Hiking Meeks Creek Falls (via SR 89 at Meeks Creek in West Tahoe)

Two women hiking along the Meek's Creek Trail

The hike to Meeks Creek Falls and around Meeks Creek is easy and provides plenty of solitude. There’s no elevation gain, so it’s perfect for the young and old. Hiking the Meeks Creek Trail as a loop takes you through a couple of micro-ecosystems. You’ll travel along a dirt road, in and out of the forest, and finally through a meadow.

There aren’t many long views along the Meeks Creek Trail since it’s essentially flat and through forested land. However, you’ll be traveling by the creek and its adjacent meadow. This means there’ll be opportunities to see wildlife and Sierra Nevada wildflowers.

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Keep in mind that the best time to see the Meeks Creek Falls running is earlier in the summer. The same goes for observing Sierra Nevada Wildflowers in full bloom. In both situations, this is based on the previous winter featuring a relatively normal snowpack.

I don’t recommend, however, hiking the loop around Meeks Creek early in the season because the meadow will be wet. Hiking through meadows while they’re wet is contrary to the Leave No Trace principle of traveling on durable surfaces. A wet meadow is a sensitive one, and is not considered durable. Dry grasses are considered durable. So, for hiking the full loop wait until later in the season. This will allow the soils to drain and the grasses to go to seed.

All of that said, there’s no bad time to hike to Meeks Creek Falls. There is easy access to the trail, it’s flat terrain, and the parking is free.

Meeks Creek Falls Trail Data (approximations):

  • Location: West Tahoe – Meeks Bay
  • Category of Hike: Short Hike, Day Hike
  • Category of XC Ski/Snowshoe Route: Beginner
  • Total Mileage: 4 miles (out-and-back) or 4.5 miles (loop)
  • Total Elevation Gain: 50 feet
  • Highest Point: 6,300 feet
  • Trail Conditions: Packed dirt and grassy meadow

For other shorter hiking options, visit Short and Easy Hikes in South Lake Tahoe.

Considerations for Hiking Meeks Creek and Meeks Creek Falls:

  • Meeks Creek Falls are most active following big snow years and earlier in the spring and summer. So, hiking the out-and-back option to Meeks Creek Falls is most appropriate under these conditions.
  • Meeks Creek Falls are least active following low snow years and later in the summer. So, hiking the full loop around Meeks Creek is most feasible under these conditions.
  • Adhere to all Leave No Trace principles
  • Just to clarify … Don’t walk through the meadow on the south side when it’s wet as you’ll do damage to the sensitive terrain.
  • There are few trail signs and markers on public lands in the Tahoe region. So, unless there are tracks to follow, the correct route may be difficult to identify – when in doubt, turn back.
  • Be prepared for inclement weather and carry plenty of warm clothes, food, and water.
  • Leave an itinerary of your plans with someone who’ll call emergency services if you don’t return by your prescribed time.
  • Dogs are allowed, but keep them on leash and pick up after them.
Copyright © Jared Manninen
Click on the above map to enlarge it for better viewing and printing. This map is only for reference and shows the general route to Meeks Creek Falls and around Meeks Creek. Always carry a traditional topographic map and compass when traveling in the backcountry.

Parking Directions for Meeks Creek Falls Trail:

Parking is located on the west side of Lake Tahoe on SR 89. This area is just south of Tahoma and Sugar Pine Point State Park on SR 89. You’ll find the specific parking area opposite of Meeks Bay Campground and Meeks Bay Resort and Marina.

At the parking area, you’ll find the official trailhead with a message board. There are also Desolation Wilderness day-use passes at this kiosk for use if you were to hike to Lake Genevieve.

There are private structures near the trailhead. So, read all signs and adhere to all parking directions at this trailhead.

If the parking spots nearest the trailhead are occupied, park directly off of SR 89. Obviously, read and follow all signs posted relating to parking along SR 89.

Vehicle turnover is generally high at this trailhead. This is due to the fact that the Meeks Creek Trail is a flat and easy hike. So, don’t sweat if the parking area looks full. There’s a good chance that many of those vehicles belong to locals taking their dogs for a quick walk down the dirt road.

Copyright © 2018 Jared Manninen
View of Rubicon Peak (in the distance) on July 25, 2018. © Jared Manninen

Please note that the trailhead to the Meeks Creek Trail is also an access point for Desolation Wilderness.

In fact, the Meeks Creek trailhead is the starting point for the lesser known Tahoe-Yosemite-Trail. But for now, just know that you don’t need to fill out a Desolation Wilderness day-use pass when hiking around the Meeks Creek area.

I only mention this because those passes are costly to print. And, it would be wasteful to fill one out since the Meeks Creek Trail doesn’t actually travel into Desolation Wilderness.

The trailhead to Meeks Creek Falls and Meeks Creek Trail is at the message board and gate.

Here’s a map to help you find the trailhead and parking to the Meeks Creek Trail.

Travel along the Meeks Creek Falls Hiking Trail:

Hike along the dirt road beginning at the message board and gate located just off of SR 89. This trailhead is across SR 89, opposite the Meeks Bay Campground and Meeks Bay Resort and Marina.

At about 1.5 miles, you’ll reach a fork in the trail.

The trail that leads off to the right will take you into Desolation Wilderness. Stay to the left and continue hiking around Meeks Creek in a counter-clockwise direction.

You’ll begin to notice evidence of man-made structures and debris once you get closer to Meeks Creek Falls. For example, at mile 1.75 there’s a small trail that’ll take you to a concrete foundation of an old building.

That short trail to the foundation links back to the main Meeks Creek Trail. Hike it if you want to satisfy your curiosity and check out the foundation.

Otherwise, keep hiking the more well-worn path for a few hundred more meters. At that point you’ll see the comical looking site of a long-abandoned three-stall outhouse.

This outhouse, along with the other structures you see while hiking the Meeks Creek Trail are remnants of Camp Wasiu. This was a Girl Scout camp that was active from 1950-1965.

As odd and humorous as the outhouses look in their state of deterioration and juxtaposed next to beautiful wilderness … consider the impact they had on this specific location.

Clearly, human shit collecting in pit toilets so close to a water source (Meeks Creek) and basically in the middle of sensitive wetlands wouldn’t fly by today’s land management standards (and common sense!).

But, hey, it was the 1950s! Humans couldn’t actually contaminate the earth back then, right?

Copyright © 2018 Jared Manninen
A brief glimpse of a Western Tanager on the Meeks Creek Trail. © Jared Manninen

Soon after passing the outhouse, you’ll find a small trail that leads off to the right (west). This will take you through some trees and you up to Meeks Creek Falls.

Keep in mind that the amount of water running down the falls is dependent upon the previous winter’s snowpack levels.

If it was a low-snow season, those falls will dry up early in the summer.

I recommend that you visit Meeks Creek Falls in the spring and early summer in order to see them gushing. That’s not to say you can’t hike this trail all summer. It’s just that the falls won’t be very impressive in late July and August.

That said, crossing Meeks Creek in order to hike the full loop will be less wet and hazardous if the water running from the falls is low.

If you’re hiking the out-and-back option to Meeks Creek Falls you’ve reached your turnaround point. This route will yield approximately 4 total miles. So, hike back to your vehicle the way in which you came.

Copyright © 2018 Jared Manninen
Thanks to the wetland environment that exists around Meeks Creek, you’ll have opportunities to see a variety of birds such as this Hermit Thrush. © Jared Manninen

To continue hiking the loop around Meeks Creek (approximately 4.5 total miles), keep hiking the trail in a counter-clockwise direction.

So long as the trail is dry and qualifies as a durable surface continue hiking. You’ll see a couple more structures and piles debris along the way, and then you’ll reach a meadow.

This is where things get tricky depending on the time of year in which you’re hiking. How much snow Lake Tahoe received the previous winter will determine whether or not you should proceed.

Again, I must emphasize the importance of avoiding trampling over wet and sensitive meadow and wetlands. If it’s early in the season or the soil is obviously wet (due to a huge previous winter), turn back. Avoid hiking the full loop in this situation.

Copyright © 2018 Jared Manninen
Alas, I arrived at Meeks Creek Falls too late in the summer to witness them running. This photo was taken on July 25, 2018. Arrive earlier in the summer to see them gushing. © Jared Manninen

If it was a low-snow winter and you’re hiking during the second half of summer, you’ll probably be fine.

The path through the meadow won’t be nearly as defined as the one leading from the trailhead to the falls. However, you should still be able to navigate with ease thanks to previous foot traffic.

If you’re attempting to hike the loop in early summer and/or after a big-snow winter, the trail won’t be obvious. And, you’ll most find yourself walking through wet and marsh-like conditions.

I don’t recommend hiking the loop in this situation because you risk doing irreparable damage to the meadow.

Turn around and hike back the way you originally came.

Copyright © 2018 Jared Manninen
A Yellow-Rumped Warbler perched in a tree. © Jared Manninen

Assuming the conditions are appropriate and hiking the full loop around Meeks Creek is feasible, you’ll find yourself traveling in a northeast direction back to SR 89.

At approximately 3.5 miles, you’ll see a gate. Do not walk past the gate and down the road (see the red X on the map). This is a private road that leads to and through private property.

I know it looks tempting to keep hiking down that road, but don’t do it. The locals who live there are tired and frustrated. Countless people trample across their property for many reasons including guidance, water, food… But your problems are not theirs, so stay off of that road at all costs. They will call local law enforcement for the trespassing violation.

Instead, just before reaching the gate look to your left (north) to find the correct footpath. It will curve slightly around and take you through a tree-lined area. Continue hiking along this footpath to reach the end of the Meeks Creek Trail loop. You’ll come out at SR 89 in front of the Meeks Bay Campground entrance.

When I hiked this trail in 2018, there was a large pile of rocks at this particular transition. Note that this photo was taken while looking back at the rock pile. How long that rock pile will remain is undetermined.

So, use the gate as a landmark to start looking for the correct trail. Find that trail because it’ll lead you through National Forest to your vehicle and away from private property.

For other shorter hiking options, visit Short and Easy Hikes in South Lake Tahoe.

The Meeks Creek area is also a wonderful location in which to cross-country ski and snowshoe during the winter. This is because it’s so easily accessible and provides a diversity of terrain in which to explore. But the same rules apply to staying off of private property in the winter.

Pay close attention to where you’re going when traveling around Meeks Creek in the winter. The area is forested and generally flat, so it may be challenging to orient yourself.

And as always in Tahoe, be mindful of where you park in the winter. If snow removal operations are in effect, parking becomes extremely limited. This, and it’s generally prohibited along roads such as SR 89.

Copyright © 2018 Jared Manninen
View of the meadow on the south side of Meeks Creek. Be wary of traveling through the meadow too early in the season as it will be wet and susceptible to excessive erosion. If conditions are wet, I recommend turning back around and returning the way in which you came. © Jared Manninen

Do you have other insight, feedback, or trail updates about hiking Meeks Creek Falls?

If so, please post it in the comment section below for the benefit of everybody 🙂