Winter conditions continue to persist thru June, some trailheads may not be fully accessible due to snow or downed trees. Permit offices offering virtual services only until further notice, therefore, no first-come, first-served on the day of entry will be available. Overnight permits must be booked at least 1 day in advance of entry date.
Visitors must obtain a Wilderness permit for overnight camping as well as day visits, year-round. A quota system is in place for the 45 overnight destination zones from the Friday before Memorial Day through September 30th each year. The system disperses visitors throughout the area, providing an opportunity for solitude and reflection. Permits are available for advanced reservation six months in advance. A recreation fee is assessed during the permitting process. Day trips are free of charge.
Desolation Wilderness is accessed through 13 trailheads: Loon Lake, Van Vleck, Rockbound, Twin Lakes, Lyons Creek, Pyramid Creek, Ralston Peak, Echo Lake, Glen Alpine, Mt. Tallac, Bayview, Eagle Lake and Meeks Bay. 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.
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 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. The Tahoe Rim Trail also travels through Desolation.
While summertime draws the most visitors, during the winter, the area is a popular playground for experienced backcountry skiers and snowshoers.
Desolation Wilderness Permit offices are closed until further notice due to COVID-19 restrictions, but are offering services virtually. Overnight permits can be booked online via Recreation.gov and 100% of the quota will be available for advanced reservations from six months to one day in advance of your entry date. For updated conditions and trip planning information, visit our webpage links provided below. You may also call our permit offices during business hours for assistance.
Winter conditions are expected to persist in Desolation Wilderness from November through June. Trailhead parking areas are closed in winter and many access roads are not subject to snow removal. Lakes are likely to be frozen and expect trails to be fully or partially covered in snow, depending on the time of year. In the spring, melting snow can create hazardous conditions. A stream that is easy to cross in the morning may become impassible in the afternoon as snow melts. Only those experienced in backcountry travel in deep snow or spring snowmelt should attempt trips into Desolation Wilderness. Call local Forest Service offices for current conditions. Carefully review cancellation information before making reservations.
Permits are required all year round and allows an individual or group (max. size limit is 12) travelling & camping together to stay in this Wilderness.
Permits are limited from Friday of Memorial Day weekend to the end of September. The quota is based on 45 Destination Zones. You must stay your first night in the Zone you select for your permit. After your first night, you may change locations for subsequent nights of your visit using the same permit, as long as you exit by the last date booked for your trip.
Permits can be reserved up to six months in advance of your day of entry. Outside of the quota season, permits can be booked and printed on the day of entry.
Your permit is available to print starting seven days in advance and up to the day of entry. You must have a printed copy of your permit with you at all times.
Day Use Permit:
Obtain a free permit from a local Forest Service office, or at trailheads in the summer. Requirement waived in 2021 due to COVID.
Desolation Wilderness Guidelines
To protect fragile ecosystems and reduce environmental impacts, follow the visitor use guidelines below and this additional trip planning information.
Special Management Areas
Bears and Food Storage
Reservation Fee: A $6.00 non-refundable reservation fee is required for each overnight permit reserved.
Overnight Recreation Fee: There is a per person fee for a Desolation Wilderness Overnight Permit. Fees are charged as follows:
Adult (over 12 years in age): $5 per person for the 1st night; $10 for 2-14 nights
Child (12 years and younger): Free
Desolation Annual Pass Holder: Free. However, the $6/permit reservation fee still applies.
Parking: Pyramid Creek, Eagle Falls, Loon Lake, Rockbound, and Twin Lakes Day Use Areas have a day use fee, which is waived for overnight permit holders. Overnight permit holders must display parking pass in vehicle.
The maximum charge for recreation fees is $100 per permit.
Cancel at least eight days prior to entry date: all recreation fees will be refunded.
Cancel seven days or less prior to the entry date: none of the fees will be refunded.
The $6.00 reservation fee is non-refundable for all reservations.
Changes to your permit are allowed if they are made greater than eight days before your date of entry. Once your permit is available to print, no changes will be allowed (refer to cancellation policy).
Change in the number of people, number of days, or the first night destination zone: log onto the website or contact the call center to make changes. A $5 change fee will apply (if you are increasing your party size, additional use fees will apply).
Changing the date of entry: cancel your current permit and reserve a new permit. A $6.00 reservation fee will apply to the new permit reservation.
4260 Eight Mile Road Camino CA 95709
35 College Drive South Lake Tahoe CA 96150
530-647-5415 or 530-543-2600