Desolation Wilderness

63,960 acres

Located in the east of California, the Desolation Wilderness sprawls across both sides of the Sierra Nevada to the west of Lake Tahoe. It encompasses 63,960 acres of land jointly managed by the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU).

The Desolation Wilderness is noted for its breathtaking alpine scenery, granite outcrops, glacial lakes, and valleys. Hikers and horseback riders are welcome to explore the area through miles of fantastic trails including sections of the Pacific Crest and Tahoe Rim Trails.

Trails in the Area
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Camping, Permits & Fees

Dispersed camping is generally allowed as long as you camp 100 feet away from water sources, lakeshores, and trails. Group size is limited to 12 people (less in some zones) and 12 stock. Visitors must camp in the zone specified on their permit the first night of the trip. During the rest of the trip it is allowed to change camping locations.

Within 500 feet of Eagle, Grouse, and Hemlock lakes, and the north and east side of Lake of the Woods, camping is only allowed at designated first‐come, first‐served sites that are marked with a brown post bearing a tent symbol. Set up your camp within 30 feet from the post. 

Camping is not allowed at Echo, Woods, and Wrights Lakes.

Don’t forget about Leave No Trace principles, and please follow the area’s rules and regulations.

Rules & Regulations

It is not permitted to build campfires in the Desolation Wilderness. You are allowed to use gas stoves.

Ecology, Geology & History

Mule deer and black bear are frequently seen in this area. Coyote, porcupine, badger, and bobcat are rather common but also elusive, so there is less of a chance to spot them. Fisher, pine marten, red fox, and wolverine roam the Wilderness, too, but they are really rare and park officials encourage visitors to report sightings which will help to learn more about their abundance. Desolation’s rodents are represented by yellow-bellied marmot, golden-mantled ground squirrel, Douglas squirrel, and pika. 

As for the area’s birds, they include the Steller's Jay, Clark's nutcracker, mountain chickadee, blue grouse, mountain, bluebird, American dipper, golden eagle, and others. Rainbow, brook, brown, and golden trout species make homes in the local lakes and streams.

The Desolation Wilderness contains a wide range of ecosystems associated with the range of elevations and soil types. The area's red fir and lodgepole forests are mainly made up of Jeffrey pine, mountain hemlock, western juniper, and western white pine. The wooded areas are mostly clustered within elevations between 7,400 feet and 9,000 feet and become patchy as you climb higher. Another group of plants found in the Wilderness is montane chaparral that includes pinemat manzanita, huckleberry oak, and mountain pride penstemon. The ground surface is mainly composed of bedrock granite and fertile soils are limited to the wet meadows scattered throughout the Wilderness, as well as the lands surrounding lakes and streams. Aspen and willow trees are common there and numerous wildflowers, sedges, and grasses blanket these areas.

Safety, Seasons & Water
  • Please, don’t attempt to touch or feed wildlife in an effort to prevent accidents. Your actions can also put the animals in danger, so keep a safe distance.
  • If you see a black bear, stop, stay calm, and back away. Do not turn your back or run away. You need to look large and scary - stand tall, raise your arms, and make noise! Avoid sudden movements and screaming. If the animal attacks you - fight back.
  • Poison oak is common in the area, so be prepared to identify it and avoid it at all cost. If you do come into contact with it, wash your hands, skin, and clothing immediately with mild soap to prevent a rash.
  • Ticks and mosquitoes can be a problem during the hike, so choose appropriate clothing and don't forget to bring repellents. They are especially active during the spring and summer. Daily tick checks are also highly encouraged.
  • This is also western rattlesnake country, so extra caution should be exercised in warmer months. Watch where you place your hands and feet!
  • The area is prone to storms, so there is a danger of lightning strikes and flash floods. Move into a shelter (ideally a vehicle or fully enclosed building) as soon as you hear the thunder! Be sure to bring rain gear and check weather conditions as you plan your trip.
Contacts, Resources & Closures

Forest Supervisor's Office

Address: 100 Forni Road

Placerville, CA 95667

United States

Phone: 530 303-2412

Operating hours: 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Monday - Friday, year-round

Placerville Ranger District

Address: 4260 Eight Mile Road

United States

Camino, CA 95709

Phone: 916 500-4712

Operating hours: 

  • Summer

8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Monday - Saturday

8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. 


  • Winter

Monday - Friday

8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Pacific Ranger District

Address: 7887 Highway 50

Pollock Pines, CA 95726-9602

United States

Phone: 916 500-4712

Operating hours: 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Monday - Friday, year-round

Business office only.

Visitor Services are at Placerville RD.

Lake Tahoe Visitor's Center

Address: Visitor Center Road, CA-89 N

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150 

United States

Phone: 530 543-2674 

Operating hours:  8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Open summer only.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) 

Address: 35 College Dr 

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

United States

Phone: 530 543-2600 

Operating hours:  8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

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