If you have ever driven over HWY 50 between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, you have probably seen a very large waterfall off on the hill-side near ECHO Summit. This is Horsetail Falls. A Spectacular Sierra Waterfall that offers not only a road side view that makes hundreds of tourists stop for a quick picture, but home also to a spectacular day hike that can be both a great family outing or a challenging mountain climbing experience.
Sierra REC, this weekend traveled HWY 50 and decided to stop for a quick 2 hour day hike experience to share with our readers and to inspire you to stop next time through.
What do you need to know about HorseTail Falls?
To get there from South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50 south. A little less than 7 miles from Echo Summit, you’ll see a well-developed parking area for Twin Bridges and the Pyramid Creek Trail. From the Sacramento area, it is roughly an hour from Folsom region to this area depending on traffic speeds for the day.
There are two different versions of this hike. The Day Trip Family version that includes a moderate hike to a few great waterfalls and plenty of cooling pools to soak the feet. And then there is the adventurous challenging hike into the Wilderness area and up the waterfall which is considered a difficult and relatively dangerous hike that should not be attempted by little kids or people with out the proper shoes or equipment.
Today Sierra REC set out to showcase the first of the two hike. The 1.5 hr – 2 hr family variety and the beautiful photo ops, waterfalls and granite features of this valley.
A Sierra REC Day Hike Review
Parking during the season at Twin Bridges can be a bit challenging. The crowds that stop by fill up the parking lot easily and the side road parking tends to extend in both directions. We preach patients here as it is not uncommon for people to have to go down the road and turn around to come back to find a spot for the car. Today we found a spot about 40 yards down the road from the parking lot, as it is still closed for winter.
If you are considering hiking past the Wilderness boundaries on this hike you need to get a Wilderness Permit filled out here before you head into the hike. There are not forms at the Wilderness Boundary. Staring off the hike you will notice quickly that the path has many loose rocks and tree roots in the path. Add that to the granite rocks you will be climbing and this hike is difficult for anyone with weak ankles or knees plus you need good shoes for this hike.
About 400 yards up the trail (Pyramid Creek Loop) you will be rewarded with a small waterfall with a nice granite slab to rest on. If you just stopping by to see the water and take a photo, this is a great place to start.
After Leaving the first waterfall you will meander through the forest and granite rocks up the creek. You will find multiple locations to catch the creek running through the forest and mini waterfalls. The Sound of the water at this early region is quite pleasing to follow as you hike.
About .5 miles into the trail you will exit the forest and soon realize that the next part of this trail is not as well-defined, as it heads up the granite rock face of the canyon towards Horsetail falls and the path is no longer super clear in front of you.
They have posted markers on some of the trees to help you identify the direction of the trail. You will see people at this point just take the easiest route also just keeping the Water to their right and Horsetail Falls in their view straight ahead. We saw a dozen different routes take in this section, they all ended up in pretty much the same spot towards the top of this granite section.
If you keep the creek close to you on the right you will be doing great. Going right immediately you will see a little bit of a staircase, follow this line to one our favorite waterfall features on this hike. A great cascade of water over a granite slide makes for a great early break, & Photo opp.
After climbing over this granite section you will find several little pools that look inviting for a swim, little cold and water is a little swift early int he season, so not recommended, but we hear many will enjoy int he summer. Be Careful however as each year people get themselves in trouble because the misjudge the speed of the water and the slippery rock conditions.
You are roughly 30 min to 45 mins into your hike before you hit the Wilderness Boundary. Along the way you will have seen great water features and enjoyed the massive Granite features as you continue to get closer to Horsetail Falls. Wilderness Area is great to explore , but having a sense of direction and you natural abilities at this point is worth reviewing. Once you reach the Wilderness boundaries to Horsetail Falls the path becomes much less clear and paying attention to your surroundings and the path that provides the easiest path is crucial to your safe travel. We definitely don’t recommend this part of the hike for individuals that are by themselves and don’t know how to navigate in the wilderness region. The Horsetail Falls region is easy to navigate in that you have mountains on each side of you and they will funnel you to the Waterfall and back to HWY 50. So in perspective, if you tend to struggle with direction this is a relatively safe area to test your navigational skills.
The Pyramid Trail Loop will turn around near the Wilderness border and from here you are sort of on your own in navigating up to the Waterfall. It is pretty obvious, the path that many take as there are natural paths built through the granite and trees. There are several vista points in the next 8oo yards that we choose to stop at take a picture and call it a good day on this hike. The adventurous ones will push forward from here and test their endurance and risk tolerance as they climb the to the waterfall then up the waterfall to Avalanche Lake and the great views of Desolation Wilderness. As I sat here and watched people start that part of the trek I did however wonder why they didn’t just go up the road a mile and hike in on the Ralston Trail to the top. That is a great hike with the same fantastic views of the Wilderness area. Maybe that will be our next Day Trip adventure to share.
Sierra REC, highly recommends this hike to travelers, even if you only hike the first half mile you will be rewarded with great water features and nice views of Horsetail Falls. If you have the 2 hours, take the trip up the granite walls and you will surely enjoy the views. REmember to take plenty of water as the heat on the granite rocks can easily dehydrate you along the trek.
Sierra REC Magazine is dedicated to sharing the events, news and adventure opportunities that exist in The Sierra Mountains. From Lassen Volcanic National Park to the North down through the Central Sierra and the Lake Tahoe Basin through the rugged eastern slopes of the Mono county and Yosemite National park to the southern tips near Sequoia National Park and the PCT trail. We invite you to share stories, trips and photos from your adventures in the Sierra. Please join us on Facebook, Twitter Google + and You-Tube or email us your events and photos at firstname.lastname@example.org #goexplore