shorter hike compared to nearby trails, it does have some challenges with slippery footing, narrow passageways and elevation gain.

Starting at the trailhead, there are two options that you can choose from. Both options will bring you to Upper Eagle Falls. The first option is a bit easier as it takes a more level path to Upper Eagle Falls and the bridge that crosses over the waterfall. The second option makes you go up in elevation a bit sooner and has more of a climb. Both are about the same distance and both take less than 10 minutes to get to the bridge.

My suggestion is to save your energy and take the flatter path, that way you can have more stamina for playing at the lake or continuing further into Desolation Wilderness. The flatter path brings you along the stream while the other path takes you more into the rocks.

One cool part about the early portion of the trail is that before you get to the bridge, you have to go up the rock carved stairs. These stairs were carved out of the landscape and are very slippery in the winter time. Be careful if there’s any moisture.

eagle falls trail 3 (1 of 1)

Once at the bridge, it’s only about 15 more minutes to Eagle Lake. Depending on the season, I suggest spending a few moments at Upper Eagle Falls and enjoy the winter setting. The waterfall flows best during the Spring season. But, it looks the prettiest in the winter.

Upper Eagle Falls

Upper Eagle Falls

Behind Upper Eagle Falls

Behind Upper Eagle Falls

 

After the bridge, you will begin the ascension up into Desolation Wilderness. Make sure you filled out your permit at the trailhead.

Entering Desolation Wilderness

Entering Desolation Wilderness

This portion of the trail takes you through some trees and the path can seem to fade at times. Within a few minutes, you will come out onto an open area of granite slabs. At this point, you can turn around and enjoy the spectacular views of Lake Tahoe. This is also a great spot for pictures or a picnic.

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Also around this point, there’s another fork in the trail. Here’s where you get to decide how far of a hike you really want to go on.

The left fork will take you further into Desolation Wilderness where you can hike to:

  • The 3 Velma Lakes (Over 4 miles)
  • Dick’s Lake (Over 4 miles)
  • Fontanillis Lake (About 5 miles)
  • Dick’s Pass (Over 5 miles)

These distances are all one way. Additionally, the trail gets very steep at times. It’s a great option for those who want to camp overnight.

For this article, we are focusing on taking the right fork to Eagle Lake. As you leave the open area and head back into the trees, the trail is more defined. After a few minutes, you do begin to wonder how much further you have to go as the scenery easily tricks you into thinking you have been walking further than you really have. But, before you know it, you are at the lake. The trees seem to dump you out right at the water’s edge.

eagle lake1 (1 of 1)

Once at Eagle Lake, you have a few options. Immediately, there’s some space along the shoreline to sit and have a picnic or relax and inhale the fresh mountain air. You can also head further to the left and find some more space.

I always choose to head to the right where it takes you further around the lake. However, you do have to cross over the stream and step on some slippery rocks to get to the other side. I wouldn’t suggest this option for younger kids.

I choose to go further to the right side of the lake because there’s hardly ever any other people over there. And the views of the lake are more appealing to me.

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The lake water is very chilly. I don’t suggest entering it unless it’s summertime. In the winter and early spring, the snow provides a beautiful backdrop for the lake.

After you are done enjoying your time at Eagle Lake, it’s only a 20 minute stroll back to the trailhead. That’s what makes this hike so great. You get to see a waterfall, a charming mountain lake, hike through the woods and do it all in less than an hour.

If you are wondering where Lower Eagle Falls is, it’s across Highway 89 near Inspiration Point. The stream runs under the highway and drops down toward Emerald Bay.

Check out my article for more information and photos on Upper and Lower Eagle Falls

Final Words

Eagle Falls Trail is a must hike for all visitors to Lake Tahoe. It’s easy enough for most people and it provides a great deal of beauty in a short distance. I suggest going in the winter time to see the picturesque winter setting and make a return trip in the spring time to see the waterfall at peak flow.

Check out more of my Lake Tahoe adventures.

eagle falls winter 3 (1 of 1)

 

A view of Eagle Lake from the saddle of Maggie's Peaks. Almost 8,000 feet up.

A view of Eagle Lake from the saddle of Maggie’s Peaks. Almost 8,000 feet up.