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Backcountry ski and snowboard gear, camping

Pros. Arguably the most beautiful area in the Tahoe Sierra, with outstanding lake views and abundant hiking and peakbagging opportunities.  It has the most backcountry  lakes in the Tahoe area, and the most accessible and panoramic summits.

 

Cons. Lots of people hang out in this "wilderness".


Day Hikes

  • Emerald Bay Hikes -- two nice day hikes out of Emerald Bay.  The first, Granite Lake/Maggies Peaks, offers quick access to a nice backcountry lake and an opportunity to bag a couple of panoramic peaks on the edge of Lake Tahoe.  The second, to Eagle, Velma and Fontanillis Lakes, is a longer journey to a series of backcountry lakes below Dicks Peak.

Peak Bagging

  • Mt. Tallac -- steep day hike to a rocky summit offering the best views in the entire Tahoe region.

  • Dicks & Jacks Peaks.  Two more remote and challenging summits, with unbelievable views.

  • Pyramid Peak -- Long dayhike (or good multiday trip) to the highest summit in the Desolation Wilderness.

  • Mt. Price & Mt. Agassiz -- killer views and an airy traverse make a visit to these two remote peaks a must-do for the Desolation peakbagger.

Recommended Multiday Trips

  • Bayview to Mt. Tallac via Dicks Pass

  • Lake Aloha and Desolation Valley from Glen Alpine

  • Rockbound Pass to Red Peak

Wilderness Permits

Probably because it is so close to population centers and easy to access from major highways, the Desolation Wilderness is one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the country.  To preserve its natural beauty, the Forest Service has restricted use to hikers, horses, llamas and the like. In Desolation Wilderness there are no buildings or roads. Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not permitted. Further, no wood fires are allowed -- you must use a camp stove. 

You must have a permit for either day-use or overnight camping in Desolation.  There are fees for overnight camping year-round. From the Friday before Memorial Day to September 30th, a quota of 700 overnight users entering each day is in effect.  Under the quota, each trailhead has its own allowance of overnight visitors who enter each day. It is wise to call ahead. Your permit is good at only the trailhead you reserve, only on the date of entry and only for the number of people specified.  Moreover, for your first night in the wilderness, you must stay in one of 30 or so designated "zones".

The maximum group size for a permit is 12, and stays are limited to 14 consecutive days. During the off-quota season there is no limit to the number of overnight users.

Day-use is currently not limited any time of year; however, the Forest Service may change this policy in the future if usage gets out of hand.  Self-issue day use permits are available at most popular trailheads.  For more information on permits, fees and other bureaucratic red tape, visit the USFS Desolation Wilderness webpage.


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