Outside with Charlie: Horsetail Falls

By From page B3 | August 30, 2011


The summer season in the Sierra is far from over. The weather is perfect for a jaunt on plenty of easily accessible areas for day hikes, including Horsetail Falls, an astonishing spot.

The popular falls, which feed Pyramid Creek, are on Highway 50 a bit past Strawberry at Twin Bridges. Pyramid Creek runs under Highway 50 to the American River.

The parking lot at the trail head has toilet facilities and water. Parking is limited, but people come and go all day. There is a $5 day use fee unless you have a U. S. Forest Service InterAgency Pass or a Senior Pass which allows for free parking. Parking on the highway is limited and precarious.

You will need to fill out a wilderness permit because the one and a half mile hike takes you into the Desolation Wilderness. The trail to Horsetail Falls is clearly marked at first. It starts out relatively flat, then begins a steady climb along Pyramid Creek. It may be necessary to jump over small seasonal streams depending on the time of year.

There are plenty of places to rest and lots of photo opportunities. As you move out of the lower forested part of the trail, you will begin climbing through, over and around lots of rocks of all sizes. The hike to this point isn’t very strenuous but it is uphill.

Horsetail Falls looms larger with every step. The amount of water gushing from the top is incredible. Early in the season, the roar of the falls encompasses everything. A fine mist floats above the water channel — nice on a hot day but not so much on a cold day.

There are decisions to make as you near the top. If you are capable of scrambling to the next vista point and making your way back down, continuing is OK. But you will run out of a recognizable trail and continue up on a narrow ledge. It’s almost a straight drop down into Pyramid Creek from the ledge.

Most people stop there. The rest of the trail is hard to pick out and it’s strenuous and dangerous. A slip here could ruin the rest of your life if you survive the fall into the turbulent water.

If you are physically capable of reaching the top and know the way, continue — but caution is the key. What goes up must come down, and this includes you.

Take your time as you navigate back down through the rocks. Keep your camera out. The scenery is wonderful. Even if you stop before the top, you’ll have a wonderful day. The scenery is superb, it’s relaxing and your camera will get a good work out. There are many fine spots to explore.

Weekdays are less crowded. It’s cooler earlier in the day, so an early start is best. Along with $5 for parking, take enough water and food, wear sturdy shoes and bring sunscreen, bug spray and a hat. Hiking poles are a great help. Most of all use common sense and hike within your capability.

Charlie Ferris

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