If you’ve ever taken Highway 50 to South Lake Tahoe, then chances are you’ve seen a gushing waterfall to the north just as you’re approaching Echo Pass Summit. This spectacular fall is Horsetail Falls, created by Pyramid Creek flowing down the steep glacier carved granite faces of Desolation Wilderness. This is a short but difficult hike that should only be attempted by sure-footed, seasoned hikers. Follow Pyramid Creek up the granite rocks 1.4 miles to the falls. On the way up, keep an eye out for two or three (depending on the season) other unnamed waterfalls working their way down the mountains to your right. Coming up on Horsetail Falls itself just might take your breath away, provided you still have it. The sheer power of the rushing water eroding away at the sturdy granite will amaze you. This is quite a natural wonder to witness; Horsetail Falls is by far the largest in the Tahoe area. Though difficult to accurately measure, it is estimated to be about 800 feet tall.
Cool off and relax in the wading and swimming pools along the creek side, but use caution as several deaths have occurred in the strong current over the years. Keep close watch over children at all times. The falls flow all year, but are particularly dramatic at the peak of snow melt – about the middle of June through early July. Ambitious hikers can continue scrambling up the mountain along the strenuous trek to the top of the falls. There you’ll find a delightful Alpine lake called Avalanche Lake. There are also astounding views of Desolation Wilderness from this vantage point. Taking children up this route is not recommended as the rocks are very slippery even when they aren’t wet. The hike isn’t short on elevation gain; the trailhead is at 6,000 feet and the top of the falls are at 7,200 feet, though most of this height is gained in the last half mile to the top of Horsetail. The hike to the bottom of the falls will probably take about an hour and a half round trip.
At the wilderness boundary, you’ll have to fill out a permit before continuing up to the falls. To get there from South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50 south. A little less than 7 miles from Echo Summit, you’ll see a well developed parking area for Twin Bridges and the Pyramid Creek Trail. There are flushing toilets and running water here as well.