From Snow to Flow: 11 Spectacular Lake Tahoe Waterfalls

By Shanie Matthews | Tuesday, April 25, 2023

If you're a fan of waterfalls, this year's winter runoff is creating something to remember. Thanks to record-breaking snowfall, the waterfalls in the area are going to be bigger and more impressive than ever before. Here are 13 waterfalls that you should definitely take the time to visit this year.

Safety Advisory: Remember to exercise extreme caution when near waterfalls in the Tahoe area. The rocks may be slick, and the freezing water is a serious hazard.

Photo: Lower Eagle Falls in all her glory. Photo courtesy of

Cascade Creek Falls: Experience the beauty of the Desolation Wilderness area with a hike along the Cascade Creek Falls Trail. Accessible from Highway 89 at Emerald Bay, this moderate 1-mile path offers stunning views of the surrounding forest and wildflowers. The trailhead is conveniently located across from Inspiration Point and leads to the breathtaking Cascade Falls. As you progress along the trail, it gradually becomes steeper and more challenging, with large boulders to navigate. However, the reward for your effort is the impressive sight of the 200-foot waterfall as it tumbles down the cliff. Note that the trail is located in a wilderness area, and a permit is required to access it.

Cascade Creek Falls is a sight to behold. Photo courtesy of Jeff Martinez

Eagle Falls: This beautiful waterfall is set against the backdrop of the iconic Emerald Bay. There are lower and upper falls, both equally beautiful. Lower Eagle Falls is about a mile walk down with drops in two large cascades of 60 and 90 feet. It's an easy to moderate hike and takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Pack your water bottles and lunch for a quick bite at the picnic area. From the picnic area, continue a quarter of a mile up to see Upper Eagle Falls.

Glen Alpine Falls: Capture the captivating beauty of Glen Alpine Falls, a picturesque stair-step waterfall cascading down in layers for 65 feet. Nestled above the tranquil Fallen Leaf Lake, this snow-fed stream offers a stunning setting for your photography sessions. Accessible from Highway 89 North, just 3 miles from Highway 50, look out for the sign marking the turn onto Fallen Leaf Lake Road. For the most breathtaking views, visit between late April and the end of May.

Horsetail Falls: Horsetail Falls is a natural wonder crafted by the relentless force of Pyramid Creek as it cascades down the rugged granite slopes of Desolation Wilderness. This breathtaking waterfall stands as the tallest in the Tahoe region, plummeting an awe-inspiring 800 feet. Embark on a challenging yet exhilarating trek through a forested terrain adorned with juniper trees, boulder fields and meandering creeks. The trailhead can be found near the quaint town of Strawberry, and while the hike may be demanding, the trail rewards the intrepid hiker with numerous refreshing swimming holes along the way.

The roaring sounds of Horsetail Falls are worth the demanding hike. Photo courtesy of Tim Horvath

Fontanillis Lake FallsEmbark on a scenic day-long hike and witness the breathtaking 150-foot cascade of Fontanillis Lake Falls. Located between Fontanillis Lake and Upper Velma Lake, the waterfall is a sight to behold during the spring and early summer months. To access the trail, obtain a wilderness permit at the Eagle Falls trailhead and prepare for a 5-mile journey that requires stamina and endurance. 

McCloud Falls: Located at the Ward Canyon Pacific Crest Trailhead, McCloud Falls is a 6.4-mile hike. This trail is perfect for those who enjoy lush forests and stunning seasonal wildflowers. Along the trail, you'll see currant, bitterbrush and manzanita shrubs as well as corn lilies, larkspur, snow flowers, tiger lilies, Indian paintbrush, cow parsnips and lupine. The waterfalls are on the smaller side, plunging around 30 feet, but the hike is well worth it for the impressive views.

Shirley Canyon: Shirley Canyon is a 1.5- to 5.6-mile hike with an elevation gain of 310 to 1,860 feet, starting behind the Palisades Tahoe resort. To access the trailhead, drive past the parking lot, continuing on the only road available. At the end of the road is the beginning of the trail. The hike starts out mellow and relatively flat as you pass creek pools, cascades, boulders, alders, pines and fir trees. It's common for most hikers to not linger long at the many waterfalls that you pass in the beginning. Most hikers are on their way up to Shirley Lake and the tram that accesses High Camp, but taking the time to enjoy the falls is well worth it. In fact, this is a great hike to do with little ones, as many waterfalls are experienced right off the bat. The hike finishes with jaw-dropping views, unusual granite formations, sheer cliffs and views of Lake Tahoe as well as the ability to ride down the tram if you hike the full 5.6 miles.

Shirley Canyon offers waterfalls for miles. Photo courtesy of Aaron McGovern

Galena Falls: Galena Falls is a moderate hike of 4.7 to 5.2 miles, depending on the trail you take, with a 490-foot elevation gain. The hike starts above Incline Village, Nevada, and is a worthy outing for kids, dogs and those not accustomed to hiking. The hike starts with stunning wildflowers and views of Mount Rose Meadows. After a half-mile ascent, you'll arrive at a stunning viewpoint of Lake Tahoe. The trail then passes through a forest of lodgepole and white pines, eventually leading to the falls, which are about 70 feet in height.

Van Sickle Falls: Embark on a scenic 2.5-mile trek from the Van Sickle Bi-State Park Trailhead to witness the stunning Van Sickle Falls. As an offshoot of the Tahoe Rim Trail, this hike boasts picturesque views of the lake and is open to bikers (but not dogs). Along the way, you'll encounter a newly constructed bridge that spans the stream just below the majestic waterfall.

Upper Truckee Falls: Discover the hidden gem of Upper Truckee Falls with a leisurely 20-minute hike along the scenic Hawley Grade climbing path. As you make your way, listen for the soothing sound of rushing water that will guide you to the falls. The trail may be unmarked, but the reward is worth the effort, especially during the spring months when the falls are at their most impressive.

Hot Springs Creek FallsNestled within the scenic Grover Hot Springs State Park, Hot Springs Creek Falls is a stunning 50-foot waterfall accessible via a dog-friendly 1.7-mile hike. As water flows more swiftly in the warmer months, it's crucial to keep your canine companion on a leash and exercise caution. But the breathtaking views and refreshing mist from the falls are well worth the effort.

About the Author Shanie Matthews
A longtime Lake Tahoe local, Shanie is a freelance writer, Vinyasa Flow yoga teacher and positivity warrior. A true lover of the the gorgeous Tahoe region, she connects with the serenity of the mountains via skiing, biking and backpacking. She also believes in the gift of yoga and its way of allowing one to become his or her true best self, a passion she shares with the world with her online yoga studio.
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