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South Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails: Pyramid Creek & Horsetail Falls

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Hiking to Horsetail Falls & Pyramid Creek

The hiking trail to Horsetail Falls along Pyramid Creek is extremely crowded during the summer, but if you can go at the right times it’s a beautiful half-day destination.  The falls are even more amazing following big winters.

  • top trails tahoeTrailhead: Pyramid Creek Trailhead, 1 mile east of Strawberry on US50  – Open in Google Maps.
  • Length: 2.5-3.5 miles round trip; 1-2 hours.
  • Difficulty: Moderate; you’ll climb 520′ up to the falls but the loop that stays along Pyramid Creek only climbs 250′.  The trail can be difficult to follow.
  • Usage: Hikers, dogs.  Parking at the trailhead is $5.
  • Best Time for Photography: Horsetail Falls is south-facing and sits in a large bowl, so any time throughout the day will offer some kind of good lighting.
  • Are Drones Allowed: Yes until you reach Desolation Wilderness.
  • Trail Info Current: Aug 18, 2017
  • Further Reading: Top Trails: Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Hikes For Everyone
  • Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map
Pyramid Creek

Click on map for Gaia GPS track information

Pyramid Creek & Horsetail Falls Hike

horsetail falls

Here’s one of those “must-do Lake Tahoe hikes”, and everyone else has the same idea.  It’s probably the second most popular Lake Tahoe waterfall after Eagle Falls, but it’s one of the tallest waterfalls in California outside of Yosemite.  And after a heavy winter, this waterfall and Pyramid Creek are an impressive sight to see.  There are other great views to see along this trail, specifically Lover’s Leap.

lovers leap

The trail to Horsetail Falls starts on the north side of Highway 50, west of Echo Summit, at Twin Bridges.  You’re looking for the sign for Pyramid Creek.  The parking lot here fills up quickly on the weekends, especially in the summer.  You’ll need to fill out a self-service parking permit of $5.

The Horsetail Falls & Pyramid Peak hike has great options for all hiking abilities.  The first part of the trail climbs a few hundred feet along Pyramid Creek and enters an interesting geological area of granite polished smooth by glaciers in the last ice age.  The views here are great, and you can stop anywhere to take a break for lunch.  This short loop is under two miles in total.  You’ll want to follow the sign for the “Pyramid Creek Loop Trail”.

pyramid creek

pyramid creek

The more adventurous can continue up to Horsetail Falls – follow the sign to the “Wilderness Boundary”.  This will take you into Desolation Wilderness, and you’ll have to fill out another (free) permit for entering the wilderness.  The trail up to the wilderness boundary can be difficult to follow if you’re not looking for it; much of the trail goes over the granite.

Follow Pyramid Creek once you enter Desolation Wilderness.  You can pretty much go anywhere from here and explore the surrounding granite hillsides.  But the easiest way up to Horsetail Falls is just to follow an established footpath along the creek.  The trail really has no end.  You can take it as high as you want, even up to Lake Aloha if you’re really up for it.  Just find a spot to sit alongside the creek and enjoy the scenery!

pyramid creek

horsetail falls

horsetail falls

Tips for hiking to Horsetail Falls

  • It’s a recurring theme for the more popular trails around Tahoe – get to the trailhead early, especially during the summer and on the weekends!
  • Please keep an eye on your water dogs along this trail, and leashed if necessary.  You’ll be along a creek the entire time, and the waters move extremely fast after heavy winters.  There are a few protected spots to allow them to swim along the trail.
  • Seeing as this is one of the more popular Lake Tahoe hiking trails, there is a lot of trash.  If you have a little baggie with you please help us residents and pick up after our more irresponsible visitors.
  • In dry years the falls can be reduced to just a trickle by fall.  Don’t blame me!

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