Desolation Wilderness

Thanks to it’s breathtaking granite landscape and easy 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. The Pacific Crest Trail traverses about 17 miles of the Desolation, marking the boundary between Eldorado National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.


The Desolation Wilderness is located just to the southwest of Lake Tahoe, north of Highway 50. It is accessible from all sides, though most hikers begin their visit in the 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-around for both day and overnight use. (Why?) Permits are available for all entry points from either the Eldorado National Forest or the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU).

Day Use

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 use is not subject to fees nor limited by quota at any time of the year.

Overnight Trips

During the summer a quota is in effect on the number of people allowed into the wilderness for overnight trips. Half of the permit spaces are reserved ahead of time, and half are held for “first come first served” visitors.


The new on-line service at will allow wilderness visitors to make their reservations for 50% of the quota any time of the day seven days per week. A call center will be available to assist with reservations daily from 7 AM – 9 PM in the summer and 7 AM to 7 PM in the winter. For first-come, first-served overnight permits you must register in person and pay fees at one of the following offices during business hours Within 14 days of your Date of Entry, log on to the website to print your permit or bring your confirmation letter and photo ID to a Forest Service permit office to pick it up. Due to limited zone quotas, reservations are a good idea during the quota season, especially on holidays and weekends.

Pick up permits on the Eldorado at:

Pacific Ranger District Office 7887 Highway 50 Pollock Pines, CA 95726-9602 (530) 647-5415

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) (530) 543-2674 LTBMU Supervisors Office 35 College Drive S. Lake Tahoe, CA 96150 530-543-2694


Group size is limited to 12 people per party who will be hiking or camping together. (Why?)


  • Bear proof food storage containers are available for free rental from the Taylor Creek Visitor Center 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 must be controlled at all times.


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 530-644-2349 TTY 530-647-5407 FAX 530-647-5405 Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Supervisor’s Office 35 College Drive S. Lake Tahoe, CA 96150 530-543-2600 (voice) (530) 543-0956 (hearing impaired) (530) 543-2693 (fax)

A sea of glacially carved granite, alpine forests, and pristine peaks make this piece of the sierra crest one of the most popular wilderness areas in the region


Current Conditions
Eldorado National Forest
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit



Desolation Info

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