Desolation Wilderness Recreation Guide

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. 

Our Most Recent Desolation Adventure Destination Reviews


Backpacking desolation Wilderness is a great Sierra Experience. With so many different locations to choose from with multiple access points it is really about proper planning and the distance you are willing to travel.

Backpacking in Desolation Wilderness Requires a Wilderness Permit.

Backpacking Permits can be purchased online or with the forest service department in both the Lake Tahoe Basin and Eldorado National forest.

Permit & Season Information

Overnight Permit:

A permit allows an individual or group (max. size limit is 12) traveling and camping together to stay overnight in Desolation Wilderness.

Overnight permits are subject to a quota from the Friday of Memorial Day weekend to September 30. The quota is based on 45 Destination Zones. You must stay your first night in the Destination Zone you select for your permit. After your first night, you may change locations for subsequent nights of your visit using the same permit, as long as you exit by the last date booked for your trip.

Permits can be reserved up to six months in advance of your day of entry. Outside of the quota season, permits can be booked and printed on the day of entry.

Your permit is available to print starting seven days in advance and up to the day of entry. You must have a printed copy of your permit with you at all times.

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). 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.

Campfires are prohibited in Desolation Wilderness

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.

Day Use Permit:

Obtain a free permit from a local Forest Service office, or self-issue a permit at most major trailheads in the summer.

Popular Destinations

Lakes: (87 Lake Destinations in Desolation)

  • Lake Aloha
  • Lake of the Woods
  • The Velma Lakes
  • Dicks Lake
  • Ten Lakes
  • Ropi / Desolation Lakes
  • American Lake
  • Stony Ridge Lake
  • Rubicon Lake
  • Snow Lake
  • Lake Azure
  • Eagle Lake
  • Fontanillis Lake
  • Cathedral Lake
  • Granite Lake


Mt Tallacc

Maggies Peak

Rubicon Peak

Pyramid Peak

Mt Price

Ralston Peak