About Modjeska Falls (Upper Glen Alpine Falls)
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.
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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