Lake Tahoe: Emerald Bay, Eagle Lake Hike


Closeup of Emerald Bay, more boats than earlier

I took the day off today just because I could. Same thing with Friday, for a nice 4-day weekend that’s been productive, relaxing, and a-long-time-coming. I was determined to use one of the days to do something despite the pandemic that I could include in my Northern California blog. When I’d made my list of things I would include in that back in March, Eagle Lake was the first thing on the list outside of the Sacramento area. I went in 1989 I think for the first time and couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been back since. It’s a reasonable hike – not too easy, not too hard; not too short, not too long – that provides incredible views of the Tahoe area.

Oakland through low afternoon clouds as seen from Berkeley HIlls
Downtown Oakland as seen from the Berkeley hlls

Not having anything to do with any of that, I realized as I started downloading photos that I had a couple on my phone from my trip to Berkeley late yesterday. I left around 3:30pm to meet a friend for dinner, and we drove into the hills first just to visit while looking at stunning views. As seen above and below! Next time I’ll try a panoramic because, believe it or not, you can see all of that just standing there in the same spot. Since the point of the Northern California blog is to show what “normal” looks like in this corner of the planet, I figured these qualify.

Downtown San Francisco through low clouds late afternoon
Downtown San Francisco as seen from the Berkeley hills
screen shot of map showing path from Sacramento to Tahoe

Tahoe is about 100 miles east of Sacramento and about a 2 hour drive, depending on traffic. 30 miles of it towards the end is a 2 lane winding highway so sometimes it can be very slow. Today wasn’t bad at all and I made very good time in both directions. I left a little after 7am, and was home a little before 4pm. That’s what I call a day trip.

South Fork American River off of Highway 50
South Fork American River off of Highway 50

As soon as you get to the section of the highway that’s winding for 30 miles, you can see the American River to the right.

Looking down into a valley of trees with the barest glimpse of Lake Tahoe in the background
This is more spectacular in person: the first glimpse of Lake Tahoe from Highway 50 just as you get to the summit, which is at about 7300 feet. I turned around after this to take the next photo.
My car on the far right of the shot, next to a guardrail, after which is a pretty steep cliff into a forest valley
I hoped that seeing my car next to the guardrail and the steep drop off which occurs past it would provide some perspective on how high up you were over that forest valley. Did it work?
Parks sign: Inspiration Point Vista, National Forest Lands, Lake Tahoe Basin

I’d gotten to the Eagle Falls trailhead just after 9am and the parking lot was full already. So was the one about 1000 feet up across the highway. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d left early enough for a Monday morning but there were people everywhere. I turned around and came back to this spot, Inspiration Point, just to regroup. I’d never stopped here before. It’s at the southwest corner of Emerald Bay.

Southwest view of Emerald Bay from Inspiration Point, lots of trees in front

It made for some pretty views that’s for sure. I sat for a few minutes and decided to give it another try. Some of that parking off the highway right past the Falls is very transient as people aren’t staying long if they’re just there for the view and not actual hiking. I ended up taking the first spot I saw along the freeway about 1/3 mile away from the trailhead. I didn’t notice it before because it never occurred to me that I would need to start looking for parking that early.

Direct shot of Emerald Bay from the west, with the full lake in the background

But it did give me a great view of Emerald Bay as I made my way to the trailhead.

Looking down into a canyon where the falls is flowing, there's a woman at the bottom

On the right said of the highway from the trailhead is what I call Lower Eagle Falls. The views are dramatic as are the cliffs. My vertigo kicked in pretty bad. I found a rock to sit on just to take it in for a few minutes and watched this family climb down in front of me. You can see the mother in the shadow in the middle of the photo. I purposefully included my knee and foot in the bottom for perspective so you could see how far down she was.

Lower Eagle Falls rushing out of the mountain on the left

Here’s a decent shot of the dramatic cliffs I mentioned earlier.

Crystal clear water coming under the freeway to feed the falls

The water is coming from Eagle Lake, which we will get to eventually. There are 2 falls, this is the one on the Bay side of the highway. You can see above how clear the water is; the tunnel under the freeway in the background.

Selfie at lower falls with Emerald Bay in the background

First selfie of the day, taken from the same spot as where I took the photo of the stream under the highway.

Emerald Bay taken from lower Eagle Falls - the sun makes it glisten on the right

One last shot of this vantage point of Emerald Bay (you’re going to get sick of it!) with the sun glistening on the water on the right.

Sign: National Forest, Picnic Area, Trailhead; Eagle Falls

The trailhead is just across the highway from Lower falls.

small pond, very rocky, at the top of upper Eagle Falls

Above and below photos are what I call Upper Eagle Falls. The photos don’t really do it justice. I’m standing on a wooden bridge which I neglected to get a photo of.

Looking down into Upper Eagle Falls
Looking up a very steep climb, very rocky, framed by trees full across the back

This is the 2nd big rise of the hike, of which there are several, this one just past the bridge over the falls.

Sign: Desolation Wilderness. Permit Required. Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
Doesn’t sound like a place you’d want to get lost in. That said, there were lots of folks with huge backpacks and other gear, clearly packing it in for a day or several. No thank you.
Two big rocks, each with a rock garden on top of them, lake in the background

These next few photos are of this fairly major plateau that occurs in the mountain where lots of people leave their mark by building Zen gardens, or rock pyramids, whatever you want to call them. See evidence on top of the big rocks above, and all over the plateau below.

An array of rock pyramids
A family in full Zen garden mode.
Emerald Bay from the mountain
Emerald Bay from the plateau
Selfie from the mountain with Emerald Bay in the background; hair a mess!
Eagle Lake, lots of people playing at the edge of the water all around

Eagle Lake. It took me about an hour to get here but I’d really taken my time. There were plenty of hikers about and all of us were being extra-accommodating in staying out of each others way in passing, etc., and so that slows everyone down. I find that hikers are generally very polite about stuff like that, but you could feel the extra-awareness about keeping distance, especially since hardly anyone was wearing masks. I wondered if, in fact, that’s why this was more crowded than I expected it to be. Being outdoors is generally considered a safer activity these days than most others.

closer up of Eagle Lake, no people, with a little island in the middle
A little island in the middle of the lake
Trees darkened by their own shadows in the foreground, the sun beating down on the upper left behind them, with a granite mountain rising in the background

The majesty of the sun, trees and mountain is so difficult to capture on film. Didn’t keep me from trying.

similar shot of trying to capture granduer of trees with the sun in the back and the mountain below it
Eagle Lake from a high rock

I climbed on a pretty big rock to get this shot.

Selfie at Eagle Lake
Up close of a tree - the bark looks petrified but it's alive

While I was standing on said big rock, I took a close look a the trees I’d used to help get me up and was fascinated by the bark – almost petrified, yet they were definitely still living trees.

Last shot of Emerald Bay from the mountain
Ok, 2nd to the last one….
looking down a steep climb

I took this shot hoping that with people in it you’d get a sense of the steepness. This is the first big rise from the trailhead, taken obviously when I was coming back down. I remembered when I got to the bottom that my phone would have tracked the height of the whole hike, which I captured below at 42 floors!

screen shot of my tracking app: 42 floors, 4 miles
Closeup of Emerald Bay, more boats than earlier
Last one I promise, taken on my way back to my car. Lots more boats than at 9:30am! It was about Noon at this point.
Sign: Frescana mexican bistro

The last time I did this hike was July of 2016. I stopped with the friends who were with me at the time at this Mexican restaurant for lunch after. I’d noted on my way in that it was still there and open today so I decided I’d hit it up on my way back as I remembered it was pretty good.

shot of restaurant building with outside seating

It had outdoor seating but despite the look of this photo little of it was in the shade. It was 83 degrees which isn’t super hot – and much cooler than the 103 it was in Sacramento yesterday – but I didn’t want to sit directly in it.

chips and quacamole

Guacamole and enough chips to kill a horse. No, I didn’t finish it.

A blackened Ahi salad. This was super tasty. But I didn’t finish that either, although I did of course eat all the fish!

inside the cafe, next to the restaurant. pine tables in the foreground, beverage display in the background with the cashier on the right

There was a little seating in the restaurant, and then a café next door – same owners – before you got to the outside area. The restaurant was too dark and the outside too hot so I took a seat in here. That’s my table with my sunglasses on them. (And you can confirm I left most of those chips!)

And that was my day. I left a little after 2pm and got home just before 4pm. It’s much faster when it’s downhill all the way.

I will be off the 2nd week of August, just because. I haven’t decided what I’m doing but I’m guessing I will find another day trip or two to write about, so maybe I will see you then. Stay safe.

4 thoughts on “Lake Tahoe: Emerald Bay, Eagle Lake Hike”

  1. Cheryl Bryant says:

    Just caught up on all 3 blogs! Fun to see all the art and those beautiful
    sights, even though I’m a local. Glad to see you are doing well and hope we can meet in person again someday soon!

  2. What a great day trip and hike. My girl friend mentions that place often. And I was at Eagle Lake last week (completely different spot). Still, I’m gonna have to make plans to get up that way.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I love your blog. A favorite walk happens at Camp Sacramento Pony Express trail and enter at Strawberry for a hike up to lovers leap.

      1. Steve Haas says:

        Thanks! Not familiar with that one, will have to check it out next time!

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