Eric and I ended up going on this 3 night backpacking adventure on the east side of Desolation Wilderness. We decided that we would start at Emerald Bay off Highway 89 on the west side of Lake Tahoe and end up at the Meeks Bay Trailhead 4 days later. We would be traveling on portions of the PCT, TRT, and TYT (Pacific Crest Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail and the Tahoe Yosemite Trail). Desolation Wilderness is on a zone quota system from the Friday before Memorial Day to September 30th. Your first nights stay determines the zone you will be in. Half of each zones quota can be obtained through the online reservation system at www.recreation.gov, the other half are obtained the same day from the ranger station (two miles east of the Highway 50/89 junction in South Lake Tahoe on Highway 50) or the Taylor Creek Visitor Center (three miles north of the Highway 50/89). They ask for the rest of your plan and names of people traveling with you. Try to give your best guess on the rest of your trip as it could help a rescue party. We ended up sticking to our planned itinerary, but only your first night is really set in stone. The rangers are out there and will check for permits and how closely you are camped to water sources (100' away is the requirement but they like 200' or more). Permit price is $5 per person for the first night or $10 per person for 2 to 14 nights (sorry 2 week maximum). Here is the map and profile .
Instead of doing the usual car shuttle to accomplish this thru hike we decided to use a shuttle. The usual trolley type shuttle doesn't operate much after Labor Day so we had to hire a shuttle. We picked a company called Shuttle It that came recommended by the usual nifty 50 trolley shuttle (530-541-7149). I arranged with Tahoe Joe to pick us up at 2 pm (530-318-9294), I figured we could make it out by then, on the fourth day, no problem. The route we picked had us leaving at Bayview Trailhead across from Inspiration Point at Emerald Bay. There is free parking along the street on the west side and also parking at the trailhead which is past/through the Bayview campground. We parked on the road and hit the trail after traveling through the campground using a dirt road above it on the south side. Here is Eric heading back to the car after checking out Inspiration Point. There are trash cans, pit toilets and lots of tourists at Inspiration Point.
This is the dirt road leaving Highway 89 above and to the south of the campground. The campsites look pretty tight together but only a few occupied this early Friday afternoon.
Here is the official trailhead. Parking was full here already by noon. There is a port a-potty and water at the trailhead. There is also a small horse corral. I imagine that this lot and the street parking is jammed during the peak summer months. We saw a few horses on the trail and evidence that they frequent the trail.
The trail is mainly up to just before Granite Lake. Here is Eric letting me stop and take more pictures..
The views on the way to Granite Lake were amazing. There had been a tropical system that brought thunderstorms to the area earlier in the week but today was beautiful and clear. You can see Emerald Bay down below with some boats anchored..
You ascend now up a ridge. See a portion of Granite Lake below through the trees.
The trail is a little more strenuous now with some more exposed granite sections.
This is one of those trails you need to turn around to see how your hard work is paying off. Granite Lake down below with Emerald Bay far in the distance now.
Once at the top of the ridge you can see Eagle Lake. Another trailhead starting point is Eagle Falls trailhead which would put you down in the valley in this shot. Eric did that section of trail last year and told me that the trail has some steep granite step sections.
Take a left/straight at the junction with Eagle Lake. This shot is looking back at the post. My Desolation Wilderness map shows a trail to Azure Lake before this trail junction to Eagle Lake. I do not remember seeing one so it may be slight or I might have missed it.
There is a little valley here with a perfect dead tree that captured my attention.
The next junction is right towards Velma Lakes. If you go straight/left here you end up At Dicks Lake (we head there tomorrow on a day hike).
Upper Velma Lake is really a few Lakes. Here is the first portion you see along the trail to Middle Velma Lake.
Here is the next junction to Upper Velma Lake. Take a left to get to Upper Velma or go straight to Middle Velma.