Another West Shore classic, the hike up to Cascade Falls is an excellent way to have a taste of the Desolation Wilderness without the requisites of a backpacking trip. A little uphill, and a little downhill, the trail to the falls takes you directly past the turquoise waters of Cascade Lake--Emerald Bay’s little brother. Heavily frequented in the summer months, this walk is best done in the early morning or the off-season so as to avoid the crowds. The trailhead, located in the Southwest corner of Emerald Bay, is at the back of a large forest service parking area.
An excellent picnic hike or family excursion, the walk to Cascade Falls is a taste of rugged without many of the demands that come with a backcountry adventure. In the springtime, the falls run big, with a great deal of Cascade Canyon rushing through its’ spigot. If doing the hike in the spring, be sure to watch your footing while in proximity to the falls, as it is quite treacherous and slippery. Later, in the summer and autumnal months, the creek winds down to a trickle and can be waded/jumped over. As the falls are braided into several channels, my favorite thing to do is to jump in between the winding streamlets just above the plunge, and enjoy my picnic surrounded by babbling water.
To call this hike dangerous would be an overstatement, but there are a few spots that are more challenging than others. Once past Cascade Lake and near the creek itself, the path gives way to granite bedrock; once at this point, make sure to look for cairns (artificial rock pyramids) to guide the way. If crowded at the falls, just head up Cascade Creek a minute or two to find your own sliver of solitude and tranquility…