Desolation Wilderness Overnight Permits

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.

Permits are required year-round for overnight use.

  • Tahoe Rim trail hikers that are hiking the whole loop are required to have a permit and are subject to fees. The Basin has decided to not incorporate these permits into the quota as long as the use is minimal. Use will be monitored and if it becomes significant then they will be incorporated into the quota next season. Shorter hikes using the Desolation portion of the PCT/TRT are considered Desolation permits and are part of the quota.

What Has Changed This Year?

2022 Season: 

  • 70% of the daily quota for overnight permits are RESERVABLE online from 6 months to 1 day in advance of your date of entry at www.recreation.gov.
  • 30% of the daily quota for overnight permits will be available via WALK-IN/same day issuance at the Placerville Ranger Station in Camino 7 days a week starting the Friday before Memorial Day.
  • Overnight permits will also be available Monday-Friday at the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Supervisor’s Office in South Lake Tahoe starting June 6th (Call ahead as this date may change to be earlier than June 6).
  • Important 2022 Desolation Wilderness Permit Changes (pdf)

You need to have a Plan:

Answer the following questions to walk you through your pre-planning efforts.

  1. Is a Wilderness the appropriate destination for the trip and activities you want to do?
    Carefully review the Desolation Wilderness rules and regulations.
  2. How many people and how experienced are the people in your group?
    Consider the size of your group and the skill level of the least experienced person in your group. Maximum group size is 12. If you have a large group, you may want to consider areas outside of a designated Wilderness.
  3. When do you plan to go on this trip?
    Determine your date of entry/exit and what trailheads you would like to enter and exit from.
    • HIGH USE SEASON
      A quota in place 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.
      • 2022 Season: 70% of quota is reservable online. 30% available for walk-in/same day entry.
      • Zones: 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.‚Äč
    • NON-QUOTA SEASON
      Between October 1 and Memorial Weekend you will still need to know your zone, but your group size can contain up to 12 overnight users. Permits can be obtained online or in person at offices which issue Desolation Wilderness permits.
  4. Where exactly do you want to camp?
    Look at the Zone Map to determine your desired Destination Zone for your first night stay.
  5. Is there space for your party size in the desired zone?
    Review the Zone Quota information to determine the number of allowed people. 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. You cannot split your group and stay at the same destination together.  Have a backup destination in case there is not enough space available for your group.
  6. Consider what the weather may be like and the likely conditions for that time of year.
    There may still be a significant amount of snow cover and cold temperatures into late June. Mosquitos are heavy after snow melt.
  7. Do you have questions?
    You can call the Desolation Wilderness office for trip planning assistance. Only the Placerville Ranger District office is open to walk-in visitors currently due to COVID19 restrictions.

How to Obtain a Permit

You must always carry your wilderness permit during your trip.

Online Reservations & Permits -  

Available at www.recreation.gov.  Within the quota season 70% of the daily quota for overnight permits is reservable online from 6 months to 1 day in advance of your date of entry. The other 30% is only available for walk-in/same day entry.

  • Convenience: 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.
  • Overnight Wilderness Permit Fee - $5/person for one night, $10/person for 2 to 14 nights. The cost of a single permit will not exceed $100. Children 12 and under are free. Permit fees are paid at time of reservation. Permit fees may be refunded if changes or cancellation is done more than 7 days in advance of date of entry. All fees are non-refundable if the permit is cancelled within 7 days or less of date of entry.
  • Reservation Fee - $6 per party/permit (non-refundable) for all transaction types. Desolation Wilderness is managed via a zone quota system. All overnight permits are issued out of one database to manage the quota limits through the Recreation.gov site. Whether you walk-in, go online, or call, you are reserving space in the quota. 
  • Service Charge - There is a fee for a change to the date or for adding people. No fee for cancellations. Changes to reserved permits can be made online, through the call center, or in person.
  • Printing Your Permit:  Within 7 days of your entry date, you can print your permit. Check the box that you agree to abide by Desolation Wilderness Rules and Regulations before printing.

First-Come, First Served Overnight Permits –

The program has returned to 30% of the quota being available first-come, first-serve the day of entry and may not be reserved ahead of time. You must register in person and pay fees at one of the permit offices during business hours.

Office Locations (for a walk-in permit)

WEST Side Entry

  • PLACERVILLE RANGER DISTRICT (Eldorado National Forest)
    4260 Eight Mile Road, Camino, CA 95709
    Take exit 54 off highway 50.
    Phone: (530) 647-5415, 7 days/week, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

EAST Side Entry

  • LAKE TAHOE BASIN MANAGEMENT UNIT SUPERVISOR’S OFFICE
  • 35 College Drive, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150.
    Phone: (530) 543-2600, (please leave message and staff will return your call) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
    Located two miles east of the 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.
  • TAYLOR CREEK VISITOR CENTER
    Closed until further notice.

How Will the Fees Be Used?

The fees collected and retained under this pilot project would be used for the following projects and purposes:

  • Fees are being collected as part of the Recreation Enhancement Act. These revenues have helped to increase the level of wilderness ranger patrol, have contributed to an increase in trail maintenance, signing, site clean-up and restoration, and have made possible other wilderness conservation and education projects.
  • Restoration of heavily impacted camping areas and lake basins.
  • Improving trail maintenance, including catching up on backlogged trail maintenance, and ensuring early logging-out of trails.
  • Maintaining and improving trailheads, including signing, garbage, toilet, and parking facilities.
  • Enhancing maintenance and protection of the wilderness through increased presence by wilderness rangers.
  • Enhancing the wilderness education program, including hiring additional staff to provide "Leave No Trace" information to visitors at high use trailheads and visitor centers.

 

  • Desolation Trails & Trailheads

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    Check out this page for a list of destinations by trailhead. The charts include the distance one way to the destination, the difficulty rating for that section of the trail, and the zone you will be in when you reach that destination.