Glen Alpine Trailhead is a popular launching point to many spectacular destinations within the Tahoe Basin and Desolation Wilderness. Some of the region’s most prominent mountain peaks like Mt. Tallac can be accessed from this trailhead along with many wonderful lakes like Grass, Susie, Gilmore and all the way to Aloha lakes (Lake Aloha).
Directions to the trailhead are at the end of the article. There is plenty of parking, if you get out there
early enough. Since this is a popular trail and launch point, the parking area can fill up quickly during peak season. There’s a trail display with a map, some information about the region and passes for Desolation Wilderness. You must fill out a pass if you plan on heading into Desolation Wilderness which is just past Glen Alpine Springs resort.
To the right of the trailhead display is the trail. It’s an old dirt and gravel road that once took visitors to the Glen Alpine Springs Resort back in the day. The trail itself is a steady incline. There are portions of challenging gravel and rocks to carefully walk across. I highly recommend a good pair of hiking shoes especially if you plan on traveling beyond the old resort.
The Glen Alpine Trailhead is located right next to Lily Lake. Due to the drought and time of season, Lily Lake can seem to be more of a pond/meadow area. However, in the spring and fall, there are some serene landscape photo opportunities.
Heading up the trail, along Lily Lake and beyond, is the Modjeska Falls also known as Upper Glen Alpine Falls. It’s located roughly ½ mile up the trail. Due to the drought, and the season, the water flow can be unimpressive. The waterfall is about 50 feet high and is a nice stop along the trail. The waterfall itself is named after a late 19th century Polish actress Helena Modjeska.
Check out my article “Modjeska Falls: a seasonal beauty with a historically famous name” for more details
Glen Alpine Springs Resort
Roughly 1 mile from the trailhead, and 1/2 mile past the waterfall, is the old mountain resort. It was created after mineral spring water was discovered in 1863 by Nathan Gilmore. A few old buildings remain from the turn of the 20th century, providing a pleasant experience and unique photo opportunities. Docent led tours are held during the summer. This resort was the first of its kind and a popular location for the affluent during the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
Check out my article “Glen Alpine Springs Resort: Tahoe’s earliest resort is filled with history and adventure” for more details
After the Resort, and the historical sign detailing the region, the more challenging part of this hike begins. It’s roughly 1 to 1.5 miles from the resort to Grass Lake. This stretch of the hike is more difficult than the portion of the hike leading up to the resort. In fact, it’s moderately difficult with portions of the path fading or disappearing altogether. One could easily veer off the trail and wander throughout the region. So, do your best to keep an eye on the trail and use some of the natural landmarks as points of reference.
Once you pass through the remains of the old mountain resort, beyond the Soda Springs marker, continue on the trail until you see a marker for Grass Lake/Susie Lake. Head towards Grass Lake. It will continue to take you up in elevation.
Take the left spur of the trail and you will eventually cross over a few dried up creeks if hiking in summer or fall. Also, around this point, you will come across a nice little watering hole. It’s a perfect opportunity to capture some reflections of the beautiful scenery.
Past this watering hole, there’s a creek with a little stream that has a log and rocks to walk across. From this point, it’s only about 10-15 minutes until you reach Grass Lake, located at an estimated elevation of 7,000 feet.
When arriving at Grass Lake, you come off the trail and to the southeastern portion of the lake. It seems small at first. But, as you keep walking around the lake, you quickly see how big it really is.
During my trek up to Grass Lake, I had the entire lake to myself. And as many of you know, I absolutely love when I get to be King of the Lake. It was so peaceful at this lake. During the summer months, this would be a great swimming hole to cool off after the 2+ mile hike up. In addition to swimming, there are many sources that claim this is a nice place to fish.
During peak season, you can view Susie Falls from Grass Lake. Unfortunately, when I went in late-fall to early-winter, Susie Falls was just a trickle at best.
After enjoying an hour or so of this tranquil scenery, I fueled up and begrudgingly began the journey back down to the trailhead.
This is one of the most popular trails in all of Lake Tahoe and it’s easy to see why. It’s a classic example of a beautiful Desolation Wilderness/Sierra Mountains adventure. From scenic meadows and mountain peaks to streams, fresh air and glacier lakes, the Glen Alpine Trail is a must hike trail in the Tahoe Basin. The only question is how far are you going to hike this trail.
This article is one installment in a series of articles on the Glen Alpine Region. The following is a list of articles in my Glen Alpine Series:
- Glen Alpine Trail: From Lilly Lake and Modjeska Falls to the Old Resort and Grass Lake
- Glen Alpine Springs Resort: Tahoe’s earliest resort, filled with history and adventure
- Modjeska Falls: a seasonal beauty with a historically famous name
- Glen Alpine Falls: one of Tahoe’s most popular waterfalls
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes
- Begin the hike early in the morning as the trailhead parking fills up fast
- Bring bug spray and sunscreen
- During summertime, bring something to swim in
- Pack a lunch for a great picnic at Grass Lake
- Bring a camera for some wonderful pictures
- Inexperienced hikers should bring a compass and a map
- Fill out your Desolation Wilderness pass
- During the Spring, the creeks could have increased water flow
Distance and Duration
These are rough estimates for distance and duration at a moderate pace:
From the Trailhead
- Modjeska Falls: 0.5 miles (20-25 min)
- Glen Alpine Springs: 1 mile (40-50min)
- Grass Lake/Mt Tallac marker: 1.6-1.7 miles (60-75 min)
- Grass Lake: about 2.5 miles (90 – 100 minutes)
Overall, it’s about a 5 mile round trip hike that takes roughly 3 hours at a moderate pace. The elevation gain is about 600 – 700 feet from the trailhead to Grass Lake.
From Highway 50 – head north on Highway 89 roughly 3 miles until you make a left onto Fallen Leaf Lake Road. This becomes a narrow one lane road that you need to drive carefully on. The road winds around Fallen Leaf Lake for about 3.5 miles until you make a left at the Fallen Leaf Lake fire station onto Glen Alpine Rd. From there the narrow road will take you about .7 miles directly to the Glen Alpine Trailhead and Lily Lake.