One of the best northern California hiking trails is located just a few miles from South Lake Tahoe, California. Horsetail Falls is a great day hike for anyone searching for one of the best waterfalls in northern California.
Mountains, streams, valleys, and a towering waterfall – Horsetail Falls is one of the best, short day hikes in northern California.
Check out my Horsetail Falls hiking guide video for more photos and videos of the waterfall in action.
California hiking trails – Horsetail Falls photos
Located in Twin Bridges, Horsetail Falls cascades over the rocks as it zigzags its way over rocks turning gracefully as it thunders down nearly 800 feet to the creek below.
Horsetail Falls trail head
As you head towards Lake Tahoe on Highway 50, the turnoff for the trail head is on your left in Twin Bridges.
Pyramid Creek trail entrance
Begin your hike at the trailhead and walk over the rocks. Pyramid Creek welcomes your arrival with a small waterfall. The trail entertains you with the sounds of rushing water as your hike follows the creek.
Wilderness Boundary and Pyramid Creek trail sign
As you pass the small waterfall and stream, you come to a fork in the trail. To your left is Wilderness Boundary and to your right is the Pyramid Creek Loop trail. Stay to the right and follow the creek to get a view of the valley, trees, and Horsetail Falls from the trail.
Pyramid Creek Loop trail
This popular California hiking trail will lead you over large granite rocks as the mountains watch from above.
After walking along the granite rocks, you are surprised by a torrent of rushing water. However, turn around to get a valley view that many compare to Yosemite. Welcome to Cascade Vista.
First view of Horsetail Falls
Looking up, you get a view of the mountains that surround you. Looking ahead, you get your first peak of Horsetail Falls.
Pyramid Creek trail – from rocks to trees
As you leave Cascade Vista, the trail changes. Instead of walking over granite, you are now walking among the trees. Enjoy more views of the water and mountains around you with peek-a-boo views of Horsetail Falls.
Desolation Wilderness Eldorado National Forest
The second part of the hike leads you into Desolation Wilderness. Fill out the form, place your permit in the box, and carry your registration with you. Like many of the northern California hiking trails, the permit in this part of Desolation Wilderness is free.
As you head into the forest, following the trail can be difficult as it crosses over water and winds through the woods. Stay close to Pyramid Creek and enjoy the twists, turns, and cascades of water as they flow over rocks and branches.
Pyramid Creek – streams, waterfalls, and mountains
While this part of the hike provides you with refreshing views of Pyramid Creek, don’t forget to look at the mountains above.
Off the Pyramid Creek trail – views from above
When hiking this part of the trail, stay close to the water. If you begin climbing up the rocks, you are getting off the trail. The views of Horsetail Falls and the valley below are exhilarating. However, climbing down from the rocks and getting back on the trail isn’t easy.
Horsetail Falls trail
On the final part of the hike, climb over rocks and around bushes as make your way to Horsetail Falls. As you get closer, Horsetail Falls is clearly seen and heard.
As you reach the Falls, stop and enjoy the views. Horsetail Falls will amaze you with its power and size. However, views of the mountains and valley will take your breath away as the cool mist of the water refreshes your spirit and skin.
Hiking to the top of Horsetail Falls
Continue to hike up the rocks alongside Horsetail Falls. Be careful as this area can be difficult to navigate so proceed at your own risk. Your reward is more amazing views of Horsetail Falls and the valley below.
As you hike down, take the Wilderness Boundary trail for a different view of the surrounding area.
A California hiking trail getaway
For day hikers or family hikers, Horsetail Falls is one of the best California hiking trails for short hikes. Many people may not be aware that this waterfall exists. While there are many northern California hiking trails near Lake Tahoe, Horsetail Falls is one of the easiest and most beautiful hikes in the area (Discover more places to hike with my northern California hiking guide or check out another Horsetail Falls hiking guide).
While Yosemite may have some of the best views of any park in the country, spending a day hiking Horsetail Falls is a great getaway in northern California.