Lower Eagle Falls

South Lake Tahoe / Emerald Bay State Park, California, USA

About Lower Eagle Falls


Hiking Distance: 2.6-2.8 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 90 minutes

Date first visited: 2016-06-23
Date last visited: 2016-06-23

Waterfall Latitude: 38.95165
Waterfall Longitude: -120.11134

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Lower Eagle Falls was the big two-tiered 140ft waterfall that kept us wanting more no matter how we were able to experience it from the various options that were available to us.

From the brink of the waterfall near the Eagle Falls Picnic Area and Trailhead (for the Upper Eagle Falls), we were only able to peer over its top towards Emerald Bay.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_100_06232016 - Lower Eagle Falls
Lower Eagle Falls

From the popular Emerald Bay Overlook, we were only able to get a distant but more or less complete view of its entirety with some trees blocking parts of its downward trajectory.

However, it was only from the bottom of the falls, we were finally able to have a good viewing experience of its main drops (see photo above).

Indeed, the Lower Eagle Falls felt like the ultimate tease, and even the short snow melt season between May to July ensured that timing in addition to location were key when it came to getting the most out of our experience.

Hiking to the Lower Eagle Falls

Overall, the Lower Eagle Falls hike wound up being about 2.6-2.8 miles round trip.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_017_06232016 - Looking at the two-tiered Lower Eagle Falls from the parking area for the Emerald Bay Overlook
Looking at the two-tiered Lower Eagle Falls from the parking area for the Emerald Bay Overlook

It took us nearly 45 minutes to get down to the viewing area at the bottom of the falls, and it took us another 45 minutes to make it all the way back up (for a grand total of 90 minutes of hiking).

The rest of the two hours we had spent away from the car was for taking photos and basking in the scenery around the shores of Emerald Bay at Vikingsholm.

That said, it was very easy to spend a lot more time down here as we noticed so many other people intending to do (bringing things like ice chests, lawn chairs, swimming gear, and more).

It was also possible to combine the Lower Eagle Falls hike with the Upper Eagle Falls so there’s certainly options in terms of how you want to get your fix of waterfalls as well as lakes.

Lower Eagle Falls Trail Description – from Emerald Bay Overlook to Vikingsholm

Lower_Eagle_Falls_179_06232016 - The Emerald Bay Overlook, which also doubled as the start of the hike to Vikingsholm as well as the bottom of the Lower Eagle Falls
The Emerald Bay Overlook, which also doubled as the start of the hike to Vikingsholm as well as the bottom of the Lower Eagle Falls

First and foremost, the immediate temptation when at the Emerald Bay Overlook would be to check out the views over Emerald Bay and Fannette Island.

We were able to check out these views both from a sanctioned viewing area as well as from atop a windy granite knob after a short scramble for an even higher vantage point.

The benefit of getting these views was that we were able to get perhaps the most complete (albeit distant) view of the Lower Eagle Falls’ two main drops.

While this might be enough to for some, it left us wanting to get close to the falls to truly experience it.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_012_06232016 - Full context of the Lower Eagle Falls running beneath the Hwy 89
Full context of the Lower Eagle Falls running beneath the Hwy 89

Even from our lofty vantage point, we could clearly see that there was a viewing area right at the bottom of the falls.

But in order to get all the way down there, we needed to take a hike.

Near the sanctioned lookout area for the Emerald Bay Overlook, there was a signposted junction indicating to us that it was a one-mile hike along a graded unpaved road to descend to the historical Vikingsholm.

This was a former Summer home said to be one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_019_06232016 - Mom looking for the trail leading down from the Emerald Bay Parking Lot to the trail for both Vikingsholm and the Lower Eagle Falls
Mom looking for the trail leading down from the Emerald Bay Parking Lot to the trail for both Vikingsholm and the Lower Eagle Falls

It turned out that this hike was shared with the folks intending to visit Vikingsholm as well as the activities on offer down there.

Such activities included kayak tours to Fannette Island or swimming or picnicking on the beach along on or along Emerald Bay’s calm waters.

Anyways, the hike down the road involved a pair of switchbacks.

Throughout the descent, we were treated to different views across Emerald Bay as well as a few odd springs and runoff channels running along the cliffs then continuing beneath the road.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_059_06232016 - The attractive Vikingsholm, which faced Emerald Bay
The attractive Vikingsholm, which faced Emerald Bay

Towards the bottom of the descent, the road joined up with a smoother paved road (leading us to believe that there might have been an alternate way down here though we weren’t sure if the paved road was public or not).

Going right at the paved road to continue heading towards Vikingsholm (now there were signs to help us along), we’d end up reaching the back of the building for the historical Vikingsholm after nearly 25 minutes from the start.

Apparently, they run tours of the Summer home from 10:30am to 3:30pm from Memorial day until the end of September.

This made us realize how this was just one of the ways we could have extended our hike into a half-day or full-day visit on the shores of Emerald Bay.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_146_06232016 - Looking towards Emerald Bay from the area around Vikingsholm
Looking towards Emerald Bay from the area around Vikingsholm

In addition to Vikingsholm tours, we also noticed people engaging in kayak tours to Fannette Island, which also seemed to be quite popular.

There were picnic tables as well as beaches along Emerald Bay’s shores for a more relaxing (and less expensive) way to spend a day here.

Lower Eagle Falls Trail Description – from Vikingsholm to the Waterfall

Anyways, beyond Vikingsholm, we continued following the signs towards the official trailhead of the Lower Eagle Falls.

At roughly another quarter-mile beyond Vikingsholm, there was another wooden house that marked the start of the last 0.3 miles to the base of the falls.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_083_06232016 - Mom on the short hiking trail leading up to the lookout in front of the Lower Eagle Falls
Mom on the short hiking trail leading up to the lookout in front of the Lower Eagle Falls

After being greeted by tall trees, the trail narrowed and meandered up along Eagle Creek towards a footbridge, where there was another trail junction.

Across the footbridge, the trail continued on the so-called Rubicon Trail.

But continuing on the trail along Eagle Creek (to the right) led us another 0.2 miles uphill to the viewing area for the Lower Eagle Falls and its refreshingly cool spray.

From this vantage point, we were only able to see the entirety of the lower of the two drops of Lower Eagle Falls.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_089_06232016 - Looking upstream at cascades further downstream from the main drops of the Lower Eagle Falls
Looking upstream at cascades further downstream from the main drops of the Lower Eagle Falls

The upper drop could barely be seen between the trees.

So again, this view left us wanting more, but there was no sanctioned way to experience the upper drop.

That said, we did notice some people make unsanctioned scrambles from Hwy 89 to the brink of the lower drop of the Lower Eagle Falls seeing the foot of the upper drop along the way.

We don’t recommend doing this given the potential for a fatal accident so we were pretty content with the sanctioned views that we were getting.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_099_06232016 - The set of steps leading up to the lookout fronting the Lower Eagle Falls
The set of steps leading up to the lookout fronting the Lower Eagle Falls

Since Mom and I had an early start, we pretty much had this viewing area to ourselves.

However, as we started to hike back up to the Emerald Bay Overlook, we noticed scores of people heading down to this area underscoring this place’s popularity.

While the hike back up to the Emerald Bay Overlook was hot and sweaty, the fairly gentle grade of the road ensured that we could take our time and re-enjoy the views over Emerald Bay all over again.

Authorities

Lower Eagle Falls resides in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit near South Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service, but the Emerald Bay area (including the parking lot) is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit the Forest Service website or the California State Parks website.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_013_06232016 - Before we started hiking towards Vikingsholm, we caught this angled view of the entirety of the Lower Eagle Falls from the Emerald Bay Overlook
Lower_Eagle_Falls_037_06232016 - Looking towards the head of Emerald Bay while making the descent between the Emerald Bay Parking Lot and Vikingsholm
Lower_Eagle_Falls_040_06232016 - Early in the morning, these trees provided us with some shade as we hiked the otherwise mostly dry unpaved road down to Vikingsholm
Lower_Eagle_Falls_041_06232016 - Mom completing the first switchback on the descending road to Vikingsholm from the Emerald Bay Parking Lot
Lower_Eagle_Falls_045_06232016 - As we reached the bottom of the descent towards Vikingsholm, we noticed more of these granite cliffs
Lower_Eagle_Falls_049_06232016 - At this point, we made it to the bottom of the unpaved road and now we were following a smoother paved road towards Vikingsholm
Lower_Eagle_Falls_054_06232016 - Mom passing by the backside of Vikingsholm. We were here an hour or so too early for a tour, which didn't start until 10:30am
Lower_Eagle_Falls_062_06232016 - Looking towards Emerald Bay from Vikingsholm
Lower_Eagle_Falls_063_06232016 - Looking along the shores of Emerald Bay which seemed like a good picnic and swimming spot given this beach and the calm waters of the lake
Lower_Eagle_Falls_065_06232016 - Looking back at the Vikingsholm side that faced Emerald Bay
Lower_Eagle_Falls_067_06232016 - Mom taking some time to check out the shores of Emerald Bay from Vikingsholm
Lower_Eagle_Falls_071_06232016 - Looking back towards Emerald Bay as we were continuing towards the Lower Eagle Falls Trailhead
Lower_Eagle_Falls_073_06232016 - Another look towards Emerald Bay from the Vikingsholm complex
Lower_Eagle_Falls_078_06232016 - Headed towards this wooden house, which actually marked the official trailhead for the Lower Eagle Falls
Lower_Eagle_Falls_087_06232016 - The trail skirted Eagle Creek which had some additional minor cascades and rapids along the way
Lower_Eagle_Falls_097_06232016 - Looking back downstream towards the footbridge spanning Eagle Creek, which continued as the Rubicon Trail (which we didn't do)
Lower_Eagle_Falls_105_06232016 - Finally at the base of the Lower Eagle Falls
Lower_Eagle_Falls_116_06232016 - Looking towards the cliffs surrounding the Lower Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm
Lower_Eagle_Falls_134_06232016 - After having our fill of Lower Eagle Falls, we headed back towards the Vikingsholm area
Lower_Eagle_Falls_140_06232016 - Mom back at the area between the Lower Eagle Falls Trailhead and the Vikingsholm complex
Lower_Eagle_Falls_150_06232016 - Looking towards the back side of Vikingsholm
Lower_Eagle_Falls_157_06232016 - The hot mile-long hike back up to the Emerald Bay Overlook after having had our fill of both Vikingsholm and Lower Eagle Falls
Lower_Eagle_Falls_169_06232016 - During the ascent we took advantage of the higher position of the sun to get better photos of Emerald Bay. This picture focuses in on the shores near the head of the bay where we could see kayakers as well as beachgoers and swimmers
Lower_Eagle_Falls_172_06232016 - Making it back up to the Emerald Bay Overlook to pretty much end our Lower Eagle Falls hike
Lower_Eagle_Falls_182_06232016 - Context of Mom checking out the Lower Eagle Falls before we returned to the car

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We drove to the Emerald Bay Overlook from South Lake Tahoe so that’s how we’ll describe the driving route.

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).

After about 8.5 miles there was the Eagle Falls Trailhead and Picnic Area on the left, which turned out to be one perfectly fine place to park for this excursion (as well as the Upper Eagle Falls excursion).

However, just another 500 yards further along Hwy 89 to the right, there was the Emerald Bay Overlook parking lot, which was the starting point for Lower Eagle Falls as well as Vikingsholm and other activities down by the shores of the bay.

Given the popularity of this place, we want to impart a couple of things about logistics.

Lower_Eagle_Falls_186_06232016 - The crowded parking lot at the Emerald Bay Overlook. Notice how many cars are parked on the shoulder along Hwy 89 just to show you how packed the lot was in the late morning
The crowded parking lot at the Emerald Bay Overlook. Notice how many cars are parked on the shoulder along Hwy 89 just to show you how packed the lot was in the late morning

First of all, both parking areas can fill up fast.

We showed up at around 8:30am when there were still some parking spaces, but by 10:30am, this place was packed as even the shoulders alongside Hwy 89 were full of cars.

Needless to say, getting an early start ensures that you’d be free of the stress of finding parking.

The second thing we have to say is that the Emerald Bay Overlook was run by the California State Parks system.

So it had its own parking fee in addition to possible tour fees for some of the activities on offer there.

The Eagle Falls Trailhead and Picnic Area was administered by the National Forest Service (as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit) so there was a separate fee system in place there.

Upper_Eagle_Falls_005_06232016 - Looking back at some of the spillover parking spaces along Hwy 89 at the Picnic Area and Trailhead for (Upper) Eagle Falls, which was merely a quarter-mile from the Emerald Bay Overlook Parking Lot
Looking back at some of the spillover parking spaces along Hwy 89 at the Picnic Area and Trailhead for (Upper) Eagle Falls, which was merely a quarter-mile from the Emerald Bay Overlook Parking Lot

Whichever parking lot you pick, just stick to one of them to avoid paying twice (one for each parking lot).

Both parking areas are close enough to each other that you don’t need to move the car from one lot to the other.

Since we had a National Forest Adventure Pass (very handy for the Lake Tahoe area since everything had a day use fee that seemed to be enforced), it would have been wise for us to park and stay put in the National Forest lot.

Then, we could have walked just 500 yards further to the west along Hwy 89 to get to the Emerald Bay Overlook parking lot.

Finally, this drive took us about 25 minutes though a large chunk of that time was spent waiting for road construction to let us through.

Again, an early start is imperative to avoid the stress of finding limited parking space because it’s very popular (as Emerald Bay seemed to be a much cleaner play area than the less cleaner beaches on the shores of South Lake Tahoe).

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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Checking out the lowermost tier of the Lower Eagle Falls from the end of the trail to its base


360 degree sweep from Emerald Bay Overlook showing the entirety of Lower Eagle Falls as well as Emerald Bay and Fannette Island, then doing another closeup of just Lower Eagle Falls again


Upstream to downstream sweep of some cascades seen on the Eagle Creek from a footbridge on the Rubicon Trail

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Tagged with: south lake tahoe, emerald bay, state park, vikingsholm, eldorado, el dorado, california, northern california, waterfall, fannette island, sierra nevada



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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