Meeks Bay Lake Tahoe to Phipps Pass

An excellent backpacking trail in Desolation Wilderness that features a little more forest and a little less granite than some of the trails north and west of Meeks Bay. Meeks bay to Phipps pass is also less steep than the Bayview trailhead and provides ample camp locations along a series of five Desolation Lakes. 

Early Morning Hikes from Meeks Bay

Parking at Meeks bay and hiking into Desolation wilderness to this series of lakes are relatively easy if you arrive early. The parking area is small, but there is friendly roadside parking available. Unfortunately, the trail at this time does not provide bear lockers, which are increasingly becoming a requirement in Lake Tahoe. So make sure to clean your car of the trash before heading in for the weekend. The trail follows an old, flat dirt road for the first mile of your hike. Early morning hiking will be cool and relaxing as the trail heads up the ridge side from here into Desolation wilderness. The first 3.5 miles of this trail travel for deep forest areas filled with seasonal wild raspberries and ferns.

Zone Map desolation Wilderness

Knowing your Zone

When backpacking into this section of desolation wilderness, it is essential to know which Zone you have permits for on your first evening. Desolation has long used the Zone quota method of helping keep the wilderness a better experience for its visitors by managing the number of overnight permits allowed per section.

Hikers on the Meeks Bay trail will choose from Zone three, which includes the first three lakes; Lake Genevieve, Crag Lake, and Hidden Lake, and all the areas up to Lake Genevieve along the trail. Zone 7 extends up to Stoney Ridge and Rubicon Lakes and includes the range east of the trail Rubicon Peak.

Zone 3 – Three Lake Options

Lake Genevieve is the first lake on the trail, roughly 5 miles from the parking area. It is a small round lake with a meadow area on the south shore and meeks creek running down the canton on the north side of the lake. A tree-lined lake, campers will find established camping areas on the hillside on the East side of the lake and in the forest along the West side of the lake. Lake Genevieve is a popular stopping spot but is often passed by as backpackers head to Crag or Stoney ridge over the weekend.

The second lake along the trail is the biggest of the Lower three lakes in Zone 3. Crag Lake is a stunning location with large granite outcroppings that form islands and platforms along the shoreline. Crag lake is full of wildlife as the lake supports trout, beaver, owls, deer, ducks, and more.

Many backpackers will choose Crag lake as it has plenty of camping areas near the lake on both the East and West shores. Crag lake is a lovely swimming lake teaming with fish. Many backpackers discover that the lakes along this route are less pristine and clear blue than the lakes on the Southern side of Desolation. These lakes are full of sediment and grasses. However, it still provides a stunning backdrop for sunsets and sunrise, and the evening swim with the wildlife is something straight out of a Disney movie.

Hidden Lake is the next lake in the chain and the last inside Zone 3 and is a small lake hidden down an embankment from the trail. Of the three lakes in this Zone, it is the only one that sits in a small bowl against the granite wall of the mountain range to the West.

Zone 7 – Stoney Ridge and Rubicon Lakes

For backpackers headed into Zone 7, there are also three main lakes available for backpackers. Although only two are well known. The first lake in Zone 7 is Shadow Lake. It is more of a meadow than a lake; it is the only lake on the trail; you can’t camp next too easily and are not going to go swimming here.
Once hikers reach Shadow Lake, the trail starts to climb up to Stoney ridge and enters back into a forested area along the trail.

The mountain to the West will lead off-trail hikers up to Cliff Lake, but most will head to Stoney Ridge Lake, the largest lake in the region of desolation wilderness. Stoney ridge lake has good camping along the West shore, but the best camping is probably found along the North Shore across the dam. Stoney ridge is the clearest water lake of the six along this trail. With Rubicon Peak above the lake and a solid wall of granite rising out of the East side of the lake, Stoney ridge is a great sunset location as the Alpine glow radiates off the ridge and reflects on the water on a still evening.

Rubicon Lake is a place of simple solitude for those looking for fewer crowds and willing to climb the additional 500-plus feet. With camping locations on the North shore up against the granite boulders, Rubicon lake is small but dynamite.

Just past Rubicon Lake going off the trail, backpackers can also find their way down to Grouse lakes below the path for a complete wilderness experience.

On up to Phipps Pass

Phipps Pass is a rugged, exposed hike that will have you longing for the shade of a tree. Phipps Pass does not feel as steep as other passes in Desolation, but its rugged exposed face, which gives way to panoramic views of Tallac, Maggies Peak, and Fallen leaf lake, will test backpackers heading over to the Velmas. 

Once through the backed rock section of the pass, you will enter the forest right below Phipps Peak. A Popular spot to climb for peak baggers at only 9’238 feet and has an incredible view of Phipps lake. For those not interested in peaks, there is a bench section along the ridge that easy to get to from the trail right before Phipps peak that provides the same great views of the lake.

Day hikers at this point are at 10.1 miles from the trailhead and have a long downhill hike back to the cars with several great spots to stop for an afternoon swim. For backpackers, this route is often the route to the Velmas or over to dicks lake as they travel through desolation wilderness.

Here is a great two-day itinerary from our friends at Right on Trek.

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