Best Hiking Trails in Desolation Wilderness
Don't let the name deter you. Desolation Wilderness was titled for its unforested, open stone landscape, and that starkness and open sky are what give the place its beauty. The silvery granite peaks, glacially-carved valleys, and alpine lakes of Desolation Wilderness span the Sierra Nevada and make up some of the best scenery within California's expansive Eldorado National Forest. The area has been home to both rich Native American culture as well as a bit of California's gold mining history, and is now one of the most popular wilderness areas within the U.S.
There are six major access points to the 15 trailheads within Desolation Wilderness. They are Echo Lake off Hwy 50, Glen Alpine Trailhead off Fallen Leaf Lake rd., Bayview Trailhead off Hwy 89, Eagle Lake Trailhead off Hwy 89, Meeks Bay Trailhead off Hwy 89 and Loon Lake Trailhead off Ice House Rd.
Try the Horseshoe Lake Loop for a full sampler of classic Desolation scenery, or venture straight into the heart of the wilderness on a shorter out-and-back to Lake Lois. The Granite Lake Loop makes a great multiday trek.
When to Go
Desolation Wilderness is open year-round. Gates to trailheads open around Memorial Day and close early October. Best time to hike is early July to mid August when snows are lightest and wildflowers are blooming. This is a busy time, so plan ahead to make sure you can secure a permit.
To keep the land open to recreation without compromising the delicate ecosystem, land managers have instituted a permit system for all visitors to Desolation Wilderness.
Overnight permits are fee-based and first-come, first-served. There are a limited number of permits available for each section of Desolation Wilderness for overnight stays. The wilderness area is split into 45 zones, each of which has its own quota for backcountry campers allowed in at the same time.
Rangers are highly visible in area during peak times and will ask to see permit. Day hikers can pick up permits at all trailheads. If you're day-hiking outside of high season, go to closest ranger station for permit. Permits can also be obtained at recreation.gov.
No campfires are allowed in Desolation Wilderness. Fire permits are required for all gas stoves and can be obtained online
Dogs are allowed in all areas of Desolation Wilderness as long as they're either on a leash or obedient to voice commands.