Photo Gallery: A Desolation Wilderness Dayhike

By Michael Lanza

Although California’s Desolation Wilderness had long been on my list of places I wanted to explore, my first dayhike there happened serendipitously. We had just finished a 65-mile backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park and were planning on launching straight into an 86-miler in northern Yosemite, but wildfire smoke sent us packing. So we wound up in the Lake Tahoe area, which wasn’t getting smoke from the fires, looking for a dayhike. And we found a great one.

My friends Todd Arndt, David Ports, and I started up the Bayview Trail, above Emerald Bay on the southwest side of Lake Tahoe, in late afternoon—when most hikers were returning to their cars, assuring that we’d have a handful of mountain lakes to ourselves on a beautiful late-summer evening.

We followed an 11.3-mile, lollipop route past Granite Lake (about a mile in, a good destination for a short dayhike or weekend backpacking trip for a young family) to Middle and Upper Velma Lakes, Fontanillis Lake, and Dicks Lake—a great area for a weekend backpacking trip.

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The Desolation Wilderness encompasses 63,960 acres of granite peaks, glacial valleys and lakes, and sub-alpine and alpine forest west of Lake Tahoe. The area has been protected since the creation of the Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve in 1899.  In 1931, it became the Desolation Valley Primitive Area. In 1969, five years after passage of The Wilderness Act, the Desolation Wilderness was added to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

After several hours of hiking there, the Desolation remains on my list of places to explore more deeply.

See all of my stories about adventures in California at The Big Outside, including my stories about that 65-mile backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park and my story about two of us returning a year later to take that 86-mile northern Yosemite hike.

Make It Happen

Season The prime hiking season in the Desolation Wilderness and the mountains around Lake Tahoe extends from late June through September.

The Itinerary From the Bayview Trailhead on CA 89, west of South Lake Tahoe, hike the Bayview Trail southwest. At 3.5 miles, reach a junction with trails that form a 4.3-mile loop to Middle and Upper Velma Lakes, Fontanillis Lake, and Dicks Lake. After hiking that loop in either direction, return on the Bayview Trail.

Map Lake Tahoe Basin Hiking and Biking Trail Map, $12.99,

Do you like The Big Outside? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by a USA Today Readers Choice poll and others. Subscribe for updates about new stories and free gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box at the bottom of this story or in the left sidebar, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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