Desolation Wilderness and Lake Tahoe region

Travel resources | Other California destinations | Other California trails

The low sierra around Lake Tahoe are a good introduction to the High Sierra for beginners. The best season to hike around here is probably late spring, when the meadows overflow with flowers and the lakes have lots of water. The worst season is probably late summer when all that is left is the crowds. If you don't see anyone for more than ten minutes, you probably lost your trail. (One sign says that the Desolation Wilderness is "the single most visited wilderness in the USA", which might be true if one considers the size of the wilderness).

Here are some popular routes:

  1. Pyramid Peak (3,043m)
  2. Freel Peak (3317m), highest peak of the Lake Tahoe region
  3. Mt Tallac (2,967m) to Emerald Bay. The trailhead is located 6 kms north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89. From the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center of South Lake Tahoe go north on Highway 89 for about 1 km and turn left into the paved road directly across from the entrance to Baldwin Beach. Hike to the top (about 2.5-3 hours) and return via Gilmore Lake and Dick's Pass to the Eagle Lake trailhead across from Emerald Bay. Print the map. Dick's Pass is the highlight of this route (Susie Lake, Half Moon Lake and Lake Aloha on the south side, and Dick's Lake and Fontanillis on the north side). A bit down from the pass you also see the prettiest of the Velma Lakes (Upper Velma Lake).
    • Mt Tallac trailhead across from Baldwin Beach (elevation 2,000 m)
    • Mt Tallac 2.5 hours (3,000 m)
    • Gillmore Lake 4h
    • Dick's Pass 5h15' (2,800 m)
    • Velma Lakes junction 6h45' (2,400 m)
    • Fork to Eagle Lake 7h
    • Eagle Lake 8h
    • Eagle Lake trailhead across from Emerald Bay (2,000 m)

  4. Fonanillis Waterfalls. The trailhead is at Emerald Bay. The trail is the same that goes to Eagle Lake. After Eagle Lake the trail continues up to the junction with the Dick's Pass trail and the Velma Lakes trail. Turn right towards Velma Lakes. There are three lakes. The Upper Velma Lake (2590m) is created by the 50-meter tall Fontanillis Waterfalls. The Middle Velma lake is about 6 kms from Emerald Bay. Fontanillis Lake is about 8kms from Emerald Bay. The elevation gain is about 500 meters to Fontanillis Lake (2548m).
  5. Emerald Bay to Velma Lakes to Fontanillis to Dick's Peak (3040m).
    • Start from Emerald Bay
    • Eagle Lake 20'
    • Fork to Velma Lakes 1h
    • Middle Velma Lake 2h
    • Fontanillis Lake (2500m) 3h
    • Dick's Pass (2880m) 6.5h
    • Dick's Peak (3040m) 8h
    • Emerald Bay 12h
    Dick's Lake straight to Emerald Bay is 7km. Approximately this loop is 30 kms.
  6. The Pacific Crest trail at the Echo Lakes to Lake Aloha. From this lake you can also continue up the steep switchbacks that take to Dicks Pass and from there descend to Emerald Bay for a spectacular one-way day hike. There are two trailheads for Echo Lakes. The easiest if you are coming from the Bay Area is to off Hwy 50 just before Echo Summit (turn left into the dirt road Echo Summit Dr just before Echo Summit and drive 2 kms to the shores of Lower Echo Lake. The more complicated one is from Lake Tahoe: take Fallen Leaf Lake rd to the southern end of the lake and then left into Glen Alpine Rd.
  7. North of Lake Tahoe: Mt Rose from Brockway Summit via Relay Peak (the highest point on the Tahoe Rim Trail). This is a 32 km one-way hike. From Kings Beach drive north on Hwy 267 for 5 kms to the marked Brockway Summit trailhead (the parking lot is off the highway, less than 1 km on dirt road USFS 16N56).

  8. Spooner Summit to Tahoe Meadows (37 kms one-way) via the popular Christopher's Loop. The trailhead is on the eastern shore. Follow Hwy 50 towards Nevada until you pass the junction with Hwy 28 (Spooner Lake). The trailhead is on the left handside about 1 km after that junction. The trailend, Tahoe Meadows, is just before the Mt Rose Summit visitor center on Hwy 431 north of Incline Village.

Camping nearby: Lovers Leap and Sand Flat along Highway 50. Lots of campgrounds along the west coast of Lake Tahoe, notably Bayview, across from Inspiration Point. Or camp in the Eldorado National Forest after Fallen Leaf (turn left across from the national forest visitor center and drive towards the end).