Horsetail Falls, located along Highway 50 in El Dorado County, is a popular hike that takes you through granite landscapes, lush creek side forest, and up to a breathtaking massive waterfall.
A hike to the very top of Horsetail Falls, part of Pyramid Creek coming out of Desolation Wilderness, is a very difficult hike with some boulder climbing near the top of the falls, especially just below the crest of the falls at Avalanche Lake. The trailhead is at about 6,000 feet, and the top of the falls is at about 7,200 feet. Most of the elevation in the climb is the last half mile of the approximately two mile trail. Please note there are no clearly defined direct routes so you need to be able to use your orienteering skills on this top section of the trail. If you do not feel comfortable getting a sense of the place and space, it is best that you hike only on the very bottom of the trail, a few miles in.
The climb to the top takes about three hours (not including any side trips), and the trip down is slightly less time though equally challenging. If you still have energy once you reach the top of the falls, you may want to cross country hike over to Aloha Lakes that sits at the base of Pyramid Lake for a refreshing swim in one of Lake Tahoe's most beautiful alpine lakes.
The beginning of the hike is moderate and takes you over granite fields and up to the base of the creek. The first half of the hike has great views, and when the water is high in the spring there are plenty of pools to swim in. As you follow the creek up farther, you enter Desolation Wilderness, so make sure that before you leave the trailhead you get your Wilderness permit at the Ranger Station. As the hike continues on it becomes steeper. You will know when you are getting to the top of the trail as you hear the rush of water. It is VERY dangerous to enter any pools at the top of the falls, especially in the spring when the water is running quickly. Be careful, and do not slip on the granite or be tempted to cross the falls. Keep secure footing, and enjoy the incredible views and sound of this impressive and powerful waterfall from a good distance.
Pet Friendly Notes
Dogs are allowed in Desolation Wilderness and on most other U.S. Forest trails. Pet owners please follow guidelines: Keep pet on 6 ft leash at all times. Control excessive barking. Check Paws often on rocky terrain, can cause cuts, consider protective dog pads. Pick up or bury canine waste. Keep your dog close by when encountering other people. Remember to bring enough water for you and your pet.
2.8 miles one way, very difficult hiking terrain
Vertical Gain or Loss
Trailhead at 6,000 ft top of falls 7,200 ft. Most of the elevation is gained in the last 1/2 mile.