Let's Go

Find your spot

Find other facilities on map

Find Permits

ATTENTION : All Destination Zones on the Pacific Ranger District (west of the crest of Ralston, Jacks, Dicks and Phipps Peaks) are closed until further notice due to the King Fire. This includes popular destinations of Lake Aloha, Lake of the Woods, Twin Lakes and Grouse Lake. A Forest Order (#03-14-108) has been issued closing the Pacific and Georgetown Ranger Districts of the Eldorado NF to public use for duration of the King Fire to ensure public safety. Loon Lake, Tells Creek, Rockbound, Twin Lakes, and Lyons Creek Trailheads are closed to public access. For more information: inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4108

The Lake Tahoe Basin has issued an advisory against travel in the Desolation Wilderness due to the uncertain path of the King Fire.

Desolation Wilderness Permit, CA

part ofDesolation Wilderness, US Forest Service
Photo: Desolation Wilderness Permit


With numerous alpine lakes, scenic waterfalls and towering granite peaks, Desolation Wilderness is a perfect location for a summer trip. Whether you want an arduous climb or a relaxing walk, you'll find what you're looking for here. While summertime draws the most visitors, during the winter, the area becomes a popular playground for experienced backcountry skiers and snowshoers.

Thanks to its breathtaking granite landscape and surrounding scenery, as well as relative accessibility, Desolation Wilderness is one of the most popular wilderness areas in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Long recognized for its mountain splendor, Desolation Valley Primitive Area was established in 1931 and granted wilderness status in 1969. It is located west of Lake Tahoe and north of Highway 50 in El Dorado County, California. It straddles the crest of the Sierra Nevada range, encompassing 63,690 acres, and has elevations ranging from 6,500 feet to nearly 10,000 feet.

Lake Aloha is a feature of the wilderness area, with shallow, clear waters sitting in a wide, granite basin carved by glaciers in the most recent ice age. The Crystal Range is also within the area, with Pyramid Peak as the highest point both in the range and the wilderness, topping out at 9,987 feet. Horsetail Falls, which tumbles in stages for nearly 500 feet, is just one of the area's many waterfalls.

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail traverses 17 miles through Desolation Wilderness, from Echo Lakes to the south to Richardson Lake just past the northern boundary. An abundance of additional trails are found in the area. During the winter months, most of the trailheads are covered by snow and are not accessible. Contact a local U.S. Forest Service office for current conditions.

Visitors must obtain a permit for overnight camping and should be aware that throughout the summer months, a quota system is in place for the 45 destination zones within the wilderness. The system helps to disperse visitors throughout the area, providing an opportunity for solitude and reflection. Seventy percent of the available permits are available for advanced reservation. The remaining quota is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Camping within the wilderness area is permitted, but campsites must be on hard surfaces at least 100 feet from water and trails. Maximum group size is limited to 12 people who will be together at any given time during the trip. A signed permit must be carried at all times by a group leader. Campfires are not allowed within the area and haven't been since 1990. Camp stoves for cooking are permissible. Overnight parking may require a pass in some areas, or may be subject to an additional fee.

Know Before You Go
  • Rules and regulations for Desolation Wilderness can be found here
  • Visitors should be aware that permits are required year-round for overnight camping and day use; click here for more information
  • Be prepared for quick-changing weather conditions; snow can last until mid-July
  • Campfires are not allowed
  • Click here for more information on the Eldorado National Forest
  • Contact Information

    Eldorado National Forest
    Pacific Ranger District
    7887 Highway 50
    Pollock Pines, CA 95726-9602
    TTY 530-647-5407
    FAX 530-647-5405

    Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
    Supervisor's Office
    35 College Drive
    S. Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
    TTY: 530-543-0956
    FAX: 530-543-2693
    Recreation.gov helps you discover and book trips to all of America's public places.
    Learn more about us, or about any of our agency partners below:
    Bureau of Land Management Federal Highway Administration National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration Smithsonian Institution USDA Forest Service US Army Corps of Engineers US Fish and Wildlife Service National Park Service Bureau of Engraving and Printing Tennessee Valley Authority Bureau of Reclamation National Archives Records Administration

    Agency Partners