Sunday, April 27, 2014

When Water Gets Vertical - Tahoe's Biggest Waterfalls

WIth 60-plus streams flowing from the surrounding mountains down into Lake Tahoe, you’d expect there to be waterfalls, and you’d be right. There are dozens of small-to-medium waterfalls and hundreds of cataracts within the Tahoe Basin. Many of the places where water gets vertical are far up on the mountains in places where few people ever see them.
But what about big waterfalls? Is there anything really spectacular to see?
If your yardstick for spectacular is based on Yosemite waterfalls, then the answer is no. Same if you’re comparing things to Yellowstone or Niagara Falls. But if you’re thinking about other waterfalls scattered across the country, then Tahoe’s biggest do a pretty good job by comparison.
What’s the biggest Tahoe waterfall?
Eagle Falls at Emerald Bay. (Yes, 200-foot Cascade Falls is definitely in the running for prettiest waterfall in Tahoe, but it is much less voluminous than Eagle falls. You can read about hiking to Cascade Falls here.)
Cascade Falls is at the very bottom of the pic

There is a lot of backcountry to the west of Emerald Bay, and all that snowmelt comes down in a rush when the sun starts to rise high in the spring. The river down from Eagle Lake to the highway is a constant, impressive cataract, and it is well worth hiking up to the lake just to see it. After that water rushes under the highway bridge, it tumbles off of two separate dropoffs for a grand total of about 210  feet. (For comparison, Niagra Falls, with really big-time-volume, is only 165 feet high).
Upper Eagle Falls up close

Before you go to see Eagle Falls, please consider that approaching it from the bottom has three big advantages. One, you get more exercise hiking down from the Vikingsholm’s parking lot. Two, you will see the grandest portion of the falls and see it from a great perspective. Three, you’re unlikely to die.
No joke, that. In their rush to see the falls on the fast plan, some people pull over on the highway up above and scramble over the rocks for a quick look at the falls from above. That is fine unless you fall, which people have done to the lasting regret of those who are left spending their vacation making funeral arrangements. The rocks are smooth and slippery, and they slope down, and there are also little “ball-bearing” rocks to speed your descent over the precipice. Just to make it even riskier, there is a nice mist getting things wet so the rocks will be even slipperier.
Upper Eagle Falls from the most dangerous vantage point. Don't get swept away!

Be safe. Park in the large Vikingsholm lot on the north side of the bay. Take a leisurely hike down the paved path to the castle and beach and then up the short path to the base of Eagle Falls. Bring a picnic lunch and eat on the beach. Take a tour of Vikingsholm while your at it. You’ll have a better, safer time, get some easy exercise (about 2 miles round trip) and get better pictures, too.
Lower Eagle Falls from below - the safest viewing place down near the Vikingsholm castle

A fun thing to do on the way back from Emerald Bay (assuming you came from the South Shore), is to stop at the Camp Rich Ice Cream Parlor for a treat. Or turn in toward the lake and drive to the Beacon Restaurant and have a drink out on the deck overlooking the water.

What is Tahoe’s second biggest falls?
Glen Alpine Falls is at the southwest end of Fallen Leaf Lake near Tahoe's South Shore. At 75 feet, it isn’t as high as Eagle Falls, but the river is as voluminous or maybe more, and it too is a fantastic picnic spot.
Glen Alpine Valley comes down from just below Lake Aloha and the Crystal Range behind and to the south of Mt. Tallac. 
The Crystal Range snowfields that feed Glen Alpine Falls

To get to the falls, plug “Fallen Leaf Lake, South Lake Tahoe” into Google Maps. You may have to zoom in a bit before Fallen Leaf Road appears. The easiest way in is the route from Highway 89 near Kiva Beach and Camp Richardson. It’s a narrow, slow road, mostly paved but with lots of potholes. The road takes you through the forest and then, when it reaches Fallen Leaf Lake, shows you some of the world’s greatest views looking across the lake at Mt. Tallac.
The road winds back and forth and is only one lane wide in many places, so be sure to drive slowly. It goes to the end of the lake and then continues on toward the forest for the equivalent of a couple of blocks. Soon, the road rises up at a steep angle and brings you right next to the falls. There are small areas here and there where you can park on the side of the road. As with Eagle Falls, please watch your step! This falls is less dangerous, but you can still fall on the slippery rocks!
Glen Alpine Falls runs into Fallen Leaf Lake, which drains
into Taylor Creek, which in turn flows out to Lake Tahoe.

By the way, the road along Fallen Leaf Lake makes for a great bike ride, better on a mountain bike than a road bike due to the potholes. You can get there by riding the bike path that goes through the woods for several miles from South Lake Tahoe all the way out to Spring Creek Road. Between the beaches and Fallen Leaf Lake, you can have a great day. You can rent bikes at Anderson Bike Rentals near town.
By comparision, biking out to Emerald Bay is only for serious bicyclists. The highway is narrow, the switchbacks are steep, and the cars drive fast.
You will be smart to avoid both falls on weekends, especially in July and August. May and June are best after the snow melts off the road. (Fallen Leaf road is not plowed in the winter.) Going in the fall is beautiful, but the falls will have very little water.
The small little store at the end of Fallen Leaf Lake is also a good place to get a treat before you head back out.
Bring your camera and have fun!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Best Hikes In Tahoe - Tahoe Mountain, South Shore

Category - Moderate but for experienced hikers due to confusing trails
View Rating - 8 out of 10
Distance - Approximately 4 miles round trip (As always on any hike of distance, bring extra food, water, and clothes!)
Elevation Gain - 950 feet
Highest Point - 7249

Overlooked by the hiking guidebooks, Tahoe Mountain provides fantastic 360-degree views of surrounding, loftier mountains, along with sweeping vistas of Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake. Tahoe Mountain's views are more spectacular than those of many “famous” hikes.
Lake Tahoe with sailboat and Mt. Rose in the far distance

The reason few people pay much attention to Tahoe Mountain is that it is a modest little bump just west of South Lake Tahoe, and its trails are somewhat disorganized and confusing. Because it doesn't look like much, people don't think to climb it. And if you like to tell others about your grand Tahoe hiking accomplishments, it doesn't sound very impressive to regale people with your amazing hike up Tahoe Mountain. But it is hard to find a more accessible hike that will give you such a choice of gorgeous lunch spots. (Bring a picnic in your pack!)
Tahoe Mountain can be accessed from many locations from Fallen Leaf Road to Camp Richardson to the Gardner Mountain/high school area. But the best, clearest, and easiest access is from Lake Tahoe Blvd. where it intersects with Sawmill Road.
Go to Google Maps and plug in “Sawmill Road and Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe.” After the map loads, click on “Satellite” view in the upper right corner. Zoom in and you will get a clear picture of the trail from the highway up to Tahoe Mountain.
Google map with Fallen Leaf Lake on the left. The red teardrop is the
beginning of the hike, and Tahoe Mountain summit is near the top.
The parking area is directly across from where Sawmill Road comes to Lake Tahoe Blvd.
The parking area is on the divided portion of Lake Tahoe Blvd.
right across from where Sawmill Road intersects from the left.

There is a Trailhead sign with a somewhat confusing map, but combined with your Google map printout, it should be clear.

The main thing to remember is that the trail from the trailhead sign takes to you to a broader trail where you turn right. Then watch for a left turn onto another trail, and take that.
You are now heading up the mountain on a gentle, winding path. Here and there you will come across intersecting trails. At each juncture, take the fork that goes up. Occasionally, a “Y” intersection will have just one trail that goes up, and two or more trails that go down. This is easy to navigate on your route up, but confusing on your route back down! (TIP: you can use your phone to take pictures of the intersections as you go up and then consult them coming back down.)
Trail rising up through the Angora Fire area
The trail leads you through the Angora Fire burn from 7 years ago, and it is fascinating to see how the landscape is returning. Although the fire was a terrible tragedy, the burn area is now starkly beautiful and provides the advantages of great vistas that were once hidden by the thick forest.

Eventually, you will come to the first of two humps that make up the Tahoe Mountain summit with a long saddle connecting them. In some sections, the trail is broad and open as it goes past the tower that supports the red navigation light for aircraft. There is also a tacky-looking shed that houses a radio transmitter.
But you won't notice these as the amazing views unfold.

Be sure to walk the entire saddle over to the second, higher bump that is the true peak of Tahoe Mountain where the views are best of all.
As you pause and look around, you'll enjoy large views south back to Christmas Valley with 10,059-foot Steven's Peak at its end. Behind and to its right is 10,381-foot Round Top in the Mokelumne Wilderness near Carson Pass, 18 miles distant. 
Christmas Valley with Steven's Peak to the rear on the left,
Round Top in the distance in the center. Just out of sight behind the ridge to the right is Kirkwood Ski Resort

To the south-southwest and closer, you can see some runs of Sierra At Tahoe up beyond Echo Summit.
Ski Runs at Sierra At Tahoe, just past Echo Summit

The winding trail provides great views

To the southeast is Freel Peak (Tahoe's highest mountain at 10,881'). Directly to the east, you look over South Lake Tahoe and 10,067-foot Heavenly resort beyond.
The ski runs of Heavenly to the left
Freel Peak is to the right.
The Angora Fire, tragic as it was, created open vistas.

As we hiked on April 18th, the snow was completely gone off Tahoe Mountain, but the ski runs of Heavenly still had lots of snow.
To the north is a “wow” view of Lake Tahoe stretching all the way to Mt. Rose, 10,778 feet high and thirty miles distant. It is easy to imagine where Reno lies just beyond and over 6000 feet below Mt. Rose.

Tahoe's East Shore in the distance
Below is the Tahoe Keys, a residential area crisscrossed with canals

To the northwest are enticing points of the big lake's West Shore, Eagle Point by the entrance to Emerald Bay and beyond it, Rubicon Point, which is the top of one of the world's tallest underwater cliffs.

Tahoe's West Shore

To the west lies the incomparable Fallen Leaf Lake, site of multiple Hollywood movies like Kevin Costner's and Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard. Fallen Leaf Lake is towered over by Mt. Tallac, Tahoe's most famous mountain rising directly from Fallen Leaf's shore to 9735 feet. 

Fallen Leaf Lake with Mt. Tallac

Completing our 360-degree view is the Glen Alpine valley to the southwest. 
Glen Alpine Valley is to the left, stretching up to Lake Aloha at 8116 feet of elevation
The snow fields reach from Stanford Camp at the end of Fallen Leaf Lake, up the valley and over Cracked Crag to the Lake Aloha Basin and Pyramid Peak, a picturesque, pointy peak just 17 feet shy of 10,000 feet. As you walk north along the ridge of Tahoe Mountain, Pyramid Peak disappears behind Mt. Tallac.

Pyramid Peak poking out behind Cathedral Peak, which is actually
the shoulder of Mt. Tallac. Magical Fallen Leaf Lake is below.

Find a nice log to sit on or lean against to have lunch. It will become one of the most memorable lunch spots you'll ever have!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dogs In Tahoe

Are you visiting Tahoe? Maybe even moving to Tahoe? You will be glad to know that Tahoe is very pet friendly. We have lots of dog and cat owners. You’ll find that Tahoe is a great place to bring your pet.
Photo from

There are a thousand great places to hike with your dog in the forest.
But first, there are a few caveats. Just like most attractive places in this country, most areas in Tahoe have leash laws, and there are animal control officers to enforce them. Here’s the way it works. At any point, if your dog is off leash, you could get a healthy ticket. But of course, many dog owners have their dogs off-leash much of the time. Although there are no guarantees, the way to avoid a ticket is to stay off meadows because they are especially eco-sensitive (and dogs are expressly forbidden on some meadows), stay off popular hiking and biking trails because that’s where other people are, and stay off beaches.
Animal control officers are human, and some of them have dogs, too. They don’t want to harass those who are off in the woods alone, their dogs running free, when there are no people or other dogs to get stressed by an off-leash dog. If you take your dog into the backwoods, you’ll probably be fine. But if you let your dog run free in a popular area, the animal control officer will be thinking about the last time he saw a little kid get scared by a dog, and the next thing you know, you’ll be paying a significant fine to get your dog out of jail.

Your stay-out-of-trouble insurance

We know people who constantly take their dogs onto forest trails and let them run free without a problem. The key is that they go places and at times when few or no other people are around. If you do that, you will have a great experience.
Having made that point, we also have some great dog-friendly beaches! There is information about those below. But first, let’s get one more dark side of the Tahoe pet experience out of the way.

A Warning About Small Pets
Tahoe has lots of coyotes. They are smart, and they have adapted very successfully to a world of people and their pets. The coyotes think it’s just great that people have come to their Tahoe territory bringing coyote dinner in tow in the form of cats and small dogs. Even fenced yards won’t guarantee safety for your small pet. Every local knows someone who watched as a coyote leaped over their backyard fence, grabbed their cat or Chihuahua or Jack Russell Terrier, and leaped back over the fence and disappeared in the forest.
Photo from

Don’t assume your small pet is safe unless it’s indoors or heeling on a leash at your side.
How large does a dog need to be for you to stop worrying about coyotes? Pretty big, actually. I once watched a coyote taunting a Black Lab, trying to get it to follow the coyote into the woods. The Black Lab followed for about fifty yards and then got spooked and retreated. The coyote ran into the woods and joined its pack. The pack members erupted in yipping and howling and yelping. Clearly, they were very upset that the bait-coyote had failed in his mission.
I’ve never heard of anyone losing a dog as big as a Black Lab, but I almost witnessed it myself. So be careful.
Despite coyotes and leash laws, Tahoe really is a great place for pets and for dogs especially. You know how much dogs love the outdoors. We have hundreds of square miles of forest that your dogs can explore.
Now let's get to the beaches you can bring your dog to.

Dog-Friendly Beaches
Many beaches in Tahoe do not allow dogs. At some beaches, like Baldwin Beach on the South Shore, you can’t even bring a dog in your vehicle.
But there are some great beaches that are dog friendly.
One large, dog-friendly beach where dogs can swim is Kiva Beach on the South Shore. But even that beach has leash laws. If your dog is running free there at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, you might be okay. But you can’t count on it.
The following general rule applies and is printed on some signs: If your dog is under complete verbal control and will snap to “heel” despite any tempting distractions, then you should be okay. If not, a leash will prevent a citation.
Photo from

Dogtrekker is a fun link to dog-friendly beaches all around the lake. Remember to read the fine print. At some beaches, dogs aren’t actually allowed in the water. At others, dogs are only allowed on one small portion of the beach or else on the rocks, not the sand. Officially, all dogs must be on leashes at all times.
Note that there is one inaccuracy on the dogtrekker list. Skunk Harbor (a lovely hike and beach) is on the East Shore just north of Spooner Lake, not in Incline Village as listed.
NorthTahoeParks. com lists three dog-friendly beaches on the North Shore. Leashes required.
LakeTahoeGetaways has information on three dog-friendly beaches on the South Shore. Leashes required.
And remember to clean up after your dog.

Kiva Beach on the South Shore is Dog-Friendly!

There is also a good general information website on Dogs in Tahoe here.

There are also a couple of dog parks where your dog can romp with other dogs off-leash.

There are also lots of dog-friendly lodgings, campgrounds, day care, and even restaurants (outdoor patios in the summer). has a substantial list here.
Bring your pet to Tahoe! You and your pet will have a blast.