Upper Eagle Falls

Emerald Bay / near South Lake Tahoe / Eldorado National Forest / El Dorado County, California, USA

Rating: 1.5     Difficulty: 1.5
Upper Eagle Falls and the footbridge continuing the trail to Eagle Lake

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Upper Eagle Falls was sort of a means to an end. What I mean by this is that although we merely used the waterfall itself as a destination, we noticed that most other people who hiked here really intended to go further into the Desolation Wilderness to check out places like Eagle Lake (which turned out to be only an additional 0.8 miles further). That said, even with our limited hiking in the area, we still managed to get enough of a taste of the Sierra Nevada scenery here that was quite reminiscent of the kind of hiking found in the backcountry wilderness trails of the Eastern Sierras. In addition to this waterfall, some of the other highlights of our little excursion included views of Emerald Bay as well as a teasing top down view Lower Eagle Falls (which I opted to leave as a separate hiking excursion, which you can read about here). Sure we could have extended our hike to Eagle Lake like many other people did, but we'll have to punt that for a future visit. If anything, it left us with a target on a return trip here.

Our hike began from the Eagle Falls Picnic Area and Trailhead (see directions below). It had a well-established parking area as well as spillover parking along Highway 89. Before Mom and I started on the trail, I decided to walk back across Highway 89 towards the mouth of Eagle Creek where I was able to peer over the brink of the Lower Eagle Falls with a view towards Emerald Bay and Fannette Island. Had we been camping nearby or gotten a really early start to the day, we probably could have showed up here before sunrise and get some really good photos of this falls juxtaposed with Emerald Bay without the sun shining against me. Anyways, if you Google for images of this falls or even Eagle Lake, you're bound to see gorgeous sunrise shots of this scene.

Next, we promptly started hiking on the main trail at the far end of the trailhead. After just a couple minutes of ascent, we encountered a junction. The left fork was signposted for "Eagle Lake" while the right fork was signed for "Eagle Loop". From looking at the trail maps, we kept left to head straight to the Upper Eagle Falls as we saw that this path would lead us along Eagle Creek. Barely five minutes later, we started to get glimpses of Eagle Creek as well as the Upper Eagle Falls. Still, we kept hiking further as we noticed that the views of the falls improved even though the angle was becoming more pronounced. Each view of the falls along this trail involved a footbridge spanning its brink, which provided us with a pretty good scale of the size of this falls (said to be 50ft tall). The views of the falls was kind of gave us a little bit of a breather because in order to get closer, we had to climb up some rock steps.

So we wound up doing that as we were promptly led towards a few more angled views down at the Upper Eagle Falls and footbridge, but then just a few paces further, we found ourselves atop the footbridge looking right down at the falls. A sign here indicated that indeed we were at the falls, and admittedly just stopping here felt somewhat unfulfilling. So I could see why many people would continue beyond the footbridge and hike uphill for an additional 0.8 miles to reach Eagle Lake. On the other hand, we ultimately decided to complete the Eagle Loop (knowing that it was primarily downhill from here) where along the way we saw there was a spur path leading to a Vista Point. In so doing this, it was barely five minutes after taking the spur trail up to the Vista Point when we reached the interpretive signs and benches atop a granite bluff providing us with a nice view over some trees towards Emerald Bay. After soaking in the view, we then went back down to rejoin the main trail and eventually after a half-hour since the start of our hike (apparently we only walked around 0.5 miles), we made it back down to the trailhead.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Prior to starting our hike for the Upper Eagle Falls, I checked out the Lower Eagle Falls overlooking Emerald Bay. In hindsight, this was probably best seen at sunrise or later in the afternoonPrior to starting our hike for the Upper Eagle Falls, I checked out the Lower Eagle Falls overlooking Emerald Bay. In hindsight, this was probably best seen at sunrise or later in the afternoon
This was the view of Emerald Bay from the Vista Point along the Eagle Loop, which was definitely a bit more peaceful that most of the other vista points closer to Hwy 89This was the view of Emerald Bay from the Vista Point along the Eagle Loop, which was definitely a bit more peaceful that most of the other vista points closer to Hwy 89
This was the Emerald Bay Overlook, which offered up unobstructed views of Fannette Island as well as fully contextual views of Lower Eagle Falls in addition to the sapphire blue Lake Tahoe itselfThis was the Emerald Bay Overlook, which offered up unobstructed views of Fannette Island as well as fully contextual views of Lower Eagle Falls in addition to the sapphire blue Lake Tahoe itself
The signposted entrance (looking east along Hwy 89) to the picnic area and trailheadThe signposted entrance (looking east along Hwy 89) to the picnic area and trailhead

Looking over Hwy 89 and some spillover parking just outside the Eagle Falls Picnic Area and TrailheadLooking over Hwy 89 and some spillover parking just outside the Eagle Falls Picnic Area and Trailhead

Signage right at the start of our hikeSignage right at the start of our hike

Mom going right up the rock steps near the trailheadMom going right up the rock steps near the trailhead

At this signposted fork, we kept left to head straight to the waterfall firstAt this signposted fork, we kept left to head straight to the waterfall first

Looking ahead at a tall tree near where the trail would climb up to the level of the footbridge above Upper Eagle FallsLooking ahead at a tall tree near where the trail would climb up to the level of the footbridge above the falls

Looking upstream along Eagle Creek towards the Upper Eagle FallsLooking upstream along Eagle Creek towards the Upper Eagle Falls

Here's a closer but more direct look at the Upper Eagle Falls on our way up to get closerHere's a closer but more direct look at the falls on our way up to get closer

Mom climbing up the steps as the short trail made its steepest ascentMom climbing up the steps as the short trail made its steepest ascent

Once we finished that climb, it was a short downhill to reach the footbridge above Upper Eagle FallsOnce we finished that climb, it was a short downhill to reach the footbridge above the falls

Another look at the Upper Eagle Falls as we got closer to the footbridgeAnother look at the Upper Eagle Falls as we got closer to the footbridge

Looking down over the brink of Upper Eagle Falls from the footbridgeLooking down over the brink of the falls from the footbridge

As we started to complete the Eagle Loop, here's Mom approaching a junction where the left spur took us up to the Vista PointAs we started to complete the Eagle Loop, here's Mom approaching a junction where the left spur took us up to the Vista Point

Approaching the benches and interpretive signs at the Vista PointApproaching the benches and interpretive signs at the Vista Point

Mom heading back down from the Vista Point and continuing to descend the Eagle Loop Trail towards the trailheadMom heading back down from the Vista Point and continuing to descend the Eagle Loop Trail towards the trailhead

Back at the trailhead barely 30 minutes removed from the start of our hikeBack at the trailhead barely 30 minutes removed from the start of our hike


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


A couple of sweeps from different looking spots showing mostly the front of upper eagle falls before going to the bridge above the falls and doing a pan along the stream


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

From the Hwy 89 and Hwy 50 junction at the intersection of Lake Tahoe Blvd and Emerald Bay Rd in South Lake Tahoe, we headed north on Hwy 89 (Emerald Bay Rd) for the next 8.5 miles to the Eagle Falls Trailhead and Picnic Area on the left. Apparently, this parking area can fill up fast (we showed up at around 7:30am and didn't have too much trouble finding parking) though we did notice some spillover parking along the shoulder of Hwy 89. There was a day use fee to park at this lot, but since we were in Forest Service land, we displayed our Forest Service Adventure Pass, which was turning out to be quite the value, especially around Lake Tahoe where seemingly everything costs an arm and a leg.

This drive took us about 25 minutes though a large chunk of that time was spent waiting for road construction to let us through. Anyhow, it's worth noting that it's also possible to combine this excursion with the Emerald Bay Overlook and Lower Eagle Falls hike. We learned this the hard way, but to pull this off without having to pay more money, we should have kept our parked car at the Upper Eagle Falls parking area. Then, we could have walked the 500 yards along Hwy 89 to the parking area for the Emerald Bay Overlook (which was a state park so state park fees applied and trumped the forest service fees).

As for 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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