The hike to Grass Lake, which starts at Lily Lake, is a mere two miles along the Glen Alpine Trail. Along the way you’ll be treated to plenty of falls and streams and as a whole it’s a moderately difficult hike. It’s not difficult but I recommend a map, one of the best for the hikes of this area is Tom Harrison Maps’ Lake Tahoe Recreation Map.
Many of the trails in south Lake Tahoe are interconnected. The Glen Alpine Trail gives you access to Grass Lake as well as Susie Lake (4 mi.), Heather Lake (5 mi.), Aloha Lake (6 mi.), Half Moon Lake (4.5 mi.), Alta Morris Lake (5.2 mi.), and even Mount Tallac (6 mi.) if you are so inclined. In fact, since our cabin is so close to Lily Lake, we went along this trail on our return hike from Mount Tallac.
You start at Lily Lake, where you’ll be expected to “sign in” at the trailhead (just fill out a Wilderness Permit form and drop it into the box), towards Glen Alpine Falls. The hike starts at 6,560′ and gets as high as 7,240′, so if you haven’t acclimated yourself to the higher altitudes, you might want to wait a day and use this as your hiking appetizer. If you hike a lot through wilderness (not clearly marked trails), you will be fine; if you hike a lot on pavement, this is a little trickier than that.
Upper Glen Alpine Falls
The first milestone on the trail is Upper Glen Alpine Falls (you passed Lower Glen Alpine Falls along the road towards Lily Lake), also known as Modjeska Falls, named for 19th century Polish actress Madame Helena Modjeska who performed at the springs in 1885. It’s about half a mile from the trailhead and along dirt and gravel roads, though you won’t need to dodge any trucks as the area is for authorized park vehicles only, and no more than half a mile away from the trail head.
As you continue along the trail you’ll see structures associated with the Glen Alpine Springs, which was once a resort built around the mineral spring that still operates today. When we visited four years ago, we were able to drink from the springs (without digestive incident, though the water smells strongly of sulphur). This year, because of all the precipitation, the springs were flooded and thus undrinkable. It was once a renowned resort developed by Nathan Gilmore (of Gilmore Lake fame) with a 16-room hotel, though a fire destroyed most of the original buildings in 1921. (this bit of history courtesy of Rich Moreno and TAMC)
Onward and Upward!
If you continue on the trail, you’ll begin to follow the Glen Alpine Creek that connects Lily Lake to, among other lakes, Grass Lake, Lost Lake, and Triangle Lake. Be sure to look for the trail markers, carved 4″x4″ beams, as they direct you towards which leg of the trail to take. At about a mile and a half into the trail, you will reach an intersection. To the left is Grass Lake, to the right is the ascent to Mount Tallac. Go left. 🙂
Also, at several points along the trail you will be asked to cross two creeks, so bring waterproof boots, and traverse a pair of fallen trees across the creek, so bring your sense of balance. We’ve always hiked it in mid- to late-July so trail conditions may vary earlier and later in the season.
Here’s what the pair of trees cross looks like (it’s not particularly difficult and you can take it very slowly):
The hike also takes you through a long section of unshaded rocky areas that isn’t necessarily challenging, other than some uneven footing, but does mean you should wear plenty of sun protection.
Grass Lake itself is a treat to see as it’s huge and freezing (it’s fed by glacial water from the mountains), but a great place to dip your feet in and have yourself a snack. We took plenty of photos of the various flora and fauna near the lake, for your visual enjoyment!
We also found this little guy floating along!
The Grass Lake hike along the Glen Alpine Trail is considered Moderate by the Forest Service but most consider it a pretty casual day hike since it doesn’t ascend very much, or very quickly, and affords some nice views along the way. If you’re an avid hiker, put this on the list for one of the first days you’re in the area as a little appetizer.