Permit - Desolation Wilderness only allows a certain number of people per zone per night. Many zones have more than one lake in them. 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 intersection). I would get to the ranger station early if you are doing the same day option. Fees: $5 for the 1st night; $10 for 2-14 nights per adult with a $6 service fee per permit. (2 nights for 2 people would be $26)
Mileage - 5 miles to Gilmore Lake (1,800' elevation gain) and another 1.75 to the top of Mt Tallac (1,400' more elevation gain). map
Camps/Water - There are trash cans and bathrooms at the Glen Alpine trailhead but no water. You could pump from the creek that leaves Lily Lake. Gilmore Lake had plenty of water, as did the creeks (but it poured on us day 1).
Hazards - Bears, Lightning, and pesky Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels (they will try to get your food).
NO FIRES ARE ALLOWED IN DESOLATION WILDERNESS (only camp stoves)
Random Trail Fact (for making it to day 3)
After we woke up from a good nights sleep we ate a quick breakfast and decided to pack up. You can see our hanging packs in this picture, and the tarp now being used to layout gear.
The hike out was great (dry and clear with a slight breeze). Here is the junction with Pacific Crest Trail (PCT and the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), they are one and the same through this section of wilderness. You will travel on the PCT/TRT for just over half a mile, until the junction to Half Moon Lake. Here is the junction with Dicks Pass.
The trail seemed steeper to us on the way out (downhill of course). I think we were pretty focused on the weather when we were headed in though. It was great to enjoy the crisp clean views like this on the way out. With the weather we had on the way in it was hard to tell where we were by looking around.
The trial continues to descend, never straying to far from the creek that flows from the outlet at Gilmore Lake. It was hard to not stop and take pictures on the trail out.
This trail is well maintained and seemed ready for action again after drying out. Here is one of the steeper sections that has been tiered with railroad ties.
Time to leave the PCT/TRT and head back to Glen Alpine (and civilization). Here is the trail marker at this junction.
Most of the trail is open (which allows for the great views), but there are a few covered sections. This is the start of one that has a fallen tree that was "removed" from the trail. The cut sections were rolled just off trail. Thank you to whomever made this section of trail passable again.
Views like this are one of the big reasons why this section of trail is so popular. .
Here is Lee ahead of me switch-backing down the trail. This section of trail was flooded in spots on the way in (now dry as can be).
I am not sure what direction this tree is trying to point. Maybe it is saying to explore it all?.
Looking back at the terrain that is most predominate on this section of trail.
One of the more steep sections.
Getting closer now. The junction to Grass Lake means that you are through the worst of the downhill.
Here is the interpretive center for the Glen Alpine Spring/Resort. Don't get too excited, this is a historic resort. While you cannot stay here there are some buildings you can explore and read about. This area was a resort starting in the late 1800's and operated until 1960's. The heyday was in the 1920's with the resort using the brown fizzy spring water to draw people in. Apparently it was popular enough to bottle and sell. Not sure it would be as successful today... Maybe they would just focus on the beauty of the place now, more than the brown water coming out of the ground. The whole place burned down in the 1920's only to be rebuilt a couple years later. Worth exploring and reading about if you have the time.
The trail continues, eventually onto the road that gets pretty hard to walk on because of the large rocks they used to make it more passable for vehicles. There are some neat cabins through this section. Here is Glen Alpine Creek Falls. It was flowing as well as I have seen it in the past (during non-drought years). The trail can be crowded on the last section with many people just hiking in to see the historic Glen Alpine Resort. This was another great trip with killer views, and only potentially killer weather. Make sure you get out to this east side of Desolation Wilderness at some point. There are many more miles of trails and lakes to explore out here. If you are looking for a longer hike in this area there are plenty of thru-hike options if you are willing to shuttle a car or call Tahoe Joe to give you a ride. The other Desolation trips I have done are listed here.
Random Trail Fact - Mt Tallac was named in 1877 was part of the Wheeler Survey. When they asked a native american guide what the mountain was called he responded in Washo with "daláʔak", which means big mountain. So we are calling it Mount Big Mountain....