The trail starts at over-crowded Pyramid Creek Trailhead parking lot, just off of Highway 50. To reach Horsetail Falls (visible from the highway), one can either choose to follow ducks across the naked rock or the better marked trail along Pyramid Creek to the boundary of the Desolation Wilderness. From the boundary, a single path continues to rock benches, perfect for a snack, beneath the falls.
This hike is extremely popular due to its easy accessibility from Hwy 50, the variety of alpine delights, and the short distance. Although many attempt the walk, I’d guess that less than half make it the mile and a half to the falls. Most casual hikers are unprepared for the challenging terrain (steep, slick rock surfaces, stream crossings, unstable footing) and although the creek trail is easier to follow than the route across the granite, it is still easy to lose the track. The trickiest part is about halfway between the wilderness boundary and the falls. There, instinct and a few misleading cairns indicate that the way is up and over the rock. Instead, one must head down, round a cliff face, and walk upstream in a small waterway for about 10 yards to regain the trail.
It takes a sharp eye, perseverence, and appropriate footwear (hiking boots! not sneakers!) to make the falls. Once there, no marked trail continues out of the valley. I’ve scrabbled up the granite, looking for a way out, but only had a sore butt and broken fingernails to show for my efforts. I wouldn’t recommend that activity for children or dogs or even sane adults. The views are impressive enough from the marked path.
Source: Evans, Stephen L. "Horsetail Falls Trail." Top Trails Sacramento. 4th ed. Birmingham: Wilderness, 2012. Print.
Length: 3.0 miles
Water: The falls and Pyramid Creek are at their most stunning! Small creeks are also flowing and the trail can be boggy in places.
Use: Heavy. When we started the hike at 8 a.m., the parking lot was almost empty and we encountered no one ahead of us. On the way back, we saw at least 50 people on the trail and the parking lot was full (with would-be-hikers circling in their cars) at 10:50 a.m.
Differences from published description: The day use fee is now $5.
Jasper’s rating: 4.5 paws out of 5.
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