A Photographer’s Guide to the Desolation Wilderness

Maud Lake in the Desolation Wilderness | © Miguel Vieira/Flickr
Maud Lake in the Desolation Wilderness | © Miguel Vieira/Flickr
Photo of Deanna Morgado
28 January 2018

The Desolation Wilderness makes up nearly 64,000 acres across the Lake Tahoe Basin. This wondrous land is made up of granite peaks, lakes, alpine and sub-alpine forests, and wildlife.

The beauty of the Desolation Wilderness is incomparable, making it a prime spot for photographers. But with tens of thousands of acres, it can be a little overwhelming to determine where you’ll be able to take the best photos and do its beauty justice. We’ve put together a guide to solve just that.

The first step is to determine if your Desolation Wilderness photography journey will take you on a more simple one-day trek or a multi-day excursion. You’ll need to pack accordingly and safely, as well as purchase the appropriate permits from the Pacific Ranger District.

Maud Lake, Desolation Wilderness 2 | © Blake Lemmons/Flickr

Now that you’ve got your itinerary, any permits required, and your camera, you’re ready to shuffle off into the Desolation Wilderness.

Of course one of the best-known ways to snap a great view is to climb. There’s many peaks that are easy enough to ascend through the forests in order to get that perfect picture. There’s also the more challenging yet rewarding peaks to conquer, such as Mount Tallac.

Mount-Tallac-Spring | © Tim Berger/Flickr

One of the most iconic peaks and views, Tallac soars 3,500-feet above Lake Tahoe. It’s an entire day hike, almost 10 miles, to reach the summit.

Resting at Desolation Wilderness | © Rick McCharles/Flickr
Bayview Loop Trail Run | © Jonathan Fox/Flickr

The magical part of these longer hikes is that there’s so much to photograph on your way up! When you finally do reach the top, you may be breathless in more ways than one—from the hike and the absolutely immaculate view.

Fallen Leaf Lake | © Mitchel Jones/Flickr

Along the backcountry of the Desolation Wilderness, there’s also plenty of smaller lakes that are just as photogenic as the summits. You’d think that the land knew exactly how to spread out to make up the most breathtaking photoshoot. Many of the lakes; Granite, Velma, Dick’s, and Eagle Lakes, are close enough together to create a 12-mile loop where you’ll get to photograph each one and its surroundings after the other. The loop is well-known for its exquisite sights and magnificent beauty.

Middle Velma Lake Sunset 2 | © Brandon Levinger/Flickr

For a more challenging and even more rewarding breathtaking photography experience, take one of the many thru-hikes in the Desolation Wilderness. These hikes literally will take you through the land from one end to another. One of these hikes that will really show what the Desolation Wilderness has to offer is the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Eldorado NF | © USFS Region 5/Flickr

This substantial 165-mile trail is filled with natural beauty and wonder. Taking this trail, you’ll be able to capture sweeping meadows, hardened lava flows, canyons, wildflowers, pine forests, cinder cones, birds and other wildlife, just to name a few. Taking a long thru-hike, your photographs will be plentiful and stunning.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) Mount Tallac summit | © Miguel Vieira/Flickr

The Desolation Wilderness is home to many natural wonders that people from all over the globe come to experience. If you and your camera are looking for a less-trafficked spot to snap photos, many waterfalls can be found tucked away and off the main trails. One of these hidden gems is Camp Waterfall, where you won’t find one, two, or even three waterfalls, but about 50 mystical waterfalls. It’s a magical photo opportunity that you have to see to believe.

High Sierra/Lake Tahoe Basin Mgmt Unit/Desolation Wilderness | © Vlad Butsky/Flickr

A Camp Waterfall round-trip hike is about 15 miles, however, there’s actually a water taxi service that can take you across Echo Lake that’ll shave about five miles off the entire trip. The water taxi will give an even more amazing and special photographic perspective of the Desolation Wilderness.

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