Desolation Wilderness Permits and Quotas

[Photo]:  Ben and Roger Verseman settle down to rest at Twin Lakes in Desolation Wilderness.  2001 Amy L. Reid, USFS.

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.

GROUP SIZE

Group size is limited to 12 people per party who will be hiking or camping together.

DAY USE

Day users may obtain a free permit from one of the following offices, or may issue themselves a permit at most major trailheads in the summer. During the winter, day permits are available at the Pacific Ranger Station. Day use is not subject to fees nor limited by quota at any time of the year.

FEES

There are fees associated with the Desolation Program. Refer to the Fee page

PERMITS

Permits are required year-round for both day and overnight use.

QUOTA

There is a quota on overnight use from the Friday before Memorial Day through September 30 of each year. The overnight quota is based upon the number of people entering the wilderness each day, and their first night's destination zone.

  • There are 45 zones which may be accessed by any of 15 trailhead entry points. 
  • You must enter on the date specified on your permit and must spend your first night in the zone which you have chosen. The rest of your stay is not subject to zone requirements and you can change locations for the remainder of your trip.
  • Note: Some zones have small quotas, as few as two people, so please check to determine if your destination allows enough people for your party size.

RESERVATIONS

  • 70% of the quota is available by Reservation for the 2014 season. The on-line service at www.recreation.gov allows wilderness visitors to make their reservations any time of the day seven days per week. A call center, 1-877-444-6777, is available to assist with reservations daily from 7 AM – 9 PM in the summer and 7 AM to 7 PM in the winter.

FIRST-COME, FIRST SERVED OVERNIGHT PERMITS

  • 30% of the quota is available first-come, first-serve the day of entry and may not be reserved ahead of time. 
  • Must register in person and pay fees (day of entry permits) at one of the following offices. Please make every effort to to obtain your permit in person during business hours.
  • Pick up permits for WEST side entry at the:
    • PACIFIC RANGER DISTRICT: Located four miles east of Pollock Pines on Highway 50.
      7887 Highway 50, Pollock Pines, CA 95726
      Phone: (530) 647-5415
      Winter: Weekdays only. Monday through Saturday as of late April.
      Summer: 7 days a week, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through October.
  • Pick up permit for EAST side entry at the:
    • LAKE TAHOE VISITOR'S CENTER: Located three miles north of the Highway 50/89 junction at South Lake Tahoe, on Highway 89.
      Call for hours, phone: (530)543-2674. Open summer only.
    • LAKE TAHOE BASIN MANAGEMENT UNIT: Located two miles east of hte Highway 50/89 junction in South Lake Tahoe on Highway 50. From the highway turn right on Al Tahoe Blvd. and then turn right at first signal.
      35 College Drive, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150.
      Phone: (530)543-2600

NON-QUOTA SEASON

During the off-quota season there is no limit to the number of overnight users in each zone. Permits must be obtained in person at offices which issue Desolation Wilderness permits.