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Twin Bridges, California, United States

Horsetail Falls, Lake Tahoe

A three mile round-trip hike gets you up close with this spectacular Tahoe waterfall.

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 (13 votes, 5 reviews)
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 3.0 miles / 4.8 km
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly
 
Overview: Late spring and early summer may be the best times to experience Horsetail Falls, but a hike up the Pyramid Creek trail to this spectacular waterfall is still a worthwhile experience at any time of the year. If you can find a parking spot at the busy US50 trailhead that is.

Elevation gain:
• 600ft (from 6,100 - 6,700ft)

Tips:
• Peak volume will be in late spring as soon as the snow melts.
• Parking is limited and a fee is required.
• Parking area is closed in off-season months.


Points of Interest

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Trailhead

The parking lot for this popular trail is often full, so we advise either getting here early or simply getting lucky. There's drinking water available here next to the restroom block, which you must pass to reach the head of the trail.

Begin your hike here, heading into woodland and almost immediately you'll reach the babbling Pyramid Creek. Follow the trail upstream, parallel to the route of the creek.
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[JCT] Pyramid Creek Loop Junction

We recommend a right turn at this junction in the direction of Cascade Vista. Whilst this route isn't the most direct way of reaching the waterfall it does afford some great views and a little more variety.
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Cascade Vista

There's much more to this trail than just Horsetail Falls, and Cascade Vista is a great example. Torrents of water rush past you down a smooth granite face before turning sharply down towards the valley.

Cascade Vista also has a stunning backdrop - a huge glaciated valley bowl which reminds us of Yosemite Valley, and the sharp point of Lovers Leap.
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Follow Pyramid Creek Trail

Trail-finding can be difficult in this section of the hike since it traverses over bald expanses of granite. Our recommended outbound route roughly follows alongside the creek for much of the initial loop before meeting up with the out-and-back section of the trail.
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[JCT] Pyramid Creek Trail

Trailfinding can still be difficult at this point, but with any luck you should be able to find this junction marker.

The good news is that the out-and-back route from here to the waterfall is fairly well defined, so should you come across it before you find the junction marker, then simply turn and follow it in the direction of the waterfall.
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Desolation Wilderness

Day-hikes into the Desolation Wilderness require self-registration at this location. Permits and pencils should be readily available and there is no cost to register.

Once in Desolation Wilderness you will trek up the canyon towards the falls. The trail sticks close to the creek, so check yourself if you begin to stray to the West.
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Horsetail Falls

Nearing the falls, the canyon narrows and the terrain becomes much steeper forcing the rocky trail closer to the creek. The trail gets quite rugged and requires navigation over boulders, granite slabs and around unruly bushes.

There is no true end-point to this hike since you can continue as far up the falls as you wish (and as trail conditions dictate). We choose to admire the falls from a few nice overlooks that follow our route.
Pictures in this guide taken by: Trailspotting

Trailspotting content © Stuart Green 2010 including text, images, videos and route detail.
Reviews
chrissmithatwork
As a newcomer to the region, I'd been by this trailhead a few times and decided today was the day to tackle it. Was not disappointed. Fantastic experience. Lots of route-finding and some granite scrambles and if it's a day like today, you might find the route rather exposed to the sun in places, so bring a lot of water, a good wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and don't be shy to wet your shirt in the creek if you want. You'll see a number of different life zones, including bare granite with sparse vegetation, redwood forest interspersed with pinions--pinions are Nevada trees that smell like vanilla as you walk by, and if you put your nose up to the bark you get a strong whiff of caramel or butterscotch--manzanita groves, and finally raging rapids, swimming holes, and waterfalls. I saw lots of people of all ages and walks of life. Good for just about everyone. Just be sure to be prepared for the elements, and it's easy to lose the main trail, but don't get discouraged, there are multiple ways to hike up.

The only major bummer of course is parking. I was able to park (along with many others) in what looked like private property about 100 years west of the trailhead parking. I did worry a bit about coming back and finding my car towed, but I spent

Visited on Jul 12, 2014

by chrissmithatwork on Jul 12, 2014
bradleycrooker
Visiting this easy-access cascade for the second time with my college-grad daughter, I decided to go the whole route and make it up to the top of the falls to see Avalanche Lake. Mission accomplished, yes, and the destination was enjoyable, but with this disclaimer: Two-thirds of this hike is VERY difficult for the inexperienced hiker! Also for an old guy like me!

I am sixty, in excellent condition, very nimble on my feet, and yet, it was challenging. . . ultimately not such an enjoyable trek, due to the boulder-hopping and maneuvering one must do while trying to discern the rocky trail. Caution: After the lower Cascade Vista alongside Pyramid Creek, the trail practically disappears into the vast expanse of granite after officially entering Desolation Wilderness. It's up to you to make your way to the top of the crest, but once you're there, near the top of the falls, the dirt trails appear once again and Avalanche Lake (a small one) is close at hand, and a relaxing place to rest.

The descent was more demanding, because by then, the blisters and leg fatigue began to be troublesome. However---I have to give credit where it's due: the beautiful views and the rushing water provide relief all along the way. I won't be doing the full hike again, ever, but I will visit the Cascade Vista again, for sure. I'm grateful for the experience. I learned that I cannot push myself into such vigorous climbs, nor expect my guests to desire the same.

Visited on Jun 22, 2014

by bradleycrooker on Jun 24, 2014
Trailspotting
Thanks for the comments and all the 'likes'. We added a comment to remind folk that the parking lot is closed in off-season months.

by Trailspotting on May 05, 2014
rezaalam
Difficult to navigate, mostly due to rocky nature of the trail, there are sparse signs but for most of the trail we had to repeatedly wait and guess. we saw many others confused (perhaps someone familiar with the trail should mark arrows on rocks with the paint?, I've seen this in other places). But as long as you stick close to the river you are fine. It is a moderate trail. Takes about 2 hours for relax climbing to get to the falls. Not a huge water fall in Autumn. But trail is scenic and fun, and of course you hike along pyramid creek.
Visited on Oct 05, 2013

by rezaalam on Oct 05, 2013
reelds9
I was glad to try a new hike in the Lake Tahoe area. My friends chose this hike because it wasn't too difficult for the children. Our plan was to hike up to the base of Horsetail falls, but we never quite got there due to time, heat and most of the hikers were ready for burgers at Izzy's. The trail was nice when it was near Pyramid Creek, but the parts on the rocks that were exposed to the sun were not as nice. As the trail got higher up, it was harder to find. We stopped at a point where the trail was getting lost in the brush. We could see Horsetail Falls from this spot. On the way down we took the rest of the lower loop which was mostly on very steep, flat rocks. This wasn't as fun. We somehow got off trail and ended up at US 50 a few 100 yards from the parking lot, which is not where we parked because it was full. We parked across the freeway along a forest road. Not sure if that was allowed, but we got no tickets. I'd like to try the hike again and get to the top of the water falls. Even if you don't get to Horsetail Falls, there are plenty of smaller water falls along the way to enjoy.
Visited on Jul 20, 2013

by reelds9 on Jul 22, 2013

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