Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness

This unique area totals 63,960 acres of wilderness land which is yours to enjoy, protect, and care for.

Welcome to Desolation Wilderness, 63,960 acres of subalpine and alpine forest, granitic peaks, and glacially-formed valleys and lakes. It is located west of Lake Tahoe and north of Highway 50 in El Dorado County. Desolation Wilderness is jointly administered by both the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

The land which became Desolation Wilderness was part of the Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve, established in 1899. In 1910, when the first tourists were beginning to make their way over the narrow dirt roads of Echo and Donner summits, the area was made part of the newly formed Eldorado National Forest. The area was named the Desolation Valley Primitive Area in 1931, and in 1969 Desolation Wilderness was Congressionally designated and included in the National Wilderness Preservation System. This unique area now totals 63,960 acres of wilderness land which is ours to enjoy, protect, and care for. Enjoy your visit and be sure to Leave No Trace so that future generations may return to enjoy its permanent but changing beauty.

General Information

Campfires -Campfires are prohibited in Desolation Wilderness to reduce human-caused fires, impacts to vegetation from firewood collection, and to reduce the visual impacts of fire rings and surface scarring. Your wilderness permit is also your campfire permit for your gas camp stove while visiting the Desolation Wilderness.

Method of Travel - Travel is restricted to horseback or foot only. All means of mechanical transportation, including bicycles, carts, and snowmobiles, are prohibited in the wilderness. Wheelchairs are allowed. Stay on trails and do not shortcut switchbacks or create parallel ruts by walking alongside the trail.

Waste - Visitors are required to bury human waste 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water, trails, and campsites. Toilet paper must be buried or packed out. Garbage must be packed out.

Group Size - Maximum group size is 12 people for both day and overnight use.

Pets - Domestic pets are allowed in the Desolation Wilderness at this time. You are responsible for their actions as well as their welfare. Pets should either be leashed or under direct voice control. Dogs can disturb other campers, get in fights with other dogs along the trail, and scare wildlife away. The Eldorado County leash laws will be enforced inside the wilderness boundary where dogs off leash are an impediment or hazard to the safety of any person, or where dogs are harassing or molesting wildlife.

Stock - Livestock is limited to two livestock per person, or 12 livestock in one group. Do not hitch, tether, or hobble a horse or other saddle or pack animal within 200 feet of a water source or within 100 feet of a campsite.

Natural Resources

The Desolation Wilderness is managed according to the Wilderness Act of 1964 to "ensure an enduring resource of Wilderness for present and future generations." The wilderness character of the Desolation and its values of solitude, physical and mental challenge, scientific study, inspiration and primitive recreation will be protected, and where necessary, restored. Natural ecological conditions will be preserved under a concept of non-degradation, to prevent further loss of naturalness or solitude. Detailed information may be found in the Desolation Wilderness Management Guidelines and Land Management Plan Amendment.

  • Overnight Permits

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    Because of its beauty and accessibility, Desolation Wilderness is one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the United States. In order to protect its unique beauty and wilderness character, human access is limited and certain activities are restricted in the Desolation.

  • Day Use Permits

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    Fees are being collected as part of the Recreation Enhancement Act.

  • Trails & Trailheads for Desolation

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    Checkout the list of Desolation Wilderness trails and their mileages.

  • Desolation Wilderness Volunteer Program

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    The Eldorado National Forest is searching for a few dedicated volunteers who enjoy working, and sharing their passion for the preservation of our wild lands.

  • Desolation Critters

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    Desolation Wilderness provides visitors with the opportunity to witness a diverse population of wildlife.

  • Desolation Plant Life

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    As much of the ground surface in Desolation is bedrock granite, soils are limited. Plant life, however, has adapted and the flora is diverse.

  • Desolation Geology

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    The granitic mountains of the Desolation are part of the massive Sierra batholith, the combined masses of granitic rock that have been uplifted by tectonic action to form the 400 mile long Sierra Nevada range.

  • Desolation History

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    The area now known as Desolation Wilderness has a long history of use by both Native Americans and European settlers.