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:

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