Hike Date: September 12, 2014
Distance: ~ 20 miles
Trail(s): Glen Alpine Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail
Where’s it at? Near Fallen Leaf Lake Southwest Lake Tahoe


Backpacking in Desolation Wilderness is pretty much my favorite. I’m on a mission to hike to all the lakes within it. Earlier in life I would frequently hike, camp and backpack to the westernmost lakes of Desolation Wilderness, those accessible from Loon Lake and Wrights Lake. More recently I’ve done day hikes and backpacking trips from Twin Bridges, Echo Lake, Glen Alpine and the Cascade Lake Area. There are still plenty to explore. There’s something about the stark granite mountains and trails mixed with wildflowers, pine and cypress trees and the year-round lakes that gives me a sense of peacefulness on each visit.

Again, with a 55 lb. backpack, this hike started out at Glen Alpine Trailhead. This trailhead can become crowded so if you can get here on a Thursday like I did you will probably definitely get a good spot. You can park here for free and overnight. There are bathrooms, garbage and recycling but actually no water spigot that I could find. The parking lot is basically at Lily Lake which is worth at lease a quick viewing by walking down less than 100 yards from the parking lot. You will have passed by beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake on the way in.

The hike begins an easy climb before reaching the Soda Springs area which I”m not sure but appears to be an area with cabins for rental, etc. I was surprised to find that the area was pretty much completely dry. Previous visits have this area pretty flooded from the natural spring. Hiking onward you’ll eventually come to a split between Grass Lake and Mt. Tallac trails. Take the Mt. Tallac trail. There are really two ways to go…follow the trail (which I did on the way back) or start following ducks/cairns into more of a northeasterly direction. I believe it is a shortcut but it’s fairly easy to get lost also so take it with caution and keep your eyes peeled for the cairns. The trail has some switchbacks but this is probably one of the more steep and long sections of the whole backpacking trip. Eventually you will come to a fork in the path under some welcomed forest canopy where you can go to Gilmore Lake or to Susie Lake. The wilderness permits were for Susie Lake so headed down that path. There is some of your first downhill slope but moreso flat as you go through a forested and meadowed area on the way to Susie Lake.

Before long Susie Lake presents itself as you arrive at its northeastern banks. While you need to stay off the water, you can start looking for a place to set up here, but I opted to walk around to the other side of the lake, the southern shore to set up, and I think I’m glad as it yields some really good sunset and sunrise photos. Set up camp here, pump-filtered some water for the night and set out on a day hike up above Susie Lake which afforded great views of Susie Lake, Grass Lakes, Lily Lake, Jabu Lake (or Lake Lucille) and other smaller ponds. There were a number of other campers at this lake but there are plenty of places to set up camp. I’d considered bringing a hammock and wish I had, plenty of spots to set one up.

To continue on to Heather Lake, which is perhaps a little more scenic with its peaks and islands, just take the trail that leaves Lake Susie on its southern end. this trail is relatively easy at least until you get to the rockiness of the trail that winds along a fairly steep hillside as you catch glimpse of Heather Lake. There aren’t very many campsites here so you’ll have to search a bit. Most of the best ones seemed to be on the eastern shore of the lake. Very few campers were here so it was a nice peaceful night spent at Lake Heather with a lot of stars and a “Super Harvest Moon” casting light.

Following morning you can continue along the trail and head up to Lake Aloha which gets you on a scenic portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Lake Aloha is man-made but you don’t really notice it. Very very dramatic peaks to the north including Pyramid peak and some really nice cypress trees up here with the very blue water contrasting against grey granite makes for some great photos. At this time of year during a draught year there were what seemed like thousands of granite islands throughout the lake.

After a fill of Lake Aloha headed all the way back to Lake Susie for camping another night in a slightly different campsite. The next morning the lake’s water was perfectly still and the sunrise really reflected well with some clouds that had rolled in. Packed up and headed back toward home but this time took the Lake Gilmore fork of the trail to pay it a visit. This is a perfectly round crater lake that is a bit higher in elevation but definitely worth a visit. After a fill of Lake Gilmore headed back home and surprisingly was back to the car pretty early and made it home with time to do laundry and fully unpack.

While not necessarily for beginners with the altitude and rocky paths, Desolation Wilderness is a backpacker’s dream come true so get out there and try a trip here if you haven’t!

Photos from Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from Glen Alpine (click to enlarge)

Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead
Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead
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http://timsartoris.com/blog/backpacking-desolation-wilderness-and-pacific-crest-trail http://timsartoris.com/blog/backpacking-desolation-wilderness-and-pacific-crest-trail http://timsartoris.com/blog/backpacking-desolation-wilderness-and-pacific-crest-trail
Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead
Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead
Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead
Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead
Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead
Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead Backpacking Desolation Wilderness from the Glen Alpine Trailhead

Directions to Glen Alpine Trailhead


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Weather at Kyburz, CA (usually warmer at Kyburz)