A Quick Guide to Desolation Wilderness

Desolation WildernessDes­o­la­tion Wilder­ness strad­dles near­ly six­ty-four thou­sand acres across the Lake Tahoe Basin between Lake Tahoe and the Eldo­ra­do Nation­al For­est. Inside it, you’ll find back­pack­ing des­ti­na­tions through alpine and sub-alpine forests stud­ded with gran­ite peaks and glacial lakes.

Though still in recov­ery from the clear-cut­ting of the major­i­ty of the Jef­frey pines and fir trees essen­tial to the explo­sive growth of Vir­ginia City fol­low­ing the Com­stock Sil­ver Strike in 1859, the region’s rel­a­tive acces­si­bil­i­ty and unde­ni­able beau­ty still draws vis­i­tors from around the coun­try.

Day Vis­it Per­mits
As a result, there are a num­ber of man­age­ment tech­niques in use to pre­serve the region’s wild her­itage, although only two of these apply to vis­i­tors: per­mits, and quo­tas. Folks who’d like to vis­it for the day—maybe to take the easy and pop­u­lar one-mile hike from the Eagle Falls trail­head to sparkling, pop­u­lar Eagle Lake—require a day use per­mit.

Day per­mits can be self-issued at most major trail­heads or picked up at Pacif­ic Ranger Dis­trict (for west-side trail­heads, man­aged by the Eldo­ra­do Nation­al For­est) or the Tay­lor Creek Vis­i­tor Cen­ter or Lake Tahoe Basin Man­age­ment Unit For­est Super­vi­sor’s Office (for east-side trail­heads, which are man­aged by the Lake Tahoe Basin Man­age­ment Unit). These day-use per­mits don’t require reser­va­tions and aren’t sub­ject to quo­tas.

Desolation WildernessMul­ti-Day Per­mits
On the oth­er hand, back­pack­ers with a mul­ti-day itin­er­ary in mind do require per­mit reser­va­tions, which you can make up to six months in advance through recreation.gov. The 30% of per­mits reserved for first-come, first-serve use must be picked up in per­son from the Pacif­ic Ranger Dis­trict in the Eldo­ra­do Nation­al For­est or at the Lake Tahoe Basin Man­age­ment Unit For­est Super­vi­sor’s Office up to four­teen days pri­or to begin­ning your trip.

If you’re vis­it­ing between Memo­r­i­al Day and the end of Sep­tem­ber, you’re also sub­ject to wilder­ness quo­tas. These are deter­mined by the region in which you plan to spend your first overnight, and some of them are quite small—the Grouse Lakes and Tri­an­gle regions each have a total quo­ta of two!—so be sure your intend­ed itin­er­ary can accom­mo­date your entire par­ty.

Once You’re In
Once you’ve spent your first night in your des­ig­nat­ed des­ti­na­tion zone, you’re free to move about the wilder­ness. Prac­tice good out­door ethics by stay­ing on the devel­oped trails between des­ti­na­tions, and check out the inter­ac­tive vis­i­tor map to scope out pos­si­bil­i­ties for con­nect­ing those trails into longer loops.

Des­o­la­tion offers any num­ber of peaks to bag, from bossy 9,983-ft Pyra­mid Peak to the south­west to Mount Tal­lac, eas­i­ly the most icon­ic as it soars 3,500 feet above Lake Tahoe. If you’d rather get wet than high, there are a num­ber of pris­tine back­coun­try lakes just wait­ing for you. Try them out one by one, or string a few togeth­er for near­ly twelve miles of a loop tour of Gran­ite, Dick’s, Vel­ma, and Eagle Lakes.

Desolation WildernessIf You Can’t Get Enough, Thru-hike!
If you’re look­ing for a reward­ing chal­lenge that offers a lit­tle bit of every­thing the Tahoe Riv­er Basin has to offer, def­i­nite­ly con­sid­er the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail thru-hike. You’ll still have to pick up a per­mit for the por­tions of the trail that pass through Des­o­la­tion Wilder­ness, and these thru-hik­er per­mits aren’t sub­ject to the same wilder­ness quo­tas. Cin­der cones and hard­ened lava flows, wild­flow­ers and mead­ow vis­tas, stark reminders of the region’s his­to­ry as a resource extrac­tion point for tim­ber and sil­ver, aspen groves and dense pine forests, high gran­ite pass­es and ridges, canyons, and river­side, and end­less wildlife-watch­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties are just a few of the nat­ur­al won­ders you can expect to expe­ri­ence along the way.

Oh, and one last thing to woof about: Des­o­la­tion Wilder­ness is open to vis­i­tors of the four-foot­ed vari­ety, so no need to leave your best dog­gy friend at home for this cam­pout!