Thanks to it’s breathtaking granite landscape and accessibility, the Desolation Wilderness is one of the most popular wilderness areas in the country. This wilderness straddles both sides of the Sierra Nevada, averages 12.5 miles in length and eight miles in width, and has elevations ranging from about 6,500 feet to over 10,000 feet.
Snow often blocks the high passes until mid July. Long recognized for its mountain splendor, Desolation Valley Primitive Area was established in 1931 and then granted Wilderness status in 1969. A section of the Pacific Crest Trail/Tahoe Rim Trail traverses 17 miles of the Wilderness.
The Desolation Wilderness is located just to the southwest of Lake Tahoe and north of Highway 50. It is accessible from the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through the length of the wilderness, and its proximity to roads makes it one of the more easily accessible wildernesses in the Sierra.
Due to its popularity and fragile ecosystem, permits are required year-round for both day and overnight visits. (Why?) Permits are available for all entry points from either the Eldorado National Forest or the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU).
Day hikers may obtain a free permit from one of the offices listed below, 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 visits are not subject to fees, maximum group size is 12.
Overnight Trip Planning
From the Friday before Memorial Day weekend to the last day in September a zone-quota system is in effect for overnight trips into Desolation. 70% of the daily quota for each individual zone can be reserved 6 months in advance thru recreation.gov. 30% of each zone’s quota is available on the day of entry at walk up locations listed below.
The on-line reservation service, recreation.gov allows visitors to make reservations seven days a week. A call center is available to assist daily from 7 am-9pm (summer) and 7am – 7pm (winter). First-come, first-served overnight permits are available the day of entry at the office locations and business hours listed below.
Within 7 days of your “Date of Entry”, you may print your permit yourself, or bring your confirmation email and photo ID to a Forest Service office to have them print it. During the zone-quota period permits are in high demand and trip-planning is important to secure your desired location in advance..
Pick up permits on the Eldorado at:
Placerville Ranger Station
4260 Eight Mile Road
Camino CA 95709
Summer Mon-Sat: 8:00am to 4:30pm M-Sat
Summer Sunday: 8:00am to noon
Winter: 8am to 4:30pm M-F
Pick up permits in the Tahoe Basin at:
Taylor Creek Visitor Center
Located three miles north of the Highway 50/89 junction
at South Lake Tahoe, on Highway 89
(Open summer only)
LTBMU Supervisors Office
35 College Drive
S. Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE
Group size is limited to 12 people per party who will be hiking or camping together. (Why?)
BEARS AND FOOD STORAGE
- Bear proof food storage containers are available for free rental from the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, Pacific Ranger Station, or the LTBMU Supervisor’s Office (addresses above).
- Use the Bear Section on this site to learn more about proper food storage methods and protecting Sierra Black Bears.
Due to the Desolations fragile high elevation ecosystem Campfires are not allowed anywhere in the wilderness area. Camp stoves for cooking are permissible.
Dogs are to be under the owners control at all times. Always have a leash with you in an immediately accessible location. The El Dorado County Leash Law is enforced when dogs are harassing wildlife or impacting other visitors opportunities for solitude. Manage dog waste by burying or carrying it out depending on the season.
Equestrian/Pack Stock Considerations
Livestock are 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.
Eldorado National Forest
Pacific Ranger District
7887 Highway 50
Pollock Pines, CA 95726-9602
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
35 College Drive
S. Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 543-0956 (hearing impaired)
(530) 543-2693 (fax)