Lake Tahoe Hiking – Cascade Falls – West Shore

General Information: The Cascade Falls hike is perhaps the best short hike on the South and West Shores of Lake Tahoe. It combines a short hike with little elevation gain with a real feeling of remoteness once at the falls. When not crowded, it can feel like you are miles into the wilderness with distant Tahoe views as well as grand mountain views to the west. The popularity of this hike on crowded summer weekends makes it best done in the morning.

Where To Start: Emerald Bay is located a few miles north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89. The Bayview trail starts at the end of the Bayview Campground opposite Inspiration Point which is the scenic overlook located

Click here for a trail map and vertical profile

one mile before you get to Emerald Bay. A wooden sign points left to Cascade Falls, to the right…Granite Lake and Maggies Peaks.

Trail Description: The trail, once found, is easily followed to the falls. It starts as a wide path winding through a fragrant pine and fir forest. A few stone steps lead to a narrower, rockier trail for the next 3/4 mile.

The trail curves along the side of the mountain providing scenic views of Cascade Lake, Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe. Although the trail is fairly easy, don’t let the beautiful scenery make you miss the sloping rocks covered with a thin layer of sand which can be very slippery.

The trail descends gently then climbs again toward the falls. In the spring, the falls dominate your attention both orally and visually. But, in the summer the creek slows to bubbling brook that allows more intimate discovery of her wonderful secrets.

This area is a photographers delight as the dark rock contrasts with the water as it slithers in the summer or roars in the spring towards the falls. It is also a good spot to see the effects of the glaciation that played such an important part in the formation of Lake Tahoe. Polished granite worn smooth from thousands of years of ice sliding slowly over it towards the valley that is now Lake Tahoe is prevalent in the area. Also visible from the falls, the ridges on both sides and at the end of Cascade Lake are actually lateral and terminal moraines where rock debris, pushed along by the glacier was finally deposited as the weather warmed and the glacier receded. Another few thousand years, and Tahoe would have had TWO Emerald Bays!

The area around the falls can get busy in the summer, but by hiking just a few minutes up the stream, one can find relative seclusion even in high summer! But honestly, the hike up Cascade Canyon is worth every step at any time of year. If you are in good shape, have the Fallen Leaf Lake Topo map (and know how to use it!), and are experienced in backcountry travel, the hike up the canyon to Snow and Azure Lakes is both pleasant and inspiring.

To get back to the trail head, just reverse your travel.

Environmental Concerns: The greatest environmental concern here is the shear volume of people and the pollution that seems to always accompany thousands of humans. Be sure to use the restroom at the rail head but if you have to go while out, stay a minimum of 100 yards away from the stream. Use the hike as an opportunity to talk to your children about responsible environmental stuardship and spend 15 minutes filling up a bag with trash left behind by careless previous hikers. Let the kids know that people go into the wilderness to escape the loudness of the city and instill in them an appreciation for listening to how incredibly quiet nature usually is!\

Advisory: The falls are steep, the rocks slippery, and in the spring, the current is strong. As seems very obvious, be wary and watch children carefully! To paraphrase a sign we read in Yosemite, “If, for any reason, you go over the falls, you WILL die.”