Desolation Wilderness in California

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Desolation Wilderness

Visiting the Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains offers an exciting side trip from Lake Tahoe, with a wide variety of outdoor recreation available to all who come here.

  • Close to Lake Tahoe, discover the Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
  • Desolation Wilderness California is west of Lake Tahoe off of Highway 50
  • Start at the Glen Alpine Trailhead and hike to Half Moon Lake
  • Take an easy hike to Floating Island Lake from Mount Tallac trailhead


The Desolation Wilderness CA consists of over 63,000 acres of beautiful alpine forest and glacial valleys, with towering peaks and sparkling lakes. It’s the perfect place to enjoy nature when coming to the Lake Tahoe area on a Sierra Nevada vacation. It’s so close, and offers so much in the way of outdoor fun for all ages.

Whether you prefer hiking or backpacking, fishing or climbing, everything you want is right here. Lake, rivers, hiking trails, tall peaks for climbing; it’s all in the Desolation Wilderness. Since travel through the wilderness is restricted to foot or horseback travel only, you will hike in to enjoy all this region has to offer.

Location & Information

Desolation Wilderness California is west of Lake Tahoe off of Highway 50 in El Dorado County. From Sacramento, you drive on California Highway 50 east to South Lake Tahoe, and take California Highway 89 north. After three miles turn left on Fallen Leaf Road and go for six miles. At the end of this road you’ll find Glen Alpine Trailhead where you can enter the wilderness area.

The best time to come to Desolation Wilderness is between June and September, although you will find snow near the high passes into July.

Contact information:
Eldorado National Forest
Pacific Ranger District
7887 Highway 50
Pollock Pines, CA 95726-9602
Visitor Information: 530-644-6048

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
35 College Drive
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150


Desolation Wilderness Area provides a natural environment where you can escape into the wilderness for a while, with tons of outdoor recreational opportunities.

There are many trails throughout the wilderness area where you can enjoy hiking to see spectacular sights.

  • Glen Alpine Trailhead
    On the east side of the Desolation Wilderness, the Glen Alpine Trailhead gives access to many routes. An easy trek is to Grass Lake, only 2.3 miles through some scenic areas. Take various spurs, like the one to Half Moon Lake, Gilmore Lake or Lake Aloha to see some lovely waterfalls and gorgeous mountain lakes.
  • Mount Tallac Trailhead
    Another trailhead on the east side of the wilderness area is Mount Tallac. The first part is an easy hike to Floating Island Lake, but you can carry on all the way to Mount Tallac. Just be prepared for weather changes at these altitudes. For overnight excursions, you’ll need a wilderness permit.
  • Bayview Trailhead
    For outstanding views of Lake Tahoe and the sparkling Emerald Bay, take the Bayview Trailhead, another on the east side of Desolation Wilderness. This hike starts out moderate but swiftly becomes difficult as it climbs towards Dick’s Peak.
  • Ralston Trailhead
    On the south side of Desolation Wilderness, this trailhead gives you access to Ralston Peak, Lake of the Woods and Upper Aloha Lake. All the hikes are rated as difficult so be ready for a challenging trek.
  • Echo Lakes Trailhead
    Hike to Upper Echo Lake on an easy 2.5-mile trail, or take other trails leaving from this trailhead to other lakes and peaks on a more difficult hike. Go all the way to Echo Peak, Ralston Peak or Ropi Lake.

The lakes and streams in the Desolation Wilderness is the perfect location for anglers, with plenty of brook, golden, brown and rainbow trout. You can also catch lake and cutthroat trout.

There is great climbing of major peaks in the Desolation Wilderness, such as Dick’s Peak, Mount Tallac and Pyramid Peak. Elevations range between 9,700 and 10,000 feet, giving you a real adventure in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Take the Cathedral Lake Trailhead for easy access to Mount Tallac and some exciting Class 2 or 3 scrambles.

Fun Facts

When you enjoy watching wildlife, the Desolation Wilderness won’t disappoint. You’ll see deer, black bears, coyote, badgers and bobcats and perhaps spot some red fox, wolverines and pine martens. Bird lovers love this area too, for they will find mountain chickadees, blue grouse, American dippers and sometimes a golden eagle.