Desolation (Wilderness)

California has no shortage of amazing parks and recreation areas, but for those who are wild at heart, the wilderness areas of California offer some of the most remote, pristine and dramatic landscapes you can find. Protected by the California Wilderness Act of 1974, these regions offer some of the best backpacking, hiking and fishing regions within the state, spanning alpine regions, coastal mountains and desert. A few weeks ago, I took a much needed weekend to unwind on a shot packing trip in Desolation Wilderness. This little known area tucked behind Fallen Leaf Lake in South Lake Tahoe contains parts of the Pacific Crest Trail and is home to countless breathtaking views and unspoiled lakes.


The waterfall on the hike in. Photo credit: Lisette

My former neighbor and I met at the Glen Alpine trailhead, planning to hike out towards Lake Aloha for the first night, day hike on the second day, move camp and stay at Alta Morris Lake (by Half Moon Lake), then hike back out on day three. We arrived at the trailhead around 11:00 a.m. and started out, passing by a lovely waterfall before the trail started to narrow. The trail was fairly easy to follow, but slowly became harder, at one point we started following arrows and quickly found ourselves pushing through heavy brush, looking for signs of the trail with increasingly frequency. While we continued to encounter stone piles that assured us we were on the trail, our confidence in the route was rapidly dwindling. We stumbled upon a few signs of civilization, found a disposable camera and eventually followed voices we heard to a trail. It was then that we discovered we had come off the trail and done a loop back down through the brush right back to (nearly) the beginning of the trail. A few disheartened laughs later, we headed back out. Apparently we had gotten lost at a sharp turn in the trail, which had foiled a few hikers before us, but they gave up on bushwhacking far more quickly than we had. Once we had discovered the point where we ventured off trail and traversed beyond our transgression, we picked up the pace in order to hit our destination before sunset.

Desolation Campsite

Our camp at Lake Aloha. Photo credit: Lisette

We found the ultimate campsite right when we reached the lake, a little spot between rocky granite outcroppings, tucked back from shore and near a small, marshy grass meadow. This perfect spot gave us complete isolation and privacy, with ideal proximity to the water and fantastic views of the lake. On the second day we hiked to Lake of the Woods, and attempted to hike beyond before being once again tricked by a fickle trail with counterintuitive markings. Deciding not to take a risk that day, we headed back to Lake Aloha via the Pacific Crest Trail and decided to enjoy a second night in our campsite before heading back home.

Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods. Photo credit: Maria

A few tips if you’re packing into Desolation Wilderness:

  1. Bear bins are recommended. We didn’t see any bears on this trip, but felt much safer for using these (absurdly heavy) contraptions.
  2. Explore to find your campsite. We saw a lot of folks with tents RIGHT along the trail, while convenient, this hardly compares to trekking around and finding something private off the trail.
  3. Trust your instincts. Just because some demonic boy scouts put arrows around to mislead you doesn’t mean you have to fall for that nonsense.
  4. Trekking poles. Seriously, I’d never used them before, but this rocky scenery begs for extra stability. I thought I’d look like a giant nerd, but everyone had them.

Desolation Scenery.jpg

Scenery on the hike to Lake Aloha. Photo credit: Lisette

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