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Backpacking in Desolation Wilderness

A trek through Lake Tahoe's Desolation Wilderness past Velma Lake, Fontanillis Lake, Dicks Lake, and Eagle Lake
Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 13.8 miles
Duration: Unknown

Overview :  This hike provides a great tour of some of the best features of desolation wilderness. It is great for a 2-day, 1-night backpacking... more »

Tips:  - Middle Velma lake has more camping spots than the other lakes in this area.
- Make sure to get a wilderness permit for overnight... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Parking and Trailhead

There is a campground just off of Hwy 89 where you can find overnight parking (make sure to fill out the form available at the trailhead so rangers know where you are). If this lot is full you may be able to find some parking along the Hwy 89.

The trailhead is at the back of the campground parking area, the furthest point from Hwy 89.

2. Steep climb

The first part of the hike is a very steep climb to the first view point. After the first mile it gets significantly easier, and the views at the top and a swim in the lakes will make it all worthwhile.

3. Views of Emerald Bay

After about 1 mile of uphill hiking you will be rewarded with your first view of Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe below. You can wander off the main trail a little ways to get a better view.

4. Granite Lake

After another 0.5 miles you will see Granite Lake below on your left (it would take some extra work to reach the lake). Continue up the trail another 0.5 miles and you will reach the end of this section's climbing.

5. Desolation Wilderness View

After the first 2 miles you will reach the top of the climbing section and be rewarded with an amazing view with Eagle Lake below and to the right. You will walk by this lake near the end of the hike.

6. Junction

Continue straight at this junction to reach the lakes in this area (Velma, Fontanillis, Dicks) if you don't have the time or energy for the full loop, take the trail to the right to hike down to Eagle Lake.

7. Junction

Soon you will reach another split in the trail. You can go either way because you will eventually loop back to this point. Dicks lake is to the left, Middle and Upper Velma are to the right, and Fontanillis is about the same distance either way.

The Velma lakes have more camping choices, so it may be nice to hike straight there and continue the... More

8. Upper Velma Lake

Soon you will pass by the side of Upper Velma Lake. You can camp near this lake but if you do you will have more to hike the next day. Camping at Lower Velma only leaves about 8 miles for the next day.

9. Middle Velma Lake

Middle Velma Lake has a number of camping spots and is a great lake for swimming, but know that it can be very cold, especially in June and July. There are a number of small rock islands in the middle of the lake that you can hop between and rest to recover from the cold.

10. Fontanillis Lake

Fontanillis Lake is a beautiful lake but there are not many easily accessible camp spots. You will walk along the entire length of the lake on your way to Dicks lake.

To your left you can see Lake Tahoe in the distance.

11. Dicks Lake

Dicks Lake is another option for camping, but the spots are limited. If you are lucky, you may grab the best spot just off the trailhead with lots of flat space and a great view of the lake and the mountains in the background.

12. Junction

You now have completed the lakes loop. Continue to the right (if you went counter clockwise around the loop) and head back towards the lake Tahoe.

13. Junction

Soon you will arrive at the last junction. You can continue to the right where you will hike back down towards Granite Lake and the parking lot, or hike to the left to visit Eagle lake and eagle falls.

If you choose to continue to eagle falls (recommended), you will need to walk about 0.5 miles along the shoulder of Hwy 89 to each your car, but ... More

After hiking down you will arrive at eagle lake, which is a popular day hike destination. There are some nice spots to sit by the lake and enjoy a snack or a swim.

Just before the end of the trail you will cross a bridge over eagle fall. Just after the bridge there is a view point where you can look back to see the entire waterfall.

16. Parking Lot

Your hike is over (almost). If your car is at the other parking lot, you will need to hike a few minutes further along Hwy 89 to the right to reach the parking lot. The walk passes quickly as you will have great views of Emerald Bay below.