Discover the Serenity of Fallen Leaf Lake Trail

Fallen Leaf Lake, situated along the south shore of Lake Tahoe, is renowned for being a sought-after summer destination. The crystal-clear water and abundance of access points make it a popular choice among visitors. However, with popularity comes crowds, especially during the peak summer season and near the campground on the lake’s north side.

The northern region of Fallen Leaf Lake is crisscrossed with numerous social trails created by the influx of hikers. These trails, mostly short in length, guide explorers to various spots along the shoreline. Attempting to map each of these trails individually would be an exercise in futility.

Instead, let me introduce you to one of my personal favorite hiking trails at Fallen Leaf Lake. Nestled on the lake’s eastern side, this secluded trail offers a more structured and less-traveled experience. Surprisingly, it is teeming with a diverse range of wildlife and plant species. While not boasting any extravagant features, this forested hiking trail provides a tranquil getaway from the bustling energy of Lake Tahoe.

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This hiking trail stretches for a mere 1.25 miles (one-way), making it suitable for hikers of all ages and fitness levels. Whether you seek a quick escape into nature or a brief encounter with the wilderness, this trail guarantees a refreshing experience. Don’t forget to explore the lakefront and add a few extra tenths of a mile to your hike!

Situated on the eastern side of Fallen Leaf Lake, the trail meanders through a picturesque forest and offers several access points to the lake, including a public dock. Though not conventional sandy beaches, these shoreline locations allow for swimming and provide breathtaking panoramic views of the lake, Mount Tallac, and the Desolation Wilderness.

Please note that this short and easy hike may not be an activity you’d want to base your entire day around. Instead, consider it a perfect way to briefly reconnect with nature or indulge in birdwatching. I often embark on this trail before or after work, or even while running errands.

Fallen Leaf Lake Trail Data (approximations):

  • Location: South Tahoe – Fallen Leaf Lake
  • Category of Hike: Short Hike
  • Hike Time: 1 hour
  • Total Mileage: 2.5 miles (out-and-back)
  • Trailhead Elevation: 6,547 feet
  • Highest Point: 6,547 feet
  • Total Elevation Gain: 200 feet
  • Trail Conditions: Firm soil and dirt, with occasional wet grassy areas in spring
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For similar shorter hiking options, you may explore the Short and Easy Hikes in South Lake Tahoe.

Considerations for Hiking Fallen Leaf Lake (East Side):

  • The Forest Service gates on Fallen Leaf RD and Tahoe Mountain RD are typically locked from December to April (possibly earlier or later depending on snow conditions). However, the trailhead is conveniently located near the Fallen Leaf RD gate.
  • Dogs are allowed on the trail, but they must be leashed, and please clean up after them.
  • It is essential to adhere to the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.
  • Few trail signs and markers are found in the Tahoe region’s public lands. If you come across an unmarked path, it may be challenging to determine the correct route. In such cases, it’s best to turn back instead of risking getting lost.
  • Prepare for unpredictable weather conditions by carrying warm clothing, food, and water.
  • Prioritize safety by leaving your hiking plans with someone who can contact emergency services if you do not return at the expected time.

Hiking Fallen Leaf Lake (East Side) Map

Hiking Fallen Leaf Lake (East Side) Close-up Map

Parking Directions for the Fallen Leaf Lake (East Side) Hiking Trail:

There are two ways to reach the parking area and trailhead for this particular hiking trail. Please refer to the maps provided above. Route 1 is the most direct and convenient for most visitors coming from South Lake Tahoe. However, if you are starting your journey from Meyers, CA, Route 2 may be a more suitable option.

Please note that Fallen Leaf Road and Fallen Leaf Lake Road are distinct. When using online navigation, search for Fallen Leaf Road.

Blue skies with dramatic white clouds and snowy mountains in the background

Driving Option 1

The first route provides the simplest and most direct access to the Fallen Leaf Lake (east side) trailhead.

  1. Turn onto Fallen Leaf RD from SR 89.
  2. Drive for approximately 2 miles along Fallen Leaf RD until you reach a green Forest Service gate. This gate, parallel to the road on the lake side, serves as the trailhead. Note that it is located just past the T-intersection between Fallen Leaf RD and Tahoe Mountain RD.
  3. Park in the dirt pullout on the opposite side of the road from the gate. It is crucial to never block or park in front of any Forest Service gates at any time.
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Driving Option 2

This alternate route is slightly more complex but serves as a viable option for those starting their journey from Meyers.

  1. Drive up Tahoe Mountain RD from the intersection at Lake Tahoe BLVD.
  2. Turn right at the T-intersection onto Glenmore Way.
  3. Take a left at the subsequent T-intersection onto Dundee Cir.
  4. Continue on Dundee Cir, which transitions into Tahoe Mountain RD. This single-lane forested road requires caution and consideration for other motorists, cyclists, and hikers. Drive until you reach the T-intersection with Fallen Leaf RD.
  5. Take a left onto Fallen Leaf RD and proceed a few hundred meters to a Forest Service gate, acting as the trailhead. This gate, parallel to the road on the lake side, is located just past the T-intersection between Fallen Leaf RD and Tahoe Mountain RD. It is important to avoid blocking or parking in front of any Forest Service gates at any time.

Hiking Fallen Leaf Lake

Travel along the Fallen Leaf Lake (East Side) Hiking Trail:

Embark on your hike along the east side of Fallen Leaf Lake from the Forest Service gate on Fallen Leaf RD, approximately 2 miles from SR 89. Remember that this gate runs parallel to the road on the lake side, prohibiting vehicles from entering the hiking trail. The initial section of the trail resembles an old dirt road.

Please note that the gate at the trailhead differs from the Forest Service gate located 1.75 miles from SR 89. The latter gate restricts access to Fallen Leaf RD during winter months and stands perpendicular to the road. Thus, for winter hikes on the east side of Fallen Leaf Lake, it is best to park near the road access gate.

Begin your hike by heading west from the trailhead gate towards Fallen Leaf Lake. The trail is wide and surrounded by beautiful California Incense-Cedar trees.

As you gradually descend and veer left towards the south, you will encounter an open section of the trail leading to an intersection.

To access Fallen Leaf Lake and the public dock, continue downhill until you reach the lakefront. Exercise caution while descending the last few steps, as the deteriorated state of the steps may make them indistinguishable. Take your time and be mindful of your footing in this section of the trail.

After exploring the public dock, retrace your steps uphill and take a right, heading south to continue your journey. If you decide not to descend all the way to the lake, simply take a left at the aforementioned intersection.

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Please note that it is also possible to hike north along Fallen Leaf Lake from the intersection, with the lake on your left side. However, the current trail does not lead directly to the campground. Navigating through numerous meandering trails and covering a considerable distance would be necessary. Therefore, I encourage you to discover this section at your leisure.

Continue south through the forest for approximately one mile along the trail. Several access points to Fallen Leaf Lake are available during this stretch, though they may not always be immediately obvious. Keep your eyes peeled for footpaths leading to the lake and savor the tranquility of the forested surroundings.

Hiking Fallen Leaf Lake

Ultimately, the trail reaches a private road/driveway, which marks the end of the hike. It is vital to respect private property and refrain from venturing onto the road for the sake of completing a loop by returning via Fallen Leaf RD.

From the private road, turn around and retrace your steps along the same trail. Remember to take a right uphill at the intersection to return to the starting point. Revisit the magnificence of the public dock before bidding farewell to this enchanting hiking trail.

Wandering Trails of Fallen Leaf Lake and Other Nearby Hiking Options

The north side of Fallen Leaf Lake boasts numerous social trails, often referred to as “wandering” trails. These trails offer short and enjoyable excursions into nature, allowing for a sense of exploration and discovery. Although I refrain from providing an in-depth analysis or precise mapping of these trails, I encourage you to embark on your own adventure in your leisure time.

For those seeking alternative hiking options near Fallen Leaf Lake, I recommend exploring Cathedral Meadow. Located on the lake’s northeast side, this trail requires some driving to reach its trailhead. However, it offers a captivating journey from the Sno-Park on SR 89 to the outflow of Fallen Leaf Lake in the north, where Taylor Creek begins. This area is renowned for its breathtaking autumn spectacle—the Kokanee Salmon spawning.

Hiking Fallen Leaf Lake

For more shorter hiking options, please refer to the Short and Easy Hikes in South Lake Tahoe section.

Do you have any insights, feedback, or updates about hiking at Fallen Leaf Lake? Feel free to share in the comments section below for the benefit of all readers. World-class adventures await!