Glen Alpine Springs & Lily Lake Hike

Waterfalls, lakes, mountains, and old cabins can all be experienced in just a matter of a few miles.  John Muir even wrote, “The Glen Alpine Springs Resort seems to me one of the most delightful places in all the famous Tahoe region. 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 and the like.”

  • 500milestahoeTrailhead: Fallen Leaf Lake.  Take Fallen Leaf Rd (seasonal) to Glen Alpine Rd and park in the trailhead parking area.
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  • Length: 2 miles round trip from Lily Lake to the Historic site
  • Difficulty: Easy to the historic site, more moderate climbing to explore other areas.
  • Usage:  Free but a wilderness permit is required for the day hike.
  • Best Time for Photography: Early in the day, as most of the terrain faces to the east and you’ll be able to photograph Lily Lake and the falls with the sun behind you.
  • Are Drones Allowed: Only from the Falls to Glen Alpine Springs.  The beginning is within TVL Class E SFC and Desolation Wilderness lies beyond the springs.
  • Trail Info Current: August 27, 2011
  • More South Tahoe Hiking: 500 Miles of South Lake Tahoe Hikes
  • Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map

Plots created using digital topographic map data, not actual GPS logs. Distance and elevation profiles are approximate.

Hike as long as you want; if you have a few hours like I did, go up to the Glen Alpine Springs resort site (ran from 1884-1960). If you have days or weeks, you can spend it all continuing deeper into the Desolation Wilderness and its many trails & lakes. My last trip into the Desolation Wilderness was in the neighborhood of fifteen years ago while I was living in Tahoe, and it was great to be back.

This is not necessarily an easy trailhead to get to; you can’t just simply pull off the side of the road and start hiking like so many other places in Tahoe.  Despite this, it is constantly crowded with backpackers and day hikers.  That should say something about the quality of the hike – people just won’t stay away!  It is one of the more popular Lake Tahoe day hikes.

glen alpine falls

Lower Glen Alpine Falls at low water

Glen Alpine Falls

Madjeska Falls (Upper Glen Alpine Falls) after a heavy winter

From Highway 89 out of South Lake Tahoe, you’ll turn left onto Fallen Leaf Road.  This is a seasonal road and don’t expect it to be cleared when there’s heavy snowpack.  The road along Fallen Leaf Lake is scenic, but it’s only as wide as one car so don’t get too caught up in it.  Dealing with opposite-direction traffic can be a concentrating task.  Bear left onto Glen Alpine Rd at the end of Fallen Leaf Rd.   This road shortly turns to dirt, and after a tenth of a mile you’ll come across Lower Glen Alpine Falls.  These falls can be raging whitewater or a small trickle depending on the season and the previous winter.  You’ll reach the parking area for Lily Lake and Glen Alpine Springs shortly after passing Lower Glen Alpine Falls.

Lily Lake

Lily Lake

Hikers navigating the waterlogged trail in the spring after a heavy winter.

The first half-mile of the hike is under the shade of pines and not very steep, with the exception of a few very short climbs, which makes this trail popular with day-hikers.  Modjeska Falls greets you at the top of one of these short climbs, as the creek continues down to Lily Lake.  Another half-mile up the trail is a convergence of trails, one of which leads to the National Historic Site of Glen Alpine Springs.  An information board is available, and a visit to the site is a worthy detour.

glen alpine springs resort

One of the cabins at Glen Alpine Springs Resort, built in the 1920s to replace older buildings that had burned down

In 1863, Nathan Gilmore discovered a naturally carbonated spring near the site where he would later build his resort in 1884.  The water was bottled and sold, but I don’t know if I’d drink any of it.  It’s an opaque red color due to the iron content; I like to be able to see through the water I drink.  Curious visitors and vacationers would visit this resort from all over the west coast for the next 80 years, although visitation sharply declined after the 1930s.  The resort was finally closed in the 1960s and handed over to the U.S. Forest Service.

Restoration efforts have been ongoing and assisted tours are given on the weekends during the summer.  Only a handful of buildings remain, but at one point there were over 25, including a two-story hotel.  Most of the buildings burned in a fire in 1921, and some were later rebuilt out of stone.  These are the buildings that remain today (a cabin, kitchen, dining hall, meeting hall, and various outbuildings).

Beyond this site, the trail is like one of those “choose your own adventure” books with forks of trails going up into the 155 square-mile Desolation Wilderness.  You can explore dozens of lakes, streams, and falls among the granite landscape that was shaped by glaciers during the last Ice Age.  Both the Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest Trail pass through the barren but beautiful scenery in the Desolation Wilderness.


Tahoe Arts & Mountain Culture.

The number for Glen Allen Springs Historic Preservation Office is 707-996-6354.

Corrections, suggestions, or questions?  Please leave a comment below!

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