Desolation Wilderness, South Lake Tahoe, California



We have been hearing about Lake Tahoe often but this was the first time we made a trip out there. We wanted our first trip there to be an overview of the entire area, to see everything from above. I had seen pictures of views from Maggie's Peak and decided that would be our hike of the day. 

Fannette Island In Emerald Bay of Lake Tahoe, California

Fannette Island In Emerald Bay of Lake Tahoe, California

 Our hike started just outside the Eagle Falls Picnic area. We took a picture of the trail map of the area, filled out a day permit for Desolation Wilderness and were on our way. Not long after we started our hike, we arrived at Eagle Falls. We were in good company of other hikers until Eagle Lake. We stopped at Eagle Lake for a quick lunch, then pressed on. Just beyond Eagle Lake, the crowds thinned out substantially.

Eagle Lake, South Lake Tahoe, California

Eagle Lake, South Lake Tahoe, California

 The trail brought us just below tall Granite peaks with views of more Granite peaks cradling Eagle Lake below us. Soon we were surrounded by Granite - Granite below our feet, in the horizon and all around. It was a good incline here, my youngest requiring many breaks here. We passed through a section that was lush with green shrubs, then found the reason for it, a small Creek flowing through.

Granite everywhere

Granite everywhere, in Desolation Wilderness, near South Lake Tahoe, California

Soon, we got to the trail junction with a sign indicating the direction of our intended trail, Bayview Trail. A hiker we passed suggested a good viewpoint just ahead, so we thought we would try to find it by going towards the Velma Lakes. After about ½ mile, we decided to bail on it, not wanting to make the hike longer than it needed to be, as our little one was already close to his maximum hike distance with our intended hike. It was here that my husband wished he had brought his jacket. The wind made it quite a bit cooler here than down below. 

Surrounded by more granite in Desolation Wilderness, California

View of more granite, just below Maggie's Peak, Desolation Wilderness, California

Soon we got to what looked like a summit on our right, but with no signage. We decided to walk up the dirt footpath heading towards the summit, and wow were we glad we did. From that summit (South Maggie's Peak) we could see 4 blue glacial lakes and 1 glacial bay (Fallen Leaf Lake, Cascade Lake, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe and Granite Lake) juxtaposed against a green background and a beautiful blue sky. 

The view from South Maggie's Peak

The view from South Maggie's Peak - Fallen Leaf Lake (far right), Lake Tahoe (largest water body in picture), Cascade Lake (foreground), Emerald Bay (middle left connected to Lake Tahoe).  Just behind this tree in the left foreground is Granite Lake

Granite boulders marked the end of the summit. We did not stay long, just long enough for some pictures while the boys sat still. The boys got some new found energy, so we quickly had to descend. The boys were delighted to find some snow near the peak, and a snowball fight ensued.  As we made our way down, we passed a sea of green low plants with boulders jutting out  which led us towards Granite Lake. The rest of our way down we passed some rock outcrops with amazing views of Fannette Island in Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe's only island and more views of Lake Tahoe.  Some rock outcrops, some trees and we got to the beginning of Bayview Campground, then crossed the roadway to see the viewpoint at Inspiration Point. We were also looking for a trail heading towards Eagle Falls Picnic area where our car was parked, but to no avail. At that point, my husband volunteered to jog over to the car so our young kids would not have to walk on the curvy narrow roadway. He indicated that that portion felt like it was probably a mile long. 

Granite Lake, near South Lake Tahoe, California

Granite Lake, near South Lake Tahoe, California

We arrived in the trailhead area at around 10 am. There was a small parking lot at the end of the campground which was full and spilling over onto the roadway. I was not deterred as I knew the views of this hike was going to be worth the trouble. We spent the next hour or so going to Eagles Falls Picnic Trailhead and back to Bayview Campground, finally settling on stopping to stalk for a parking spot. The entire hike took just under 6 hours. *As for mileage, we had 2 apps running, Fit and Strava. Fit indicated a distance of 9.2 miles before the last mile long portion that my husband did, Strava clocked in 8.4 miles. The next day though Fit changed its measurement and stated a distance of 6 miles. So with my sources of information giving me different information, I will clock in this hike at somewhere between 7 miles and 10 miles to include the last mile portion on the roadway to make this hike a complete loop. Sorry I can't be more accurate or precise.* You can also park at the Bayview Campground and do the loop backwards.  Inspiration Point viewpoint is across the street from the Bayview Trailhead and was worth a stop after this hike, even if only to compare the views from there and up above.

View of Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe in the background

View of Granite Lake, Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe in the background.

The drive up Emerald Bay Road (Hwy 89) was also an interesting one, with the roadway going over a narrow ridge between Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake, overlooking both water bodies from above. Before the ridge, the road goes between Lake Tahoe and Cascade Lake with peek-a-boo views of Lake Tahoe. 

If you're looking for a shorter hike than the one we took, you can hike to either Granite Lake (from Bayview Campground) or Eagle Lake (from Eagle Falls Picnic Area) for a 2 mile round trip trail, though both have an incline (~1000 ft). If you are going to Eagle Lake, try to go just beyond Eagle Lake shore area, slightly into Desolation Wilderness (fill out a permit at start of trail) to get an overview of the lake as pictured above. The views are pretty cool, both of the lake and of the granite peaks that surround the lake and trail. Another way to shorten the hike is to do an out-and-back hike to South Maggie's Peak from Bayview Trailhead for an approximately 4 mile hike, though still with an almost 2000 ft elevation gain. The top of this hike at South Maggie's Peak will give you amazing views of the 4 blue lakes and 1 bay below.


Practical Information (as of July 2016):

Our Hike: 7-10 miles*(see above for explanation), about 2000 ft elevation change, high elevation (trail goes from about 6500 ft to 8500 ft), partially shaded, if you're going beyond Eagle Lake for the day, you'll need a Wilderness day permit which you can obtain at the trailhead (free), fill one out for your group and be on your way.

Desolation Wilderness Trail Map - as pictured from Eagle Falls Picnic Area trailhead  Desolation Wilderness Trail Map - as pictured from Eagle Falls Picnic Area trailhead

Desolation Wilderness Trail Map - as pictured from Eagle Falls Picnic Area trailhead


Features: Amazing aerial views of 5-6 lakes and bay all formed by glaciers, visit 2 of these glacial lakes, view of 1 waterfall, amazing Granite landscape

Directions: From South Lake Tahoe, drive about 8 miles north on Hwy 89 (Emerald Bay Rd) to Bayview Campground trailhead or Eagle Falls Picnic Area. Eagle Falls Picnic area is almost across the street from Vikingsholm parking area. Trailheads are at the end of picnic area and campground. Parking lots at these trailheads were very crowded. Arrive early. 

Parking fee: $5 in official parking spots, Fill out self permit at trailhead (free)

Things to bring: jacket, wear sunscreen, hats, snacks, water, flashlights (in case the hike takes longer than anticipated), picture of trail maps found at trailhead


Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. We do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  As such, we will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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