The quiet scenery of Meeks Creek Falls

Meeks Creek Falls. | Tim Hauserman

Early summer is the perfect time to check out Tahoe’s waterfalls. The most famous are Eagle Falls and Cascade Falls at Emerald Bay, Horsetail Falls off of State Route 50 near Echo Summit and Galena Falls on the Tahoe Rim Trail near Mount Rose. But, it’s also nice to escape the crowds by visiting some of the lesser-known falls like Meeks Creek Falls.

The route follows an old dirt road through a meadow with wildflowers in the grassy areas and a scattered forest of pine and fir trees. A glimpse of Rubicon Peak can be seen to the southwest.

I took a trip there this spring and it was a spectacular mass of roaring whitewater and we had the place to ourselves. The trip to Meeks Creek Falls is a perfect 4-mile roundtrip. It’s easy walking, level most of the way with just a bit of gentle climbing.

The hike begins at the Meeks Bay trailhead; it is also known as the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail, which leads to Genevieve and Crag lakes in the Desolation Wilderness, then over Phipps Pass to Emerald Bay. The route follows an old dirt road through a meadow. It’s level with wildflowers in the grassy areas and a scattered forest of pine and fir trees. A glimpse of Rubicon Peak can be seen to the southwest and regular views pop up of the high moraines of granite to the north and south.

Looking downstream from Meeks Creek Falls. | Tim Hauserman

Recent fires and controlled burns have created patches of thick, equal-aged pines in the meadow areas. At 1.3 miles, opposite a springtime pond/summertime meadow, the trail to the lakes leads off to the right, becomes single track and climbs uphill. To reach the falls, leave the trail and go straight ahead on the old road.

The road continues through a grove of large firs and, unfortunately, diseased pines, then narrows and begins climbing gently to a junction. Here a left turn takes you to a concrete foundation, which was the lodge for Camp Wasiu, a Girl Scout camp from the 1950s to the late 1960s. What remains now are the rusty remains of bed springs and old pipes, the foundation, the steps to what was once the front door and a three-seat outhouse near the falls.

At one time, Camp Wasiu was a happening place, a rustic retreat at the edge of the wilderness. A news clipping promoting the camp in 1960 reads: “While much of the camp now lies buried under a blanket of snow, in just a few months hundreds of girls will be exploring recesses of the camp, swimming in the “girl” made dam, hiking into lake areas of Desolation Valley and participating in numerous group activities.”

The remains of a three-seat outhouse from Camp Wasiu. | Tim Hauserman

From the lodge foundation, the route to the falls continues straight west toward the mountains on a gentle descent. Now, roaring Meeks Creek and the approaching falls can be clearly heard. Just past the outhouse, devoid of walls, you can begin to meander through the woods toward the rocky pile at the bottom of the falls. The falls themselves are a swiftly moving rush of water tumbling through a pile of boulders. While the creek flows year-round, it is the early-season snowmelt that gives the falls its power, so get it while you can.

There are a number of flat granite boulders to sit on and enjoy the rush of the falling water just a few feet away. In our most recent visit, we startled a pair of Sierra garter snakes, which like to sun themselves on the rocks next to the water. What I didn’t locate was the water bottle I lost here a few years ago. It dropped into the drink below the flat boulder I was sitting on and was so tucked into the murky water beneath the rock; it was impossible to see or retrieve.

Once you’ve had your fill of the falls, you can return to the trail or explore the creek farther downstream. Several options are available to add to your adventure. You could return to the trail and hike another 3.5 miles on a moderate ascent to Genevieve Lake. At that point, be sure to make the worthwhile effort to go another half mile to enjoy the more dramatically beautiful Crag Lake. Option B would be to return to your car, cross State Route 89 to find the super fine Meeks Bay Beach, one of Tahoe’s finest.