Hike to Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake

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Eagle Lake rimmed with snow-covered peaks
Eagle Lake rimmed with snow-covered peaks

For many people, summer in the mountains involves lots of hiking. Exploring the trails is a fun physical activity and can be a great opportunity to spend quality time with the family. There is also the added benefit of the potential for spectacular views along the way.

The Tahoe Sierra has endless trail options, and many are family friendly. One of the most popular and memorable is the hike to Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake. The Eagle Lake trailhead is on State Route 89 on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe at Emerald Bay. It offers beginner to intermediate options and should not be missed.

I have hiked it several times over the years and I felt it was time to introduce my son Anikin to it. The moderate hike is about 3 miles roundtrip and has roughly 433 feet of granite steps. I knew it would be a challenge for him but he is a strong hiker with great endurance. My sister Kat and I decided to go for it knowing the pace would be slow and there would be disdainful grumbling from our young companion.

The roaring Eagle Falls

We arrived at the trailhead and obtained a wilderness permit at the self-serve kiosk. It is necessary to get one if you are going past the Eagle Falls loop trail. The mixed dirt and rock trail starts off with a gentle grade making it easy to hike to the falls.

We saw people of various ages and physical abilities hiking the trail. Most of them took the Eagle Falls loop trail. The trail was short and the views are breathtaking.

Past the turn off for the Eagle Falls loop, we followed the path to the left toward a foot bridge that crossed the falls. Beyond the bridge, the trail became more difficult and the stone steps steeper. We took lots of breaks to identify wildflowers, look for insects or simply to seek shade under the majestic trees.

The staircase eventually led to a flat granite face where we had fantastic views of Emerald Bay. The colorful rock walls of the canyon were dotted with several small waterfalls and lots of beautiful wildflowers.

From our perch, Anikin spotted some rock climbers on a rock face across the canyon. We stopped for a few minutes to take a water break, snap some photos and watch the climbers.

Michelle and Anikin Allen take a break to enjoy the view of Lake Tahoe

We resumed our climb up the granite staircase and soon reached a fork. A sign points right to Eagle Lake and left for a trek deeper into Desolation Wilderness. The trail to the left led to Velma, Dick’s and Fontanillis lakes, as well as connections to the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

We took the fork to the right and arrived at Eagle Lake. Nestled in a meadow below Maggie’s Peak, the crystal-clear lake was bordered by granite and towering trees. The air felt cool and soothing after a steep ascent on a warm summer day. If you’re brave enough — I am not — or hot enough, a dip in the icy cold water will cool you down quickly.

The granite staircase to Eagle Lake begins at the trailhead and continues almost the entire way to Eagle Lake.

Anikin was happy to make the trek, but happier to start the hike back down. His pace was much quicker on the way down and he was relieved when he was back at the car and reunited with his tablet.

Due to its popularity, this trail gets very busy and parking can be a challenge. My suggestion is to go early during the midweek before the crowds and the afternoon heat. If you arrive at the parking lot before 8:30 a.m., you might be lucky enough to get a close parking spot for a $5 fee. If not, there is also parking along the highway and across the street at the parking lot for Emerald Bay State Park, Emerald Falls and Vikingsholm historic site. | parks.ca.gov