Wildflowers, waterfall on high-country hike

Story & photos by Jamie Wanzek · 

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A view of Lake Tahoe at the beginning of the hike · 

5 miles round-trip
Easy to moderate
Hike starts at 8,900’

In pursuit of spending an afternoon atop a waterfall and enjoy its peaceful cataract and lush ether, my friend Rachel Lightner and I set out to explore the waterfall along the Mount Rose trail. The embark lay in our backyard of Incline Village, making for a casual adventure and an amiable afternoon in the Sierras.

The Mount Rose trail is an easy to moderate, 5-mile, round-trip hike, and may be accessed at the summit of Highway 431 at the Mount Rose trailhead. Framing the varied Carson Range terrain, the trail allows hikers a flat trail swirling throughout green forests, streams and wildflowers. This hike grants participants views of Lake Tahoe, the Reno, Washoe Valley and a trickling waterfall.

The hike begins on a sandy, manicured trail, lined with sandstone and Sagebrush, reminding me of the high-desert climate. As you steadily climb the trail along the ridge, a panoramic outlook of Lake Tahoe comes into focus. As the trail plateaus, the view is framed by wildflowers, saturated sandstone and the green meadows below. The view seemed exceptionally radiant with color after the recent rainfall. Once at the summit of the outlook, we took a water break in awe of the panoramic view of Lake Tahoe.

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At the end of the trail, hikers can enjoy the waterfall · 

This scenic view is a farewell to lake views as the trail then enters a forest of White Firs and Sugar Pines, introducing us to a different landscape than the first section of the hike. Instead of high-desert terrain, we were welcomed to the lush surroundings of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The trail then takes the opposite side of the Mount Rose ridge, and swirls around the base of Tamarack Peak showcasing Tahoe’s neighbor, the Washoe Valley. With views of the desert landscape peeking through the lush forest, the trail exhibits the array of terrain found in this area.

My friend Rachel, a botanist at heart, found this section of the trail abundant with various trees and flowers home to the Northern Carson Range. We took our time admiring and identifying the various wildflowers and trees along the trail. We were able to enjoy the Purple and White Lupines, Red Paintbrushes and Alpine Lilies.

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Rachel Lightner enjoys lunch at the top of the waterfall · 

As my personal guide through the Lodge pole forest, Rachel gave me a lesson on the different types of pines while examining each tree and their needles. White Firs, Jeffery, Sugar, Lodge pole and Ponderosa Pines were all present throughout our hike.

Continuing along the flat trail, we were accompanied by numerous families, hikers and furry friends of all ages, each offering a friendly encounter. During the middle of the hike, we came across a team of cordial trail-maintenance workers. Taking another water break, we chatted with them about the trail. They offered us advice to enhance our time spent at the waterfall.

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There is an abundance of White Lupine found throughout the trail · 

As we enjoyed the afternoon sun, the Lupine and Sagebrush aromas escorted us through the forest. Enjoying the fresh scents of the bed of pines, the trail is accompanied by the classic granite sculptures framing the Nevada desert and focal views of Tamarack Peak. The trail remains flat throughout the rest of the trek to the waterfall, with sparkling streams throughout the hike.

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Fireweed is one of the many wildflowers in bloom along the trail · 

Once we heard the rush of a river over our conversations, we knew the waterfall was near. After the trail dips down near the lush, alpine meadow of shrubs, the waterfall comes into view. The trail leads to the base of the trickling waterfall. Once a roaring stream, flowing from the rock slab, the waterfall is now a mellow rush. As the stream meanders through the meadow, it splits down the Carson Range, toward Reno or Lake Tahoe.

The trail then continues to the left, you have the option to enjoy the waterfall from the bottom or continue along the trail to the top. After we enjoyed the lush shrubs and cold stream at the base of the waterfall, we took the trail to the top. This section is the most rigorous of the hike. While the grade is steep with a few switchbacks, it is a quick hike to the top.

As we reached the top, we enjoyed the serenade of water flowing over the slick rocks before the mellow cascade down the rock face. While eating our lunch, we enjoyed the scenic views of the Washoe Valley, Tamarack and Houghton peaks and lush alpine meadow from our perch at 8,740 feet.