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General Information: The three Velma Lakes, Upper, Middle and Lower are popular South/West Shore destinations for both backpackers and dayhikers. At about 4-5 miles one-way, the Velmas are beyond the range of novice hikers, but well within the capability of most intermediate backcountry travelers. All three lakes offer high-country beauty and relative solitude, especially mid-week when the weekend crowds have gone home. Middle Velma, with its fine campsites and picturesque small islands is undoubtedly the most visited of the three lakes, however, Lower Velma's off-trail seclusion keeps us coming back time-and-again.

Where To Start: There are two starts for the Velmas hike/backpack. First, the Eagle Falls start begins at Emerald Bay which is located a few miles north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89. Park in the Eagle Falls parking lot (fee required) and head up the trail toward Eagle Lake. The second start begins at the Bayview trailhead which starts at the end of the Bayview Campground opposite Inspiration Point which is the scenic overlook located one mile south of Emerald Bay. A wooden sign points right to "Desolation"and left to Cascade Falls. Follow the sign towards Desolation.

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Trail 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.

Bayview 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.

Many 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'.

After 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 Bay.

From 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.

For 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.

Environmental 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.

Advisory: 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 Tips Page.

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