Desolation Wilderness

Area Status: Temporarily Closed
This area is Closed

Backcountry Closure Order

August 19, 2021 - Due to the Caldor Fire, a temporary closure order has been implemented for the following backcountry areas: Desolation Wilderness, Meiss Country, Barker Pass and McKinney/Rubicon. The closure order will remain in effect from Aug. 19 to Sep. 19, 2021.

Welcome to Desolation Wilderness, 63,960 acres of sub-alpine and alpine forest, granite 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.  For specific information on fees, permits, trail information, and the zone quota, follow this link:  Read More

  • Desolation Wilderness permits available online - Permits are available through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS) at Reserved permits can be printed at home or picked up at a Forest Service office within 14 days prior to date of entry. A signed copy of your permit must be in your possession.
  • Desolation Wilderness Volunteer Program - visit for more information.

At a Glance

Current Conditions: No wood or charcoal fires, propane appliances OK with permit
Reservations: Reservations are now made online by visiting
Fees 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). Children 12 and under are free. Golden passes do not apply to personal use permits. Parking Fee are required in some areas. This fee is waived for overnight permit holders by obtiaining a parking pass, which exempts you from this fee when you pick up your overnight permit.
Permit Info: 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
Restrictions: 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 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. The 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. 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.
Closest Towns: South Lake Tahoe, California
Water: Water in the Sierra may be contaminated by Giardia lambia & 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 accessible via Highway 50 on the west side and Highway 89 on the eastside.


General Notes:


Camping & Cabins

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Dispersed Camping


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Nature Viewing

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Areas & Activities


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