There’s hundreds, if not thousands, of options for hiking in Desolation Wilderness, with its dozens of alpine lakes and rolling granite slabs located near the western shore of Lake Tahoe.
Lake of the Woods, at the southern end of Desolation, provides a great introduction to the wilderness area and can be accomplished as a quick overnight trip or a longer day hike.
The mid-sized lake is 5.3 miles from the Echo Lakes trailhead off U.S. Highway 50 near Echo Summit at the South Shore. The moderate hike includes about 800 feet of elevation gain.
Starting from the trailhead the walk past Echo Lakes is relatively flat and undoubtedly scenic. The eye candy really gets sweet once hikers get west of Echo lakes and a couple hundred feet of elevation gain brings both Upper and Lower Echo lakes into perspective.
Once past Upper Echo Lake, Tamarack Lake provides a good halfway point to Lake of the Woods. Much of the elevation change in the hike takes place after Tamarack and toward Haypress Meadows, which is the last landmark on the trail before it branches off and drops down into Lake of the Woods.
Although popular, the Lake of the Woods is peacefully located, off the Pacific Crest Trail. To the south, the lake seemingly drops off the end of the earth toward Horsetail Falls. To the west, the lake allows spectacular views of the nearly 10,000-foot Pyramid Peak. As you might surmise from its name, Lake of the Woods is surrounded by conifers and waking up with a perfectly smooth alpine lake stretched in front of you is a Sierra Nevada experience well worth having.
Aloha Lake provides a nearby diversion. The 0.7-mile trail between Lake of the Woods and the larger Aloha is a beautiful, shady stretch that doesn’t disappoint.
Permits are required for travel in Desolation Wilderness. Day hikers can pick up a permit at the trailhead. Overnight travelers are required to pick up a permit at one of South Lake Tahoe’s U.S. Forest Service offices.
For those looking to shave some miles off the trip, Echo Chalet offers a boat taxi across Echo lakes for $12 a person each way. Call 530-659-7207 for availability.