Guide To Hiking Eagle Falls Trail In Lake Tahoe


Eagle Lake in Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe stunning glacial lake surrounded by granite peaks at the end of Eagle Falls trail

Eagle Falls Trail is a popular 1.9-mile roundtrip hike with 430 feet elevation gain in Emerald Bay State Park near South Lake Tahoe. It’s a family friendly trail rated as moderately difficult, and it leads to a powerful waterfall before ending on the shores of a small but picturesque glacial lake. We hiked to Eagle Lake after watching a stunning sunrise over Emerald Bay and we recommend you do the same when you visit Lake Tahoe.

In this guide we walk you step-by-step through hiking Eagle Falls Trail in Lake Tahoe, based on our own experiences.

Our Eagle Falls Experience

Couple standing on rocks for a photo in front of a lake on the Eagle Falls trail in Lake Tahoe California
Here we are at Eagle Lake on a cold morning in November

Eagle Falls Trail was near the top of our hiking wishlist when we visited Lake Tahoe in November 2021 and it didn’t disappoint. We set an early alarm, watched a staggeringly beautiful sunrise over Emerald Bay and then at 7:30am we began hiking Eagle Falls Trail to Eagle Lake.

It was a very cold and cloudy morning, so we started the hike in our winter coats! By the time we reached the lake it had warmed a bit and we’d worked up a sweat so we had to carry our coats back down, but we had the entire lake to ourselves so we sat for 15 minutes in total solitude and enjoyed the view. Read more about us.

Trail Information

  • Distance: 1.9 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 430 feet
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Eagle Falls isn’t a hard trail to hike, but it does have lots of uneven rocks and steps to navigate during the first half. These rocks would become very slippery after rain or snow, so you must take care and wear robust shoes with good treads if it’s wet underfoot.

Allow additional time to stop for photos at the waterfall and lake. And add even more time if you plan to swim or eat lunch around the lake.

Eagle Falls Trailhead Parking

Parking meters and information board on a roadside with trees in the background
Parking ticket machines and information

The trailhead for Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake is located in Emerald Bay State Park on the southwestern shores of Lake Tahoe, around 13 miles drive from the popular resort city of South Lake Tahoe.

Here are the 3 parking areas you can use to hike Eagle Falls Trail:

Click any of the links above to open your Google Maps app. Click directions and input your current location to see the quickest way to reach the trailhead.

All three parking areas are located close to one another along a long curve on highway 89. It doesn’t matter where you park because you can easily walk to Eagle Falls Trailhead from them all.

Historically, there has been $5 and $10 parking fees at the three trailheads, but we recommend reading recent comments by hikers on All Trails because it appears as though the fees might not be required any longer.

Wilderness Permit

Information board at a hiking trailhead in a forested area
This information board now has two boxes to post your wilderness permits

Your group is required to complete a Desolation Wilderness permit before you begin hiking up Eagle Falls Trail. The wilderness permit is free but it’s compulsory to fill out prior to hiking and it must be posted into the boxes at the trailhead information board (photo above).

One last thing before you start hiking is to use the vault restrooms at the trailhead parking lot near the information board.

Route Options

There are three ways you can hike Eagle Falls Trail in Lake Tahoe:

  1. Trailhead to Eagle Falls Bridge only
  2. Trailhead to Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake
  3. Eagle Falls, Eagle Lake and Eagle Falls Vista

Click or touch the map below to activate. We’ve listed the steps you can take to complete the full hike from the trailhead to Eagle Falls, then Eagle Lake and finally stopping at Eagle Falls Vista on the way back down.

Eagle Falls Bridge and back is a 0.5-mile roundtrip hike, or it’s 2 miles roundtrip if you include Eagle Lake and the vista point into your hike. All versions are out-and-back hikes going up and coming back down the exact same way.

Eagle Falls Trail Walkthrough

Next, we’re going to walk you through the hike from start to finish so you know what to expect. You’ll see our own photos from the hike and we’ll describe the trail exactly as it was for us.

1. Starting The Hike

Hiker in winter coat holding camera walking up a rocky staircase
Mark climbing the rocky trail in his winter coat right after sunrise

We parked in the highway 89 roadside lot after watching sunrise, used the restrooms, paid $5 to park (that’s how much it cost at the time) and completed our wilderness permits.

The trail started out on a narrow dusty gravel track cutting through light vegetation. Before long we were hiking on exposed rocks alongside to the creek and we were surrounded by trees. There were long sections of uneven rocky staircases to climb, but the trail was easy to follow.

2. Eagle Falls Bridge

Hiker in maroon winter coat walking over a wooden and metal bridge
Kristen walking over Eagle Falls bridge

Before long we’d reached the tiered Eagle Falls and a metal bridge crossing over the creek. The bridge provided direct views of the waterfall from half way across but we couldn’t see Emerald Bay because it had already disappeared behind large rocky cliffs. Lots of hikers turned around at Eagle Falls, but we continued to the lake.

So after crossing the bridge we continued up the trail, following the most obvious path and making sure we stuck to the route as much as possible. At one point we looked back to see amazing distant views over Emerald Bay, just before the trail suddenly turned from a rocky hike into a forest hike.

3. Eagle Lake

Photo of Eagle Lake in Lake Tahoe taken early in the morning on a cloudy day with rocks in the foreground and no people in sight
What you’ll find when you reach Eagle Lake

Not long after the terrain changed into green trees and vegetation, we arrived at Eagle Lake. We were the only two hikers in sight, so we sat on some rocks near the lake for about 15 minutes and soaked up the tranquility.

We were tired from waking up early for sunrise photography and we were hungry because we didn’t have breakfast before hiking, so we took some photos of the lake and hit the trail for a quick descent.

4. Returning To The Trailhead

Hiker in winter jacket walking on a forest trail with green trees
Kristen hiking back down from Eagle Lake through a scenic forested area

The route down was much quicker because we knew what to expect and it’s a nice gradual descent. There’s lots of sharp and jagged rocks, so we were sure to watch our footing but otherwise it was a calm and quiet remainder of the hike.

We stopped at Eagle Falls Vista Point on the way back. It had awesome views overlooking Emerald Bay but we couldn’t really see the waterfall from the viewpoint. We think it would make a fantastic sunrise photo spot if you’re interested!

5. The Hidden Waterfall

Distant view over a powerful waterfall cascading down a rocky landscape surrounded by trees and hills
Don’t miss this bigger waterfall on the opposite side of the road from the trailhead parking lot

After returning to our car at the trailhead, we noticed there were two people crossing the road and cutting down onto rocks below the highway. It turned out there was a huge and powerful waterfall down there, and we think that one is also called Eagle Falls (confusing, right?).

So we walked further around the highway to the north, found another path leading out onto rocks and looked back at the waterfall from a great vantage point. This same vantage point also became our favorite view overlooking Emerald Bay, and you’ll know when you reach it because it has 2 standalone trees next to one another.

READ: The best Lake Tahoe sunrise and sunset photo spots

Leave No Trace

Please take great care not to disturb formations, vegetation or wildlife when you hike Eagle Falls Trail. It’s a beautiful place to visit and we all have to keep it that way for future generations to enjoy.

Remember and follow these 7 principles of leave no trace when hiking in Lake Tahoe:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of others

READ: The best hiking apps

Best Time To Hike Eagle Falls Trail

Narrow creek rushing through a rocky landscape with trees and clouds
Low running creek flowing from Eagle Lake to the hidden waterfall

The very best time to hike Eagle Falls Trail is immediately after watching sunrise over Emerald Bay on a weekday morning in spring or fall. That way you get to watch the best sunrise in Lake Tahoe, you’ll have no issues getting parked and the trail will be crowd free.

We would personally avoid summer, weekends and especially holiday weekends because Lake Tahoe gets far too busy and Eagle Falls is one of the most popular hikes in the area. If you do visit in summer, we strongly recommend you arrive right after sunrise or much later in the day once the majority of visitors are back in town for dinner.

If we hike this trail again, we’ll do it either at dawn or dusk and preferably in May, June, September or October. It was freezing cold the morning we hiked it during our trip to Lake Tahoe in November.

What To Pack

Eagle Falls overlooking Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe stunning view in the mid morning
Another great Emerald Bay viewpoint near the hike

Eagle Falls Trail is mostly rocks, stone stairs and dirt packed path. In good conditions it isn’t essential to wear serious hiking gear but we still recommend wearing a sturdy pair of shoes or boots with good tread. And don’t forget to take flashlights and headlamps if you hike early or late in the day.

The most important thing to pack is plenty of water. Even if it’s a cool day, you’re still hiking at around 7,000 feet above sea level at Eagle Lake, so you need to stay hydrated. You can also pack snacks and sandwiches for lunch at the lake, but remember to carry out anything you take in.

In winter and early spring you’ll likely need micro-spikes if the path is even passable, as well as poles and warmer layers depending on snow or ice conditions. Last but not least, don’t forget swimwear if you want to swim in Eagle Lake!

READ: Day hike packing essentials

More Hikes In The Area

Hiker sat on a stone wall overlooking a bay with a small island in the middle and clouds in the sky
Kristen enjoying the view over Emerald Bay after we hiked down to Vikingsholm

Are you planning to hike as many trails as possible during your visit to Lake Tahoe? Here are some of our favorite hikes for you to try in the area:

The Morgan Conclusion

To wrap things up, we think Eagle Falls Trail is a fantastic family friendly hike. The trail itself is fun to hike, it provides excellent elevated views over Emerald Bay and it leads to the picturesque Eagle Lake. But it’s also one of the most popular hikes in Lake Tahoe, so you must arrive early to get a parking spot if you visit in peak season.

We enjoyed the hike, the views and the fact we had it to ourselves because we visited in the off-season. Next time we’re in the area we’ll hike it again, but we’ll spend more time around the lake. For us, Eagle Falls is one of few unmissable hiking trails in Lake Tahoe.

More From Lake Tahoe

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Want more California content? Head over to our California Travel Guides to explore national parks, popular road trips and things to do in major cities of the sunshine state.

We hope this guide to hiking Eagle Falls Trail helps with planning your trip to Lake Tahoe!

Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Happy Hiking,

Mark and Kristen

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