Trip Overview: ~12 mile relaxing backpacking trip in Desolation Wilderness. +/- 3,000 feet of elevation with a starting elevation of 6,970 feet and a peak elevation of 9,660 feet. Highlights include alpine lakes, granite peaks, and expansive views of Desolation Wilderness. We completed this short distance backpacking trip over 3 days in July of 2018.
- Link to download USGS topographic map of area (CA_Fallen Leaf Lake_geo)
- Link to purchase printed USGS topographic map of area (Amazon map)
Permits: Permits are required year-round for overnight camping in Desolation Wilderness. During the summer (Friday before Memorial Day to Sept. 30), there is a permit quota for each different zone in the wilderness. Desolation Wilderness is split into 45 zones and the quota for each zone varies from 2 permits to 40 permits. More info about the permits and zones can be found on the Forest Service website. Your permit only specifies your night of entry into the wilderness and the zone you will camp in on the first night. After your first night, you are allowed to hike and camp anywhere within Desolation Wilderness.
70% of the permit quota for each zone is available for advanced reservation on recreation.gov for a $10 reservation fee. The remaining 30% of permits are available on a first-come, first-serve basis on the day of entry. The day of permits are claimed and picked up at one of the nearby ranger stations.
Logistics: We planned this trip at the last minute. I was able to book a permit on Thursday night and then we drove to the Twin Lakes trailhead Friday afternoon after work. Since the hike from Twin Lakes trailhead to Island Lake was only 4 miles, we decided to go ahead and hike in on Friday evening rather than camping at the trailhead.
If you need to camp at the trailhead, there is Wright’s Lake Campground very close. This campground requires reservations in the summer though and can fill up quickly. Other options include many of the first-come, first-serve forest service campsites in El Dorado National Forest.
There is a parking lot near the Twin Lakes trailhead, where can leave your car during your hike. There is no fee for parking so long as you have an overnight camping permit and there is a restroom near the parking lot. For water, we did not see a tap at the parking lot, but there is a potable water tap at the nearby Wright’s Lake Campground.
Supplies: There are black bears in the area, so you will want either a bear canister or a dry bag and rope for hanging your food. Doing so will also protect your food from the marmots and chipmunks that seem to search campsites for food.
You likely will want bug spray because the mosquitoes can be out in force in certain areas of the trek. I prefer a picaridin based spray because it does not damage plastics and synthetic fibers like high concentration DEET sprays do. I also like to pre-treat my clothes and tent with permethrin spray repellent. The permethrin treatment stays on your clothes for up to 7 washes, so it helps reduce the amount of spray you need to put on your skin.
The other essential item for this trek is an inflatable sleeping pad. Most of the campsites are on pretty hard granite or gravel surfaces, so a good mat makes all the difference. If you plan to hike up to the top of the Crystal Ridge behind Island Lake to get a view of Lake Aloha, you will want trekking poles and possibly microspikes/crampons. There were several sections on this ridge where we hiked across snow and the extra traction from crampons would have been nice. The trekking poles are helpful because you can use them for stability in place of an ice ax (unnecessary for this hike unless you are hiking down the backside of the ridge all the way down to Lake Aloha).
Below is a list of the gear I brought on the hike to Island Lake in Desolation Wilderness:
- a lightweight hiking rain jacket (North Face Venture 2 Jacket)
- fast drying synthetic hiking pants (prAna Zion Pants)
- a quick drying long sleeve hiking shirt (Columbia Silver Ridge L/S Shirt)
- wool outer socks (People Socks Moreno 4-pack)
- thin blister preventing base socks (WrightSock double layer Coolmesh)
- quick drying synthetic boxer briefs (ExOfficio Give-N-Go)
- light bandana for sun protection (Levi’s printed bandana)
- mesh back trucker hat (Patagonia LoPro Trucker Hat)
- adjustable fabric belt (Bison designs belt)
- Gore-tex hiking shoes (adidas Outdoor Terrex Fast R Gore-Tex Shoe)
Clothes for camp
- wool leggings (Minus33 Merino Wool Kancamagus Midweight Bottom)
- wool base layer shirt (Minus33 Merino Wool Chocorua Midweight Crew)
- warm wool overshirt (Pendleton Long Sleeve Classic-Fit Board Shirt)
- lightweight down jacket (Patagonia 800-fill Down Jacket)
- lightweight camp shoes (Xero Z-Trail lightweight sandal)
- topographic map (Tom Harrison Desolation Wilderness Map)
- trekking poles (Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles)
- 3 liter hydration bladder (Camelbak Antidote Reservoir)
- 65 liter backpack (Osprey Atmos 65 Liter pack)
- water filtration system (Sawyer Squeeze water filtration system)
- strong tent with rain-fly (Alps Mountaineering Chaos 2 Tent)
- inflatable sleeping pad (REI Co-op AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad)
- sleeping bag (The North Face Furnace 20 degree Sleeping Bag)
- lightweight backpacking chair (Therm-a-Rest trekker chair)
- lightweight lantern (MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0)
- headlamp (Black Diamond Storm Headlamp)
- multi-tool with knife (Gerber MP400 compact multi-plier)
- bear canister (BearVault BV500)
- lightweight stove (MSR PocketRocket 2)
- lighter (BIC plastic lighters)
- 2 liter pot (GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler Pot)
- coffee cup (GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Cup)
- lightweight spork (Snow Peak Titanium Spork)
- small, quick drying towel (REI mutli towel lite)
- wet wipes (Stall Mates individually wrapped wipes)
- mole skin for blisters (Spenco 2nd Skin Adhesive)
- small amount of duct tape for gear repairs
- chapstick and sun screen
Food and drink
- a variety of my favorite dehydrated meals
- salami and summer sausage
- electrolyte replacement (NUUN Hydration Tablets)
- quick snacks (Clif Shot Bloks and Clif energy bars)
- instant coffee (Starbucks VIA)
Trail Conditions and Difficulty: This trail has several small creek and river crossings but it is unlikely that the water level would be too high to cross. We never had to take our shoes off and were able to rock hop across all crossings.
The biggest issue with this trail is that it is poorly marked in several areas. A mile or so into the trail, you are largely just walking on granite and there is no worn path to follow. There are strategically places rock cairns, which help with navigation, but it can be a bit tricky in places. Luckily the trail follows along creeks most of the time so you can be certain you are going the correct direction if you follow the creek. That said, you should have a map or have the route downloaded on your phone to help with navigation.
The trail is only ~3-4 miles long and thus is not very difficult. There is a bit of elevation gain, but overall this is a fairly easy trek. If you wish to hike up to the Crystal Range or Mount Price, you should be comfortable with scrambling and route finding. There is no maintained trail up the ridge and you must hike off-trail.
We wanted a relaxing and easy trip, so we completed our trek over 3 days. We camped at Island Lake two consecutive nights and just did a day hike on the 2nd day. The Twin Lakes area is a bit isolated by the Crystal Range Mountains, so there is not a super easy long loop from the Twin Lakes trailhead. We hiked to a small notch/pass just north of Mount Price. From this pass, it looked like it was possible to hike down to Lake Aloha (note that we did not actually hike down to Lake Aloha). If you are an experienced backpacker you could likely hike to Lake Aloha on day 2 and then head north and form a loop returning via the area by Rockbound Pass. Or, you could just do a short relaxing trip like that show below!
Day 1: 4 miles; +1,250 feet / -75 feet; Twin Lakes Trailhead to Island Lake
On the first day, we arrived at the Twin Lakes trailhead at 5:30pm. We began hiking at about 6:00pm and arrived at camp at ~7:45pm. We found a great secluded campsite (here), quickly set up camp, and then watched the sun set while cooking dinner. It can be a bit tricky to find campsites in the area. Most people seemed to look on the south side of the lake (opposite of where we went). It’s possible there were more sites on that side, but we really liked the site we found. Being on the north side of the lake lets you see the sunset over the lake and gives some fantastic views.
Day 2: 4.25 miles; +/- 1,700 feet; round trip Island Lake to Mount Price notch lookout
On our second day, we kept our camp at Island Lake and just set off on a day hike. The goal was to scramble up to the top of the Crystal Range mountain ridge near Mount Price. From the ridge we hoped to get a view of Lake Aloha. This part of the hike was all off-trail hiking, so I only recommend it if you are comfortable route finding and doing some basic scrambling.
We did not summit Mount Price, but instead went to a small notch/pass just north of the summit. From this notch, we found a great view of the Lake Aloha area. I would highly recommend this day hike as the views are great. Lake Aloha is beautiful and the views of Island and Twin Lakes are great as well. If you wanted to do a longer day hike, it appeared possible to hike down all the way to Lake Aloha. Again, this would be off-trail hiking so stay within your skill level. There was fair amount of snow on the north side of the pass (the side going down to Lake Aloha), so crampons and an ice ax would not be the worst idea.
Day 3: 4.2 miles: +90 feet / -1275 feet; Island Lake to Twin Lakes Trailhead
On the last day of our trip, we followed the Twin Lakes trail back to the trailhead. When we reached the trailhead, we rinsed off at Wright’s Lake and relaxed for a bit. When we were ready, we then headed back to our car and went home.
Here are some related trip reports: