Modjeska Falls (Upper Glen Alpine Falls)

Fallen Leaf Lake / South Lake Tahoe, California, USA

About Modjeska Falls (Upper Glen Alpine Falls)

Hiking Distance: 1 mile round trip
Suggested Time: 45 minutes

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

Waterfall Latitude: 38.87711
Waterfall Longitude: -120.08544

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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.

Glen_Alpine_Falls_159_06232016 - Looking back at the narrow one-lane road skirting the eastern banks of Fallen Leaf Lake on the way to Lily Lake
Glen_Alpine_Falls_053_06232016 - Continuing on the narrow road towards Lily Lake after getting past Glen Alpine Falls
Glen_Alpine_Falls_058_06232016 - At the parking lot for Lily Lake and the trailhead for Modjeska Falls
Glen_Alpine_Falls_079_06232016 - Mom on the trail leading to both Modjeska Falls and the Glen Alpine Springs Resort further on
Glen_Alpine_Falls_080_06232016 - 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 carefully
Glen_Alpine_Falls_083_06232016 - Negotiating more flooded sections
Glen_Alpine_Falls_084_06232016 - Yet another flooded section of the trail/road
Glen_Alpine_Falls_088_06232016 - Given the rocky nature of the road or trail, the hiking was actually not as fast as expected despite the relatively flat terrain
Glen_Alpine_Falls_099_06232016 - As the trail started to climb, we started to catch glimpses of Modjeska Falls
Glen_Alpine_Falls_108_06232016 - Checking out Modjeska Falls and a cascade further downstream
Glen_Alpine_Falls_109_06232016 - 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 house
Glen_Alpine_Falls_110_06232016 - Mom and I found an informal path that led from the road to the base of Modjeska Falls
Glen_Alpine_Falls_111_06232016 - Approaching Modjeska Falls on that informal trail
Glen_Alpine_Falls_112_06232016 - 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 trail
Glen_Alpine_Falls_123_06232016 - Mom coming out of the informal trail and rejoining the road/trail
Glen_Alpine_Falls_131_06232016 - This angled view of Modjeska Falls came from that the deck of that house
Glen_Alpine_Falls_137_06232016 - Heading back on the main trail or road to the Lily Lake area
Glen_Alpine_Falls_139_06232016 - 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 past
Glen_Alpine_Falls_141_06232016 - Made it back to the trailhead


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.

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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Tagged with: fallen leaf lake, south lake tahoe, eldorado, sierra nevada, northern california, california, waterfall, glen alpine creek, glen alpine springs, lily lake

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