5 Sierra Waterfalls to Hike this Summer

The keyword is hike.

How can you avoid the tourbus crowds, yet enjoy a doable day hike? This is a 5-part post over this summer, showcasing hikes with spectacular water features, that have a full day-hike experience.



Shirley Lake Trail, Squaw Valley, California

Location: Lake Tahoe area

Length: Approximately 3 hours up, one way

Enjoy a long trail with multiple smaller waterfalls, all along a cascading mountain stream.

There are several steep inclines, and several flat areas, climbing over 2000 feet. Heavily forested and shady in some areas, along with sunny granite moraine in the middle, half-way up. This mid-way rock area is a good place to enjoy a snack, rest, and see spectacular views of Squaw Valley.

The best time of year to hike is May, June and early July, when the water flow is the heaviest.

Some spots of the trail, split into two, with one along the creek, and the other further near the cliffs. These trails all lead to the top, with beautiful pristine green mountain meadows, and sometimes summer snow patches.

Grand finale: At the top, at the end, is High Camp, part of the Squaw Valley resort. Hikers can enjoy a beer, restaurant, swimming pool, and a free tram (going down only) back to the village, with beautiful views 2000 feet down to the bottom of the cliffs.

The Shirley Lake Trail is definitely a must-do this summer if you are in the Lake Tahoe area.




Fern Falls / Long Lake Loop

Approximately 2-3 hours roundtrip. Moderate. Several sights and vistas along the way. Start at Lakes Basin Campground trailhead.

One of our smallest vertical drops on the list, yet best overall hiking experience.

Lakes Basin Recreation Area is a hidden gem in the Northern Sierras. Often overlooked by Bay Area crowds, this compact region is loaded with alpine lakes, waterfalls, and hidden trails that take you to serene escapes.

The Fern Falls and Long Lake Loop are one of many day hike loops that interconnect in the Lakes Basin region.

Fern Falls:

What sets Fern Falls apart is the ability to safely cool off directly in the water. This cascading creek pours over a granite moraine, creating beautiful spots for sitting, swimming and sunbathing. The final 10-ft drop pours into a 5-food deep pool, perfect for swimming or waterfall massage. Be aware, the water is fresh snowmelt, so is very cold, . . .  but on a hot day, 15 minutes of play will refresh any exhasted hiker. Also, be careful to climb down the granite without slipping.


Long Lake Loop:

Continue your hike to Long Lake, to make a complete rounded hiking trip. This striking blue lake contrasts with the granite cliffs, alpine tiaga forest, and Sierra Nevada peaks in the background. At first entrance, you will notice heavy wind, even if other areas on the hike were calm. Continue along the dam and northeast side of the lake to a collection of smaller lakes sheltered by the rocks, completing your hike back to the Lakes Basin trailhead.


No Name Falls Trail

Just outside of Plumas-Eureka State Park (a hidden gem, may I add), lies the trail to Grass Lake and Rock Lakes. This area straddling California State Park and National Recreation Areas contains untouched, less-seen waterfalls. Many are seasonal, running April to June. These waterfalls create granite moraine stains, and are impressive at the right time.

What is surprising, is that many do not have any official name. They simply are waterfalls that nature provides.

The one pictured below I will call Eureka Falls, and from the right angle, looks like it drops into a bottomless pit, yet simply flows into a fork in the Plumas river.

Make the time to take this trail. And, even if you are in the dry season, the incredible vistas will not fail to impress.


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