10 BEST BACKPACKING DESTINATIONS - DESOLATION WILDERNESS

Desolation Wilderness is one of the most visited wilderness regions in the world, with over 12000 annual visitors in 100 square miles of rugged and beautiful terrain between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento. Finding seclusion and quiet is getting tougher in desolation as the popularity grows.  In this Desolation Backpacking guide we will focus on 10 locations that give visitors the best experience for scenic and social solitude.

Desolation Wilderness Trailheads

Maintain trailhead entrances for Desolation are divided west & east side of the Crest. Westside has eight primary trailhead locations and the eastside has seven primary trailhead locations.

Westside: Loon Lake, Lyons, Ralston, Rockbound, Tells Creek, Twin Bridges, Twin Lakes

Eastside: Bayview, Echo Lake, Eagle falls, Glen Alpine, Meeks Bay, Mt. Tallac

For a complete Milage Breakdown to locations on each trailhead click below

 

Desolation Wilderness Backpacking Thru Hikes

One way to experience the most out of Desolation is to take advantage of their trail systems and make your backpacking adventure a thru hike or point to point trip covering more mileage and features on your trip. This list includes our favorite loop backpack trips with varied mileage and lengths.

Starting at Echo Lake pack into Choice of Lake Aloha, Lake of the Woods or Lake LeConte your first night.  Day 2 Travel north past heather lake, Susie lake, Gilmore lake and over Dicks Pass to Dicks Lake. Day 3 travel past Fontanillis Lake, to the Velmas (Taking time to explore all three lakes) then travel out to Bayview Trailhead past Maggies peak and Granite Lake.

This 22.5 mile journey is a well traveled route, you will find pockets of solitude but will need to search for spaces to escape on most summer weekends. 

This North to South Route will give you the full gamut of Desolation Wilderness Experience and is less traveled. 

Day1 Backpack from Meeks bay Trailhead up to Stoney Ridge Lake. Day Two travel up over Phipps pass at 8’800 ft and down to Middle Velma. Day three Swing West  on Velma Lake trail towards Mineral springs and then head South  on Rockbound Valley trail to Clydes Lake.

After a great night a Clydes lake Travel East over Mosquito Pass into Lake Aloha Basin and choose to stay one more night at your choice of lake destinations in this area or travel 8 miles out to Echo Lakes. This 31 mile trek provides plenty of tree covered route as well as some of the least visited sections of the Wilderness region.

 

Ready to experience the Granite? There is a reason Desolation was once called the Devils Punch bowl.  The Crystal Basin meets Desolation Wilderness on the westside of the crest here. 

Day 1 – Take off from the Loon Lake trailhead  traveling 5.8 miles day one just to reach Desolation Wilderness. Camp here at Bucks Island lake night one. day two travel up the Rockbound Valley past Rockbound Lake adn Rubicon Reservoir as you climb roughly 900 feet along the Rubicon river and choosing to camp near mineral springs or take a 1 mile jaunt to 4 Q’s Lakes to the west. 

Day 3 Choice to add Loop at 4Q’s to Horseshoe lake and then over to Lake Schmidel, Lake Lois and or Lake Doris. Or Pass the loop and  Continue up the Rockbound Valley towards China Flat, before Turning West and over Rockbound pass and into Maud Lake for camp. Day 4 Hike out to Wrights Lake.

This Thru hike is 24.1 miles. (28.8 miles if you add 4Q’s Loop detour)

This three to four day loop will test your leg strength as you travel to the highest points in the Wilderness.

Day 1 – Leave Meeks Bay Trailhead and travel up to Chain of lakes; Lake Genevieve, Crags Lake, Hidden Lake Stay at Lake of Choice here. day two travel up past Stoney ridg eLake and Rubicon Lake on way over Phipps Pass and down into the Velma’s. We recommend that you travel up to Fontanillis or Dicks Lake on this leg if energy is still with you.

 Day 3 travel up past dicks lake and over Dicks Pass into Gilmore lake. Stop and enjoy Gilmore Lake. (This lake can be a bit of a party so don’t expect peace and quiet) 

Day 4 travel up the backside of Tallac to the peak. and then down out to the Tallac trailhead.

Option here to leave gear at Gilmore, hike the peak and then travel back to Gilmore and travel out to Glen Alpine trail head instead.

This 26.7 mile trek will take you over Phipps PAss at 8800 feet, Dicks Pass at 9380 feet adn Mt Tallac at 9735 feeet.

Best Destination Backpack Location in Desolation Wilderness

Thru Hikes are not for everyone. Some just like to find a great location for a weekend away in the Wilderness.  Here is our short list of Best destination Hike sin desolation Wilderness.

  • Dicks / Fontanillis Lakes – Separated by less than a mile these lakes are less visited then the Velma Lakes below and offer exceptional mountain Lakes to Swim, explore shorelines, climb peaks and use as base camps for day adventures.
  • Lake Schmidell and the 4Q’s Loop including McConnell Peak. There are 4 or five lakes in this little loop that are great weekend get-away with plenty of options for climbing, fishing, hanging a hammock and relaxing.
  • Rubicon Lake –  Most backpackers will stop at Crag or Stoney Ridge Lakes, which are great lakes as well, but put in the work and make it up to Rubicon Lake for a little more solitude and beauty. Spend weekend on Phipps Pass and all that it has to offer for exploration.
  • Desolation Lake / Ropi Lakes – I almost shutter to place this one on the list. A favorite of ours as we pass the crowds at Lake of the Woods. Desolation Lake sits above Ropi lake with an incredible waterfall from lake to lake. Just below Pyramid peak these two lakes offer a bit of seclusion from the masses in Desolation.
backpack couple Twin bridges into Desolation wilderness

All Camp Fires in Desolation Wilderness are Banned since 1990.

Still on any given weekend in Desolation volunteer ranger will clean up and try to remove hundreds of illegally and ill advised campfires in Desolation Wilderness. Do your part and help us preserve wilderness by not starting a campfire in the Wilderness and discouraging others that you meet from doing the same.

Desolation Wilderness Requires a Permit to enter.  Day hikers are asked to get a FREE Day Permit at the trailhead for each visit. 

Backpackers are mandated to get a Backpackers Permit for all visits and must stay with in their assigned zone for the first night of their trip.

Backpack Permits reservations are now available on recreation.gov

Desolation wilderness is a very active bear zone in the Sierra. All backpackers are required to have a bear resistant food storage system. we recommend a bear proof canister as the increased bear activity and reports of bears stealling bear hangs in the past five years has skyrocketed.

Please Note: Many of the trailheads, especially Bayview and Glen Alpine have become bear magnets and each summer there are multiple bear break-ins on vehicles which leave food or other scented items in their cars. This includes day hikers. Please clean all items with scent in a bear locker or in your pack that you carry.

Desolation Operates with Zone Quotas for all Backpacking Activity. Zone Quotas are to help with the wilderness enjoyment of the many, keeping crowds from congregating all in one area. Please be courteous and stay with in your Zone on the first night of your stay. Your Permits will display a Zone #. Some zones have small quotas, as few as two people, so please check the Zone Map and Zone Quota List below to determine if your destination allows enough people for your party size.

Dogs are welcome in Desolation Wilderness. 

*Dogs should be on leash and controlled at all times.
Be considerate to other visitors and protect wildlife. 

Please beaware the granite and surfaces you travel with your dog in Desolation can be extremely tough on your dogs paws. please check their paws often for cuts, wear and bleeding. Take care of your pets.

Also Dog waste should be treated as human waste and buried off trail and away from the water at least 6 inches deep. Dog bags are only good if you intend on packing them out. If you bring a pet, then bring the appropriate gear to clean up after your pet.

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