Modjeska Falls (Upper Glen Alpine Falls)

Fallen Leaf Lake / near South Lake Tahoe / El Dorado County, California, USA

Rating: 1.5     Difficulty: 2
Contextual look at Modjeska Falls (Upper Glen Alpine Falls) in nearly peak flow

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Modjeska Falls (also known as Upper Glen Alpine Falls) was the other main waterfall on Glen Alpine Creek, which drained into the scenic Fallen Leaf Lake. While this 50ft waterfall wasn't anything particularly special compared to some of its other counterparts in the greater Lake Tahoe area, it was the surrounding scenery as well as the history of the area that was probably where more of the claim to fame came from. Although Mom and I didn't hike past this waterfall, we were keenly aware that there was once a Glen Alpine Springs Resort (said to be Tahoe's earliest resort) that people were once able to access by vehicle back in its heyday. There was also Lily Lake at the trailhead, which was a scenic alpine lake surrounded by beautiful mountains still clinging onto the snows accumulated from the previous season's precipitation. But as for the waterfall itself, it was certainly no slouch in that we were able to get right in front of it and feel the cool spray against the warm weather. We were able to experience it not only from its base, but there were also views further downstream (as shown above), and if you don't mind using someone's private deck, a nice "backyard" view as well.

There were mineral springs said to have been discovered by Nathan Gilmore in 1863. It was around that time that he changed his life from farmer to resort entrepreneur essentially establishing the first tourist resort in the Tahoe area. When we look at how the South Lake Tahoe resort city had evolved into its modern day center for mixing city life, gambling, and natural retreat, it can be argued that this all can be traced back to the pioneering done by Mr Gilmore. And since we're on the topic of history, the formal name of the falls was derived from Helena Modjeska, who was a Polish actress who made a name for herself in her acting career in the Bay Area in the 1870s and 1880s. Her name was forever associated with this area after her visit to Glen Alpine Springs Resort in 1885, where the affluent people who watched her perform while also frequenting this area apparently named this falls after her.

As for the hike to Modjeska Falls, it seemed like everything about the trail seemed to have traces of the rich past. The trail was essentially a rocky road following some power lines that appeared to lead to someone's private home near the falls. Even the scenic Lily Lake at the trailhead must have been quite a place to relax for those people who stayed at the resort. During our hike, we encountered a handful of flooded sections and puddles making the trail muddy in spots, but I guess that tended to come with the territory when Glen Alpine Creek was at peak flow from the snowmelt. The hike started off mostly flat (albeit rocky so it was slow going and good shoes would be required), but then after roughly 0.4 miles, the trail started ascending as it rounded a bend with a view of Modjeska Falls in the distance. After another 0.1 miles, we saw the seemingly boarded up private home, but instead of going on the deck to see the falls, there was an unmarked path between a couple of trees off the road just past the house. We took this path, which followed a temporary overflowing creek ultimately leading right up to the base of Modjeska Falls.

It was here that we enjoyed some relative privacy (apparently most hikers on this pretty popular trail didn't seem to be aware of this spot), and we even enjoyed a pleasant picnic lunch while being cooled by the spray of the falls in full spate. Like with the Glen Alpine Falls further downstream, this waterfall appeared to rapidly lose its vigor deeper into the Summertime so to get maximum enjoyment, it seemed like early Summer to mid-Summer at the latest would be the ideal times for a visit. Anyways, after having our fill of the falls, we saw other people viewing it from the deck of that private home (that still seemed to be in use as the power lines seemed to feed a power meter here as well as a worn sign saying something like "Private Property Please Go Away"), and we can tell that there was a slightly obstructed and more angled view of the falls from there. Anyways, when all was said and done, we were back at the trailhead at Lily Lake, and we had spent roughly 70 minutes away from the car (where a good 15-20 minutes was spent relaxing at the falls itself). Overall, the hike was said to be 1 mile round trip.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

On the way to Glen Alpine Falls, we skirted around the scenic Fallen Leaf Lake, which like Cascade Lake, was a detached lake from the greater Lake Tahoe. This lake also featured recreational activitesOn the way to Glen Alpine Falls, we skirted around the scenic Fallen Leaf Lake, which like Cascade Lake, was a detached lake from the greater Lake Tahoe. This lake also featured recreational activites
Further up from Glen Alpine Falls on the Fallen Leaf Lake Road at its end was Lily Lake, which was also a picturesque natural lake surrounded by beautiful mountainsFurther up from Glen Alpine Falls on the Fallen Leaf Lake Road at its end was Lily Lake, which was also a picturesque natural lake surrounded by beautiful mountains
Just prior to our visit to Glen Alpine Falls and Fallen Leaf Lake was Emerald Bay, which was easily one of the most popular scenic spots in all of Lake TahoeJust prior to our visit to Glen Alpine Falls and Fallen Leaf Lake was Emerald Bay, which was easily one of the most popular scenic spots in all of Lake Tahoe
Looking back at the narrow one-lane road skirting the eastern banks of Fallen Leaf Lake on the way to Lily LakeLooking back at the narrow one-lane road skirting the eastern banks of Fallen Leaf Lake on the way to Lily Lake

Continuing on the narrow road towards Lily Lake after getting past Glen Alpine FallsContinuing on the narrow road towards Lily Lake after getting past Glen Alpine Falls

At the parking lot for Lily Lake and the trailhead for Modjeska FallsAt the parking lot for Lily Lake and the trailhead for Modjeska Falls

Mom on the trail leading to both Modjeska Falls and the Glen Alpine Springs Resort further onMom on the trail leading to both Modjeska Falls and the Glen Alpine Springs Resort further on

One bad thing about doing this hike early in the season was that there were flooded sections like this one, which we had to skirt around the mud carefullyOne bad thing about doing this hike early in the season was that there were flooded sections like this one, which we had to skirt around the mud carefully

Negotiating more flooded sectionsNegotiating more flooded sections

Yet another flooded section of the trail/roadYet another flooded section of the trail/road

Given the rocky nature of the road or trail, the hiking was actually not as fast as expected despite the relatively flat terrainGiven the rocky nature of the road or trail, the hiking was actually not as fast as expected despite the relatively flat terrain

As the trail started to climb, we started to catch glimpses of Modjeska FallsAs the trail started to climb, we started to catch glimpses of Modjeska Falls

Checking out Modjeska Falls and a cascade further downstreamChecking out Modjeska Falls and a cascade further downstream

This appeared to be someone's private residence, which was situated almost next to Modjeska Falls. You can see this house still had a running electric meter and the power lines that followed the road was even tapped and routed to this houseThis appeared to be someone's private residence, which was situated almost next to Modjeska Falls. You can see this house still had a running electric meter and the power lines that followed the road was even tapped and routed to this house

Mom and I found an informal path that led from the road to the base of Modjeska FallsMom and I found an informal path that led from the road to the base of the falls

Approaching Modjeska Falls on that informal trailApproaching the falls on that informal trail

Enjoying the base of Modjeska Falls as it was hard to believe there wasn't another person sharing this spot with us given how many people were on the main trailEnjoying the base of Modjeska Falls as it was hard to believe there wasn't another person sharing this spot with us given how many people were on the main trail

Mom coming out of the informal trail and rejoining the road/trailMom coming out of the informal trail and rejoining the road/trail

This angled view of Modjeska Falls came from that the deck of that houseThis angled view of the falls came from that deck of that house

Heading back on the main trail or road to the Lily Lake areaHeading back on the main trail or road to the Lily Lake area

Seeing the power lines along the road kind of made us realize that this trail might have had a dual purpose both now and in the pastSeeing the power lines along the road kind of made us realize that this trail might have had a dual purpose both now and in the past

Made it back to the trailheadMade it back to the trailhead


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Right to left sweep showing a slightly distant view of Upper Glen Alpine Falls then panning downstream before panning back to the falls again


Back and forth right to left sweep from right in front of the main drop of Upper Glen Alpine Falls


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

The trailhead for Modjeska Falls was at Lily Lake further up the Fallen Leaf Lake Road from Glen Alpine Falls. For directions on getting to that falls from the Hwy 89 and Hwy 50 junction at the intersection of Lake Tahoe Blvd and Emerald Bay Rd in South Lake Tahoe, please see that page. From that falls, it was another 0.4 miles drive on the single-lane road to its end at Lily Lake. Since parking was rather limited at both Glen Alpine Falls and Lily Lake, I didn't blame people for even walking this stretch after having found parking further down the hills from here.

To give you some geographical context, South Lake Tahoe was 62 miles (about 90 minutes drive) south of Reno, Nevada, 104 miles (2 hours drive) east of Sacramento, 139 miles (under 3 hours drive) north of Mammoth Lakes, 188 miles (about 3.5 hours drive without traffic) from San Francisco, and 443 miles (7.5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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