A 3-DAY BACKPACKING
TRIP TO DESOLATION WILDERNESS
TRIP · 3 day backpacking trip
FOR · Friends in high altitude places
VIBE · Challenging & rewarding
COST · $
DRIVE · 3 hours from SF
IDEAL DATES · August - October
PETS · Welcome on trails & campgrounds
TESSA MORRIS & COLIN BALLOU
There’s something so special about this vast, desolate area in South Lake Tahoe. The granite landscape, calm lakes, countless Junipers, pristine peaks, and Milky Way views make for a remarkably unique trek. With 45 zones to explore, each trip leaves us yearning to return.
WHY WE LOVE THIS TREK
Camping below the tree line meant we had to practice our Black Bear protection. We brought a bear can to carry food, toiletries, and food trash, and even hiked with Bear Spray for extra precaution. Before bed, we suspended the bear can in a tree, about 100 yards downwind from our tent.
WHAT WE LEARNED ON THIS TRIP
WHY ELDORADO NATIONAL FOREST?
Eldorado National Forest (ENF) is 596,700+ acres of granite peaks, alpine lakes & lush meadows. The forest features Desolation Wilderness (& parts of Mokelumne Wilderness), which is one of the most-visited backcountry destinations in the country! Elevation in the area can range from 1,000 to 10,000+ feet so you can experience a diversity of wild ecosystems.
⛺ You'll need a wilderness permit for this trip so reserve & print yours ASAP
🔥 Apply & print out a CA campfire permit too. It only takes a few minutes online.
⛈️ Bring rain gear, camp below the tree line & avoid afternoon hikes (when thunderstorms are most likely)
⛰️ The lowest elevation you’ll be at is 7500 ft. so make sure you’re comfortable and/or familiar with the altitude
😷 Face masks & social distancing are
required. Recreate responsibly!
NEED TO KNOW
MOUNTAIN HOUSE CHICKEN FRIED RICE*
*We love the convenience of freeze dried backpacking food. Mountain House is our favorite brand – just bring salt, pepper, and hot sauce to spice things up!
LEAVE SF BY 8 AM
IF YOU'RE OKAY WITH ADDING ~1 HR TO YOUR TRIP, GO TO FRESCANA MEXICAN BISTRO
Located at 3141 US Hwy 50 Ste. C, South Lake Tahoe
Order a breakfast/lunch burrito to get energized before your trek!
Open everyday | 8 AM - 8 PM
DRIVE TO ECHO LAKE PARKING LOT
There’s a general store for last minute needs and treats
Campsites are also available should you need to buffer either end of your trek
ENJOY THE 4.1 MILE HIKE TO RALSTON LAKE
- At 3.6 miles, you’ll see a sign to turn left towards Tamarack & Ralston Lakes
- The last 0.5 mile, you'll hike along Tamarack Lake, cross a small stream (keep an eye out for a felled tree), then reach Ralston Lake
- There is a fair amount of flat ground with trees for shade and privacy on the NE side of Ralston Lake
- If the lake level is high enough, there are some awesome cliffs to jump off of on the eastern side of the lake
- Ralston Lake is very secluded with low foot traffic. We had the lake all to ourselves!
SETTLE IN & SET UP CAMP
CAR TO CAMP: 4.1 miles |961 ft of elevation gain | 3 hours
PACK UP & PACK OUT BEFORE NOON
- Sleep-in, cook a hot breakfast & check for any litter around camp
- Top off your water supply before you head out
RETURN TO ECHO LAKE PARKING LOT
CAMP TO CAR: 4.1 miles | 961 ft. of elevation gain | 3 hours
HIKE TO LAKE OF THE WOODS OR LAKE ALOHA
- It's a 4.6 mile RT to Lake of the Woods or a 4.8 mile RT hike to Lake Aloha
- Enjoy view of the notorious Aloha Lake!
OR IF YOU'RE FEELING AMBITIOUS, HIKE TO RALSTON PEAK
- It's a 7.4 mile RT climb with 1,395 ft. of elevation gain
- This hike ventures you above the tree line so bring lots of water & sunscreen!
- Roughly the last 0.5 mile of this trail is marked by cairns so keep an eye out
- From the summit, you can see 11 lakes!
VIBE CHECK DESOLATION WILDERNESS
Your outdoor experiences helps everyone have a safe & memorable time in nature. Share how your trip to Desolation Wilderness went below and mad props if you used this itinerary!
THANK TESSA & COLIN FOR SHARING THEIR ITINERARY!
Tessa, a summiteer of Half Dome and Mount Whitney, and Colin, a proud Eagle Scout, have channeled their lifelong passion for the outdoors by cycling through their favorite seasonal activities: hiking, backpacking, and snowboarding. When they aren’t summiting up or sliding down a mountain, you can find them dancing at a music festival or sandwiched between their 3 cats. Learn more.
LAST UPDATED: April 26, 2021
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