Sunday, June 24, 2018

A short, moderate hike to a great waterfall: Horsetail Falls

Horsetail Falls, El Dorado County, California
Dropping down a granite headwall: Horsetail Falls  
Horsetail Falls is a series of spectacular waterfalls of the horsetail type plunging down Pyramid Creek in the Desolation Wilderness of El Dorado County, California. The Pyramid Creek Loop Trail is the path to take. Once you have reached the Wilderness Boundary at the northern tip of the loop trail, the half-mile path to the waterfall base is not well-marked. You have the choice of approaching the base by rock climbing between boulders or by following the stream bed. Slippery rocks or rushing water, especially early in the season, may turn the hike into a challenge. Otherdays, the hike is easy—always with the view of your goal, the white stream of cascading water, ahead of you.

Horsetail Falls taming its plunge at the base 
Due to the popularity of this wilderness getaway, you almost never are alone. Don't be surprised to find outdoor enthusiast in beachwear (or less) sunbathing on the canyon ledges at the bottom of the waterfall.

There is a cross-country route up across the polished bedrock to Avalanche Lake and the Lake of the Woods area. Mike White writes that “only skilled off-trail enthusiasts should contemplate this route” up the canyon toward Desolation Valley [1]. 

Top steps of Horsetail Falls
According to a World Waterfall Database entry, Horsetail Falls “consists of 6 distinct steps totaling 791 feet [241 meters]  in vertical drop.” Spring-water volume flow rates peak between 100 and 250 cubic feet per second (cfs), but a record of 2,900 cfs (82.1 m3/s) was reached in 1994 [2].

Pyramid Creek canyon at the bottom of Horsetail Falls



[1] Mike White: Afoot & Afield - Reno-Tahoe. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, CA, 2nd printing 2008; page 230.

[2] Horsetail Falls. World Waterfall Database. Link:

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Pyramid Creek Loop Trail

One of the unnamed Pyramic Creek waterfalls next to the loop trail  (June 3, 2018)

The Pyramid Creek Loop Trail is your trail loop to access the Desolation Wilderness boundary and nearby Horsetail Falls—a waterfall named for its series of waterfalls of the horsetail type.

The distance from the Pyramid Creek Trailhead to the beginning of the loop is about half a mile. If you decide to hike the loop counter-clockwise, you will reach The Cascades viewing point after a quarter-mile climb. This is a spectacular site, especially during springtime. Here, the water of Pyramid Creek slides down over solid granite.

The Cascades
From the Cascade Vista the trail continues over rock slabs and through scattered forest, never far away from the twisting course of Pyramid Creek. While you climb up the canyon and eventually veer away from the creek, you will enjoy amazing (over)views of the stepped granite headwall with Horsetail Falls cascading downwall in stages through the granite cleft. Keep the waterfall ahead of you, and you will not get lost.

Looking north over a rock slab with Horsetail Falls still at a distance

At the wilderness boundary, you are asked to self-register for a day-use permit. Unclear in places, the trail either follows the riparian creek canyon or leads around granite blocks and over rock slabs. Keep scrambling up the slopes to the base of the waterfall—browsing over the glacier-carved granite faces in front of you. Find your spot to rest, relax and listen to the roaring water.

At the base of  Horsetail Falls

Map of Pyramid Creek Loop Trail including The Cascades

Getting to the Pyramid Creek Trailhead

The trailhead is located next to Highway 50, less than seven miles west of Echo Summit. The trailhead parking lot is well-marked. The parking fee for a day currently is $5.00.



References and more to to explore

[1] Pyramid Creek Cascades, El Dorado County, California, United States. World Waterfall Database.   Link:

[2] Rick: Horsetail Falls: A challenging hike to an imressive waterfall. CalEXPLORnia, August 11, 2014. Link:

[3] Stephen Berei: Watch your step hiking Horsetail Falls. Lake Tahoe All Access, May 25, 2013. Link: