When it comes to hiking in and around Lake Tahoe, the focus is usually scenery and landscapes. As you walk out the door for the day, that’s pretty much guaranteed. But what if you could combine the beauty with something more, like a glimpse into a bygone era? Now you’ve got something that’s special, a bit unique and different. This is exactly what Glen Alpine Springs provides guests: jaw-dropping views and an opportunity to see what a vacation destination was like back in the late 1800s.
2 miles roundtrip | Easy
Dogs must be on leash.
The journey begins before the hike
Zooming out of South Lake Tahoe, you’ll quickly transition from a smooth, two-lane State Route 89 to one-car’s-width Fallen Leaf Road. As you pass the Fallen Leaf Fire Station, you’ll begin a small but steep climb. This is where the asphalt becomes more sporadic and a bit sporty. Although you could take a sedan, it would be a better idea to embark on this journey in a high-clearance vehicle. You’ll thank yourself later. As the road hugs Glen Alpine Creek, you’ll make a quick right and drive over a bridge — the end of the line.
After walking through the historic resort, take a moment and look at your surroundings. To one side, you have the formidable Mount Tallac and on the other Angora Peak.
Fall colors at Lily Lake
From here you can park and take a short hike to the photogenic Lily Lake. This body of water looks as though the mountains are cupping it. To visit Glen Alpine Springs, head northwest onto the main Glen Alpine Trail. Under a canopy of pines and aspen, the wide path of granite stones, boulders and rocks is more rough road than trail. That’s because it was. As you step over these smooth boulders, imagine wagons bouncing on this route to get to their vacation destination. Talk about a rough ride for some peace and quiet. This section is also a great spot to take in the fall colors since the aspen overhanging the trail create a spectacular sight.
As you continue your climb upwards about half a mile, you’ll come on a bunch of modern cabins. This is part of Stanford Sierra Camp. It’s around here you’ll also come to Modjeska Falls, sometimes called Upper Glen Alpine Falls. While not as big as the lower Glen Alpine Falls, they’re still impressive especially since you can take a short detour and cool off under the base of the falls.
These cascades are named after the Polish actress who came to Glen Alpine Springs in 1885. Her performance was so amazing that the nearby falls were later named after her. How great is that if you could get something named after you because you impressed a crowd that much.
Glen Alpine Springs
Yet another half mile up the trail, you’ll finally find the world-famous Glen Alpine Springs, founded back in 1884 by Nathan Gilmore. Even though the majority of its buildings were burnt down in 1921, they were replaced by designs from the famed architect Bernard Maybeck, who’s responsible for San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. Be sure to take a close look at these structures, especially the Bubblestone cabin. While all of the remaining buildings are particularly noteworthy because of their extensive use of native materials and local stone, Bubblestone is considered a one-of-a kind, experimental, concrete building.
After walking through the historic resort, take a moment and look at your surroundings. To one side, you have the formidable Mount Tallac and on the other Angora Peak. But of course, the best part of the scenery is one of the most famous back-country skiing lines in the Basin. You’ll understand why John Muir once said of this area, “From no other valley, as far as I know, may excursions be made in a single day to so many peaks, wild gardens, glacier lakes, glacier meadows and alpine groves, cascades, etc.”
While you can visit any time of year when there isn’t snow on the ground, the best time to visit is in the summer or fall. From Memorial Day through the fall season, guided tours are offered at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. There is also an interpretive center open in the summer.
Take Fallen Leaf Road off Highway 89 in South Lake Tahoe for about 5 miles. Continue left when you see the marina and signs for the falls. Continue straight past the firehouse and you’ll arrive at the parking lot for Desolation Wilderness and the upper falls. | glenalpinesprings.org