Desolation Wilderness – Twin Lakes, Island Lake, Lake Aloha (12 mile trek)

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.

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Overall map of the Desolation Wilderness backpacking trip in the Twin Lakes area. The magenta line shows the trail to and from the Twin Lakes trailhead to Island Lake. The red line shows the trail from Island Lake to the viewpoint of Lake Aloha.

Jump to Day 1: Twin Lakes trailhead to Island Lake

Jump to Day 2: Island Lake to Lake Aloha viewpoint (near Mount Price summit)

Jump to Day 3: Island Lake to Twin Lakes trailhead

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Preparations:

Click here to read more about Permits

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.

Click here to read more about Logistics

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.

Click here to read more about Difficulty and Trail Conditions

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!

 

 

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:

Hiking clothes

Clothes for camp

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

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Day 1: 4 miles; +1,250 feet / -75 feet; Twin Lakes Trailhead to Island Lake

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Map of the day 1 hike in Desolation Wilderness from the Twin Lake Trailhead to Island Lake.

Desolation Wilderness hike hike from Twin Lakes Trailhead Day 1 Map (pdf)

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Elevation profile of the day 1 hike Desolation Wilderness Twin Lakes Trailhead.

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.

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The Twin Lakes Trailhead is a short walk from the parking lot. To start the hike, head down the road and you eventually will find an information stand at the trailhead. There is not great signage at the beginning of the trail, but head towards Twin Lakes any time you see it on a sign.
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Sign at the Twin Lakes trailhead in Desolation Wilderness.
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Soon after hiking from the Trailhead at Wright’s Lake, the trail begins to meander through some trees. This area of the trail had some mosquitoes since there were meadows and streams nearby.  (pictured: Kelty women’s 50L backpack)
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Shortly after the trailhead, you cross a bridge over the inlet to Wrights Lake.
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The trail passes a small meadow and then goes through the forest.
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Eventually you will reach a trail junction. Follow the sign towards Twin Lakes. At this point the trail transitions from a forest to granite. The trail is more difficult to follow on the granite, so keep your eyes out for rock cairns and other trail markings.
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As you start hiking on granite and rocks, you need to keep an eye out for markers along the trail (pictured: Vivobarefoot lightweight camp shoes)
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The trail then briefly passes back through the forest as it climbs.
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Trail as it skirts across the granite rocks. Note the rocks used to show the trail direction.
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The trail briefly ducks back into the forest and you are greeted by the Desolation Wilderness sign.
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Along the trail you pass several small waterfalls and pools of water.
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The view looking back towards the trailhead after climbing up a ways.
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An example of the trail when hiking on granite. There is a line of rocks marking the trail.
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Another small cascade along the Twin Lakes trail.
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Once you get above the trees, the views really open up
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When you approach Twin Lakes, there are several small lakes and pools of water formed by the stream at the outlet of the lakes.
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Cascade along the trail from the stream at the outlet of Twin Lakes. The trail is a little tricky to follow here, but you just generally follow the outlet until you get to Twin Lakes.
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Taking in the view of Twin Lakes and the waterfall that feeds into the lakes (pictured: prAna Zion pants)
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The trail then crosses the stream at the outlet of Twin Lakes and continues towards upper Twin Lake.
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Looking over at the lower Twin Lake as the trail climbs up towards the upper Twin Lake.
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We continued on the trail past Twin Lakes and towards Island Lake which is about 0.5 miles further along the trail
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This portion of the hike is really beautiful. Both Island Lakes and Twin Lakes would make nice campsites, but we figured there would be fewer people at Island Lake. (pictured: Carbon fiber trekking pole)
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The trail meanders its way past Boomerang Lake (shown here) on the way to Island Lake.
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Another small lake between Twin Lakes and Island Lake.
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Our first glimpse of Island Lake in the distance. From here we headed to the small peninsula on the northwest quadrant of the lake. We found a great campsite there that had a great view of the Crystal Range mountains, had easy water access, and was protected from the wind.
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The maintained trail ends when you approach Island Lake and you then just hike along the lakes shore until you find your preferred campsite.
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We camped on a peninsula on the northwest side of Island Lake, which had a great view of Mount Price and the Crystal Range.
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The view looking back towards Twin Lakes at sunset.

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Day 2: 4.25 miles; +/- 1,700 feet; round trip Island Lake to Mount Price notch lookout

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Map of the day 2 hike in Desolation Wilderness from Island Lake to the Lake Aloha lookout near the summit of Mount Price.

Desolation Wilderness Twin Lakes Day 2 Map (pdf)

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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.

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Our campsite at Island Lake in Desolation Wilderness  (pictured: Alps Mountaineering Chaos 2 tent)
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Showing off my mesh bag filled with beer. The bag is a great way to keep drinks cold in the lake! The major benefit of only hiking in 4 miles is that you can carry some extra weight 🙂 (pictured: Synthetic long sleeve hiking shirt)
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There were lots of friendly marmots near our campsite.
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Looking out over Island Lake from a viewpoint slightly behind our campsite.
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A small pond we crossed while on our day hike.
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View of the portion of the Crystal Range mountains that we hiked up. The notch we hiked to is located left of center in this image.
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Looking back down at Island Lake after hiking a bit up the ridge.
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We took a short detour over to the top of the waterfall that flows into the upper Twin Lake.
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View of the Twin Lakes from the ridge near the waterfall.
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Much of the day hike involved trying to find the path of least resistance when climbing up the slope  (pictured: prAna Halle women’s pants).
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View looking down towards Island and Twin Lakes from near the top of the ridge by Mount Price.
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As we got higher up and started to head to the notch, we had to hiker over a fair amount of snow.
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The views were really spectacular once we reached the ridge near the top (pictured:  65L burnt orange backpack)
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The great view of Lake Aloha and Clyde Lake as seen from the top of the notch near Mount Price.
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View of Lake Aloha from the notch (pictured: Columbia Silver Ridge Hiking Shirt)
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View of Lake Aloha in its entirety from near the summit of Mount Price.
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View of the saddle that separates Clyde Lake from Lake Aloha. It may be possible to hike down from the ridge and follow the saddle to Lake Aloha.
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View from the Crystal Range as we started the hike back down to Island Lake (pictured: Women’s North Face Venture 2 jacket)
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There were a ton of small wildflowers on the ridge, which made the hike really beautiful.
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A long, narrow and unnamed lake the is northeast of Twin Lakes.
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Crossing one of the small lakes before reaching Island Lake.
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We then hiked up a bit behind our campsite to get a nice view of Island Lake and the Crystal Range. From here we watched the sun set.
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A great thing about this area is that the sunsets are amazing. First the lake gets shaded and the Crystal Range stays lit up by the sun.
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Then everything gets shaded and shortly after the range begins to turn pink.
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Shortly after, the Crystal Range lights up bright pink and the reflections on Island Lake are really beautiful. This process is awesome because it’s like you get two sunsets.

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Day 3: 4.2 miles: +90 feet / -1275 feet; Island Lake to Twin Lakes Trailhead

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Map of the day 3 hike in Desolation Wilderness from the Twin Lake Trailhead to Island Lake.
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Elevation profile for the day 3 hike from Island Lake back to the 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.

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View of some wildflowers and a small lake between Island Lake and Twin Lakes.
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Even though the trail back is not as beautiful as the lakes, there are still some nice views.
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View looking towards Wrights Lake
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A large solitary tree along the trail back to Wright’s Lake and the Twin Lakes Trailhead.
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Wildflowers in the forest as we approached Wright’s Lake and the Twin Lakes trailhead
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A view of Wright’s Lake where we relaxed for a bit after finishing the hike.

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Here are some related trip reports:

Trinity Alps Wilderness – Four Lakes Loop (20 mile trek)

Trinity Alps Wilderness – Emerald and Sapphire Lakes

The Enchantments – Alpine Lakes Wilderness (18 mile point-to-point)

Three Sisters Wilderness – Broken Top Loop (24 mile loop)

15 Replies to “Desolation Wilderness – Twin Lakes, Island Lake, Lake Aloha (12 mile trek)”

    1. I can only speak about the situation in the Twin Lakes zone. There were definitely mosquitoes at the Twin Lakes Trailhead and during the first mile of the hike. They were not crazy bad, but they found you if you stopped hiking. Once we got out of the forest and onto the higher elevation areas, there was a breeze most of the time that kept the bugs away. At our camp on Island Lake, we didn’t even use repellent; the wind was enough to protect us. I’m not sure if it’s the same in other zones of the park though!

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    1. All the maps are made at caltopo.com! The elevation data is from Strava data for those particular hikes. You can get elevation data from caltopo too though.

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  1. GREAT WRTIE UP. Thank you. Heading up there 9/7-9 thanks for the detailed log. Doesn’t seem like there is a lot of trees (thinking for hammocking).

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    1. Yes, there were not too many trees around the lakes. There were some trees near our campsite on Island Lake that seemed suitable for a hammock. Assuming you have a large group of people wanting to hang hammocks, you probably will need to look around for a while or decide to spread out a bit. There are not many areas with several large trees close together. You may be able to scope things out on Google Earth ahead of time and get an idea of what parts of the lake have the most trees though…

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    1. We saw a lot of trout jumping at bugs in Twin Lakes as we hiked by. I do not recall seeing much fish action, if any, at Island Lake. I don’t remember much about Boomerang Lake either. If you plan to fish, I would target Twin Lakes first!

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  2. Enjoyed this account of your trip! Especially the great photos! fyi, Island Lake has been gill-netted to remove the fish, in the interest of the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog….

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  3. Do you know of any longer loop hikes leaving from the Twin Lakes TH? I’d like to hit up Twin Lakes as part of a longer trek in desolation.

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    1. Hi Jim – there is not a great loop from this trail so you must do a little back tracking. One option would be to head out to Lake Schmidell using the trail that sits west of Rockbound Pass. Then you could return via the Rockbound Valley and Rockbound Pass.

      Another option would be to hike out to Gertrude Lake. From there, you can hike off trail to Tyler Lake and then over the saddle near Little Pyramid Peak and down to Island Lake and Twin Lakes. From there, you can hike back to the trail head. I haven’t hiked this off trail section myself, but there are some reports online saying it is very doable.

      It is also possible you could combine the two itineraries above to make a bigger loop: Trailhead -> Lake Scmhmidell -> Gertrude Lake -> Island Lake -> trailhead.

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    1. Hi Brett – The hike over the Crystal Range between Island Lake and Lake Aloha would be a challenge for most backpackers. There is no trail and you would likely be on snow for a significant portion of the hike. We hiked from Island Lake up to a small pass or notch near the Mount Price Summit. From there, it seemed possible to navigate down to Lake Aloha, but we did not do so ourselves.

      The best I can say is that the hike is likely possible, but you would want to bring crampons and an ice ax. You also likely want to have experience with off-trail hiking, especially on snow in steep sections.

      If you are able to get from Island Lake to Lake Aloha, there is potential to make a fun loop that incorporates those lakes, Clyde Lake, Lake Doris, Rockbound Pass, and Maud Lake!

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