Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness is a federally designated wilderness area consisting of 63,960 acres of sub-alpine and alpine forest, granite peaks, and glacially-formed valleys and lakes. Located southwest of Lake Tahoe and north of Highway 50 in El Dorado County, Desolation Wilderness is jointly managed by the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. For specific information on fees, permits, trail information, and the zone quota, visit Recreation.govPlease note: Wood and charcoal fires are not permitted in Desolation Wilderness.

At a Glance

Current Conditions: No Wood or Charcoal Fires
Reservations: Reservations are made online at
Fees: An overnight wilderness permit fee is $5 per person for the first night and $10 per person for two or more nights up to 14 days (non-refundable) plus a $6 non-refundable reservation fee. Children 12 and under are free. Golden passes do not apply to personal use permits. Parking fees are required in some areas. This fee is waived for overnight permit holders by obtaining a parking pass, which exempts you from this fee when you pick up your overnight permit, except for Bayview Trailhead and Day-Use area, which charges a separate one-time parking fee of $10.
Permit Info: Entry permits are required year-round for both day and overnight use. There are fees for overnight camping year-round and a quota system is in place from May through October.
Usage: Heavy
  • Campfires: Wood and charcoal fires 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. Wilderness Permits include a campfire permit for propane appliances with an on/off valve.
  • 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 permitted. 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 6-8 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: Leashed domestic pets are currently allowed in the Desolation Wilderness. You are responsible for their actions as well as their welfare. Pets are required to be leashed and you must clean up after them. Dogs can disturb other campers, get in fights with other dogs along the trail, and scare wildlife away. El Dorado County leash laws are enforced inside the Wilderness boundary as dogs off leash can be an impediment and/or hazard to the safety of hikers, and to prevent dogs from harassing or molesting wildlife.
  • Pack Stock: Livestock is limited to 2 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.
Closest Towns: South Lake Tahoe, California
Water: Water sources may be contaminated by Giardia lambia and/or Crytosporidium, which may cause illness.
Operated By: Co-managed by the Eldorado National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

General Information


Desolation Wilderness is located in the southwest corner of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Trailheads are located off U.S. Highway 50 on the west side and S.R. Highway 89 on the east side.


General Notes:


Dispersed Camping

Lake and Pond Fishing

River and Stream Fishing

Day Hiking

West side trailheads are all on the Eldorado National Forest and the east side trailheads are all on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

West Side Trailheads include Loon Lake Trailhead, Buck Island Trailhead, Van Vleck Trailhead, Rockbound Trailhead, Twin Lakes Trailhead, Lyons Trailhead, Pyramid Creek (Twin Bridges) Trailhead, Ralston Trailhead, Echo Trailhead.

East Side Trailheads include Echo Lakes Trailhead, Glen Alpine Trailhead, Mount Tallac Trailhead, Bayview Trailhead, Eagle Falls Trailhead, Meeks Bay Trailhead.

Fire Information No campfires
Difficulty Level: Easy to Difficult


Hiking: Backpacking
Fire Information No campfires
Difficulty Level: Easy to Difficult

Viewing Wildlife

Viewing Plants

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


  Elevation : 
Elevations in Desolation Wilderness range from 5000 foot valleys to 9000 foot peaks.