Meeks Bay California is a popular destination for campers and boaters all summer long in Lake Tahoe. But many of our visitors who come to enjoy the Desolation Experience miss out on this moderate route trail experience that delivers multiple day trip wilderness lakes as well as short backpack destinations.
We recently joined the Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Ranger team taking tools into Stoney Ridge Lake for a work crew and had the chance to visit five outstanding lakes along the trail that are perfect for a longer yet moderate day hike into Desolation Wilderness or a nice backpacking trip with friends. Besides a smokey day on the trail, I was thrilled to visit these five lakes in Desolation Wilderness.
The first lake on this trail is Lake Genevieve, a popular backpacking destination for visitors who are unfamiliar with the rest of the trail or those looking for a quick trip for the weekend. A smaller lake, backpackers will find campsites all around the lake that will give them proper spacing away from the lake shore line. Because this is the first lake, it tends to have very busy periods of visitors, but honestly can sometimes be the quietest lake when the sun goes down as the other lakes on trail get more overnight visitors.
A beautiful Desolation Wilderness lake destination and probably the most popular for visitors to this region. Features a great shoreline with many camping areas surrounding the lake. Swimming and jumping off rocks are a popular summer activity. Not the quietest place in the wilderness, but sunsets here are spectacular. On the trail side of the lake has many great camping areas. the far side of the lake has some human use trails but also is unmaintained and a bit of rough travel.
Often skipped over on the trail because you have to hike down to the lake from the trail and short but brutal climb out deters many visitors. However, this smaller round lake is a great backpacking destination with a little more seclusion than the other lakes on this trail. Plenty of rock outcroppings for afternoon sun bathing and rock jumping.
The next lake on this trail is Shadow Lake, unfortunately, it is starting t look more like a meadow than a lake. Not much to see here. However if you are looking for tranquility, you might consider hiking to the North East side of lake in the trees near the creek.
The Largest of the lakes along this section of trail, Stoney Ridge Lake is roughly 6.5 miles from the trailhead and has both tree-lined and mountainside camping available. Situated directly below Rubicon Peak this mountain lake is a summer paradise for camping, backpacking, rock climbing etc.. If you are looking to be alone, this lake is not for you, but the clear waters of Stoney ridge are stunning up against the Sierra ridgeline. On the Northside of the lake a quick detour off the trail will allow you to cross the dam and reach the East side of the lake where great granite rock climbing is available. (Willing to climb a bit for seclusion? Follow stream path coming off the mountains to the West to Cliff Lake)
At 8400 feet this is the highest of the lakes on this side of the range and lies just below Phipps Pass and Phipps Peak to the West. This is a nice vertical climb from Stoney Ridge Lake making it much less visited region of the trail and a perfect place for a quiet evening in the wilderness. Many who make it this far are planning on hiking over Phipps Pass and on into the Velma Lakes area the next day. The switch backs up to this lake are not that bad, just long. a couple creek. stream crossing locations keep water in area early in season.
Of course if you have gone this far you might as well head up to Phipps Pass and take a look at the views back towards Maggie’s peak and Emerald Bay. Sneak peaks at Grouse Lake and Phipps Lake if you are willing to climb down either side of the pass. We took a Second Backpacking trip in 2023 up this trail all the way to Phipps Lakes you can find that story here: https://sierrarecmagazine.com/portfolio/desoltation-wilderness-meeks-bay-trail-to-phipps-pass/