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Pyramid Creek Trail

Flowing out of the Desolation Wilderness in the western Sierra Nevada, Pyramid Creek tumbles over spectacular Horsetail Falls into a series of smaller but nearly as dramatic cataracts and cascades. The magnificent waterfall is viewable and accessible from State Highway 50, just a short 1.5 hour drive east from Sacramento. The first part of the Pyramid Creek Trail includes a 1.7 mile loop, half of which is adjacent to the creek.

 

Here, the creek has carved its way through smooth granite slabs, studded with glacial erratics (large boulders that appear to be left on the ground by thoughtless children) and “flower pots” of soil thick with lodgepole pine. In this loop section, the shallow creek tumbles over several cataracts (hikers with children and dogs are cautioned to stay away from the edge of the creek, particularly during spring run-off). This loop trail offers spectacular views of Horsetail Falls to the north and to the south, the prominent granite formation of Lover’s Leap in the South Fork American River Canyon.

At the top of the loop (before it heads back to the trailhead), you can continue up the Pyramid Creek trail, past the Desolation Wilderness boundary sign and trail register, about ¾ mile to the base of Horsetail Falls. As you get closer to the base of the Horsetail Falls, the trail becomes more of a route over rock slabs and through thick stands of lodgepole trees. During spring run-off, Pyramid Creek spreads over the granite rock and often covers the route. Hikers are cautioned to go no further than the base of Horsetail Falls, as the surrounding sloping granite rock is quite steep and slippery.

The Pyramid Creek Trail is accessible from spring to fall. There are plenty of places along the trail to enjoy the scenery, stop for a picnic, or just watch the rushing water. Horsetail Falls and the creek’s downstream cascades are most spectacular in the late spring or early summer. The best days to visit are weekdays since weekends during the late spring and throughout the summer can be quite crowded and the trailhead parking lot fills up quickly.


Pyramid Creek flows through a glaciated, u-shaped canyon that provides a textbook example of how glaciers shaped the 300 mile-long granite batholith that encompasses much of Sierra Nevada landscape. Due to its accessibility, the glaciated granite in the Pyramid Creek area provides a popular outdoor geology classroom. In recognition of its outstanding geological values, the Forest Service established the 1,150 acre Pyramid Creek Special Geological Area. In response to a lawsuit, the Forest Service also determined that Pyramid Creek possessed outstandingly remarkable geological values, making the creek for eligible for National Wild and Scenic River protection. This finding killed a proposed small hydroelectric project that would have dried up the lower creek’s extensive cascades.

How to get there: The Pyramid Creek/Horsetail Falls/Twin Bridges trailhead is about 85 miles east of Sacramento on Hwy 50. The trailhead parking lot has bathrooms. A $5 fee is charged for parking. For up to date trail information, contact the Forest Service’s Placerville Ranger Station at (530) 644-2324. Important Note: Recreation facilities and some trailheads (including the Pyramid Creek/Twin Bridges trailhead) were closed due to Covid-19. After May 15, 2020, the Forest Service is slowly reopening some recreation facilities. To determine if the Pyramid Creek/Twin Bridges trailhead has been reopened, call the Eldorado National Forest’s “virtual office” at (916) 500-4712 or visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/eldorado/home.

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Caution:
Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.