Desolation Wilderness: Zone Quota

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.  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.  Visitors must choose a first night destination (see zone map below).  There are 45 zones which may be accessed by any of 15 trailhead entry points.

Overnight Users Need to Know:

  • Overnight users without reservations:  must register in person and pay fees at one of the offices listed below.  Please make every effort to to obtain your permit in person during business hours.  Visitors may now reserve overnight permits online by visiting the website.
  • Your Permit Date matters:  You must enter on the date specified on your permit and you 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.
  • Reservations for Permits:  70% of the quota is available by Reservation.  Reservations start on the third Thursday in April for the entire quota season. Reservations for permits are taken by the Pacific Ranger District of the Eldorado National Forest.
  • First Come-First Served Permits:  30% of the quota is available first-come, first-served on the day of entry and may not be reserved ahead of time. These permits can be picked up in person at the Pacific Ranger District on the Eldorado National Forest or at the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor's Office and seasonally at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center in South Lake Tahoe.
  • Note:  Some zones have small quotas, as few as two people, so please check the Zone Map and Zone Quota List below to determine if your destination allows enough people for your party size.
  • 2019 Recreational Opportunity Guide (ROG)
    (PDF 5,299 KB)


Desolation Wilderness Zone Map
(PDF 113 KB)

Zone Quota List
(PDF 68 KB)


Off-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 or by telephone at the offices listed above which issue Desolation Wilderness permits.