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Camp at Crag Lake and Stony Ridge Lake

2,135 ft
2,102 ft
3 days
5.1 mi/day

Description

Meeks Creek to Rubicon Lake Trail is a wonderful outback trip into Desolation Wilderness that features six lakes - Genevieve, Crag, Shadow, Hidden, Stony Ridge, and Rubicon. It is also the beginning of the famous Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. You'll hike along beautiful Meeks Creek through pristine old-growth forests and meadows - enjoying the array of scenic peaks and Lake Tahoe views.

Overview map

Day 1
4.8 mi
1,191 ft
0 ft
Soon after you leave the trailhead, the trail starts a long, steady ascent that continues pretty much all the way to your destination - Rubicon Lake. Early in the hiking season, look for red snow plants, they usually grow in colonies and are striking with their funky shape and bright color. Though please be advised, they are rare and its actually illegal to pick them! Head southeast along alluring Meeks Creek; at mile 3.3, you'll cross the creek via a wooden bridge. The trail heads southeast past scenic Genevieve Lake to larger Crag Lake, where you'll find excellent campsites to stay overnight.
Meeks Bay Trailhead
Trailhead
0 mi
6,245 ft

Meeks Bay Trailhead is located near the western shore of Lake Tahoe, and it is known as the starting point of the unofficial Tahoe–Yosemite Trail. This trailhead is best used to access northern Desolation Wilderness - don't forget to grab a day-use wilderness permit before you head out!

Vista
Vista
1.7 mi
6,524 ft

Take in incredible views of turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe to the east.

Lake Genevieve
Lake
4.3 mi
7,384 ft

A shallow, beautiful alpine lake.

Camp at Crag Lake
Campsite
4.8 mi
7,455 ft

Crag Lake's east side hosts a few campsites lying in the shadow of red fir and western white pine.

Day 2
4.5 mi
944 ft
537 ft
The trail winds through an unspoiled mountain landscape with old-growth forests, exposed granite outcrops, and Meeks Creek. You'll hike along the western shore of Stony Ridge Lake before climbing a set of switchbacks to Rubicon Lake. Soak in the views of the serene lake and then head back to Stony Ridge Lake to set up your camp.
Stony Ridge Lake
Lake
6.2 mi
7,805 ft

Stony Ridge Lake rests in a rocky bowl under Rubicon Peak, Peak 9269, and Jakes Peak. Surrounded by rocky cliffs and granite boulders, it's a perfect hiking and backpacking destination.

Rubicon Lake
Lake
7.5 mi
8,257 ft

This charming alpine lake with grass-lined shores is perfect for swimming and features grand views of Rubicon Peak.

Camp at Stony Ridge Lake
Campsite
9.2 mi
7,812 ft

You can find amazing camp spots along the south shore of the lake.

Day 3
6.2 mi
0 ft
1,565 ft
Enjoy a pleasant walk downhill and the views once again as you head back to the trailhead.
Meeks Bay Trailhead
Trailhead
15.4 mi
6,245 ft

Directions to the trailhead

Geology and History

Desolation Wilderness

Geology


As the territory of the Wilderness covers a portion of the Sierra Nevada, the geology of the Desolation Wilderness is closely related to the Sierra Nevada geological history. Composed of igneous rock, the Sierra Batholith forms the bedrock of the range. About 156 million years ago, during the Jurassic period, the Nevadan orogeny took place, when the Sierra Batholith was uplifted, thus creating the mountains. However, those mountains have not ‘survived’ to our time because of the erosion during the Pleistocene glaciation. The glaciers that covered the region back then sculpted the shape of the mountains that we can see today and carved the roche moutonnées, erratics, and countless basins that define the local terrain. Hundreds of lakes formed within these basins, e.g., Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, Fallen Leaf Lake, and Echo Lakes.


History


The Desolation Wilderness preserves some historic artifacts proving that the Washoe used to build temporary camps in several areas here, including Wrights Lake. They stayed at those camps during their regular summer migrations to the Sierra Nevada. The rest of the year they spent time partially in the ranges to the east and partially in the valleys in-between.

In the beginning of the 19th century, Europeans started to explore the area. Miners came here in search of gold but didn’t find much. Between the 1850’s and 1950’s sections of the Wilderness were used for grazing and several dams were constructed.

The area has been officially protected since 1899 but acquired the Wilderness Area status and its present name only in 1969 after a series of reorganizations.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Geology


Lake Tahoe Basin appeared due to tectonic and volcanic activity in the Sierra Nevada around 5 million years ago. Two million years later, the lake was formed and shaped by glaciation, volcanoes, and erosion. About 7 thousand years ago, the lakeshores became covered with stands of conifers for the first time.


Lake Tahoe is 22 miles in length, 12 miles in width, and 1,645 ft deep, with 72 miles of shoreline. It doesn’t freeze over in winter. Because of the elevation (6,225 ft.) prevents the growth of algae and the unique soil composition that works as a natural watershed filtering system, it is among the world’s clearest lakes. Unfortunately, due to the extensive human activity of the past decades, Tahoe’s legendary clarity has been reduced by 25%.


History


The area’s rich human history started 9,000 years ago. The earliest known residents of the land were Washoe Tribe, who first used the 10,000 square miles of land surrounding Lake Tahoe seasonally and then settled down. According to popular belief, the word “Tahoe” originates from the Washoe word for "lake" (Da ow ga), which means “The Lake”. There are many opportunities to explore sites of Washoe heritage and history, including by visiting the Lam Watah Washoe Heritage Site just near Nevada Beach, north of Stateline, Nevada.


The California Gold Rush in the middle of the 19th century attracted Europeans to these lands. Because of the development of the mining industry in this area, much of the forest in the basin was cut down.


Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit was created in 1973 from portions of Eldorado, Humboldt-Toiyabe, and Tahoe forests to protect the basin and Lake Tahoe’s watershed effectively. Its predecessor, Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve, was established in 1899 by President McKinley.


Please help preserve the rich cultural history of the Lake Tahoe Basin by leaving any artifacts you may find. You can report these findings to the Heritage Resource Manager of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (530) 543-2600.

Permits and Fees

Permits

Desolation Wilderness

Wilderness permits are required year-round for any trips in the Desolation Wilderness. The maximum group size for overnight trips is 12 people.


COVID-19 Note: Day use permits, as well as first-come, first-served overnight permits in the Desolation Wilderness are suspended until further notice. All overnight permits, including non-quota permits, must be reserved online through recreation.gov.


Day use permits


Free day use permits are required year-round and available at the Placerville Ranger Station. During the summer, permits can be self-issued at most major trailheads.


Overnight permits


Quota Season

From the Friday before Memorial Day through September 30, there is a quota limiting the number of people who may enter the Desolation Wilderness and the number of overnight users at zones associated with certain trailheads. Seventy percent of the permits are available for reservation, and the remainder are reserved for walk-ins.


Quotas for some zones allow as few as two people, so hikers should plan accordingly and check the Desolation zones map and the list of the zone quotas to make sure their party size fits a particular itinerary. Groups may only enter the Desolation Wilderness on the entry date and must camp in the zone specified on the permit the first night of the trip. During the rest of the trip it is allowed to change camping locations.


Advanced Reservations

Reservations can be made up to six months in advance on recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.  


Walk-in Permits

Visitors can obtain their permit on a first-come, first-served basis at the Placerville Ranger Station (west side entry), Lake Tahoe Visitor's Center (east side entry), and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (east side entry). To do so, you will need to arrive during business hours, register, and pay the associated fees.


Non-quota Season

Anytime outside of the quota season, permits are unlimited and can be obtained at offices that issue Desolation Wilderness permits.  


Please note: 

  • Before applying for a permit, be sure that you know your full trip itinerary - including start and end dates, backcountry entrance and exit points, the number of people in your group. Permits are valid for one trip only. You will find detailed instructions on how to obtain an overnight permit in this document.
  • There are fees associated with the Desolation Wilderness Permits - please see the ‘Fees Info’ section for details.
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Except for some high-use areas, no permits are required for entering or camping within the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

 

Wilderness Use Permits

The Desolation Wilderness is managed by Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and Eldorado National Forest and requires a permit for recreational use. You must have a printed copy of your permit when recreating in the Desolation Wilderness.


Wilderness permits are required year-round for any trips in the Desolation Wilderness. The maximum group size for overnight trips is 12 people.


Day use permits


Free day use permits are required year-round and are available for self-issue at the trailheads within this unit, or at any of the Forest Service ranger stations. 


Overnight permits


Quota Season

From the Friday before Memorial Day through September 30, there is a quota limiting the number of people who may enter the Desolation Wilderness and the number of overnight users at zones associated with certain trailheads. Seventy percent of the permits are available for reservation, and the remainder is reserved for walk-ins.


Quotas for some zones allow as few as two people, so hikers should plan accordingly and check the Desolation zones map and the list of the zone quotas to make sure their party size fits a particular itinerary. Groups may only enter the Desolation Wilderness on the entry date and must camp in the zone specified on the permit the first night of the trip. During the rest of the trip, it is permitted to camp elsewhere.


Advanced Reservations


Reservations can be made up to six months in advance on recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.  


Walk-in Permits

Visitors can obtain their permit on a first-come, first-served basis at the Placerville Ranger Station (west side entry), Lake Tahoe Visitor's Center (east side entry), and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (east side entry). To do so, you will need to arrive during business hours, register, and pay the associated fees.


Non-quota Season

Anytime outside of the quota season, permits are unlimited and can be obtained at offices that issue Desolation Wilderness permits. Group quota limits still apply. 


Please note: 

  • Before applying for a permit, be sure that you know your full trip itinerary - including start and end dates, backcountry entrance and exit points, and the number of people in your group. Permits are valid for one trip only. You will find detailed instructions on how to obtain an overnight permit in this document or Desolation Wilderness Brochure.
  • There are fees associated with the Desolation Wilderness Permits - please see the ‘Fees Info’ section for details.


California Campfire Permits are required for building a fire or using a camp stove anywhere they are allowed in California. Please see the ‘Campfires Info’ field.


SNO-PARK Permits


The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has several designated SNO-PARK sites where permits are required for each parked car from November 1 through May 30. There are two types of permits available: seasonal ($25) and day-use ($5). The permits are free and valid until December 31st the year the permit is issued. You can obtain the permit online, at Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor's Office, at any Forest Service office, at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Office, or the Bureau of Land Management office in California.


For more information, please check Passes & Permits | Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Fees

Desolation Wilderness

User and reservation fees are charged for all overnight visitors to the Desolation Wilderness year-round. There are also parking fees for day use visitors.


Overnight Permit Fees


There is a base reservation fee of $6 that applies to all transaction types: online, by phone, or walk-in, and is charged per party, per trip. User fees are also added per person: 

Single night trip: $5 

2-14 nights: $10

Youth (0-12): free


The maximum cost of a single permit is $100. The reservation fee is non-refundable, while the user fee will be fully refunded if you cancel your reservation up to one week prior to the trip.

A $5 service fee is charged for changes to the date and for adding people to the group.


Interagency Passes do not work for Desolation Wilderness permits but you can purchase a $20 Fee Card that covers the overnight permit user fee for the cardholder and is valid for one year.


Day Use Fees


Concession Operated Day Use Areas


Visitors are required to obtain an $8 Parking Pass to park at Pyramid Creek, Loon Lake, Rockbound, and Twin Lakes Trailheads. Visitors with an overnight Desolation Wilderness Permit do not need to pay the fee. The pass is valid for one day and must be properly displayed in your vehicle. 


Forest Service Operated Day Use Areas


Visitors are required to obtain a $5 parking pass to park at Eagle Falls Trailhead. Visitors with an overnight Desolation Wilderness Permit do not need to pay the fee. The pass is valid for one day and must be properly displayed in your vehicle.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Entrance or day-use fees are generally not required on most territories of the management unit, except for some high-traffic or especially fragile areas.


Desolation Wilderness


User and reservation fees are charged for all overnight visitors to the Desolation Wilderness year-round. There are also parking fees for day use visitors.


Overnight Permit Fees


There is a base reservation fee of $6 that applies to all transaction types: online, by phone, or walk-in, and is charged per party, per trip. User fees are also added per person: 


Single night trip: $5 

2-14 nights: $10

Youth (0-12): free


The maximum cost of a single permit is $100. The reservation fee is non-refundable, while the user fees will be fully refunded if you cancel your reservation up to one week prior to the trip.

A $5 service fee is charged for changes to the date and for adding people to the group.


Interagency Passes do not work for Desolation Wilderness permits, but you can purchase a $20 Fee Card (Desolation Wilderness Annual Pass) that covers the overnight permit user fee for the cardholder and is valid for one year.


Day Use Fees


Concession Operated Day Use Areas


Visitors are required to obtain an $8 Parking Pass to park at Pyramid Creek, Loon Lake, Rockbound, and Twin Lakes Trailheads. Visitors with an overnight Desolation Wilderness Permit do not need to pay the fee. The pass is valid for one day and must be properly displayed in your vehicle. 


Forest Service Operated Day Use Areas


Visitors are required to obtain a $5 parking pass to park at Eagle Falls Trailhead. Visitors with an overnight Desolation Wilderness Permit do not need to pay the fee. The pass is valid for one day and must be properly displayed in your vehicle. 


Most developed campgrounds charge fees for overnight visits or day use gatherings; please check the fees individually for each campground at Campgrounds in the Lake Tahoe Basin | Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.


Federal Passes

​Interagency Annual, Senior, and Access passes (America the Beautiful) holders can park at the Eagle Falls, Carson Pass, Carson Pass Overflow, and Meiss Trailheads free of charge.

Interagency Passes are not accepted as a form of payment for a Wilderness permit, a Fee Card, or a Parking Pass.


Federal Recreation Passes are honored nationwide at the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Fish & Wildlife Service sites where entrance fees or standard and expanded amenity fees are charged. You may learn more about Federal Passes, choose the type of pass that best suits your needs, and purchase it online on USGS.gov.

Rules and Regulations

Camping regulations

Desolation Wilderness

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.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Dispersed Camping


Dispersed camping is generally prohibited in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit except for within certain areas. You’re allowed to camp in the following areas:


  • Within 300 ft of the Tahoe Rim Trail;
  • Within 300 ft of the PCT, including:  
  • a section of the trail from the southern boundary of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit to its intersection with Highway 50; 
  • a section of the trail from the boundary of the Desolation Wilderness to the northern boundary of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
  • Within Desolation Wilderness - 
  • Wwithin 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. Max group size is limited to 12 people and 12 stock. Rules and regulations for the Desolation Wilderness can be found in Desolation Wilderness Brochure;
  • Within Granite Chief Wilderness - 
  • Pplace your campsite at least 600 feet from any lake in the Five Lakes basin and 250 feet of the Whiskey Creek structures.
  • Within the Meiss Management Area, Granite Chief Wilderness, and Mt. Rose Wilderness Area. Group size is limited to 15 people and 25 stock in the Mount Rose Wilderness and 12 people and 12 stock in the Granite Chief Wilderness;
  • Within the designated campsites in the Blackwood Canyon, Watson Lake, and Luther areas.
  • Within 300 feet of Genoa Peak Road: a section of the road from the White Hill Spur Road to Logan House Loop Road;
  • Within 300 feet of Logan House Loop Road;
  • Within 300 feet of the McKinney-Rubicon Road: a section of the road from Off-Highway Vehicle Staging Area to the western boundaries of the Tahoe National Forest.


Campground Camping


Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit offers plenty of developed campgrounds to choose from. 


Campgrounds are generally open from mid-May to mid-October. There is a 14 day limit, and each campsite can accommodate six people.


 Reservations are available in advance for some of them and can be made online or by calling 1-877-444-6777. First-come, first-served sites are available as well.

Choose your campground from the list on Campground Camping | Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit or use this broad overview to find all necessary information.


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

Parking Info

Desolation Wilderness

Parking is only allowed outside the Wilderness boundary. When parking along roads keep the vehicle within one car length of the designated roads and remember not to disturb any natural features.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

When parking along roads, keep the vehicle within one car length of the designated routes and remember not to disturb any natural features.

Campfire Info

Desolation Wilderness

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

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

California Campfire Permits are required for building a fire or using a camp stove anywhere they are allowed in California. The permits are free and valid until December 31st, the year the permit is issued. They may be obtained at the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Forestry, and Fire Protection offices or online


Campfires are generally allowed, with some restrictions in different areas. It is not permitted to build campfires in the Desolation Wilderness and Meiss Country. Due to drought conditions and very high fire danger, wood and charcoal fires are prohibited on all Lake Tahoe National Forest lands, including developed campgrounds. Gas stoves with on/off valves are allowed, and only with a permit.


Campfires are forbidden within 600 feet of any lake in the Five Lakes basin in Granite Chief Wilderness.


Collect only downed, dead wood from the area for your fires. Remember that firewood can carry insects and diseases that threaten native forests, so it is best to not transport firewood from other locations and to “buy it where you burn it.”


To reduce fire scarring, the use of existing fire rings is strongly recommended.


In an effort to reduce forest fires during dry spells, fire restrictions may go into effect, so make sure to check on current conditions before your trip. Even if you have a campfire permit, you are not allowed to build campfires when restrictions apply.

Bear canisters

Desolation Wilderness

Proper food storage is crucial as the area provides habitat to the American black bear. To protect your food, store it in a vehicle, a bear canister, or use a proper bear hang. The same applies to the garbage and all scented items, such as soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.


You may rent a bear canister free of charge from the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, Pacific Ranger Station, or the LTBMU Supervisor’s Office.


Make sure to follow the guidelines for food storage and garbage disposal.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Proper food storage is crucial as the area provides habitat to the American black bear. To protect your food, store it in a vehicle, a bear canister, or use a counterweight bear hang. The same applies to the garbage, cooking tools, and all scented items, such as soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. 


For more information on food storage and garbage disposal, please, check Guidelines for Living In and Visiting Bear and Mountain Lion Habitat | Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and see our article ‘Traveling & Camping in Bear Territory’.

Pack Animals and Pets

Desolation Wilderness

Dogs and other pets are allowed in the Desolation Wilderness, but they must be on a 6-foot leash.


Horses are allowed, too. There is a limit of 12 head of stock per group and 2 head of stock per person. Weed-free feed is required. 

It is prohibited to hitch, tether, or hobble a horse or other saddle or pack animal within 200 feet from water sources and within 100 feet from campsites.


Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Dogs and other pets are allowed in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, but they must be on a 6-foot leash. However, from May 15 through July 15, dogs are forbidden in the following fawning areas: 

  • The Wilderness portion of the French Meadows Game Refuge, except for the area east of the Pacific Crest Trail;
  • Big Springs Trail and the portion of Five Lakes Creek that parallels the trail.


Horseback riders are also welcome in the Forest, and it features plenty of equestrian trails and campgrounds. You can find more information on Horse Riding & Camping | Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.


In Desolation Wilderness and Granite Chief Wilderness, only two stock per person is allowed, and its max size is 12 per party.

As for Mt. Rose Wilderness, max stock size is 25.


Stock animals must be hobbled, or tethered at least 200 ft from any water source (600 ft from any water source in the Granite Chief Wilderness) or 100 ft from campsites. Hitching, tethering, or hobbling a horse is not allowed when it causes damage to vegetation, soil, or water. 


Weed-free feed is required in the Desolation Wilderness.

Hunting Season Info

Desolation Wilderness

While almost all hunting occurs during the fall and winter, the area is in fact open for hunting year-round depending on the game that’s in season. Consult the season lists for the D5 hunting zone on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website - and remember to bring your blaze orange hat and outerwear.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

While almost all hunting occurs during the fall and winter, the area is in fact open for hunting year-round depending on the game that’s in season. Consult the season lists on the Hunting in California | California Department of Fish and Wildlife (or call at (562) 590-5132) and Seasons and Regulations | Nevada Devision of Fish and Wildlife (or call at (775) 688-1500) - and remember to bring your blaze orange hat and outerwear.

Also, you can take a look at Shooting and Hunting | Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Other Regulations

Desolation Wilderness
  • The use of mechanized vehicles (including bicycles) and motorized equipment is prohibited in the Desolation Wilderness.
  • Fishing is allowed, but it requires a license from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The fishing season in rivers runs between late April and the middle of November, while lakes are open to fishing at any time of the year.
  • It is prohibited to create new trails or shortcut the existing ones in order to reduce an impact on soils and vegetation.
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
  • The use of mechanized vehicles (including bicycles) and motorized equipment is prohibited in Wilderness Areas. Wheelchairs are allowed.
  • Fishing is allowed, but it requires a license from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or Nevada Division of Fish and Wildlife. Anglers younger than 16 years old do not need a license). You can fish in Lake Tahoe one hour before sunrise to two hours after sunset. In other water bodies in Lake Tahoe Basin, you can fish one hour before sunrise to one after sunset. Daily limit: 5 trout (and no more than 2 mackinaws for Lake Tahoe). For more information on fishing areas and regulations, please check Fishing | Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
  • It is forbidden to cut switchbacks in Desolation Wilderness.

Seasons and Weather

Desolation Wilderness

Hiking season: June - October

The best season: summer

The highest temperatures: 70-75°F

The lowest temperatures: 15-25°F


Winter average highs are 30-35°F and lows are 15-25°F. 

Spring average highs are 40-45°F and lows are 25-30°F. 

Summer average highs are 70-75°F and lows are 40-45°F.

Fall average highs are 50-55°F and lows are 30-35°F.


Summers in the Desolation Wilderness are usually warm and dry, and winters are cold and wet. Snow is possible at any time of the year and high passes normally remain blocked until the middle of July. Weather conditions may vary dramatically, note that higher elevations are generally cooler by 10-15 degrees and nighttime temperatures can be cold even in the summer.


Always check the trail conditions before going out on the trip. You can check current weather conditions here.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Hiking season: May through October

The best season: May through October

The highest temperatures: 75-80°F

The lowest temperatures: 15-20°F


Winter average highs are 35-40°F and lows are 15-20°F. 

Spring average highs are 50-60°F and lows are 30-35°F. 

Summer average highs are 75-80°F and lows are 40-45°F.

Fall average highs are 60-65°F and lows are 30-35°F.


Summers in the LTBMU are usually warm and dry, while winters are cold and snowy. Weather conditions may vary dramatically. Note that higher elevations are generally cooler by 10-15 degrees and receive more snow than lower elevations.


Always check the trail conditions before going out on the trip. You can check current weather conditions here.

Water Sources

Desolation Wilderness

Water sources are abundant in the Desolation Wilderness. Always purify found water! Boil it for at least 5 minutes (longer at higher altitudes), filter with an approved device, or use water treatment tablets.

Please be aware that it is difficult to find water in the winter, so make sure you carry enough water, at least one gallon per person per day.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Water sources are scarce in some areas of Lake Tahoe Basin, especially by the end of summer. Plan accordingly and carry enough water, at least one gallon per person per day. 


Always purify water collected from bodies of water in the backcountry because it may contain harmful bacteria (especially Giardia)! Be selective with your water source; it is best to collect upstream and from a flowing source whenever possible. Boil it for 1-3 minutes, filter with an approved device, or use water treatment tablets.


Note: Nobody wants to come down with a bug while backpacking! For more information on water treatment products and methods, please see our article, ‘Water Treatment in the Backcountry.

Animals and Plants

Desolation Wilderness

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.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit packs in a variety of vegetative scenery that includes mixed stands of conifers and hardwoods, as well as chaparral and oak woodlands. Hikers will pass through areas of aspens, mountain hemlocks, Sierra junipers, Douglas-fir, ponderosa, lodgepole, Jeffrey, and sugar pines, incense cedar, white and red fir. 


Coyotes, mountain lions, badgers, wolverines, porcupines, raccoons, martens, bobcats, deer, and black bears are great examples of local wildlife. Although many of these animals are rarely seen by visitors, smaller animals such as chipmunks and squirrels are found in abundance. 


Birdwatching in the Lake Tahoe Area is excellent, so keep your eyes peeled for a bald eagle, blue grouse, Canada goose, osprey, owl, chickadee, Clark’s nutcracker, Steller’s jay, American robin, and western tanager.


Mackinaw, rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook trout lurk in the clear lakes, rivers, and streams, attracting anglers.

Risks and Hazards

Desolation Wilderness
  • 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.
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
  • Please do not attempt to touch or feed wildlife. Your actions can also put the animals in danger, so keep a safe distance to avoid accidents.
  • 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.
  • Ticks can be a problem, so appropriate clothing is essential, and daily tick checks are highly encouraged. They are especially active during the spring and summer.
  • 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) and avoid exposed ridges as soon as you hear thunder! Be sure to bring rain gear, and check weather conditions as you plan your trip.
  • For more information on potential hazards in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, please visit their Backcountry Safety Tips webpage.

Gear and Skills

Desolation Wilderness
  • Be prepared. Carry the ten essentials like food, water, and layers, even on a short sightseeing hike. 
  • Remember about the potential for altitude sickness. Give your body time to make some physiological adjustments. To minimize the symptoms, drink plenty of water, don't skip meals, avoid alcohol, and rest enough.
  • Use proper gear for low temperatures (ie. layers!) and potentially bring an ice axe if you want to go hiking in winter and spring.   
  • Another factor is the snow. If you have no experience in hiking in snow, be extremely careful and don’t go far. Please consider taking these essential items: an avalanche transceiver, probe, ski poles, portable shovel, and an avalanche cord. Take an avalanche safety course, study the terrain you’re headed into, and know how to use your gear before heading into the snowy backcountry.
  • Finally, strong navigation skills are an absolute must-have for hiking in the Wilderness, especially in its northwest portion. Use a compass, proper maps, and, if you’ve got it, a GPS.
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
  • Be prepared. Carry the ten essentials like food, water, and layers, even on a short sightseeing hike. 
  • Remember the potential for altitude sickness. Give your body time to make some physiological adjustments. To minimize the symptoms, drink plenty of water, don't skip meals, avoid alcohol, and rest enough as you acclimate.
  • Use proper gear for low temperatures (ie. layers!) and potentially bring an ice axe and microspikes or crampons if you want to go hiking in winter and spring when conditions may call for them.   
  • Another factor is the snow. If you have no experience in hiking in snow, be extremely careful and don’t go far or alone. Please consider taking these essential items: an avalanche transceiver, probe, ski poles, portable shovel, and an avalanche cord. Take an avalanche safety course, study the terrain you’re headed into, and know how to use your gear before heading into the snowy backcountry.
  • If you hike in summer, be aware of the heat and wear light-colored clothing. Wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen are great helpers, too. 
  • Mosquitoes are abundant in some areas, so don't forget to bring repellents and/or bug netting.
  • You can also find some useful tips for hikers and backpackers on Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s website.

Contacts and Resources

Address

Desolation Wilderness

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. 

Sunday  

  • 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.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Forest Supervisor's Office

35 College Drive

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150-4500

Phone: (530) 543-2600

Fax: (530) 543-2693

Email: pa_ltbmu@fs.fed.us

Working hours: Monday - Friday, 8:00 am - 4:30 pm


Taylor Creek Visitor Center

Visitor Center Road, CA-89 N, 

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, United States

Phone:  (530) 543-2674

The visitor center is open seasonally (typically Memorial Day to mid-October).

In 2021, the visitor center was open with limited services Fri-Sun from 10-4 PM from mid-June to mid-October.


You can reach out to the forest’s offices on their Contact Us page.

Resources

Park Closures

Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness is open year-round.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is open for recreation year-round, though some facilities might be closed seasonally or due to the fire danger. 

Road Closures

Desolation Wilderness

The Desolation Wilderness almost entirely falls within the Eldorado National Forest’s boundary. Any motorized vehicles use is restricted to designated Forest roads and is completely prohibited in the Wilderness. When planning your trip, please consider the following:


  • Dirt roads in the Eldorado NF are closed seasonally between January 1 and April 1 in an effort to protect roadbeds and watersheds from damage. Dates are determined by current conditions and can fluctuate from year to year, so make sure to check the ‘Roads and trails status’ and  ‘Alerts and Notices’ pages on the Eldorado NF website.


  • The Rock Creek OHV area is subject to several seasonal closures due to snow, wet weather, and wildlife protection reasons. Information on closures in this area as well as in other areas by district can be found on the Forest Order page.


  • Not all Forest roads allow for motor vehicle use, and there are some restrictions on the types of vehicles permitted on certain roads. Consult the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) provided by the Forest Service to learn the general travel rules, designated routes, and what vehicle classes are allowed on them for the district you are headed. If the road you need is not on the MVUM, it means that public use is prohibited. You will find downloadable MVUMs for each district on the Forest Service website.


You may check the California Department of Transportation website for current state highway conditions and closures.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Check the California Department of Transportation website for current road conditions and closures.

 

Not all forest roads allow for motor vehicle use, and there are some restrictions on the types of vehicles permitted on certain roads. Consult the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) provided by the Forest Service to learn the general travel rules, seasonal road restrictions, designated routes, and what vehicle classes are allowed on them for the district you are headed. If the road you need is not on the MVUM, it means that public use is prohibited. You will find downloadable MVUMs for each district on the Forest Service website.

Temporary Closures

Desolation Wilderness

Please visit the ‘Alerts and Notices’ and ‘Current conditions’ pages to find up-to-date information on temporary closures in the Eldorado NF section of the Desolation Wilderness or contact the appropriate ranger district office (see the ‘Address’ section). Don’t forget to check the current campground conditions before your trip to make sure your desired campground is available.


For information on the LTBMU section of the Wilderness, please see their ‘News and Events’, ‘Alerts & Notices’, and ‘Forest Orders’ pages. 


Also, it’s always a good practice to call a local Ranger Station to check area closures, fire restrictions, and road conditions prior to your trip. Go to the 'Address' section for the phone numbers.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

For current information on urgent closures, please check the following websites:

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