Van Sickle Bi-State Park – short waterfall hike

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For visitors to the South Lake Tahoe – Stateline area, a visit to Van Sickle Bi-State Park can be a nice break from the usual bustle and casino atmosphere. This hike was short, just 2.5-miles round trip and 1 hour duration, but with pretty scenery. The park is tucked between sections of the El Dorado and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests.

The entrance to Van Sickle, the nation’s first bi-state park, is within walking distance from several of the casinos, but there is a parking/staging area at the trailhead. With several trails to choose from, I decided to do a shortened reprise of a hike I’d done a couple of years prior, on a connector trail to the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). I didn’t have time to hike all the way to the TRT so I hiked to a pretty waterfall that is about 1.2 miles up the trail with a modest elevation gain.

On the GPS track the orange dot shows the trailhead. This hike is entirely within the Nevada portion of the park.

GPS track

GPS track

The trail climbs steadily but moderately, with a grade of about 8%.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The lower part of the trail passes through open forest and forms a part of a network of trails within Van Sickle Bi-State Park. Gradually the trail climbs high enough to have views over the casinos and other commercial buildings. The forest becomes more open, with trees and rocks dotting the hillside.

picture of rocky hillside near the trail

Rocky hillside near the trail

About 1.1 miles from the trailhead there are nice views of the south end of Lake Tahoe. The view this time was especially striking because of the local changes in the shoreline, especially around Regan Beach, near the light brown area in the picture. Because the lake bed drops rather gradually near the shoreline, the lower lake levels we are currently experiencing due to the drought expose a relatively wide temporary beach.

picture of south end of Lake Tahoe: 2015

South end of Lake Tahoe: 2015

At the time of my previous hike, in 2013, the water line was nearly at the trees.

picture of south end of Lake Tahoe: 2013

South end of Lake Tahoe: 2013

From this part of the trail I could see Castle Rock a few miles to the north. It was also possible to see Castle Peak, near Donner Summit, 30 miles to the northwest.

picture of Castle Rock

Castle Rock

About 1.2 miles from the trailhead the trail crosses a small stream with a pretty waterfall. Since conditions have been so dry I presume this stream is ultimately fed by a spring.

picture of waterfall


As I returned to the trailhead I paused to enjoy a few surprising wildflowers: surprising because there were still flowers in bloom in early October. First I saw a fairly low-growing type of lupine.

picture of lupine


Shortly thereafter I noticed other low-growing plants with clusters of pretty white flowers with reddish veins and anthers.

picture of surprising white wildflower

Surprising white wildflower

A bit later I heard a woodpecker and paused to see if I could find it.   Eventually I did, and managed a couple of pictures before it flew off to another tree farther from the trail. The coloring, and especially the white on its back, suggests that it is a hairy woodpecker (Dendrocopos villosus).

picture of hairy woodpecker (I think) in a pine tree

Hairy woodpecker (I think) in a pine tree

This was an enjoyable, though brief, hike. It seems that every time I hike on this trail I find something new to appreciate.

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