Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
Loop
Distance
12.60 mi (20.28 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Originally known as "Devil's Basin," Desolation Wilderness is a part of the El Dorado National Forest. It became protected in 1931, and since then it has become a haven for backpackers and day hikers. In some places, barren granite contrasts with crystal blue lakes that are peppered throughout the park. In others areas, red fir and lodgepole pine forests cover a multitude of trails that crisscross through the wilderness, the largest trail being the iconic Pacific Crest Trail.

Typically completed as a three-day backpacking trip, the hike begins at the Fallen Leaf Lake (or Lily Lake) trailhead. After the first, relatively flat fire road section you will climb out of the forest and toward Aloha Lake, an intensely beautiful body of water sitting at over 8,000 feet. Depending on the time of year, this lake can be a little crowded. You will find more secluded campsites if you turn to the right at the trail junction by the lake. If you have the time, you can even continue to Clyde Lake, which will be more secluded.

The next day, follow the PCT until you see signs for Triangle Lake. This spot only has space for two campsites, so be prepared for a quiet night. This day is short, so if you have the time, climb up to Keith's Dome to experience 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe, Lake Aloha, and the two Echo Lakes.

The final day is a bit more grueling. You will descend 2,000 feet in less than 3 miles. The trail is often exposed, and you will be doing a bit of rock hopping to get down. Follow signs for Lily Lake. (Note: This section of trail is not always well maintained, and the trail itself does not show up on many maps. If you have bad knees, you may not want to attempt this. Instead, make the trip an in-and-out.) After leveling off, you will eventually emerge a quarter mile from the parking lot.

Visit the Ranger Station at Pollock Pines to reserve camping zones beforehand, and arrive early to guarantee a spot. You will not need a bear canister in the Desolation Wilderness.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

Overnight Per-Day

Pros

Amazing views. Secluded campsites. High alpine forest.

Cons

Gruelling descent. Some crowding.

Trailhead Elevation

6,572.00 ft (2,003.15 m)

Net Elevation Gain

2,011.00 ft (612.95 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Old-growth forest
Wildflowers

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

08/11/2016
If you start at Echo Lake, there is a water taxi through Labor Day. It shaves 3 miles off the hike. You can do an easy out and back or, as we did, have a layover day at the lake. You won't regret it. It is stunning.
06/04/2016
Lake and surroundings were still very snowy at the beginning of June this year. Last couple miles of hiking were all on snow. Crowding was insane on the Southeast side of the lake; No way everybody had wilderness permits. Continuing around to the West side of the lake (opposite the trail) resulted in much less crowded camping.
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