Hiking Upper Eagle Falls Trail At Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

Eagle Falls Trailhead Hike at Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe

Labor Day weekend was looming and we had no plans. With my birthday and our anniversary the next weekend, we knew we wanted to do something fun.

After some debate, we decided to brave the holiday weekend crowds and head toward South Lake Tahoe for some hiking and gorgeous views. Brian made last minute reservations at a hotel and we mapped out hiking plans. The last time hiked the Eagle Falls Trail, it was covered in show and we couldn’t go any farther than the bridge, so I knew I wanted to hike that trail again. I also wanted to hike down to Vikingsholm Castle in Emerald Bay State Park.

Friday night we packed our things in our backpacks, prepped a picnic lunch, and then hit the road super early Saturday morning to beat the crowds to the Eagle Falls trailhead. It’s one of the most popular hiking trails along the western shores of Lake Tahoe with amazing views of the lake, which means parking is generally a nightmare, especially on a holiday weekend. With only one quick pit stop at Starbucks, we reached Eagle Falls just before 10:00am and snagged a parking spot on the street close to the parking lot.

Eagle Falls Trailhead at Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe
View of South Lake Tahoe’s gorgeous Emerald Bay and Fanette Island from the parking lot at the Eagle Falls Trailhead and Vikingsholm Castle parking lot.

Eagle Falls, Desolation Wilderness

Eagle Falls, located above Emerald Bay within Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay State Park, offers two different hiking options:

  • Upper Eagle Falls rushes down over the rocky mountainside with a main cascade of 40 feet. This meandering, easy hike leads you up to the top of the falls, and past it into the Desolation Wilderness area, eventually reaching Eagle Lake.
  • Lower Eagle Falls plunges down a 170 foot drop from the roadside to the base of the Emerald Bay beach and historic Vikingsholm Castle. This moderate hike is on a paved trail, but it is steep!

As I mentioned, we have hiked the cascading upper Eagle Falls before, but there was still a lot of snow on the ground and we couldn’t get very far. I was excited to hike the falls again without the snow, but the California drought not only meant no snow, it also meant no water.

Eagle Falls was all dried up! Bummer!

The hike wasn’t quite as beautiful as it was when cold mountain water was rushing over the rocks, but the views were just as spectacular — and it was just fun to get outdoors with the kids and go exploring. They love climbing all over the rocks, getting up really high, and leading the way along the trail to discover new things like little caves and big rock formations.

The upper Eagle Falls trail is a fairly easy hike that loops back and forth along the rocks through the Tahoe National Forest, with stone steps, big pine trees, lots of little places to stop and explore off the trail, and incredible views of the bright, sparkling blue waters of Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe. At the top of the falls, there is a bridge that spans the 40 foot cascading water fall (or where the water should be), providing the perfect spot for photos.

At this point, most people turn around and hike back to the parking lot, but if you want, you can keep going and follow the trail into the Desolation Wilderness and onto Eagle Lake. We hiked past the falls probably for about half a mile, climbing on the rocks and just playing in the outdoors, as there was much more shade along this portion of the trail.

But soon we were starving! It was well past lunch time and everyone was hungry and thirsty. I wish we had packed our lunches in our backpacks for this hike. If we had, we’d have continued hiking all the way to Eagle Lake and had our picnic lunch there along the shore. But instead we decided to call it a successful hike and head back down to the car to grab our lunches and find a spot for lunch.

If I had thought the parking situation was busy in the morning, it was insane now. We walked to the car to get our lunch and people were yelling at us from their cars to hurry up so they could get our parking space. They weren’t very happy when Brian told them we weren’t leaving!

We ended up finding the perfect picnic spot under some big pine trees, overlooking Lake Tahoe. We had to hike down off the side of the road a little ways and we had the entire area all to ourselves. It was quiet and peaceful and simply wonderful, and a great way to relax before heading over to South Lake Tahoe to check out the Heavenly Ski Resort.

Tips For Hiking Eagle Falls

If you’re planning on visiting Lake Tahoe’s Eagle Falls for a family hike, here are some tips to help make it a fantastic experience:

  • Eagle Falls is comprised of two waterfall areas, the upper falls and lower falls. If you’re in fairly good shape, you could do both in one day, but we split the hikes up over two days.
  • The Eagle Falls parking lot is small. If it is full, you can park at the Vikingsholm/Emerald Bay State Park parking lot and walk over. Just be sure to have cash to pay for parking.
  • Get there early in the day — the earlier the better to avoid having to park far away along the roadside, or not finding any parking at all.
  • Bring lots of water and snacks with you, especially if it is hot! We really enjoyed stopping to relax, enjoy the view, and have a quick snack up above Eagle Falls
  • Pack a picnic lunch! There are lots of places to enjoy a picnic and relax — and trust me, not only are the views are much better, but your kids will have way more fun.
  • If you decide to hike past the top of upper Eagle Falls into the Desolation Wilderness and to Eagle Lake, you’ll need to get a wilderness permit first. They are free and you can get them in the parking lot.
  • Have everyone wear tennis shoes or hiking shoes — you could do the hike in flip flops, but it’s not very safe.

The only bummer about this entire trip is that my iPhone camera had stopped working and it was basically useless. I planned to use Brian’s iPhone for the trip because I don’t like to lug my big camera around in the heat when I’m all sweaty, but something got all jacked up with the photos and more than half from the trip were saved as low resolution photos. I was so sad and frustrated, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.

I guess we’ll just have to go on the hike again, pack a picnic lunch, and go all the way to Eagle Falls!

What About You?

Have you ever hiked Eagle Falls near Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe? Have you hike past the falls all the way to Eagle Lake? What did you think of the hike?

I’d love to hear from you!

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