Desolation Wilderness lies within the Eldorado National Forest just southwest of Lake Tahoe, but it's accessible without having to gain entry at the Eldorado Main Entrance. One of the most convenient points of access to most of its trails is on the north side of Highway 50 just outside of Placerville, from which many of the trails intersect to form a network of hikes of varying lengths and skill levels.
Desolation's trails wind around clear alpine lakes, across meadows lush with grasses and wildflowers, along lofty ridges with spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. At the end of the treeline, lush forest transitions to barren, rocky terrain of granite with sparse growths of hemlock, fir and pine, and lake wetlands feature white-barked Quaking Aspen, willows and rough sedge.
Wildlife abounds on these trails, from small rodents like squirrels and rabbits to foxes, porcupines, bears and mule deer. Birds are everywhere, including the occasional golden eagle soaring on the thermals tracking the small mammals on the ground. The wilderness contains 130 lakes, numerous streams and at least 21 named trails, ranging from about a mile to almost 7 miles.
The McConnell Lake Trail is the longest, with an elevation gain of about 3500 feet. Challenging and steep, it arises just north of Highway 50 at Lake Schmidell, crosses meadows and up several slopes before circling McConnell Lake almost 7 miles north. Half Moon Lake Trail, another out-and-back, climbs 800 feet from its trailhead below Gilmore Lake at its junction with Glen Alpine Trail, skirts the north shore of Half Moon Lake and heads south again to end between Half Moon and Alta Morris Lake.
Ralston Peak Lake Trail is about 6 miles and climbs 2600 feet but the challenge is well-rewarded with spectacular views after a climb through dense, shady forest. Arguably the most popular trail is the Echo Lakes to Lake Aloha 6-mile, a section of the Pacific Crest Trail beginning at Echo Lakes. Meandering through a wildflower-strewn alpine meadow it ends at storied Aloha Lake with its clear, cold water pawrfect for a swim for you and Fido!
The Desolation Wilderness area is a rich, exciting destination for humans looking for a variety of hiking experiences with their pups, and you're sure to find plenty for both of you to love!
The Desolation Wilderness Trails lie within the Sierra Nevada Range and encompass much of the crest, so most of the routes are steep, rocky above the tree line, and undeveloped. Hiking experience or a guide, good equipment and footwear are a must. Also look out for black bears, bobcats and other potentially hazardous wildlife, and give them a wide berth.