Hike Date: June 25, 2011
Distance: ~ 4.5 miles
Trail(s): Glen Alpine Trail
Where’s it at? 4 miles beyond Fallen Leaf Lake in Southwest Lake Tahoe
While camping up at Camp Richardson, I took a day hike on a gorgeous Saturday to Glen Alpine Trailhead for a hike to Grass Lake. This was featured as a scenic short hike around 7000 feet in my Lonely Planet book on “Hiking in the Sierra Nevada”. Since Grass Lake lies in Desolation Wilderness, a day-use wilderness permit was required, and I obtained this just off Hwy 89 near Camp Richardson at the Visitor Center for Lake Tahoe Basin Management at Taylor Creek. If you’re staying overnight there is a charge and zoning system during busy seasons, as well as a cost involved.
The Glen Alpine trailhead is at Lily Lake, about 4 miles (didn’t seem that far), beyond Fallen Leaf Lake. The road in is fine for any car, however the road is one lane toward the end and you will almost definitely face oncoming traffic and need to do some maneuvering and waving to get there. It was actually quite packed on this Saturday in late June 2011.
The parking is free, but when I arrived there were only 2 spots left at about 11am. It would be a good idea to check in about whether you can park further out in an outlet (which there are some of), or whether you’d need to turn around if the lot is full. You can actually get wilderness permits for day use right there at the trailhead also.
At the visitor center they warned me about running into snow and needing crampons, and that the river crossings might be dangerous. I figured I’d go as far as I could without them and see what happens, but I was able to make it the whole way. I did have to step off the trail in a few spots but it’s easy enough to see the trail with other footprints this time of year so no worries.
There was a ton of water in the “creeks”. So much that it flooded the trail itself also. This was a heavy year of rain so not sure what it normally is like. I would guesstimate that about 500 feet of trail were completely flooded and I had to do a lot of walking along the sides of the trail to dodge them.
Along the way you will come across 1 or 2 natural springs with some old buildings and signage telling the history of the springs and their discovery. A link at the bottom goes further. I wasn’t sure if “Glen Alpine Spring” and “Soda Spring” were the same or not. I believe Glen Alpine Spring is a smaller one in advance of the larger Soda Spring which had a small gazebo-like building over the top of it. I was tempted to take a drink but the whole area was so flooded that I wasn’t sure it was all fresh from the Spring(s) and so didn’t risk the unfiltered water. I had plenty with me anyway.
Indeed the three river crossings were dangerous and a little sketchy. It took a minute to muster the courage to go for it on two of them, the third I just had to hike up the creek away from the trail a little to find a good log to cross on. The first one was a large log over an area of rapids. However, the log didn’t actually go all the way across the river, it went about 80% of the way and then appeared to have been broken. As you walked on it it bounced like being on a diving board. I was a little nervous about the return trip as you would have to jump onto the log and then cross it, but I found an alternate spot to cross.
The second log crossing was just at the top of a pretty raging waterfall, and when I got there a group of other hikers had chickened out and were turning tail at this point. I was determined not to let the river crossings be what stopped me, so I just walked quickly across it without thinking much about it. I might not have done it if I’d been carrying a 50 lb. backpack, but I had a light one on. I’d just recommend you make sure you don’t have any items that will swing in your backpack and throw off your balance. It’s funny to me how you could normally walk 10-15 feet in a straight line that is much more narrow than a log at any (sober) given moment, but when there peril nearby, it seems so much more scary and hard to do.
Beyond that I did start hitting pockets of hard-packed snow, but it was nothing compared to some other snowy trips I’ve had in the last year, so i trekked on and made it to the final destination of the gorgeous but small Grass Lake. I didn’t see another soul there on this day, which was very peaceful.
I’d say there are other more spectacular hikes in the area, but I’d done several of them already and this one definitely won’t let you down. I hope to return to this trail soon to do Mt. Tallac (which was way too snow-covered this time).
Photos from Hiking to Grass Lake(click to enlarge)
Useful Links about Hiking to Grass Lake in Desolation Wilderness
- Desolation Wilderness Trails + Permit info
- Glen Alpine Trailhead
- Trails.com on Grass Lake
- Lily Lake on everytrail.com (start of trail to Grass Lake)
Directions to Glen Alpine Trailhead
View Hiking to Grass Lake in Desolation Wilderness in a larger map