Ropi Lake via Horsetail Falls – Desolation Wilderness

This hike is 6-ish difficult miles beginning at the Pyramid Creek trailhead on Highway 50, with about 1900 feet of elevation gain. The unmaintained trail goes past Horsetail Falls (a neat destination itself) up to several beautiful lakes in Desolation Wilderness.


I’ve been wanting to hike up Pyramid Peak for quite some time, but it just hasn’t happened (yet). On the occasions I have planned to do this hike, I’ve been stopped by major thunderstorms or crazy gusts of wind. This weekend, the weather was looking pretty perfect, but with a late start and the days already getting shorter, we didn’t make it up the peak. I will get there eventually.  Instead, we hiked up to some high alpine lakes and enjoyed a beautiful and relaxing October day in Desolation Wilderness.

Basics: This hike is 6-ish difficult miles beginning at the Pyramid Creek trailhead on Highway 50. The unmaintained trail goes past Horsetail Falls (a neat destination itself) up to several beautiful lakes in Desolation Wilderness. Permits are required – day use permits can be issued at the trail. Overnight permits must be reserved in advance and picked up at the ranger station.

Directions to Trailhead: When driving up to Tahoe on Highway 50, the Pyramid Creek trailhead is on the left, about 2 miles past the town of Strawberry. The trailhead has a parking lot, but it’s a popular place in the summer so get there early. There is a parking fee.

Download file: Ropi_Lake.gpx

Trail Description:  We got a relatively late start; we were at the trailhead around 9:00 am. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that the government shutdown might affect Desolation Wilderness. We began making the left the turn into the parking lot when we realized the gate was shut! What the….? There was a piece of paper stuck to the gate with some words about facilities being closed due to a lack of federal funding. Rob wanted to use our 4WD to get over the curb and into the parking lot. I did not approve. We turned around and found some parking further down the road. I’m not really sure if the trails are supposed to be closed, but plenty of people were out hiking.

We parked near the driveway of an empty cabin. After running across the highway, we walked into the deserted parking lot and made it to the trailhead. Couldn’t they just leave the gate open? I don’t care if the bathrooms are locked. I don’t like running across highways.

A light dusting of snow at the trailhead.
A light dusting of snow at the trailhead.

At first, the trail was easy to follow. Soon, we lost track of it. We just continued towards Horsetail Falls which are visible from the road.  Later in the day when we were headed back to the car we ran into a couple who had clearly hiked in the area many times. The man told us: “If you lose the trail, just keep going in the correct direction and you’ll find it again eventually.”  That seemed to be the case for this entire hike.

We followed this sign, then immediately lost the trail.
We followed this sign, then immediately lost the trail.
Sadly, the tree graffiti reminds us that we are not the first people to walk through here..
Sadly, the tree graffiti reminds us that we are not the first people to walk through here.

I had checked the forecast and it said mostly sunny with a 20% chance of snow showers before 11:00 am. It snowed on us. Also, everything was wet. Granite is extremely slippery when wet, so we walked very carefully. Luckily, the sun did show up eventually – the hiking got easier as everything dried out.

Horsetail Falls is much more impressive when there's more water, but it was still nice.
Horsetail Falls is much more impressive when there’s more water, but it was still nice.

We made our way towards the waterfall, then veered to the left and began climbing past it out of the canyon. We didn’t have much of a trail to follow, but the occasional rock cairn helped lead the way. We just stayed to the left of the falls and took whatever path looked the easiest. Rob mentioned that the hike seemed pretty easy. About five minutes later we were climbing up steep terrain using our hands and pausing every five minutes to catch our breath.



After a couple miles of climbing, we reached the top. We could see Pyramid Peak and many other rocky hills around us. We headed straight towards Pyramid Peak. We were not an actual trail, but the walking was now a lot less steep and much easier.  We couldn’t see Pitt Lake or Avalanche Lake – we were on the other side of the small peak to the west of those two lakes.

At the top!
At the top!

After a short distance on much flatter ground we reached some unnamed lakes.   We continued towards Osma Lake.  From there, we headed north towards Toem Lake, then circled around to the east and stopped on the shores of Ropi Lake.  We sat, ate lunch and enjoyed some sunshine.

Lunch spot at Ropi Lake.
Lunch spot at Ropi Lake.

After a nice long break, we packed up and headed home.  We took a slightly different route – following the Pyramid Creek drainage past Pitt and Avalanche Lakes.  As we clambered down past Horsetail Falls, we saw several other small groups of hikers making their way up.  The forest is definitely still open, even if the parking lot is closed.

On the way down.
On the way down.

We again lost the trail on the way out.  The highway was noisy and we just headed in that general direction.  Slightly more traffic in the afternoon made it a little harder to run across the road, but we made it.  I forgot about apple season – we hit all the Apple Hill traffic on the way home, but we listened to the 49ers game (and they won!) so the drive back was enjoyable.

Twin Bridges, California, United States

12 thoughts on “Ropi Lake via Horsetail Falls – Desolation Wilderness”

  1. Thanks for the report!

    There’s a good way to bag Pyramid by a steep use trail, took me about under 4 to the top when I was in shape. Now, I turn back from Horsetail’s top, though it’s hazardous w/o a partner. There’s some parking issues, but I just heard they are not ticketing like they used to.

    1. Yes- I read your route description. Next time we’ll try going up that use trail at Rocky Canyon. Parking is definitely a bit tricky though. I’d also like to check out the trail from Wrights Lake Road, but that might have to wait until next season.

  2. Just visited this on Saturday, 5/30/15. I made it to Rope in about 2.5 hours. Made it down in 1hr 20 minutes. Lots of people and free parking day. Ive always wondered if there was anyone who went from Horsetail to Wrights Lake area ??

    1. You made good time up that crazy slope! Horsetail to Wrights Lake could definitely be done if you went over the top of Pyramid Peak. I wonder if there’s an easier route as well… Don’t know if anyone has done that, but it would be a great overnight or multi-day trip, though it would require parking a car on either end.

    2. Some friends and I are doing a one nighter on Ropi Lake this weekend. Any advise on trail conditions? We’ll be entering from twin bridges area. I haven’t been there in the last 10 yrs. hopefully still as beautiful as I remember it back on my days.


      1. I haven’t been up there in a while, but I saw a few photos from people who were up that way last weekend. Trail looks free of snow and should be beautiful (as always) this weekend. Have a great hike!

      2. Hi. I wonder how your stay at Ropi Lake was. I plan to hike there from the Echo Lakes trailhead for an overnight. Nice camping? Is there water? Thanks!

        1. That’s a beautiful hike from Echo Lakes. We did it last summer (but never posted it on this blog). We camped at Toem Lake which is right next to Ropi. Both lakes are great for swimming and there are a lot of good camp sites all around.

  3. Love your blog! Trying to find a spot in the sierras for an October backpacking trip.. this is looking like a winner! Thank’s for the great post 🙂

  4. Question: I want to take my dog on the hike. Is it possible for a healthy, sturdy dog (collie/shepherd mix) to get to the top of the waterfalls?

  5. Spent the night there as a teenager some 30 years ago. Made a big impression on me seeing the night sky without all the light pollution. Big milky way was easily visible. Now these many years later and a family I’ll be going back with a nice telescope as my daughter wants to go camping. I immediately thought of this place. Times may change but some places are timeless.

Any thoughts?