Waterfalls & vistas at Van Sickle

Van Sickle waterfall. | Mark McLaughlin

Van Sickle Bi-State Park is one of the newer recreation areas at Lake Tahoe; it was established in 1989. At that time, Jack Van Sickle, grandson of Henry Van Sickle, a noted Carson Valley pioneer who died in 1894, donated 542 acres of family land for a Nevada State Park.

Read Mark’s account of “Sam Brown: Sierra Bad Man”
Download the trail map to Van Sickle

California then purchased adjoining parcels to connect the trail to the South Lake Tahoe community, thereby creating the nation’s first bi-state park in the process. The trailhead, within walking distance of the busy casino core on State Route 50 at Stateline, Nev., connects with an extensive trail system including the Tahoe Rim Trail. The park is accessible and free. To get there follow Lake Tahoe Boulevard (State Route 50) a bit past The Shops at Heavenly Village on the California side of the state line and turn south onto Heavenly Village Way. That street will lead you directly to the park entrance.

The Van Sickle Trail Connector is well-maintained and popular with hikers and mountain-bike riders. Leashed dogs are also welcome. There are two parking lots available for those who drive. The lower one is near the park’s entrance where there are the historic Van Sickle family barn and corral that was part of their Crescent V Ranch. The barn and other out-buildings were part of the Van Sickle Stateline Stables and Three Pines Motel. The buildings were re-located to this location in 1960.

The view from the Van Sickle Trail of Stateline, Nev. | Mark McLaughlin

To the left (east) and up the road about 100 yards is another parking lot where the trailhead begins. Both parking areas have waterless bathrooms, but there is a year-round drinking fountain at the lower one in case your water bottle needs topping off. You’ll definitely want to bring water since this trail affords little shade and will be hot in the summer months.

Most visitors who enjoy this easy-to-moderate hike are heading to the Van Sickle waterfall, about six-tenths of a mile from the trailhead. I appreciated the robust cascade, but personally found the waterfall somewhat anticlimactic compared to the stunning views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Crest on the way there — especially in contrast to some of the other spectacular waterfalls on the South Shore. That being said, it’s the trek to the falls that opens up the inspiring vistas, so it’s a two for one.

A native of New Jersey, Henry Van Sickle was an ambitious and successful entrepreneur in 19th Century Nevada. He first settled in the Carson Valley in 1852 near Genoa, Nev., which was Utah Territory at the time. In 1857, he built a two-story hotel with a bar, store and kitchen to serve California-bound emigrants at the eastern foot of Kingsbury Grade in Carson Valley.

A hiker enjoying the trail. | Mark McLaughlin

In 1860 a new and improved Kingsbury Grade wagon road opened as a toll road between Virginia City, Nev., and Sacramento, an improvement of 15 miles over the existing Daggett Pass Trail. The toll rate for a wagon and four-horse team was $17.50, but westbound settlers and eastbound freight-companies hauling goods and supplies to the Comstock mines were happy to pay for a better route that saved them a day’s travel.

When the Pony Express started up in 1860, Henry was appointed Express agent and Van Sickle Station became an important stop for riders to exchange tired horses for fresh ones. Van Sickle had helped bankroll the new wagon road and took over as toll master. Travel on the turnpike increased and so did Van Sickle’s profits. In 1863 alone, road toll receipts netted $190,000.

Henry Van Sickle is deeply tied to western Nevada history, but he’s probably best remembered for shooting down a murderous gunslinger who intimidated residents of the Carson Valley. On July 7, 1861, outlaw Sam Brown was celebrating his 30th birthday by getting drunk. On his way back to Genoa, Brown rode up to Van Sickle Station and attempted to kill Henry who luckily escaped. Brown continued on to Genoa, but Van Sickle went after him with a double-barreled shotgun. He caught Brown when the killer paused for his horse to drink water.

Van Sickle yelled, “Sam, I’ve got you now!” and pulled the trigger.

Two days later an inquest into the homicide convened, but instead of being sentenced to prison, the coroner’s jury felt that Henry Van Sickle deserved a reward. Presiding Judge Richard Allen declared that Brown came to his death from “a just dispensation of an all-wise Providence.” | parks.nv.gov