Best trails in Desolation Wilderness, California

12,810 Reviews
Looking for a great trail in Desolation Wilderness, California? AllTrails has 73 great hiking trails, trail running trails, views trails and more, with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers, and nature lovers like you. Gearing up for a challenge? There are 43 hard trails in Desolation Wilderness ranging from 3.7 to 61.2 miles and from 5,895 to 9,980 feet above sea level. Start checking them out and you'll be out on the trail in no time!
Description

The Desolation Wilderness is within the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, in El Dorado County, California. The crest of the Sierra Nevada is found here. This wilderness area is in the Sierra Mountain range where rugged natural wonders rule. Alpine lakes, boat-in campgrounds, and bald eagles are just a few of the amazing things that await visitors. The lowest elevation in the park is about 4,000 feet and Pyramid Peak reaches up to 9,700 feet. At these elevations, weather can change quickly and cold can set in. Campers, hikers, and snowshoers should be prepared with adequate clothing, water, and (optionally) bear spray for any potential bear or mountain lion encounters (although these are very rare). NOTE: Permits are required year-round. A signed copy of your permit must be in your possession at all times. We recently changed offices. Our updated information is listed below: Pick up permits for West side entry at the: Placerville Ranger Station 260 Eight Mile Road Camino Ca. 95709. Call for current days and hours: (530) 647-5415. Eight miles east of Placerville on Highway 50 and take exit 54 (Cedar Grove). Turn right on Eight Mile road. Pick up permit for East side entry at the Taylor Creek Forest Service Visitor Center, located three miles north of the Highway 50/89 junction at South Lake Tahoe, on Highway 89. Open summer only. Call for hours. Phone: (530) 543-2674. Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, located 2 miles east of the Highway 50/89 junction on in South Lake Tahoe. Turn right on Al Tahoe Blvd., then right at the first signal. 35 College Drive South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150. Phone: (530) 543-2600. While many California parks can be full of visitors, Desolation Wilderness truly lives up to its name, giving visitors the freeing feeling of being out in the wild. This wilderness is also dog friendly, and overnight camping is free and easy to come by. As a huge plus, poison oak does not grow at these elevations, so you can relax a bit more while spending time off trail. Kayaking on Echo Lakes, off road driving west from Lake Tahoe, or basking in Horsetail Falls and Bassi Falls after a good snowy season are just a few of the adventures you can choose from. brochure is on this link: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3795175.pdf Eldorado National Forest website: Desolation Wilderness information: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/eldorado/specialplaces/?cid=fsbdev7_019062 Volunteers website that yields great information for the public as well: http://desowv.org/

Show more
Map of trails in Desolation Wilderness, California
Park information
Park hours
Monday
All day
Tuesday
All day
Wednesday
All day
Thursday
All day
Friday
All day
Saturday
All day
Sunday
All day
Helpful links
Top trails (73)
#1 - Mount Tallac Trail
Desolation Wilderness
hardYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow Star(2305)
Length: 10.8 mi • Est. 6 h 21 m
There is parking alongside the street. A wilderness permit is required. You must purchase the permit before arriving to the Mt. Tallac Trailhead. Day hikers may pick up the permit at the self-service area. The jewel in the crown of mountains which ring Lake Tahoe, Mount Tallac promises unparalleled views from its summit 9,735ft above sea level. Unparalleled vistas await the Tahoe hiker on a memorable journey to this beautiful peak. This route takes you to the top via the most direct summer route through lush forest, along scenic ridgelines, past small alpine lakes and across blazingly colorful wildflower strewn high-altitude meadows. Sure the 3,500ft elevation gain is greater than you might experience on most day hikes, but both the journey and the destination are worth every single thigh-burning step. The summit is very rocky and can be confusing. Make sure you have a good understanding of your whereabouts so you can easily find your way back down. Sunscreen is a MUST. Totally exposed for long sections.Show more
#2 - Eagle Lake Trail
Desolation Wilderness
moderateYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(1787)
Length: 2.4 mi • Est. 57 m
Leading into the heart of Desolation Wilderness (a permit is required), the Eagle Lake trail offers forest, lake and far reaching views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra high country. At the Eagle Falls trailhead, obtain your wilderness permit. Head SW up the trail, climbing gently at first, then ascending a steep set of stone steps. Climb the stairs about 5 minutes to the falls and the short loop trail. Cross the high bridge and enjoy the vista back down the canyon to Emerald Bay. To continue on to Eagle Lake, follow the trail gradually uphill another half mile or so until you reach a fork. The right hand trail leads to the lake, resting in a glacial cirque below North Maggies Peak (about 20-25 more minutes, this is a good hike for children). Take a swim in the cold! Eagle Lake waters, or keep going further to reach Velmas, Dicks, and Fontanillis lakes. The trail can be crowded but offers a great workout and good places to picnic near Eagle Lake on big boulders.Show more
#3 - Horsetail Falls Trail
Desolation Wilderness
hardYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(1550)
Length: 4.0 mi • Est. 1 h 36 m
The hike starts at Twin Bridges Trailhead off of Highway 50 just past Strawberry. There is a fee to park in the parking area. The parking lot is closed in the winter, but visitors can park along the road. From the trailhead, you will follow Pyramid Creek Trail into Desolation Wilderness. Day use hikers must get a free permit at the trailhead. The hike starts out moderate but quickly picks up elevation as you enter Desolation Wilderness. The last half mile of the hike can be difficult, as there is granite rock and boulders that require rock climbing and the trail is not well marked and hard to follow. Once you reach the first rapids area there is a sign. The trail picks back up directly to the left of the sign. If in doubt after this point, stay closer to the water. Once at the falls, you have the option to continue on, however proceed with caution as there are slippery rocks Late spring and early summer may be the best times to experience Horsetail Falls, as the water flow is heaviest. However a hike up the Pyramid Creek trail to this spectacular waterfall is still a worthwhile experience at any time of the year. Show more
#4 - Granite Lake and Maggie's Peaks
Desolation Wilderness
hardYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow Star(936)
Length: 4.1 mi • Est. 2 h 39 m
When the campground is closed for the season, users often park along Route 89 across from the scenic viewpoint, which adds about a half-mile to the trip. Maggies Peaks overlook the rapturous blue waters of Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, Granite Lake, and Desolation Wilderness. Maggies Peaks are gateway pillars to Desolation Wilderness overlooking Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe. There are two prominences: the north peak is 8,499' and south peak is 8,699'. The trail starts from Bayview trailhead and offers sweeping panoramic views on the way up to Granite Lake, and from the top of either peak. Allow 3 or more hours roundtrip. At the trailhead, make a right at the sign to Desolation. The first mile delivers steep elevation gains and the best views of the bay in comparison to points along the road. From there, the trail flattens out briefly where Granite Lake is tucked away in alpine forest. The southern peak of Maggies Peaks stands about 1000 feet above. After Granite Lake, the trail continues up a saddle in between Maggie's two peaks. At the top, you can choose which peak you'd like to summit; either will offer an amazing view. There is not a trail that goes to the top of either peak, but there is very little low lying vegetation, and it is easy to navigate. The trail begins to even out once you've reached the saddle, at this point, you'll head off trail up the slope to your left. You will also be able to see deeper into Desolation Wilderness, Middle Velma Lake and Azure Lake to the west. After returning to the trail, you can continue farther and take a right at the first fork. This will take you past Eagle Lake and Eagle Falls and terminates on the road just a short distance from the Bayview trailhead, or you can backtrack. The Bayview trailhead also offers campsites for $15 a night and is managed by the USDA. Emerald Bay State Park Campground offers more amenities such as showers, sites with a view, potable water, and beach access for $35 a night. You can book permits here: https://www.recreation.gov/permits/233261Show more
#5 - Lake Aloha Trail
Desolation Wilderness
hardYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(765)
Length: 13.0 mi • Est. 6 h 14 m
The hike to Lake Aloha is the ultimate day hike in Desolation Wilderness. The trail is fairly flat for most of the hike, with only two sections of significant elevation gain, and you will pass by 5 lakes in under 12 miles round trip. After a hot day of hiking, there is no better way to relax than with a swim in beautiful Lake Aloha where you can spend hours swimming from island to island. This trip can easily be extended to an overnight backpacking trip with a stay near Lake Aloha. Make sure to call ahead to the Placerville Ranger Station in Camino, CA to reserve a wilderness permit ($6 reservation fee plus $5/person for the 1st night, $10 more than 1 night). You may find the area so remarkable that you will want to stay longer -- it's hard to see all its beauty in such a short amount of time. For day hikes, fill out a day permit at the trailhead (Echo Lakes Trailhead), so that people know where you are in case anything goes wrong.Show more
#6 - Echo Lakes Trail
Desolation Wilderness
moderateYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(784)
Length: 5.3 mi • Est. 2 h 29 m
This is a great trail for anyone that is looking for a moderately challenging, incredibly scenic, and dog-friendly hike in South Lake Tahoe. During the winter, it makes for a wonderful snowshoe trip. Views throughout the trail are fantastic.Show more
#7 - Ralston Peak
Desolation Wilderness
hardYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(662)
Length: 6.6 mi • Est. 4 h 33 m
The thigh-burner of Lake Tahoe, Mt. Ralston rewards intrepid day-hikers with stunning mountain overlooks. There are many sights to wonder over as you snake eastward along US-50 towards Lake Tahoe, but Mt. Ralston isn't one of them despite being situated right next to the road. Not that it's unworthy, but simply because the 9,235ft peak is obscured from view. This route traces a long route up the steep flanks of Mt. Ralston and into the Desolation Wilderness, rewarding the intrepid day-hiker with stunning mountain overlooks.Show more
#8 - Island and Twin Lakes
Desolation Wilderness
moderateYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(330)
Length: 6.2 mi • Est. 2 h 30 m
#9 - Pyramid Peak Trail
Desolation Wilderness
hardYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(515)
Length: 9.0 mi • Est. 6 h 22 m
#10 - Glen Alpine Trail
Desolation Wilderness
moderateYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(326)
Length: 6.8 mi • Est. 3 h 39 m
Showing results 1 - 10 of 73