Glen Alpine Falls was definitely one of the big waterfall surprises of our trip to South Lake Tahoe. We didn’t have much expectations for it, especially since my Mom and I had been pretty waterfall fatigued after seeing so many other waterfalls in the Lake Tahoe vicinity during our June 2016 trip. We even contemplated skipping this waterfall, but as you can see from the photo at the top of this page, we were definitely glad that we persisted with this one. Indeed, this waterfall had it all – the drive-to access, the dimensions at around 75ft tall with a width that almost matched its height, the reddish rocks contrasting the bright whites of the water making it photogenic, the ability to play near the falls, and that it neighbored other attractive sights like Fallen Leaf Lake and Lily Lake. Perhaps the only hard part about this trip was finding parking given there was real limited parking near the falls along the narrow road to get here. Still, all that was forgotten once we found ourselves mesmerized by this beauty.
We were able to experience this waterfall both from near its base as well as from viewing areas in more elevated spots directly across from Glen Alpine Creek. While the main falls was what most people paid attention to, the creek continued its cascading course wrapping around the viewing area and proceeding mostly unseen further downstream. At the tops of the gorge were some private homes getting a prime view of the falls and the people enjoying themselves around it. We were also able to walk up the road a short distance to another viewing spot, where we were able to get closer to the brink of the falls and better appreciate just how big this waterfall was. Some people were a bit daring and found “islands” in the middle of the falls though I wouldn’t recommend it given the potential for a fatal fall. Nevertheless, it was easy to see why this appeared to be a very popular spot though not quite as crushing as some of the other attractions along Hwy 89 like Cascade Falls, and the Upper and Lower Eagle Falls.
As for the timing of a visit to this waterfall, apparently we were lucky. As much of Northern California made somewhat of an El Nino comeback in 2016 (after an abysmal couple of years of drought even in these typically moist parts of the drought-stricken state), much of the Sierra Nevada mountains had a pretty good snowpack (though it wasn’t as above average as was hoped). Still, we showed up at a time when the Summer weather started to assert itself with full force, which meant that the snows were rapidly melting thereby swelling all drainages, including Glen Alpine Creek. And as you can see from the photos on this page, this waterfall was probably about as photogenic as well as refreshing as it could be. Given the hard bedrock containing the large drainage area, the waterflow can diminish drastically over the hot Summer months, especially in July and August. It’s kind of like the Yosemite Falls effect, where it too had a very large drainage area and can have a forceful display in the Spring and early Summer months, but it would eventually go dry typically by August and definitely by Labor Day.
Finally, because there happened to be another waterfall a bit further upstream on Glen Alpine Creek, we’ve seen this waterfall referred to as the Lower Glen Alpine Falls (despite the maps often labeling this waterfall as the Glen Alpine Falls). I could have combined the writeups for both of the waterfalls on Glen Alpine Creek, but since they started from different trailheads or parking areas, I figured that it made more sense to keep them separate. You can read the other writeup for the Upper Glen Alpine Falls (more formally known as Modjeska Falls) here.
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 about three miles to the turnoff for Fallen Leaf Lake Road on the left. Turning left onto Fallen Leaf Lake Rd, we proceeded as the road started to become a single lane road after around two miles (shortly after keeping right and not taking Tahoe Mountain Road, which was coming in from the left). Once Fallen Leaf Lake Rd became single-lane, there were lots of private Summer lakeside homes, where a lot of the time, driveways kind of served as pullouts for people to pass each other. Since we’ve driven on European roads before, this “single lane road” was actually not that bad at all, but since we also tend to drive bigger cars and trucks, it was best to go slow to avoid nasty surprises around blind turns as well as to share the road with other motorists and even bicyclists. The road pretty much remained single lane the rest of the way.
At about 5 miles Hwy 89 (or just under 3 miles after the road started becoming bonafide single lane), we started to see pullouts that could be used to stop the car and scramble closer to Glen Alpine Creek for a direct look at the Glen Alpine Falls. In addition to the pullouts further downstream of the falls, there were a few more spots alongside the incline as well as above the incline near the top of the falls. Overall, this drive took us around 30 minutes to cover the roughly 8 miles of driving from the southwestern end of South Lake Tahoe.
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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