Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake Trail

This hike is easily one of the most popular South Lake Tahoe hiking trails.  It’s short, not too difficult, has waterfalls, a lake, and views of one of the most photographed spots on Earth (Emerald Bay).

  • top trails tahoeTrailhead: Day-use parking area on Highway 89 near Emerald Bay – Open in Google Maps.
  • Length: 2 miles round trip; 1 hour.
  • Difficulty: Easy for Eagle Falls then a moderate but short climb to Eagle Lake.
  • Usage: Hikers and dogs.  Parking fee of $5 in the picnic area; limited free parking available on the highway.  Hikers continuing up to Eagle Lake must fill out a Desolation Wilderness permit at the trailhead.
  • Best Time for Photography: Both Eagle Falls and the cliffs surrounding Eagle Lake will be softly lit in the morning but will be backlit by the afternoon.  Spectacular sunset opportunities available here too.
  • Are Drones Allowed: No; the trail alternates between California State Parks and Desolation Wilderness.
  • Trail Info Current: May 19, 2015
  • Further Reading: Top Trails: Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone
  • Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map

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

eagle creek

Views along the Eagle Lake trail.

Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail Narrative

The area around the trailhead can be extremely busy between Memorial Day and Labor Day; less so during the middle of the week, early in the morning (when the best photography is anyways!).  From the south, you’ll pass Inspiration Point on the right and see signs for Eagle Falls Trailhead, on your left.  From the north, you’ll pass Vikingsholm parking area on the left and see signs for the trailhead, which will be on your right.  If the marked parking area on the highway has a free space, snag it to avoid the $5 fee.

emerald bay sunset

Emerald Bay at sunset from near Eagle Falls

This is a pretty straight-forward, short trail.  It’s an out-and-back combined with a loop.

You’ll pass the bathrooms and information kiosk (take 30 seconds to fill out a permit if you’re going up to the lake) and then start up the loop.  The loop is bi-directional; go uphill to get that part out of the way first.  The trail is mostly dirt and granite, which can be slick at times, so watch your footing.

upper eagle falls

Upper Eagle Falls, taken from the bridge.

Signposts indicate the Eagle Falls Loop and also direct you up to Eagle Lake.  Eagle Falls is at the top of the loop and passes under the footbridge.

There is also a vista point that you can take a short five-minute detour up to.  It has some information boards, a bench, and views of Tahoe (hence the vista point).

If you’re going up to Eagle Lake, you’ll notice that once you pass the bridge the trail looks pretty steep.  Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks and it doesn’t stay that way!

You’ll pass the sign indicating you’re entering Wilderness area and start up the granite steps.  It won’t take long before you’re in a forest surrounded by firs and pines, paralleling the river.  You’ll see the cliffs surrounding Eagle Lake and then finally the lake itself.

upper eagle falls

Looking up towards the bridge over Upper Eagle Falls, from near the start of the trail.

Your options once you get up to the lake are fairly limited; you can only hike a short ways around the lake before running into the cliffs that fall straight into the lake, or you can take a dip if you’re feeling up to it!

After you get back to the trailhead, walk across the highway and check out the falls where they dump right into Emerald Bay!

eagle creek

Looking to the north from the start of the creek at Eagle Lake.

Tips for the Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail

  • Because of its short length, this is a trail that can be combined with other activities in the same area.  The Cascade Falls trail is very close and is another short waterfall hike with splendid views.  Vikingsholm is very interesting to tour, and literally across the highway.  Fallen Leaf Lake and Echo Lakes offer a lot of hiking too and are in the vicinity.
  • During dry winters this waterfall can be no more than a trickle by late June-July.  Eagle Lake can fall below its rim, and that’s what feeds the falls.  Eagle Lake still makes a great destination.  Otherwise these falls have the potential to run strong through August.
  • Do be careful while both driving and walking the highway here!  It gets very congested during the peak of summer.

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

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