Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass – Desolation Wilderness (38 mile loop)

Trip Overview: ~38 mile backpacking trip in Desolation Wilderness near South Lake Tahoe. This loop traverses over Rockbound Pass and Dicks Pass on its way to the beautiful Lake Aloha. Along the route you are treated to amazing scenery with highlights including: alpine lakes, granite peaks, meadows, waterfalls, and expansive views of El Dorado National Forest. +/- ~6,000 feet of elevation with a starting elevation of 6,960 feet and a peak elevation of 9,370 feet. The photos in this post are from a trip in early July 2020.

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Overall map of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass backpacking loop in Desolation Wilderness. Day 1 (purple), Day 2 (yellow), Day 3 (blue), Day 4 (red)
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Overall approximate elevation profile of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass backpacking loop in Desolation Wilderness
  • Link to download USGS topographic map of area (CA_Fallen Leaf Lake_geo)
  • Link to purchase printed USGS topographic map of area (Amazon map)
  • High resolution overall route map (PDF)

Jump to Day 1: Rockbound Trailhead to Maud Lake
Jump to Day 2: Maud Lake to Fontanillis Lake
Jump to Day 3: Fontanillis Lake to Lake Aloha
Jump to Day 4: Lake Aloha to Rockbound 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: If you would like to camp at the trailhead the night before your trek, 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 or dispersed camping along the roads in El Dorado National Forest.

There are parking lots near the Rockbound Trailhead and Twin Lakes Trailhead, where you 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. Both the Twin Lakes Trailhead and Rockbound Trailhead can be used for entry for this loop and the routes merge by about the 2 mile mark. From there a single trail leads to Rockbound Pass. Just make sure to use the trailhead that you listed on your wilderness permit.

Click here to read more about Difficulty

Trail Conditions and Difficulty: Overall this route is fairly difficult when hiked in 4 or fewer days. The main challenges are uneven footing on the rocky trails and some sections of trail that are not well marked. Hiking on rocky trails can slow you down and cause some foot/ankle stress, so plan to hike a bit slower than usual on portions of this loop. The trail is also less-than-well marked in several areas of this loop. You should have a map handy and also may want a GPS or offline map loaded on your phone. When the trail goes above the treeline, you sometimes need to look closely for cairns to ensure you are on the right track. The mileage and elevation gain on this loop are not especially difficult, but the trail issues mentioned above can make the loop more difficult than it initially appears. The beautiful scenery more than makes up for the trial issues though!

There are several small creek and river crossings along the loop that you must negotiate but it is unlikely that the water level would be too high to safely cross. Rockbound Pass and Dicks Pass can be snowy in June and early July, so be prepared to traverse over snow (and potentially wear crampons) if you are backpacking early in the summer. If you are comfortable traversing over snow, it is wise to wait until late July before heading out.

 

Supplies: There are black bears in the area, so you will want either a bear canister or ursack 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 6 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. Many of the campsites are on pretty hard granite or gravel surfaces, so a good mat makes all the difference. If you are hiking while the passes are still snowy, you will want trekking poles and possibly microspikes/crampons.

Below is a list of the gear recommended for backpacking this loop in Desolation:

Hiking clothes

Clothes for camp

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

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Day 1: 5 miles; +1,000 feet / -300 feet; Rockbound Trailhead to Maud Lake

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Day 1 map of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass loop in Desolation Wilderness. From the Rockbound Trailhead to Maud Lake (purple).

Day 1 map (PDF)

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Day 1 elevation profile of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass loop in Desolation Wilderness. From the Rockbound Trailhead to Maud Lake (purple).

We chose to stay Maud Lake on our first night due to a combination of permit availability and of wanting to keep the mileage moderate on the first day. If you wished to cover more ground on the first day, Lake Doris, Lake Lois, or Lake Schmidell could all make for possible destinations (just make sure to specify your correct destination on your permit). We parked and started our trek at the Rockbound Trailhead. There is a bathroom at the trailhead, but no potable water source so plan accordingly.

The trail modestly climbs through a forest for most of the first 2 miles. The views in this section are nice, but nothing spectacular. After the 2 mile mark, the trail begins to rise out of the forest and the views really open up. You traverse some large granite areas and get nice views of the surrounding peaks. After the 3 mile mark, you begin a final ~500 foot climb that ends at Maud Lake. We found a variety of campsites around Maud Lake, so you can choose whether you want to be closer to the shore or set back further for privacy. We found a nice elevate site on the west side of lake that had a nice view and also had a bit of a breeze, which kept the mosquitoes at bay.

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Setting off on the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass Loop in Desolation Wilderness. Starting at the Rockbound Trailhead near Wrights Lake.
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Along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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View of the Crystal Range from the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Approaching Beauty Lake along the Rockbound Trail
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Beauty Lake in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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View of the Crystal Range from the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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View from the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness with a view of Rockbound Pass in the distance.
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Wildflowers along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness, climbing towards Maud Lake
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness, Rockbound Pass in the background
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Maud Lake in the Desolation Wilderness
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Our campsite at Maud Lake in Desolation Wilderness, we found a secluded spot perched on a small
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Sunset at Maud Lake in the Desolation Wilderness

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Day 2: 10 miles; +2,400 feet / -1,700 feet; Maud Lake to Fontanillis Lake

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Day 2 map of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass loop in Desolation Wilderness. From Maud Lake to Fontanillis Lake (yellow).

Day 2 map (PDF)

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Day 2 elevation profile of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass loop in Desolation Wilderness. From Maud Lake to Fontanillis Lake (purple).

On the second day we headed up through Rockbound Pass and then passed by Lake Doris, Lake Lois, and Lake Schmidell. After reaching Lake Schmidell, the trail heads east past Camper Flat and across the Rubicon Valley. At the ~7 mile mark, you reach Velma Lakes. You have the option to camp at either of the Velma Lakes, Fontanillis Lake, or Dicks Lake.

The trail leading up to Rockbound Pass is quite rocky so good socks and hiking shoes are important! It is about a ~900 foot climb up to the pass and the views are great along the way. After the pass, the trail is less rocky and you will be able to hike faster. In the 2 miles after Rockbound Pass, the trail descends down past Lake Doris and Lake Lois. Both lakes have some very scenic campsites. You then descend another 500 feet to the shore of Lake Schmidell. We crossed the outlet dam here and had lunch on the southeast shore of the lake.

From Lake Schmidell, the trail steadily descends down to China Flat and the Rubicon River. We had to remove our shoes and cross the river here, but it was only calf deep. After the crossing you climb ~700 feet over 2 miles before reaching the junction with the PCT near Middle Velma Lake. It is then roughly another 2 miles and 400 feet of climbing through the forest before you reach the beautiful Fontanillis Lake. We did a little scrambling off trail and found a great campsite on a granite outcrop on the north side of the lake. There are also a variety of campsites sprinkled along the east shore of Fontanillis Lake.

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Maud Lake in the morning, Desolation Wilderness
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On the Rockbound Trail leaving Maud Lake and heading towards Rockbound Pass
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Hiking on the Rockbound Trail towards Rockbound Pass
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The view from the Rockbound Trail looking towards Rockbound Pass
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View looking southeast from the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking across Rockbound Pass in Desolation Wilderness
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View from Rockbound Pass, looking southeast towards Maud Lake
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The view of small tarn in the foreground and view of Lake Doris in the background as seen after crossing Rockbound Pass
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Lake Doris in Desolation Wilderness, seen from the south as you descend from Rockbound Pass
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View from the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Lake Doris in Desolation Wilderness
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A view of Lake Doris, looking across the lake from the northeast shore
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Continuing along the Rockbound Trail towards the junction with the Blakely Trail
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A small unnamed lake along the Blakely Trail between Lake Doris and Lake Lois
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Reflections seen along the Blakely Trail before reaching Lake Lois
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View of Lake Lois from the Blakely Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Lake Lois from the eastern shore of the lake
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View of Lake Lois from the outlet stream near the lake dam
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Continuing along the Blakely Trail towards Lake Schmidell
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View of the expansive Rockbound Valley in Desolation Wilderness
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First glimpse of Lake Schmidell from the Blakely Trail
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Lake Schmidell in Desolation Wilderness, view from the eastern shore
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A small lake near the outlet stream from Lake Schmidell, seen from the Blakely Trail
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Wildflowers along the Blakely Trail
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Hiking along the Blakely Trail between Lake Schmidell and Camper Flat
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Crossing the Rubicon River at Camper Flat in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking east along the Velma Lakes Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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View from the Velma Lakes Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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View from the Velma Lakes Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Middle Velma Lake from the Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation Wilderness between Middle Velma Lake and Fontanillis Lake
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Fontanillis Lake seen from the very north shore, looking south towards Dicks Pass
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Our campsite on the north side of Fontanillis Lake in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Fontanillis Lake with Dicks Peak in the background
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Fontanillis Lake with Dicks Pass in the background
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Sunset with Fontanillis Lake in the foreground and Lake Tahoe in the background
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Sunset view from our campsite on Fontanillis Lake in Desolation Wilderness

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Day 3:  10 miles; +1,900 feet / -2,100 feet; Fontanillis Lake to Lake Aloha

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Day 3 map of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass loop in Desolation Wilderness. From Fontanillis Lake to Lake Aloha (blue).

Day 3 map (PDF)

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Day 3 elevation profile of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass loop in Desolation Wilderness. From Fontanillis Lake to Lake Aloha (blue).

To start the third day, you hike along the PCT as it follows the shore of Fontanillis Lake. The trail then reaches Dicks Lake before starting a ~1,000 foot climb up to Dicks Pass. There are great views at the top of Dicks Pass. To the north you see Dicks Lake, Fontanillis Lake and Velma Lakes. To the south you see Half Moon Lake, Dicks Peak, Susie Lake, and Lake Aloha.

From atop Dicks Pass, the PCT then descends ~1,700 feet over the course of ~3 miles before reaching Susie Lake. This section of trail was quite rocky and rough on our feet. Susie Lake made for a nice lunch spot where you can recharge before hiking to Lake Aloha. From Susie Lake it is a gradual climb over the next 3-4 miles before you reach Lake Aloha. Along the way the PCT skirts along the shore of beautiful Heather Lake.

When you reach Lake Aloha, you must choose what sort of campsite you want. If you follow the trail west towards Mosquito Pass, you can find a variety of sites along the north shore of Lake Aloha. Some sites are close to shore of the lake  (between the shore and the trail) offering spectacular views and easy water access, while others are set away from shore (north of the trail) and offer more privacy and less wind. We found a great site tucked in a group of trees north of the trail. This provided relief from the wind, but also still gave us a great view of the lake.

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Upper Velma Lake as seen from the Pacific Crest Trail near north end of Fontanillis Lake
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The Pacific Crest Trail skirts along the shore of Fontanillis Lake
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View of Fontanillis Lake with Dicks Peak in the background
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Before reaching Dicks Lake, the Pacific Crest Trail briefly climbs through a forest
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Dicks Lake in Desolation Wilderness, Dicks Pass in the back left of photo
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Hiking along the PCT between Dicks Lake and Dicks Pass
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View of Dicks Lake with Dicks Peak in the background
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On the PCT in Desolation Wilderness climbing to Dicks Pass
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On the PCT in Desolation Wilderness climbing to Dicks Pass
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Dicks Pass in Desolation Wilderness
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View looking north from Dicks Pass, Dicks Lake, Fontanillis Lake, and Velma Lakes
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View of the trail leading up to Dicks Peak, seen from Dicks Pass
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View looking south from Dicks Pass with Half Moon Lake, Susie Lake, and Lake Aloha
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Descending down the PCT from Dicks Pass
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Half Moon Lake seen from the PCT in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Susie Lake and the Crystal Range
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Descending on the PCT towards Susie Lake
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Wildflower meadow along the PCT in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Gilmore Lake in Desolation Wilderness
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Seen along the PCT between Gilmore Lake and Susie Lake
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The PCT skirts along the shore of Susie Lake
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Looking across Susie Lake with the Crystal Range in the background
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Susie Lake in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the PCT between Susie Lake and Heather Lake
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The PCT traverses the north shore of Heather Lake in Desolation Wilderness
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Heather Lake in Desolation Wilderness with the Crystal Range in the background
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PCT and Heather Lake
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On the PCT, approaching Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness
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Looking back at Heather Lake
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Arrival at Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Lake Aloha with the Crystal Range in the background
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Hiking along the north shore of Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Lake Aloha as seen from above the north shore. Our campsite was in the group of trees in the middle of the image.
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Campsite on the north shore of Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Lake Aloha with Mount Price in the background
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View from the north shore of Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness
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Sunset at Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness
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Sunset at Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness

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Day 4: 12.5 miles; +1,800 feet / -3,000 feet; Lake Aloha to Wrights Lake

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Day 4 map of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass loop in Desolation Wilderness. From Lake Aloha back to the Rockbound Trailhead (red).

Day 4 map (PDF)

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Day 4 elevation profile of the Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass loop in Desolation Wilderness. From Lake Aloha back to the Rockbound Trailhead (red).

The final day is the longest hike as you go from Lake Aloha back to the trailhead at Wrights Lake. The trail heads north up to Mosquito Pass and then down towards Clyde Lake. From the top of Mosquito Pass you get a partial view of Clyde Lake and nice views of the Rockbound Valley. There is a side trail that leads to the shore of Clyde Lake, but we skipped it since it is a bit long for just a quick look at the lake.

After Clyde Lake, the trail descends for a mile before reaching the Rubicon River. Over the next mile the trail follows the river through the forested valley. You are treated to some nice serene hiking along the river here, but also need to watch out for mosquitoes. The trail crosses the river a couple times, but we may be able to rock hop across without removing shoes.

At the ~3.5 mile mark, you reach a junction and head west towards Rockbound Pass. The trail steeply climbs ~1,100 feet over the next 2 miles before you reach the top of the pass. From there, you descend down the trail back to the Rockbound Trailhead.

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Sunrise at Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness
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The Rubicon Trail leads from the north shore of Lake Aloha over Mosquito Pass and into the Rockbound Valley
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Climbing up to Mosquito Pass in Desolation Wilderness
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Looking back across Lake Aloha from the Rubicon Trail
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Hiking on the Rubicon Trail between Mosquito Pass and Clyde Lake
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View looking north into the Rockbound Valley in Desolation Wilderness
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View of Clyde Lake with the Crystal Range in the background
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View from the Rubicon Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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The Rubicon Trail follows along the Rubicon River
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View of the Rubicon River as seen from the Rubicon Trail
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Hiking along the Rubicon Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Rubicon River in Desolation Wilderness
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A meadow along the Rubicon Trail
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One of several river crossings along the Rubicon Trail
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Hiking along the Rubicon Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Pass Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Lake Doris with Rockbound Pass in the background
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Hiking on the Rockbound Trail between Lake Doris and Rockbound Pass
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Hiking southwest on the Rockbound Trail after crossing Rockbound Pass
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View from the Rockbound Trail looking down into the valley above Maud Lake
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Wildflowers along the Rockbound Trail
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Maud Lake with Rockbound Pass in the background
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Hiking southwest along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Hiking southwest along the Rockbound Trail in Desolation Wilderness
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Arrival back at the Rockbound Trailhead

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Here are some similar trip reports!

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

Timberline Trail – Mount Hood Wilderness, OR (40 mile loop)

Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, CO (28 mile loop)

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

Trinity Alps Wilderness Backpacking – Emerald and Sapphire Lakes

 

4 Replies to “Lake Aloha via Rockbound Pass – Desolation Wilderness (38 mile loop)”

    1. Hi Jim – The mosquitoes were not too bad at any of the lakes we camped at (Maud, Fontanillis, or Aloha). Each had a slight breeze, which kept the bugs at bay. The section of trail between Mosquito Pass and Camper Flat that follows the Rubicon River had a lot of mosquitoes though. You will want to hike quickly through this section.

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  1. Awesome write up. I camped near Lake Schmidell two weeks ago and the trail was quite tricky coming from Camper Flat. Was most of the snow gone when you were there?

    Like

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