Description: Eagle Falls Trail: From the Eagle Falls/Lake parking
lot, follow the trail past Eagle Falls towards Eagle Lake. The trail
along this sections is well maintained and easy to follow. You will
reach a trail junction near Eagle Lake where the right fork takes you
down to the lake and the left fork continues on into Desolation Wilderness.
Follow the trail toward Desolation. From Eagle Lake, the trail climbs
steadily with the steep cliff of Maggies Peak to your left and fine
views of the high-country to your right. As the trail flattens out,
it will intersect the Bayview Trail. Turn right onto this trail.
Trail: From the permit kiosk at the Bayview Trailhead, look for
and follow the sign that says, "Desolation". The trail is
wide and easy to follow the entire way. The first 3/4 mile switch-backs
up the side of a ridge through pine and fir forest that was badly damaged
by Bark Beetles during the drought of the early 90's.
of the trees have subsequently been removed making this less than a
pristine area. However, the health of the forest in this area has improved
dramatically in the last few years. The trail passes a small creek that
flows out of Granite Lake. Just after this
crossing, the trail levels out some and bends sharply back toward the
east. Large granite boulders at this turn provide seating for a well
deserved rest stop with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay.
The trail continues to climb for another 1/2 - 3/4 mile to Granite Lake.
The total elevation gain for this part of the hike is about 880'.
Granite Lake, the trail again gets steep for the next mile or so as
you continue to switch-back towards the saddle between Maggies Peaks
. At the saddle, you have climbed 700' above Granite Lake. The trail
flattens and continues east along the sparsely forested ridge for another
mile or so until it intersects the Eagle Lake trail coming out of Emeral
the intersection where the two trails merge, the trail continues east
back into Desolation. The trail in this area meanders across open slopes
with views of Tallac and the prominent ridge that overshadows Azure
and Snow Lakes. After a bit, the trail splits again with the left
fork heading back towards Dicks and Fontanellis Lakes while the right
fork continues on toward the Velmas. After this split the trail descends
throught a series of swales some 300 feet. The first of the lakes to
come into view is Upper Velma. Although very beautiful, with its shores
covered with marshy reeds, Upper Velma is the least appealing as a camping
destination. Just a few minutes further, Middle Velma, the largest of
the three lakes, opens before the hiker. The rocky shores of Middle
Velma Lake invite the hiker/backpacker to sit and ponder the alpine
beauty presented before him or her. Small islands with stunted trees
clinging to the bare rock attest to the harshness of this alpine environment.
The waters, ice cold from the spring run-off, beg the hot and dusty
traveler to shed his clothes and take a swim. Many fine camp spots can
be found around the shores of this lake.
the more adventurous who are comfortable with map and compass and posses
some back-country skills, the off trail hike to Lower Velma Lake is
well rewarded with fewer people and pristine alpine beauty. Heading
mostly west from Middle Velma across barren granite, Lower Velma is
hard to miss. If you come across the stream bubbling between Upper and
Lower Velma, follow its course down slope until the calm waters of Lower
Velma come into view. Camping sites are more limited along the shores
of this lake, but then fewer people visit it as well.
Concerns: The fragile nature of the Desolation Wilderness
requires extra-special attention to sound back-country travel etiquette.
This includes staying 200 yards from lakes and streams when going to
the bathroom, camping well back from the lake, not washing dishes in
the lake or stream, and packing out everything you pack in. In addition,
fires are not allowed in Desolation Wilderness (stoves OK) due to the
high fire hazard and low availability of firewood.
This hike is too long for novice hikers. Always be prepared when traveling
in Desolation Wilderness. Be sure to bring plenty of water and to treat
all water, wear and bring appropriate clothing for the time of year,
and, of course don't forget your map & compass. If you plan to go
to Lower Velma, you should have some experience in off-trail hiking
or be with an experienced person. For more information, see our Backcountry