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Travelers who enjoy the splendor of Lake Tahoe might never be aware of the smaller but very beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake that is located just one mile south in El Dorado County, California. This glacial freshwater lake, at 2.9 miles (4.6 kilometers) long and 0.9 miles (1.4 kilometers) wide, is the second largest alpine lake in the Tahoe Basin. It is more secluded and difficult to access than Lake Tahoe, as Fallen Lake Road is a one-lane road. Fallen Leaf Lake is a hidden gem that features serenity and fun for the whole family. The U.S. Forest Service and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit lease most of the land surrounding Fallen Leaf Lake to private homeowners, so there is limited access to the lake for the general public, but there are still plenty of opportunities for enjoyment.
Fallen Leaf Lake is supplied with water from the Glen Alpine Creek, flowing in from the south end of the lake. Although other smaller sources contribute, Glen Alpine Creek is by far the most significant and responsible for the majority of the water. Depths at the lake's south end increase rapidly not far from shore. From the north end of Fallen Leaf Lake, Taylor Creek is the only outflow. It flows north and eventually enters Lake Tahoe by way of the popular Baldwin Beach. The northern end of Fallen Leaf Lake deepens much more gradually and is a swimmer's delight. Average depth in this lake is 240 feet (72 meters) and maximum depth is 415 feet (126 meters).
A concrete dam that sits at the north end of the lake controls water levels in Fallen Leaf Lake; the dam is low in height and was constructed with an adjustable spillway. This dam is reinforcement for the natural glacial moraine that was deposited here and keeps this lake from being merely another extension of Lake Tahoe. Visitors enjoy the pedestrian bridge that allows them to cross the lake over the dam, taking them from the eastern shore to the western, or vice versa.
Fishing is a popular pastime year-round at Fallen Leaf Lake. The U.S. Forest Service stocks Glen Alpine Creek with several species of fish, so fishing is good. Early October draws many visitors for the local Kokanee Salmon Festival. From brown trout, rainbow trout, Mackinaw trout and lake trout to Kokanee salmon, Tahoe suckers, Lahontan redsides and Tui chub, the large-sized fish and good variety are both draws. A current species restoration project being undertaken involves reintroducing the native Lahontan cutthroat trout in these waters. The project is in its earlier stages but seems to be working to replenish a species that had previously died out.
Spring Creek is a half-mile from Fallen Leaf Lake, making it the closest populated community. Located just a half-mile from the Lake Tahoe airport and near Routes 89 and 50, Fallen Leaf Lake is accessible to many of the area's other attractions and activities. Tahoe City is only 30 miles (48.2 kilometers) to the north. Although it is often overshadowed by Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake has a large following and is becoming more popular for its wide variety of recreational activities and less crowded vistas.
Vacationers enjoy swimming, day hiking, backpacking, biking, water skiing, windsurfing, boating, horseback riding, nature walks and nature viewing activities, outdoor learning classes and workshops, canoeing, kayaking, rowing and tubing. Campgrounds attract outdoor-loving vacationers who appreciate the choices and the lovely surrounds in which they can make camp. Kiva Beach is a free public beach on Lake Tahoe just north of the Fallen Leaf Campground; the beach is pet-friendly and contains picnic tables and barbecue grills for public use.
The very clear water of Fallen Leaf Lake is of excellent quality. Although the lake is surrounded by private permanent homes, summer homes, and vacation rental properties, efforts have been made to keep the area pristine. No large outboard motors are allowed, but that doesn't keep the residents from enjoying time on the lake. Pontoon boats, water ski boats, sailboats, wakeboard boats and a variety of smaller engine craft are at home on Fallen Leaf Lake. Fallen Leaf Marina has a 60-boat capacity, and boathouses and docks surround the lake. Sailing is a common activity here, yet it's often not an easy task to accomplish. On many days the lake is buffeted by strong winds and unpredictable gusts.
Hiking in the High Sierras is always an adventure, and the opportunities around Fallen Leaf Lake are no exception. The rugged and impressive rock formations are a thrilling sight, and the roughly 7.8-mile (12.6-kilometer) shoreline is home to trails that allow walking along level paths or strenuous hiking. Tallac Point is a popular two-mile level-elevation hiking loop north of Fallen Leaf Lake, close to Lake Tahoe; Silver Creek--South Fork is a thrilling whitewater spot during the right conditions, with a series of short but tricky waterfalls in its course; Sawmill Cove on the northwestern shore is a restful and scenic picnic spot on the fairly level Moraine Trail, which crosses over Fallen Leaf Lake Dam. The Hawley Grade Trail is another hiking opportunity not to be missed; for more than 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) it follows part of a Pony Express trail, passes through Echo Summit and can be a great challenge during the spring months when streams appear along the route. Mount Tallac lies to the west of Fallen Leaf Lake, and just a bit farther west is Desolation Wilderness.
With its proximity to Lake Tahoe and other well-loved vacation areas, vacation rental opportunities are in good supply in the area of Fallen Leaf Lake. Chain hotels and motels are within a short driving distance, as are privately owned accommodations including resorts, inns, bed and breakfast and lodges. Along the lake itself, vacation homes abound. Small renovated cottages, cabins, and retreats can be rented; some are fully equipped for a long vacation and some are self-servicing types that provide only the basics. Some smaller homes are perfect for singles or couples, but many of the available larger houses can sleep 8 to 10 vacationers. In many cases, the homes have been renovated from their original states to include state-of-the-art appliances, large windows to enjoy gorgeous views and tasteful rustic furnishings to bring some of the outdoor beauty inside.
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